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Managing the Cost of School Supplies

The Demands and Cost of Back to School Supplies

Tis the season of back to school. Malls are crowded with excited kids and harried mothers purchasing this fall's must-have clothing. I shudder to think what grunged-out, bell-bottomed, psychedelic nightmare the cool kids will be wearing next. Schools are being revisited by students eager to sign up for the easiest electives, i.e.: Macrame 101 and Philosophy of Rap, but not eager for the summer to come to an end. And we are all once again flocking like lemmings to the Wal-Mart in search of school supplies.

I never understood why my mother held this time of the year in such disdain. To be quite honest it always confused me. I thought she should have been happy to see her four rugrats board the bus and give her some peace and quiet in which to do the laundry and the dishes. On the contrary, even without a calendar, I could tell by her demeanor that the end of our time off was fast approaching. She smiled less. Her eyes would glaze over. And I would often find her hyperventilating into a paper bag, the checkbook and calculator on the counter before her. It was not until my own daughters hit kindergarten that I too discovered how the words "back to school" could strike terror in the heart of a parent.

It is not enough that my oldest daughter has the audacity to keep growing during the school break, thus rendering useless any clothing she wore before the onset of 90-degree temps. Now she is old enough to have an opinion about what she wears! "But Mooooo-ooooom, everybody is going to have bell bottoms but meeeeeeeeeeee." "Mooooo-oooooom, I really neeeeeeeed a vinyl mini-skirt." "Come on Mooooo-ooooom, high heeled tennis shoes are so coooooooool." As only a mother can, I stick to my guns. Let everybody else look stupid in those pants, no one neeeeeeeeeeeds a skirt made of Tupperware, and falling off one's tennis shoes in gym class certainly is not coooooool. As for my other school age daughters, they rule as Queens of the Land of Hand Me Downs. There is something to be said for having only one gender of children!

Once the clothing crisis has been handled, we turn our attention to the required school supplies. And I do mean required. Each school distributes lists of what each child must bring with them on the first day of school. My leg is not as long as these lists. Come to think of it, my entire colon, which is spasming at the thought of this shopping trip, is not as long as these lists. Our cart is quickly filled with markers – fat and thin – glue sticks and bottles, paint sets, rulers, paper, folders – three-pronged only and in the required rainbow of colors – tissue, water bottles (what happened to the fountains?), erasers, backpacks and pencils – number 2 only.

I must pause here to take issue with this whole number 2 pencil thing. Since the day I entered school, I have heard those words every time "pencil" is uttered. Every dot test I ever filled in was preceded with the ominous warning to "Use only a Number 2 pencil." For the SATs, we were cautioned to bring several, as if our college bound lives depended upon the magic number 2. Tell me: Has anyone ever actually seen a number 1 or number 13 pencil? You cannot buy anything BUT number 2 pencils! Yes, I suppose the local art store carries a variety of lead for sketching, but we aren't shopping at Le Chateau de Art Frou Frou for our school supplies! Pardon me while I find a paper bag to breathe into.

We depart the local Wal-Mart carrying five bags of supplies. If wars were fought with Elmer's Glue and loose leaf paper – wide rule only – surely we would be considered armed and dangerous. The bags are heavy, but balanced out by the fact that the bag I carried in, my purse, is substantially lighter. My eyes glaze over in the parking lot as I look at the total on the receipt: $90. Ninety dollars for school supplies. As soon as I can pull my head out of this paper bag, I am writing a letter to the superintendent to demand a recount! (With my number 2 pencil, of course.)

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