Making School Supplies Last

Save Money When You Buy Quality Items, Basic Backpacks

by Tamekia Reece

How much do you plan to spend on back-to-school shopping? The National Retail Federation predicts you’ll probably spend quite a bit. The average family with a child in grades K-12 spends $690.
Although the majority of the back-to-school budget will go toward clothing and electronics, about $100 will be spent on school supplies.
And unless this is your child’s first year in school, you know that $100 is only the beginning. As the school year progresses, you’ll probably need to spend more to replace and replenish certain items.
Or will you?
Try these ideas to help save dollars and make your child’s school supplies last longer.

Choose quality over price

Sure, you want to save a few bucks. Just make sure it’s not at the expense of quality. A super cheap backpack will ultimately cost more when you have to replace it with a new one in two months. Likewise, those bargain pens that start leaking on the third day of school will have you shelling out money for better pens. Name-brand supplies tend to be better quality, which means they will last longer.

Skip the paper

Folders get frequent use and rough handling, so many parents end up buying a stack of replacements. Not Leslie Komet Ausburn. “I buy plastic folders instead of those made with paper,” says the mom of three. “Plastic folders can be used for several years because they don’t rip.”
To further extend the life of folders, buy the ones that have holes – or use a hole puncher to make your own – and place them in a binder. Because your kid won’t be shoving the unprotected folder in and out of his backpack, there’ll be less wear and tear.

Say No to Doodles

It may be difficult to convince your preteen not to draw hearts, flowers and other designs on her folders and binders, but try. These items can be used year after year, as long as they’re in good condition. However, personal designs may reduce their shelf life. Next year your daughter may decide she’s not into Hello Kitty anymore, which, of course, she stamped on her folder. Or, her younger brother will resist using a binder that is covered with glittery, purple stickers.
For continued use of binders and folders, without squelching your child’s creative side, help her wrap it with paper (a brown paper bag, gift wrap, cloth, etc.) that she can use as a design or decorate herself. When she’s tired of that look, she can rip the paper off and start with a scribble-free binder. Or use duct tape to cover folders and binders; it comes in many different colors and designs. She can then decorate it as she pleases. An added bonus: The duct tape reinforces folders and binders, which means they’ll last longer.

Bag it

Although your child likely won’t be bringing the required 48 pencils back and forth to school every day, he will need something that handily holds his pens, pencils, markers and colored pencils. The extra couple of dollars for a pencil pouch will be worth it because your child will be less likely to lose writing instruments and supplies such as erasers, protractors and compasses. If a pen or marker leaks, the pencil bag will protect folders, schoolwork and the backpack from damage.

Go with plain backpacks

Your child may try to convince you that he or she needs that backpack with the latest ‘tween star or superhero, but backpacks will get more wear if they’re plain and non-trendy. That “cool” superstar could be replaced by the next big thing in a few months. By buying a basic backpack, you don’t have to worry about the pleading to keep up with the ever-changing trends.
You can jazz up a plain backpack by purchasing it in your child’s favorite color and then customizing it with beads, stick-on jewels, or patches bearing a favorite character or hobby that can be sewn or ironed on. If you use items that can be removed later (such as sewn-on patches), your child can start over next year with a “new” backpack.

Hide the extras

For items you know will need to be replenished (notebook paper, pens and pencils), buy a little more than your child needs while shopping the sales, then store your extra supplies out of sight. When kids see they have plenty more of something, they’re less inclined to be economical with their supply. After all, if they lose, mangle, or sell it (yes, it happens), they know they have more on hand. Aprille Franks-Hunt, mom of two, knows this all too well. “I’ve found with my teenagers, if they have all of their school supplies, they use them all and give them away too,” she says. She puts supplies away so they aren’t accessible to her teens. Because they no longer see a stack of folders or a few boxes of pens ready for the taking, they use what they have sensibly (and have stopped supplying others).

Store it right

“To store supplies properly, keep the extras in one container so you’ll always know where they are when you need them,” says Stacey Agin Murray, a professional organizer. The goal is to keep the supplies away from children, in a place that is cool, dry and easy to remember.
Another storage tip: When your kid comes home with a dried-out marker or pen, keep the cap. “Next time your child loses a cap, you’ll have one to cover the marker and preserve the ink,” says Murray, also a mom and former first-grade teacher.

Keep it clean

It’s frustrating to need to purchase a new lunch box because it has an odor. Even worse is having to replace your child’s backpack because three months into the school year, it has a huge unidentified stain. Make it a habit (for you and your child) to remove old food and other trash from lunch boxes and backpacks every day. A good scrubbing with a baking soda and water mix will help keep lunch boxes odor-free and clean.
For backpacks, follow the cleaning instructions on the tag. If there are none, vacuum the interior, pockets and crevices to remove crumbs and debris. Then, using a sponge or rag, hand wash the backpack with warm water and a teaspoon or two of dishwashing liquid. Hang the backpack to dry.
To keep your child’s attire in good shape, be sure to treat any stains immediately, and always follow the directions on the tag.
For other stuff, like plastic folders, plastic pencil bags, or even sticky markers or glue caps, a quick wipe down with a damp rag or baby wipe will keep things fresh.