Monday, August 11, 2014

Moolah Monday - Our Disagreement about School Supplies

Happy Monday everyone!

This post brought to you by the upcoming school year which has 3 of our kiddos returning to a formal education program and one additional beginning a formal Pre-K program this year.

(In case you were wondering, we are currently a public school family with 4 kids in 3 different schools in our local district.  2 of them are in the gifted & talented magnet school, one at the "local" school, and one at a school pretty much as far away as she can get because there are more Pre-K programs "over there" vs. near us, and it's near daycare.  If you count daycare we have 6 kids in 4 schools.  Nice.)

I spent a significant amount of time and money this weekend shopping for back-to-school.  I try to spend 1x1 time with each kiddo for BTS shopping taking one out at a time.  It's easier that way but it's also a good quality time opportunity if I could swing it.  This year I did the shopping in 2 trips with the 2 oldest (separately).

I tried to shop extremely frugally, like I always do.  To begin, we had $350 per foster child to spend before adoption day toward clothes ($1400 total).    We had 5% coupons from the Target prescription rewards program.  I have the Target red card debit card (links to my checking account) for another 5%.  Plus, it was tax-free weekend here locally so I saved a little more than 8% there.    Add to that my bend toward being cheap and never paying full-price and I saved a boatload.  So, for $1400 I was able to receive about another $250 in "free" clothes and shoes.

I actually found it hard to spend some of this money because I have SO MANY clothes in most sizes already from the years we've been fostering.  I ended up buying clothes for the next few sizes up for some of the kids and for Baby Baby, who I have the most clothes for, I mostly spent that money on shoes.  (He's in size 7 now and is set on new shoes until size 12).  Our kids wear the fire out of their shoes so this will come in really handy in the upcoming years as we lose foster-care support for our forever kids.  (It's also cool in case we come across someone in need).

I only have one or two things left per child to purchase on our own, the biggest of which is lunchboxes and backpacks.  As I brought this up to my husband I was met with a significant amount of resistance.  He was hungry, which might have been part of it, but in general we are on completely opposite sides of this debate.  Though I'll try to be submissive here and I'm not trying to air out our dirty laundry, it did make mie wonder what my audience here did about backpacks.

Hubby's position - With 6 kids new backpacks and lunchboxes each year seems ridiculous.  It's money we can save. Why buy new ones when there are perfectly good ones all over the house.  They should learn to take care of the ones they have.

My position - Buying new backpacks and lunchboxes is an exciting part of getting ready to go back to school.  Getting to pick out a new backpack helps the kids feel excited about their upcoming year.  There's nothing like getting all your school supplies ready in your new bag, laying out your (new) outfit for your first day of school, and getting pumped up for what's to come.  It's a relatively inexpensive way to signal transition from old school year and summer to the new one.  Remember, I'm frugal as it is so $40 (or more! jeesh) backpacks aren't even on the consideration list.  It gives them a chance to pick a "more mature" backpack than they did last year if they wish.  Plus, it's what we've always done and we've had conversations with the kids in the last year about waiting until the new year to get a new backpack (with wheels, for one kid, not superman, for another).

One additional piece of the discussion was related to backpacks wearing out.
Mie: Backpacks wear out.  They need to be replaced.
Hubby: Then we'll replace them when they wear out.
Mie: But then the kid who didn't take care of theirs will get a new one after they weren't careful with it because they were throwing it around or whatever (or they damaged it or lost it on purpose because they wanted a new one and wanted to game the system) and the kid who took great care of it like they were supposed to won't ever get a new one.  That's not rewarding the behavior we want.
Hubby: Then we'll buy a new one for the kid that took great care of theirs and the kid who didn't can get their sibling's used backpack.
Mie: But then the kid who didn't take care of it will always have a handicap...they'll never get a new one because they'll always have an old one that will naturally wear out earlier.

(Here's the thing...we have two strong-willed challenging kids that will fall into the "damaged backpack due to lack of care or other more deviant choices" group and two that will fall into the "take care of their backpack and already resenting the deviant choice group for screwing up so many of the good things they could have with their crazy behavior".  Adding to or distracting from this dynamic is critical in our family).

So - where we ended last night was to let the kids pick a new backpack and lunchbox this year (because we already told them we would) and then we'll tell them it has to last them 2 years before they get a new one.


As an alternative I suggested we implement a reward system for not mindlessly buying a new one.  We can offer them a new backpack (with limits...they can't spend over a certain amount) OR they can keep the one they have and get $5.  They can choose to live with what they have to save money (which literally gives them money to save and is cheaper than us buying new bags) or they can choose to have a new bag.  Then they'll have the choice again next year.

All of this, of course, is dependent on our financial ability to make these choices - if we absolutely don't have the money then of course we don't NEED to buy anything, we can make do with what we have.  In my mind that changes the game and in hubby's mind we need to be thinking that way now.

What do you all think?  How do you handle this in your homes?


G said...

We started out buying a new backpack and lunchbox every year. When the kids were little, we bought cheap backpacks/lunchboxes which were usually themed (Thomas or Superheros or Dora or what have you.) By the next school year, they were getting ratty and might very well not be something the child cared about anymore. It didn't seem right to make a 2nd grader keep using the Thomas backpack, just because it was in good shape.

About 3rd grade, we started solid color backpacks. At that time, I talked to the oldest child about how, if he took care of his backpack, it would last better and we would have more money available for other things.

In 4th grade, the school started recommending they bring a "string bag" to carry their things from class to class. (The middle school also told tells this -- they can bring stuff to school in a backpack, but then it has to stay in the locker. Carrying things class to class during the day can only be done in a string bag.)

So, now, we replace the string bag every year (usually about $10), but the backpacks and lunch boxes hang on until they get worn out (or lost, in the case of lunch boxes).

I don't know if that helps. I also keep in-good-shape or really-good-price-on-clearance versions of these items in a closet; if a child wears out (or loses) the one they have, they pick from those. They'll be boring and gender-neutral, but they'll work.

I think this is definitely a case where "fair" doesn't have to mean "the same." For some kids, that new backpack at the start of the school year is important; for others, maybe it would be a bigger lift to get a really cool backpack for Christmas. We've relied heavily on "when you reach age x or grade y, you can do this" in some of this sort of thing.

Mie said...

Thanks G! I'm really curious to see how other families handle this so your experience is helpful.

Of course, not all families are as large as ours and that does complicate the situation a little our family it wouldn't even be a consideration if we only had one kid I'm sure.

We use the old backpacks for other things around the house, usually as snack bags when I go out and need something to jam food into or for overnight trips or for other occasions where it's helpful to have a change of clothes, a bag of toys and books, etc. It's helpful to not have to take out all school supplies to go out to the zoo.

Jess said...

Another idea, especially when they get older is to purchase Jansport. They replace when they wear out as part of guarantee. I haven't bought a regular backpack since freshman year in HS.

MamaFoster said...

I buy new ones :)