Making school supplies shopping fun


As our family has grown, shopping — even for school supplies — has become an expensive and more complex proposition.

Certainly, setting a specific budget for each child, buying generics when possible, and taking advantage of online couponing sites are things one can do to ease the financial hit. But whoever came up with the idea of tax-free days — which, this year, is on July 31 and Aug. 1 — is a marketing genius!

Still, it wasn’t until we got our entire family involved in the process that shopping for school supplies went from being a solo, stressful event to one that was engaging and fun for our youngest to our oldest.

Based on what I’ve learned, I wanted to suggest six easy steps to get organized while getting your children involved in shopping for their back-to-school supplies.

1. Go to your school’s websites and print two copies of your school supplies list. Get your school supplies list from the school’s website, rather than a third-party website or waiting until you get the store and hoping to find it at their school’s kiosks. This will ensure that you have the correct list from your child’s school with the current calendar year and the right grade level.

2. Search your home for supplies you already have. This is a fun way to get your child involved in the process. Give them a copy of the list and have them hunt for supplies you may already have, and mark them off the list. Double check the list and re-use gently used items like binders and back packs to save money.

3. Have a pre-shopping, family meeting. During this meeting, review the list with your children and explain that the objective for shopping is to prepare for school, not to get toys.

Remind them that the store may be crowded, and go over your shopping rules. With young children, either partner with them, or set a buddy system where the older ones partner with the younger ones.

Ensure you have a copy of the list and your child has a copy with all marked-off items, and let them know that it is their responsibility to find their supplies. This really gets them excited and gives them a greater sense of ownership in the process.

4. Shop early or at “off times” and buy in bulk. There are few things more frustrating than shopping when it is crowded and everything has been picked over. If you shop earlier in the day, you’re more likely to find what you need. Also, plan on buying the things you know the children will need on an ongoing basis in bulk. This would include “staples” like pencils, paper, glue sticks, and hand sanitizer.

5. Make shopping focused and fun. Limit your shopping to school supplies so that your child can focus on the mission. Go directly to the school supplies area and tackle one aisle at a time. Make it fun by challenging each child to find the missing items from their list. Once they find an item, they should show it to you, so you can verify it from your list before it goes into the basket.

6. Let your children buy one special item. It can be really tempting for children to want to buy things when shopping, even if it is school supplies shopping. Setting a price limit and giving them the liberty to buy one school-related item that is just for them curbs their desire to spend frivolously. It can be something as simple as a notebook, pen set, or pencil holder. However, letting them buy one item curbs their desire to buy everything and allows them to be self-expressive and feel special.

Although these may seem like simple steps, any parent who has spent 20 minutes to find plastic, three-pronged, yellow pocket folders knows how frustrating shopping for school supplies can be.

When you get your children involved and they do the hunting, it is fun for them, gives them greater ownership of their supplies, and saves you the headache of trying to do everything yourself. Plus, you create warm memories in the process. Happy shopping everyone!

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]