Friday, July 29, 2011

Keepin' It Simple...

I love this photo of my niece, Aubrey.  She wasn't feeling too
well, and I took her a goody bag.  She enjoyed the coloring
book and crayons, as well as the fruit roll ups and other snacks
that I tucked in the bag!
Simplicity isn't a term that is often practiced in our culture, and that realization becomes more clear at certain times of the year.  As we head into yet another over-commercialized season, I find myself being tempted to indulge in the seeming endless array of accessories that are touted as "essential" for students and teachers. I'm enticed by the new coordinating organizational tools, totes, planning helps, and tech gadgets, and so are my kids.  It's easy to see how analysts come up with the enormous figures that represent the cost of getting "back to school," and it's kind of mind-boggling to think that we as parents can so easily become so suckered into this merchant's game. "Wants" come masked as "needs," and before we know it, we have spent hundreds of unnecessary dollars on things that really have no impact on the overall process of learning and retention.
But isn't this fairly typical?  Look at the average birthday party, Christmas celebration, graduation, and wedding...the numbers are staggering!  And the pressure is, too. 
A couple of years ago, I decided I wasn't going to get caught up in the back-to-school hype.  Although we want to provide for the needs of our kids, we define that term a little more narrow than most.  At the end of the 2010 school year, I put all of their existing supplies in a box for safe keeping through the summer.  The following August, we pulled it all out (half-used pencils, partial notebooks, everything), and decided what we could put into use again.  That saved a ton!  We did the same with uniforms.
This year, now that I am much more alert to "deals", we are watching each week's ads to see what's free or dirt cheap.  It is difficult to drag the kids through office supply stores, especially when they see things they "need" for school that aren't on sale yet, but I keep reinforcing the trait of patience, encouraging them to check next week! 
So far, we have snagged these:
  • 5 count. mechanical pencils - $1 (reg $3.89)
  • 2 count scissors - $.99 (reg $1.99)
  • protractor - $.05 (reg $1.99)
  • pencil pouch - $.05 (reg. $1.99)
  • 2-pocket folder with 3 prong - $.05 (reg $.25)
  • 10 count #2 pencils - $.10 (reg $.99)
  • wooden ruler - $.01 (reg $1.58)
  • 24 count crayons - $.01 (reg $.99)
  • hp photo paper - $1 (reg $10.99)
  • 1" durable binder - $1.79 (reg $3.29)
  • composition notebook - $.50 (reg $1.79)
  • backpack and lunch combo  - free with $15 purchase (another girl and I went together to get this one cause it took so many items to reach $15 with the sales!)
By starting when the kids were young, we avoided a lot of expectations and preconceived ideas, and this has been helpful!  Our premise includes:
  • Backpacks are reusable.  You will only get one as your other one wears out.
  • Licensed items are probably not happening.  In the event of a great sale, you may get lucky.  :-)
  • If your tennis shoes or school shoes wear out in March and you receive new ones at that time, you may or may not receive new ones at the beginning of the school year.  If you keep them nice, they may still look fairly new.  If they still fit and aren't sporting holes, you'll probably be wearing them back to school.
  • Uniforms are to be given some respect.  They are durable, and one shirt can eventually clothe several kids if care is taken.
  • Your lunch will consist of a minimal amount of pre-packaged "cool" lunch items.  Hopefully, you'll be taking leftover home cooked foods, but since that's not always possible, bologna sandwiches, baggies of chips, and pb&j will be part of your diet.  Each item will not be in it's own cute little wrapper, but will likely be coming from a much larger sized package and put into zip bags. ***Exceptions are made for items like juice pouches (Capri Sun or Kool-Aid) or yogurt (Go-Gurt or Danimals) that are found on sale and with coupons. 
  • When you go on field trips, you will not be given extra money for gift shops, etc.  If you want to use your own money, be wise. 
  • Your ability to learn is neither inhibited nor enhanced by whether or not you receive a pile of new stuff with which to begin each year, rather it lies within your determination to do your best in reading, comprehension, and critical thinking.
Teaching for thirteen years has taught me a few things.  My students who receive the highest grades in the classroom and on standardized tests tend to be the kids who have less "stuff" to distract them.  They are focused, diligent, and willing to do the things that many other students consider a waste of time.  These are the traits that I want to encourage my children to pursue this school year.

Is there anything you are doing this year, either to save money or encourage contentment?  I'd love to hear about it!

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