The incomparably beauteous Joshilyn sent me the following and then immediately got onto Instant Messenger and said “Hi! I sent you a question!” just in case I’d perhaps neglected to check my email for the past 2 seconds. Anyway, here’s what she wrote:
Okay, so — last year, my son went through THREE, count em THREE backpacks. Two from Target. One from Lands End. He absolutely DESTROYED them. Given that the Land’s End one lasted him about a month longer than a Target one, I don’t think STURDIER is the way to go…I need cheap backpacks because I think I need to start thinking of them as disposable items.
Also, any hints on making back to school shopping HURT less?
Joss and I discussed this at length, but some of it is worth sharing, I think (not the parts about how, for example, my daughter is still nursing an enormous crush on her son, but the parts about backpack).
There are two separate questions here. The first one is the Eternal Backpack Debate. I addressed this once before in this post. I have become a very firm believer in buying a sturdy backpack from either LL Bean or Lands’ End and utilizing their Unconditional Guarantee if necessary. (Joshilyn received their Lands’ End pack as a hand-me-down and didn’t realize the warranty still applied.)
I’ve already exchanged my kids’ Bean packs once and will do so again if necessary. The process was painless even though we’d already had them for several years. They were well worth the money I spent.
The catch here, of course, is that Bean frequently clearances out old patterns/colors of their backpacks for half price, but July and August are not when you’re going to see those sales. Which means that if you’re shopping now you’ll be hard pressed to find a deal.
This leads nicely into the second question, which is How in the world do you keep from ending up broke after all the back-to-school shopping?
Again—sadly—if you’re asking me this now, there’s not a lot I can do for you for this year. Sure, there’ll be specials here and there on certain school supplies, but on the whole, if you’re shopping now, the industry has you right where they want you: In need.
I’ll be posting deals as I find them (hey, if all your kid needed are crayons you should be all set), but in general what you want to be doing is buying a year ahead when all of the back-to-school displays turn into clearance. That won’t help you too much right now, but keep it in mind for next year. My kids’ old school always asked for whiteboard markers (I don’t know yet if they’ll need them here or not) and those suckers are pricey; I took to buying them during the September clearance for the following year.
- Shop office supply stores rather than the Walmarts and Targets. Yeah, they might not have all the sparkles and glitter of the other places, but the prices will generally be better.
- Pricematch. Keep an eye on the sales, and don’t be afraid to pricematch for even greater savings, particularly if you’re buying a more expensive item (like a graphing calculator or something).
- Don’t forget the discount stores. I came from the land of Big Lots, and I know not everyone has those, but there are similar stores everywhere. These sorts of discount places won’t have a stunning array of choices but what they do have will be value-priced.
- Shop online. Depending on what you need, you may find better deals online than in a store. Just keep an eye on shipping costs.
- Negotiate with your child. You know your situation and your child best, of course. I generally let my kids splurge on one item only. Their tastes still run fairly simple and cheap (so I’m buying one sparkly folder for $2 instead of a $.10 one) so right now it’s not a big deal, though it does communicate to them that in general we’re looking to spend less. As the kids grow, so do their desires, and I know parents who split costs on certain items if they exceed what’s budgeted. For essentials, obviously, you can’t do this. But if you’re arguing over what’s “cool” it’s something to consider.
I also am not one to do a big back-to-school clothes shopping trip, as I try to pick up items throughout the year as I find them on sale. So I’m just assuming we’re talking school supplies like pencils, here, rather than clothes. The only clothing I’d suggest picking up during the back-to-school frenzy is socks and underwear—they seem to always be on special around now.
Anyone else have other tips to share?