This is a "blast from the past", an article I wrote in 2009 about the long, detailed school supply lists I'd been seeing in some of the local stores in town. Keep in mind that not every public or private school family must comply with an expensive list of school supplies; I realize that, too! But to follow a few of the local lists I saw, it would be quite expensive to prepare a child for school...
Tonight, I’ve been mulling over some of the costs of homeschooling our children. Sure, we don’t have a second income, so if I include that, it costs well over $45,000 each year to homeschool our kiddos. But leaving the "second income" portion behind, I’m starting to think that it is far less expensive to teach my children at home than I originally thought.
Every year, we do what most homeschooling families do: we purchase curricula. Since I don’t choose to buy kits or sets of workbooks and packaged curriculum, I spend a lot of time researching what we are going to use…and the least expensive place to purchase it. Amazingly, there are some curriculum items we use in our family that are cheaper at smaller "mom and pop" homeschooling sites vs. big name sites like Amazon and ChristianBook.com . It is nice to have many months to figure out what we are going to use and where we are going to purchase it.
But tonight, something curious happened. I was entering a contest on a frugal blog, and we were supposed to answer the question, "What do you hate most about back-to-school shopping?" When I first read the question, I couldn’t think of anything I hated about preparing for a new school year. I love the curricula I choose…if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have chosen it, right? I decided to email the owner of the blog and ask her if I could instead share in my comment what I LOVE about back-to-school shopping, because I truly couldn’t think of anything I hated about it. She replied to say that this would be great…that she doesn’t want to exclude anyone from entering the contest.
So, tonight, I went back to her frugal living-type of website, and posted my comment. I shared about how I loved shopping for school supplies with the girls in tow, because we only needed a few things each year since our school supplies don’t typically get lost, broken, or stolen by other children in the classroom.
I shared about the excitement the girls and I have each August as we go shopping for one special outfit that they will wear for their first day of the school year. (Most of their other clothes are hand-me-downs, super clearance rack deals, or homemade clothes, etc.) It’s a special time together, and a fun "girls time" day as we do this together, because we rarely buy them nice, new clothes at a nice store.
I talked about how I love planning their lessons ahead of time and prepping for the new school year. I’ve always been a teacher at heart, and this to me is like a fun hobby! Yes, I do get tired during the school year, but during the summer, this is fun! So, you may ask me if I’ve had a busy summer, and I will answer wholeheartedly, "YES!" but it is a fun kind of busy, because I am doing something I love to do.
After I placed my comments on her blog posting, I was curious about what some of the other 722 entries said. These moms were writing about what they hated about back-to-school shopping, so I wanted to know what they had to say. This is when things became interesting.
The #1 complaint amongst these parents was obviously that it is SO expensive to prepare children for going back to school. Well, I think to myself, if they carefully watch the sales, they can purchase the back-to-school items very inexpensively, right?
Like for around $10, right?
You know, the 5 cent glue and the 79 cent Crayola markers, and the 9 cent package of ruled paper, right? That’s what I would do, if I was preparing my children to go back to public school in the fall, right?
Well…gone are the days where most school supply lists provided by the schools merely call for #2 pencils, a pencil box, ruled paper, crayons, and a box of Kleenex. Now, some of the schools are very explicit about what they will accept for school supplies, especially at the jr. high and high school levels:
Some moms said that to purchase all of the supplies for two elementary-aged children was costing them almost $200!
Yikes. What is going on?
When I was a teacher, every year the office staff would ask me what I’d like placed on the school supply list for the 4th graders. I’d just keep it the same as it has been for the last 50 years…crayons, #2 pencils, eraser, ruled paper, binder, glue, scissors, box of Kleenex.
I NEVER made the children put all of their school supplies together into a big box or drawers or something, to make it a community "socialist" school supply free-for-all.
Because the Kleenex wouldn’t fit in the students’ desks, I placed those in a cupboard, and we all used them during the school year.
I knew from human experience that if the school supplies were in a "free for all" situation, they would be abused and not taken care of, because no one "owned’ any of them. But, if they each had their own supplies purchased by their parents, they would take a bit more care to be responsible with their supplies. (At least, that was my hope…and the parents’!)
Instead, all of the other school supplies stayed in the students’ own desks, for their own personal use. I made sure that they all had their names on their own supplies, so no one could argue that so-and-so stole their school supplies.
I knew that I’d have students each year who couldn’t afford school supplies, so I purchased a few extras from the really cheap back-to-school sales the week after the 4th of July, and I kept those in my desk and privately handed them out to the students who needed them. This way, if a parent wanted to purchase really nice, expensive colored pencils for her child, she could do that, and her child would have those in her own desk for her own use. If a parent needed to purchase Dollar Tree colored pencils or crayons, she could do that as well. Everyone had the freedom to purchase what they could afford to purchase.
My attitude about the specific brands for products, navy pencil pouches, red or blue folders, 3" binders, etc. is not very positive.
Red folders are not going to improve a child’s education, are they? Almond colored binders are not going to enhance a child’s academics.
Who is making up all of these lists, anyway?
Lots of moms commented that even after following the school’s supply list, their children would still come home after the first day of school with a new list of items that the teachers supposedly required them to have.
My first experience with this was a few years ago when I happened to be in our local Staples store on the evening of the first day of school. I don’t remember what I was purchasing that day, but I clearly remember the horrified looks on parents’ faces as they came into the store accompanied by their teenage sons and daughters. For some of the upper math classes at the high school, they were required to have a specific graphing calculator that cost around $125 to $200. I couldn’t believe that! I took upper level math courses in high school, and we did all of our graphing by hand. It was really cheap that way! (By the way, families can purchase those same calculators, slightly used, on eBay and Amazon.com these days for a lot less money.)
The parents were frantic, because of course, the store ran out quickly and their children didn’t have the calculators they would need the next day at school.
I realize that some of the cheaper school supplies these days are not that great. I really don’t like using El Cheapo glue or colored pencils that have been manufactured in China.
I prefer better products.
But, if my children’s school supplies were required to go into a "community pot" where everyone would just take and use what they wanted, then I would be buying the cheaper brands, even if the teacher’s supply list called for Prismacolor colored pencils. I’m sorry, but I would be sending Crayola or worse.
I’m not going to support that kind of socialism.
Many other parents commented about hating the expense of buying clothing for their children.
One mom commented, "When I was a child and in school, we would continue using clothing from the previous school year, if it still fit. Nowadays, that isn’t an option. The kids insist on having everything brand new, that no one at their school has ever seen before."
Over and over again, moms were mentioning how expensive it is to clothe their children for school. While I think that my girls have too many clothes in their closets, it isn’t because we spend a ton of money on clothing. I’ve already mentioned above where most of their clothes come from.
This concept that everything has to be brand new for the new school year is teaching our children a big, fat lie.
We’re teaching them the opposite of frugal living. We’re teaching them that we deserve to have everything brand new, even if we have to put it on charge cards and we really can’t afford to pay cash for it right now.
My girls would be horrified if we went shopping and bought them 20 outfits or something like that.
One of them would actually refuse to come home with more than 1-2 outfits.
Many parents mentioned the awful peer pressure and the whining of their children to have this outfit, and that outfit, and of course, the outfits don’t color coordinate with other outfits to make better use of their clothing dollars.
Sigh. Is it just me, or are we giving in to our children’s selfish demands to live like millionaires?
Come on, most of us cannot afford to be raising our children with an endless supply of money coming out of our pockets!
Some of these issues should have been dealt with when their children were ages 3 and 4.
Truly, I’m not trying to be unkind here, but these are selfish demands that most families cannot afford.
I haven’t even begun to mention the school fees these days.
I learned last week from a store employee that the high schools here (and maybe the junior high schools, I don’t know) in our town require students to pay a textbook deposit for their texts each year. This way, if a textbook isn’t returned or is returned damaged, the school isn’t going to have to pay for the books to be replaced. While this makes sense to me, it does continue to add to the upfront costs of attending public school.
Then, you have the yearbook fees, parking fees, registration fees, school physical fees, club and activity fees, sports fees, $3,000 for being a cheerleader, and on and on and on.
It’s actually quite mind-boggling to me, how expensive it is to send children to many public schools.
I think I’d rather spend $500 or so each year in purchasing my own school curricula, and not having to deal with spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on school clothes, accessories, supplies, fees, and whims of the school district. That’s $250 per child that is very well spent!
Homeschooling seems like the cheaper option, now. Never thought I’d say that!
What do you find most expensive about the school option you’ve chosen for your own children? How do you work around your education expenses to make things less costly for your own family?
Please share! I’d enjoy reading what you have to say.
© Copyright 2009 by Julieanne Miller
Hi! I'm Julieanne!