You noticed it about a second after the last day of school. Ominous reminders of impending September doom before the smoke even cleared from the Canada Day fireworks. It was easy to ignore then, but now, not only is it front and centre in every store you walk into, but it’s taken over commercials, magazines, and just about every email you receive. Boo.
Stop the insanity.
I love September. And I love the sense of calm that comes when the new school year begins and we get back into a more regular routine. But I really don’t like back-to-school sales, lunchbox ideas, and sleep tip articles invading the first week of summer vacay. Seriously guys, I’m well past my student days but the last thing I want to think about is school when we’ve all just survived the June madness.
When our oldest started JK three years ago (yikes!) I went into panic-mode right before Labour Day weekend. He was starting on Tuesday and I hadn’t bought a thing. So I went a-splurging to dutifully stock up on pencils, pencil crayons, markers, notebooks, water bottles, food containers of varying sizes and finger-dexterity requirements, a lunchbox, and a backpack. One blown budget and a stack of Mabels Labels later, and my mind was at ease. You know what he really needed? Shoes. I didn’t even think about clothes until the weather turned and he couldn’t wear sandals any more. But whatevs, he wore socks for a couple of days until we had a chance to visit our fave shoe store and hook him up.
He did use his backpack every day. Most days it came home with a still-full water bottle and empty food containers. There was an occasional drawing and letter from his teacher. All in all, it was a good buy. Unlike everything else I bought. He didn’t need to bring his own supplies and didn’t want to bother with a lunchbox. Sure, since then we’ve crafted it up and nothing went to waste, but there was really no need for my frantic shopping frenzy. Now I stick to the same plan every summer:
- Avoid the back-to-school aisles. It all looks so pretty and yes, they’d love all of it. I’d also love me some bling but needs v. wants peeps.
- Wait until school’s in session to see what his teacher actually requires. Different teachers set different bars – some of the ones at our school won’t allow his junior-sized backpack. There’s also often a September price-drop (to clear the aisles for Halloween displays… sigh).
- Involve him in the shopping. He needed a bigger backpack for grade one. And he wanted a Star Wars one like every other sabre-loving kid at his school. But he also had his sights set on a slightly expensive Halloween costume, one that we definitely could not DIY. We discussed the moolah aspect with him, and gave him the choice of a new backpack and last year’s costume, or the costume of his dreams and my old backpack (from University guys… old. But still in great condition and a lot lighter than the super-padded ones on the market today. Because, ya know, we didn’t need padding because we didn’t carry laptops everywhere… or anywhere). We were okay with either option and he felt super-empowered making the decision. When he’s a little older, the plan is to set a budget every year and take him to scope out prices, narrow down options, and make smart purchases. What’s in it for him? Choosing his gear so he likes it (and uses it) and keeping any change once he’s finessed how to save. Win-win.
- Remind him of his ownership responsibilities. We misplaced too many mittens every year, along with every other family we know. The lost-and-found bins at our school overflow with hoodies, hats, and all kinds of sporty gear. Sure, it’s great for Goodwill… not so great for our wallets. The way we taught our kiddos to take care of their stuff? We buy it once. If it gets lost, they pay for the replacement (using money or a prized possession of equivalent value). Handing over Nadar Vebb’s Lego ship sure motivated our oldest to scour his school in search of his lunchbox, and that was the last time he left anything behind. We also label everything and teach them what to do with their stuff so it’s not randomly set aside to be forgotten: mittens go in coat pockets, hats go in sleeves, food containers are closed before being put back into the lunchbox, which is then zipped up and returned to the backpack.
It’s always good to avoid unnecessary stress. And nothing says ‘unnecessary stress’ like a marketing campaign aimed at taking advantage of our vulnerabilities. Teaching your child to ignore the BTS hoopla will save you money and help everyone live in the moment. We wait all year for summer – now’s the time to enjoy it!
Email us if you’re in Toronto’s West end and need a good shoe store or costume shop!