Friday, August 19, 2011

below average

and kind of proud of it. I calculated Team Testosterone's back to school expenses--according to the National Retail Federation, the national average is $604 per family--I have 3 kids and we spent about $400. Without bargain shopping (I'm lazy and hate to shop--I went to a shoe store and Target and shopped online at Old Navy and Amazon). Without extreme couponing. I checked off every item on the list sent home from school and spent $200 under the national average. How did Green Girl do it?

* Those Lands End backpacks purchased 2 years ago? Holding up just fine. As are the lunch bags/boxes. $0

* Thanks to my anal-retentive scrubbing and storage of outgrown shoes (complete with crumpled newspapers inside to keep the odor/moisture in check), I bought 2 pairs, a spare for Mr. T and a new pair for Mr. B. Mr. B's gym shoes are Mr. T's hand-me-downs and Mr. G has plenty, too. $100

* Old Navy had a sale this summer and I snagged polo shirts for $7.50 and cargo pants for $12.50. Each boy has 5 polos and 4 pairs of pants--have I mentioned how much I love school uniforms? Makes our life easy and pretty cheap to boot. Mr. B picked up a pair of shorts at the school's Family Fun Night--they had tables of donated uniform clothing. Each boy has 1-2 pairs of appropriate shorts and Mr. T's shirts and pants from last year will fit Mr. B fine--a couple new things tossed in, but man, hand-me-downs sure take the edge off the clothing budget. $130

* I clean, sort and store the boys' supplies at the end of each school year--a huge box holds the unused glue sticks, scissors, partially used spiral notebooks, protractor, calculator and so forth. I tear out the "used" notebook pages, dump the crayons (seriously, when you buy the requisite 2 boxes per kid per year, they really add up. ditto for pencils and markers) and markers into a bag and scrub the pencil boxes. I begin this year's school supply shopping from this box. No one needed scissors or pencil boxes. I tossed a variety of crayons in each case, sharpened last year's colored pencils and tested last year's markers. Amazingly, few of these supplies need replenishing. I purchased: 2 rulers (only had one on hand--the parochial school takes measuring seriously--all 3 boys needed one!), supplemental notebooks and folders, glue sticks, erasers, one package of markers, red ballpoint pens, highlighters and a set of watercolors. The boys don't care about their folders and notebooks, so we get the plain color ones, which are also the cheapest to buy. $20

* The school supplies for classrooms really added up. Dry erase markers, reams of printer paper, napkins, tissues, disinfecting wipes, plastic baggies (in all 3 sizes) and hand wipes. I didn't have a surplus of any of these items on hand, but I had a few coupons. Between Target and (dry erase markers--very difficult to track down all the right kinds and I hate to shop so I only tried Target in person) I acquired the necessities for the modern, germ-infested classroom. $80

* Haircuts. Two buzz cuts and a more complicated cut for Mr. T who wants to grow his hair long. $70 (incl. tip)

Not half bad, I'd say. Most of the savings came from Mr. T not requiring many school supplies as a 6th grader (same calculator, same thumb drive, same Spanish/English dictionary, same protractor, compass & ruler) and Mr. G and Mr. B wearing hand-me-down clothes and shoes. Quality always pays off, so the investment in those Lands End backpacks and lunch sacks was totally worth it.

Spill it, reader. Are you above average, average or below average in your school shopping?
More importantly, how would you spend the remaining $200?


  1. We too are below the average - I buy pens, folders,notebooks when they are on sale for 10 cents - I still had some left from last year to boot.
    As for clothing, there are so many sales out there. And to be honest, I don't buy much for the start of school because for Sept. kids will still wear their summer shorts.

  2. I'm above average I'm sure. You are inspiring me though. Going to try and be a bit more frugal.

    I love school uniforms too. Makes every morning so much easier.

  3. If the boys are going for the buzz cut you can get a $12 set of clippers at Target and do that yourself--that's how Danger Boy's hair has been cut for years; the last year his girlfriend did it!

  4. I'm the queen of frugal too. (Being a Presbyterian minister's kid means I learned to pinch a penny til it screamed.) We only had to buy things for Moe, and he didn't need much of anything yet in the way of clothing. Since he started HS this year, we did have to get a bunch on 1" binders, but I found some for $0.39 at Walgreens. His biggest expense was his graphing calculator, $20. I buzzed his hair myself, got him a new backpack from Aldi(!!), stuffed it with cheap notebook paper, and pushed him out the door.

    Done, and done.

  5. Good for you!

    I discovered the crumbled newspaper/shoe trick this year. Great for drying out soggy shoes!

    I'm below average in how much I buy, because they usually have so much leftover from last year. And in college and high school, they don't need as much crap as in elementary school. However, I'm way above average in what I have to spend because the eldest needs a new computer--we are shopping for it today.

  6. I think the girls still have their LL Bean monogrammed backpacks they got when they started high school and they used them in college. Last night J4 was digging through the school supply boxes and found everything he needed. I have so much leftover stuff from the various school supply lists in the past that a couple of years ago I sorted through everything and put it in plastic shoeboxes, combined all the half packs of paper, tore out the few sheets used in spiral notebooks, etc. DOTR uses white binders and dividers at the office, so they get what they need there. Everybody has their expensive calculator that they needed for algebra in 8th grade and so far not one of them has lost it or had it stolen (I still have this year to get through). School clothes....don't need to get anything new, he can wear summer clothes he has through about the end of October, then maybe will need a couple new pairs of jeans. Now let's talk about college and car insurance for teenage boys. On second thought, let's not.

  7. Believe it or not, when I was 12 my parents got me an LL Bean backpack to start the school year. I carried it through middle school, high school, and college. It has been a carry on for many a plane flight. And it's STILL holding strong, 24 years later. I bet Lands End is just as good quality. A worthy investment for sure!

  8. I used to have a box on my porch where I kids could come drop off a pair of soccer cleats, shin guards and other such gear - they walked away with a larger set of gear - it was a neighborhood swap meet. Our main expense was from athletic gear.

    $200.00 - I say Mom needs a massage :)and a spa day

  9. I only spent about $300 on my two boys. $60 in school fees, $60 on 2 pair of shoes, $60 on 4 new shirts,$75 on supplies, and $30 on a backpack. They still may need pants but I'm going to wait until it gets cooler out. I cut their hair myself too and they've been wearing it longer lately.

  10. I'm below average on school shopping, but will end up spending the extra money this fall when it comes time to get my girls their winter clothes. I'm pretty sure that one or both will need new coats.

    I think you should spend the $200 on something fabulous for yourself.

  11. Oh yeah. I am right there with you. I just bought the two older boys a few pairs of pants (man my boys go through pants so quickly- the holes!) and shirts each and Ben has some nice hand me downs. I save their scissors, rules, pencil boxes, lunch totes, and backpacks so we don't need any of those. I do have to get new shoes for all of them since they really bust up their shoes quickly. Holes and soles flapping and such.
    But honestly, when all is said and done I think I will be around $265. Woot woot! Course as they get older I know it will be more expensive but for now I can't complain. :)

  12. we always had left overs from the previous years to start the school year. and hand me down clothes too. 6 girls ... there was no way everyone got new clothes to start the year. hair cuts, I did those, still do farmguy's
    as for the $200.00 save it, it is about time one your your team goes through a growth spurt and you will blow that on new clothes quickly.

  13. Green Girl...I cut Farmer's hair with a buzz cutter and he's only complained once (I did take a chunk out of his back hairline the first ever time I cut it..oops)...

    ...but I'd be happy to cut the two buzz cut hair do's. I also have cut my nephew R's hair to no complaints. heck...if they want, i'll wrap a hot washcloth around their faces if they want a "spa" treatment like at the Barbershop. :)

  14. I didn't actually pay attention, but this year the list was definitely shorter. We've got orphan calculators so didn't have to buy that, but I did have to buy a dictionary and thesaurus. We don't buy "new" school clothes -she just wears whatever she's been wearing that still fits. I still need to check her gym shoes to see if she's outgrown them.

    My girl does enjoy picking out new folders and notebooks each year (I'll bet this is more important to girls vs. boys), but backpack and lunchbox are only replaced when they really need to be.

    We don't have a lot of school supplies from previous years because we donate them to the classroom at the end of the year, so incoming students don't have to purchase as much classroom stuff.

  15. I have no idea. This is Lola's first year of going to school, 4K, and we did a tiny bit of shopping today. Next week the two of us have a date. I did cut her hair myself last week out of necessity, and she already has a backpack and a super cool lunch box.

    The 200 I would spend on me. I have no shame and I can always use a cool pair of boots.

  16. At the lower grades (K-3) our school combines all the supplies, so we don't have leftovers to rely on. However, I buy the supplies in a kit through the PTA which is about what I'd spend on good quality (Ticonderoga & Crayola instead of off-brand) supplies, plus the PTA gets a donation. I don't buy clothes -- sales come in the late fall when we need new stuff for the winter. After three years of new backpack each year I just ordered their forever backpacks from from LLBean. Yay Bean. I buy winter jackets etc in the spring when prices go way down (Land's End three way jacket for the girl marked down from $85 to $25 in May, should last 2-3 years). All in all, with activity fees, I think I spent about $150 per kid. Don't know how people spend $600.

  17. Thank God I don't have to buy school supplies, but I did watch Amy pick up Isaiah's each year. Most of his supplies come home in such bad shape that they're not salvageable (but he's only going into 2nd grade this year so that may change). This year was the worst but only because he has outgrown every stitch of clothing he owns. He's still about a "4" or "5" around, but needs an "8" in length. (Gotta love those buttons and elastic strap things on the insides of the waistbands.) She spent the most on clothes, but still shopped frugally.

    His backpack was not in good enough shape to make it through another year so she had to buy a new one. I think she probably spent $200 on clothes (he'll only need a few long-sleeved shirts for winter) and shoes and less than $100 for all the supplies, including the classroom requirements. Not bad.

  18. Boy did this one take me back! We had 5 in school at the same time, two the same age and it was always a challenge. Below average here and also proud of it. Hand me downs were no problem for the boys, of which there were 4 and they loved to switch out...half brothers think that's cool, I guess. Our daughter was never fussy about high dollar looks...she was always grateful to have me even sew some of her clothes., but she and her cousins would share and trade...made the pocket less squeaky! Besides, she also was a tomboy and would even sneak the brothers for the paper products and the pencil boxes, backpacks, etc, they did not mind taking good care of them and reusing them. Paper came right from the Paper mill that their Dad works at still today.
    Great entry...supplying kids these days is not much different now than then, 25-30 yrs ago, except for the styles, some. Crewcuts are in again, go figure.

  19. I have no idea how much we spent on school supplies, but we have one going to college, so that would skew the report if I had one.

    School supply shopping drives me nuts. The middle school won't tell us what we need ahead of time, so once school starts and the kids find out who their teachers are, we get these notices like "If your kid has these 10 items by Wednesday, they get 5 points, otherwise it's a zero." Seems totally unfair and makes it a mad race to get school supplies - no time to shop for bargains. And half the time the kids don't even use the stuff.

    Thanks for listening.

  20. It is good to know that I am not the only mother who keeps good shoes that the kids have out grown ready for the next child to grow into. I also would keep the girls school bags and if they where in good nick they would use the same bag the following year. Our schools all have school uniforms so that meant I didn't have to worry about school clothes I would keep school uniforms and hand them down and the girls would have to change out of their school clothes as soon as they got home from school.

  21. Spend the remaining money on yourself, of course. You've earned it!

    We always came in under average, too, because we reused and I shopped the penny sales. Scissors? Use the same pair for several years. Rulers? Same thing.

  22. This could totally have been my blog post! I do the same with school supplies, I hit Old Navy (store and online) and Target. We do one buzz cut at home and get one simple get the picture. Power to the thrifty back-to-school shoppers!

  23. We're below average... except on the school uniforms. Chas and Sam's grammar school uniforms (suits!) are expensive and they have to have nineteen different kinds of shoes. Proper shoes, black and shiny, for school, shoes for rugby, shoes for indoor sports, etc. I tried buying el cheapo trousers that matched the jackets, but they fell apart in no time thanks to boys in suits NOT sitting quietly in a classroom all day and coming straight home after school.

    They come home via the woods, the dirt bike trail and 'jumps', various trees which need climbing and the occasional wrestle in the mud. The 'spensive trousers don't fall apart! Clarks shoes really last, too, and they have the extra wide Chas-sized ones.

    I'm always amazed at how many people buy a NEW cheap pack of markers etc every year. The good quality ones last, if you take care of them, and in many good art stores you can buy single markers and coloured pencils. We always seem to use up all our red pencils!


Spill it, reader.