How to back-to-school shop like a boss: tips for saving money and being kind

For some parents, school supply lists are a blight on an otherwise happy time: back-to-school season.

It's not easy to gather up all of those verrrryyyy specific supplies. But because there's an important reason your kiddo has been asked to bring these things, we're doing what we've gotta do.


At the top of everyone's supply list? A rubber band ball, of course. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

It can get pricey to purchase those essentials, especially for families with more than one student.

Believe it or not, it is possible to find your back-to-school joy again ... by saving money on back-to-school necessities.

To make sure I'm only giving you the best-of-the-best tips, I asked parents and teachers for some cash-saving ideas, plus I threw in a few of my own, to help you feel like you're scoring your own personal victories by saving money while buying school supplies this year.

1. Check to see if your state offers tax-free shopping days on back-to-school items.

2. You can also check retailers' websites for back-to-school sales.

Save time by using a website that aggregates the sales for you! Nicole Johansen, a mom of two and teacher for 12 years, recommends the website Surviving a Teacher's Salary. While geared toward teachers, the "hot deals" section will be useful for anyone buying back-to-school supplies.


Photo by Mike Mozart/Flickr.

3. Use money-saving apps.

Target's Cartwheel is just one example, but apps can let you look for items on your supply list that are also earmarked for additional discounts. If I'd have known about it before I bought my kids' supplies, I'd have saved another $15.

4. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, this is an excellent time to use it.

You'll find great deals on back-to-school items, and even better, you can sign up for Amazon Smile (and still use get Prime benefits). With Amazon Smile, an organization you choose will earn 0.5% of all of your purchases. Signing up is free — and may I suggest you designate your school (or school's PTO) as the recipient?

5. Buy a few extra essentials while they're on sale.

Many parents suggest buying a few extra "essentials," like pencils and erasers, during the back-to-school sales — you can get many items for 50% off regular prices — and hanging onto them for later in the school year when your child runs out.

Image by Thinkstock.

6. Coordinate bulk shopping with other parents if you can.

One friend suggested going in on bulk-item purchases with some other parents. Buying in bulk is often cheaper, and teaming up with other parents whose kids are in class with yours is a great way to save a little cash.

7. Ask the teacher what items are needed most urgently.

If your budget is tight, ask the teacher what items the kids will need right now and what you can purchase midway through the year. For example, they'll need pencils now but might have enough boxes of tissues, which means you can buy those later.

8. Look for products you can use year after year.

Some stores offer lifetime guarantees — seriously, lifetime! — on products your kids can use for school. Staples, for examples, sells binders that are guaranteed for life.

Beyond getting the absolute necessities, there are a few ways to spread some back-to-school kindness to teachers and other students if your budget allows.

Not all parents can afford to fulfill their students' supply list. There is nothing wrong with or shameful about that. But it's hard for kids, regardless of how much we adults understand life circumstances.

If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, you can pick up some extra supplies on the list and just bring 'em in.

Alternatively, you can ask the teacher specifically what supplies he or she could really use, shortly after the year begins and once they're able to take stock of what the classroom really needs.

Gifts cards for supplies are another way to help a teacher out.

I asked Katie Sluiter, a mom of three and a teacher of 13 years, what's most helpful for her — general Visa gift cards, retail store gift cards, or online gift cards.

"For me, I would welcome anything," she said. But your best bet? Ask the teacher which would be most helpful.


Not the actual gift cards teachers usually ask for, unless of course they're integrating movies and fishing into their lessons. Photo by 401(K)2012/Flickr.

Johansen gets excited when she talks about teacher specialty stores, like Lakeshore Learning. She says the supplies are more expensive, but the quality is much higher — and these are "everyday" items.

"For elementary school teachers, just walk into a teaching store with them and watch their eyes light up — it's like Christmas in August. Pretty much anything in there is what we don't request but would love," she says.

If you're more comfortable purchasing supplies instead of gift cards, there are other items teachers need but are reluctant to request. For Sluiter, it's poster board and presentation notepads. For her kindergarten teacher friends, it's plastic baggies. Just ask your student's teacher what they need that didn't make the class supply list.

Image by Thinkstock.

A friend of mine who's a teacher says that it's helpful to have a bag of packaged snacks in her desk for those students who come to school on empty stomaches. Whether the students were running late or didn't have breakfast because of financial limitations, teachers know it's hard for kids to learn when they're hungry. Check in with the teacher for any classroom allergy restrictions, then pick up some packaged snacks and drop 'em off!

There are a lot of suggestions here, but we're each only capable of so much and everybody understands that, especially your child's teacher. So don't worry; no one is looking at you, wondering why you didn't go above and beyond to bring in even more supplies.

"Any help is appreciated by teachers!" Johansen says. "Heck, a word of affirmation or acknowledgement that they spend their own money to better the education of all students would boost spirits!"

Teachers are teachers because they believe in what they're doing, not because they want a large glue stick collection.

"My favorite part of teaching is the personal relationships," Johansen says. "I adore getting to know my students — they are a part of my life forever, whether they know it or not."

"I love that my job makes a difference in the world," she says, "even if it's one person that is changed or helped. I love the laughter and love that comes with my job."

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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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