Last year, listening to French radio, I heard a surprising report: school supply shopping is the second most stressful occasion for a great many parents, second only to Christmas shopping.
If that’s true, it doesn’t need to be. What’s more, I can explain why:
1) With Christmas shopping, you’re not told what to get – whereas with school supply shopping, you usually are.
2) While, with Christmas shopping, there is a deadline, there really isn’t one in the same way when it comes to school supply shopping.
I’ve heard that a lot of people fear the expense of back-to-school shopping. I can’t comment on the other dimensions of it (clothes, for instance), but I can tell you this: school supplies don’t have to be (that) expensive.
In front of me I’ve got two big-box store flyers from Friday’s paper. I’ll admit that if you have to shop today, you might pay around $15 for a zipper binder (of course, you can pay a lot more if you want), then another $15 or more for a school bag. (This is all before tax.)
Coloured pencils, if you need those, might run around $2.50 to $6.00. Buy a good name – not cheap ones. When you’re a tutor, you see a lot of school supplies. I’ve noticed that many kinds of coloured pencils – especially cheap ones – don’t hold a sharp point. You don’t want your kid to be stuck with coloured pencils whose leads keep breaking. Ask what the good names are. I use Staedtler, but there are other good ones around. I’d guess a name like Hilroy would be pretty trustworthy – although I’ve never tried their coloured pencils.
For just normal pencils (rather than colour), I prefer mechanical rather than wood. Get 0.7 leads – they last longer and break way less often (as opposed to 0.5). A twelve pack of Bic 0.7 plastic pencils will cost maybe $4. If they don’t get lost, your kid probably wouldn’t use more than half of them the whole year. Pens are even cheaper than pencils – unless you want to pay more for something special.
One note, though, about mechanical pencils: you can’t get them for most kids until they’re in grade 5 or later. The reason is that the kids just play with them. If your kid is earlier than grade 5, you probably want wooden pencils.
Erasers: get white ones. Staedtler is one kind I use, but most white erasers are pretty good. At one place, they’re on for less than a dollar apiece right now. If it’s not lost, one could last you for years.
Paper – both loose leaf and graph – might be the most variably priced item. You might have to pay a lot on a given day at a given place. However, my wife says she’s seen 150 sheets of loose leaf for less than a dollar recently. If you’re paying more than that today, you should probably look elsewhere. Graph paper is usually more – you might have to pay 3 or 4 dollars for around 100 sheets – but you can sometimes get it for a lot less. Kids don’t usually use much of it, anyway.
Markers, if you need them, might be around what coloured pencils cost. A ruler you can get for less than a dollar. A scientific calculator shouldn’t cost more than $15. I know I could get a good one for less. The less fancy, the better. As long as it has sin, cos, and tan on it, as well as square root, you’re probably pretty safe. Of course, you shouldn’t need to buy a new calculator every year.
There are other odds and ends, but let’s make a rough total of the items I’ve mentioned. You might be looking at around $60 to $75 before tax. You could do better, depending on where you live and how much hunting you’re willing to do.
Where I live, some stores have school supply lists right at the front entrance. You can find your kid’s school and grade, then pick up a list of supplies.
If your kid goes to the first day of school with just a few pencils and pens, some paper, a binder, a calculator, and the coloured pencils, they’ll probably be all right. When they get home, they can tell you what they’re missing, and you can get the rest that night.
One final point: Look for school supplies again in a month. Watch the prices go up and down. Eventually you’ll probably be able to get almost everything cheaper than you can today. Stock up when it’s cheap. Ask your kid what works and what doesn’t – and why. If you familiarize yourself with school supplies, you’ll be on top. Like most things, they’re best to buy before you need them.
Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.