Back-To-School season is an expensive time for families. With five little ones heading off this September, I put all my own tips and tricks in high gear.
It’s Inventory Time!
Go Through Those Closets: Purge the stuff you no longer need, but keep an eye out for those little gems that are hand-me-down worthy. They are invaluable—we rely on hand-me-downs from older siblings, cousins, neighbours and pretty much anyone else who is willing to drop a bag off at our front door!
Consignment shops: Do you have tweens or teens who want trendy clothes that cost more than anything you’d spend on yourself? Have a look around—there are many high-end second-hand stores that cater to this market. Search online as well—why spend five times more than you need to? Oh, and when your fickle teen is done with the shirt she has only worn three times, take it back to the consignment shop so she can make money for her next purchase.
Last Year’s School Supplies: Don’t assume your kid needs all new binders, pencil crayons and other school supplies. See what can be salvaged from the last school year. You can keep one kid busy all afternoon by handing out the important job of “official old pencil crayon sharpener.” Is the backpack looking a little grungy? Throw it in the laundry—once you get that squashed banana off the bottom, you might realize it’s got a bit of life left in it.
After you’ve done a true inventory, you’ll have a better idea of what your actual needs are. That will save unnecessary spending and make back-to-school shopping much easier.
What You Don’t Need
To Shop RIGHT NOW: You don’t need to shop right now. Buy things off-season. See if you can squeak through the back-to-school period long enough to take you to the BTS sales that are sure to follow this crazy season. A new backpack bought in October can be half the price it is now.
Keep It Simple: Keep things generic and gender neutral. It’s much easier to pass along backpacks and other items if they are not hot pink or covered in characters. I learned that one the hard way. Suddenly my kid, who would only carry a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, went off Thomas as fast as it takes to flip a switch. I am cursing that darn backpack as it gathers dust and takes up valuable space in my mud room.
What You Do Need
Organize Appointments: Book all the kiddo appointments for before school starts—doctor visits, eye and ortho exams, etc. You will have fewer missed school days and less driving later on. Invest some time now and it will make things less hectic later on. Time is money. Your time is valuable.
Label Everything: Label all the items that go into your kids' backpack, plus the bag itself! Involve your child in selecting the label design to encourage them to take pride in their belongings, which will further avoid losses. Mabel’s Labels stick to just about anything listed on back-to-school checklists which is how you can avoid visits to the lost and found bin or closet at your child’s school.
Here’s hoping everyone has a smooth transition back to school—and that no one breaks the bank along the way!
The Mama of Many’s Top B-T-S Product Picks
1. Green school™ - I use a lot of their products, but my favourite is the one that helps me deal with the ridiculous number of forms sent home from school. Permission forms have to be returned for class trips, and I’m always sending in money for these, pizza days, milk and fundraising. I use the green school™ mini tote to ensure money and forms return to school safely and don’t get lost in the bottom of the knapsack black hole.
2. Ready Set Go! Board – As a big fan of setting kids up for independence, I use the Ready Set Go! Board with my little ones so they can manage their morning routines. The picture icons are perfect for pre-readers and children feel pretty darn good about themselves when they have big kid responsibilities.
3. Water Bottle – I don’t send juice to school, so my kiddos always have a water bottle on hand. If you like your kids drinking filtered water, the Brita® Bottle for Kids is a squeezable, reusable bottle that filters water as you drink it, making it convenient for little ones to enjoy great-tasting tap water at school, camp and on the go.
4. Laptop Lunches® – Litterless lunches are the way to go, and this reusable bento-ware lunch system makes it a snap. I’ve been using this product for years and while I still wish all those lunches would just pack themselves, having Laptop Lunches to work with is the next best thing.
5. Snack Bags – Snacks happen so make sure you have somewhere to pack them. Itzy Ritzy’s Snack Happened™ reusable and washable snack bags are a great eco-friendly option, or for Canadian mamas out there wanting to buy local, check out Greenalicious Bags, which are made of earth friendly organic cotton and repurposed fabrics.
6. Zazoo Photo Clock – We all know the frustration of having a keen kid awake and ready for that first day of kindergarten at 4:00am. Little guys can’t yet tell time but this multimedia clock helps train them about asleep and awake periods. Day-time “awake” and night-time “sleep” photos display at appropriate times to indicate to the child when it’s time to start and end each day.
7. Mabel’s Labels – Parents love saving time by not having to search out a missing running shoe, pair of mittens or sippy cup. Once labeled, these items inevitably get found and put in the appropriate backpack or cubby by school staff. Parents save money by not having to replace lost items and it’s never too early to start teaching children stewardship over their belongings.
8. Airbac Backpack (airbac.com) – Worried about the heavy backpacks your youngsters are carrying around? It’s no wonder the Airbac is a PTPA winner—this little beauty was designed for comfort, with the majority of the weight lifted off the upper back and shoulders of the wearer, where most pain is felt. It spreads the weight across the entire back and your kids will notice the difference!
9. IronKids® Gummies vitamins – Last September I had a kid take a sick day on the second day of school. Not this year—I want to keep these kids off the couch and in the classroom. I’m being preventative and shoving IronKids Gummies into them—though I don’t really have to be “shoving” since they’re so yummy I usually have to run away before the kids attack me for the bottle.
10. Knot Genie™ Detangling Brush – Created “for every mom that has endured the foot stomping and screaming matches that come with brushing their child's hair.” I have three girls stomping and screaming, but refusing to get haircuts. The Knot Genie has been a very welcome addition to our family.
Nine years ago, I bought a cottage with my siblings. For all of those years, I have enjoyed it thoroughly. OK, I’m kind of lying – for all those years, all it represented to me was a lot of hard work. Bringing babies and toddlers to a cottage is challenging – it’s all of the work of home, without any of the conveniences. Kids in strange beds, no safety guards around the lake and – in our case – no electricity. You can imagine how stressful it is when you have a bed-wetter or a puke fest ensues and there is no washing machine in sight.
The odd weekend at the cottage was manageable but I secretly dreaded our one full week there each summer. Probably the most stressful time during the week was the last day of our holiday. Conducting a thorough cottage clean up in preparation for the next family seemed impossible. If it happened to be raining, the stress of cleaning the cottage seemed overwhelming, with kids getting underfoot, wanting attention and messing up the newly cleaned areas.
This year, something miraculous has happened. My kids have grown up. I have no one in diapers, a collection of incredibly strong swimmers and my youngest now just runs with the pack. I sat on a Muskoka chair while the kids and their cottage friends played elaborate games or Manhunt, went frog hunting and searched for critters in the forest
My older kids noted that they saw me do a lot of things for the first time, like fishing. I was shocked to realize they had never seen me fish. Every other year I was so bogged down with babies and care-giving – who had time to fish?
As for the cottage clean up – some kids tidied the beach, one washed the dishes, some packed up the sleeping bags and helped change bed sheets and one mopped the floor. What a long way we have come. A stress-free cottage clean up is a new experience for me.
Although many people say “bigger kids, bigger problems”, I feel qualified to say that it does, in fact, get easier. For some of us, it just takes more than a decade to get there. What was the turning point in your family when you suddenly realized you didn’t have babies anymore? Or, are you still in the thick of it and feel like the day will never come?