Parents share strategies for back-to-school shopping

Saturday, August 14, 2010 | 5:55 p.m. CDT; updated 9:12 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 14, 2010
Scott O'Connell picks up school supplies for the upcoming year from Martha Stolp at Ann's Teachers Store on Wednesday. O'Connell teaches third grade at New Franklin Elementary.

COLUMBIA — Although Labor Day is considered by many to be summer's end, the phrase "back to school" is a major signal that all too soon sprinklers and Popsicles will be traded in for lunchboxes and textbooks. 

Eighth-grader Aly Andrews, 13, hates how long shopping for school supplies takes. But her sister, Katy, who is in sixth grade, doesn’t mind spending the time getting new stuff. The two attend Southern Boone Middle School in Ashland.

Help for getting school supplies

Voluntary Action Center

  • School supplies available for those in need with proof of address, income and identification
  • Call 874-2273 for more information or to donate supplies.

Assistance League of Mid-Missouri

  • Operation School Bell plans to clothe more than 1,200 Columbia Public Schools kindergartners through fifth-graders from Sept. 15 to Nov. 5. 
  • Call 445-3848 for more information or to donate. 

 Salvation Army

  • Works with local residents and businesses to provide school supplies for students in need 
  • For more information to to donate, call 442-3229.

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The girls and their mother, Gloria Andrews, were on a search for locker supplies this past week at Walmart in Columbia.

“We’re looking for mirrors, little fun things, that kind of stuff,” Andrews said. “We usually end up using something makeshift. I think we’ll have to look in the auto aisle.”

The Andrews are one of the many Boone County families preparing for the start of school; Columbia Public School District starts Thursday. Conversations with more than 10 families on recent back-to-school shopping trips showed that despite tough economic times, school supplies are still considered a necessity, but parents have some tips for outfitting their broods for school.

Andrews noted that special sales like Staples’ penny deals inspire parents to visit a lot of different stores — she's already on her third shopping trip. Buying generic products rather than name brand helps save money, too, she said.

Kathleen Ellis did some back-to-school shopping this past Monday with her oldest son, Andrew, who will be a senior at Hickman High School.

"We're trying to reuse things as much as possible," Kathleen Ellis said. "I usually go at the end of the season and buy clearance and then, before the start of school, to fill in the blanks."

She will have children in three Columbia public schools — Smithton Middle School, West Junior High School and Hickman — to outfit with wardrobes this year.  

"Thankfully, he's stopped growing," said Kathleen Ellis, gesturing to Andrew. "The other two, we're not so lucky."

Julie Klein also has three children to prepare for school. They all attend Columbia Catholic School, where they are required to wear uniforms. 

"I can't imagine buying school supplies and a whole wardrobe on top of that for each one of them," Klein said.

Klein, a reading teacher at Derby Ridge Elementary School, said she picks up school supplies for both her children and her classroom throughout the year because of her job. 

"They give you the basics, and there's a budget for some things," Klein said. "There's always things I'm wanting that I just get on my own."

She said she routinely buys tissues to use in her classroom after the ones brought in by students run out.

Andrew Ellis said that at Hickman, a teacher one year offered students an incentive to bring in tissues.

"If you brought in a box of tissues, she'd give you a five yen piece, which is the equivalent of about a nickel, but it's still cool because it's Japanese," he said. 

At Target last Monday, Kristy Simmons found the school supply list for Midway Heights Elementary School online on her iPhone. 

Her daughter, Merra, who will be a fifth-grader at Midway Heights this year, is excited for school to start.

"I get to see all the teachers, and my new teacher and my friends," Merra said.

Reading the list aloud off her phone, her mother paused over one item: "A flash drive. Now, that's new," she said.

They had flash drives at home, Simmons said, but she thought they would go ahead and buy the rest of the supplies listed. 

"Sometimes the folders they require are really tricky because if you wait too long like we did, things get picked over, and you can't get the colors and styles you need," Simmons said.

One mother’s shopping model involves planning far ahead. Jill Swearingen has two children, a son who is a junior at Rock Bridge High School and a daughter in fourth grade at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School.

For her daughter, Swearingen shops a year ahead, using the list of required school supplies for each grade as posted on the Columbia Public Schools website. Although her daughter will be in fourth grade this year, Swearingen is primarily shopping for her fifth-grade year.

Beginning to shop a year in advance allows her to wait for sales and buy more than she would have otherwise, she said.

“It’s great to have extra supplies for traveling or birthday presents or just so (the supplies) don’t run out,” she said. 

Pam Tamerius home-schools her children through elementary school. Her youngest two are still at home. She said home schooling requires fewer back-to-school purchases because many of the supplies don't wear out as quickly. 

"Binders — those things tear up like crazy," she said. Pencils and erasers are more likely to be lost when she sends them with her older kids, who attend public and private schools. 

One money-saving strategy Tamerius uses is sticking to the basics.  

"You can get a cheap $4 to $5 lunchbox, or you can go all out and get a $15 lunchbox with all the bells and whistles," Tamerius said. "I think that's the trick. Figuring out what you need and what you want."


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Joy Mayer August 15, 2010 | 10:43 a.m.

The New York Times also has a nice school supply story this morning. Cleaning products make up a pretty big chunk of the lists these days:

— Joy Mayer,

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