8 Ways to Make School Supplies Last

By Tamekia Reece

How much do you plan to spend on back-to-school items? The National Retail Federation is predicting you’ll probably spend quite a bit. Its 2012 Back-to-School survey estimates parents will spend 30.3 billion dollars getting their kids ready for the school year. That’s about $688 for the average family with children in kindergarten through grades 12.

Although the majority of back-to-school budgets will go toward purchases for clothing and electronics, nearly $100 will be spent on school supplies.

And unless this is your child’s first year in school, you know that $100 is only the beginning. As the school year progresses, you’ll probably have to reach into your pocketbook time and time again to replace this item and buy more of that.

Or maybe not.

We’ve come up with the following tips to help make your child’s school supplies last longer–so your money can go further.

Choose Quality Over Price

Sure, you want to save a few bucks here and there. And you should. Just make sure it’s not at the expense of quality. The super cheap backpack will ultimately cost more when you have to replace it with a new one in two months, and those unbranded pens that start leaking the third day of school will have you shelling out money for better pens and maybe even dry cleaning. Name-brand supplies tend to be better quality, which means they will last longer. Don’t worry. Better quality doesn’t mean you have to spend tons. (We have tips on saving on school supplies here).

Skip the Paper

Folders get frequent use and rough handling, so many parents end up buying a stack of replacements right around the winter break. Not Leslie Komet Ausburn. “I buy plastic folders instead of those made with paper,” says the San Antonio, Texas mom of three. “Plastic folders can be used for several years because they don’t rip,” she explains.

To extend the life of folders even further, buy the ones with holes (or use a hole puncher to make your own) and place them in a binder. Since your kid won’t be shoving the unprotected folder in and out of his backpack, there will be less wear and tear.

Be Smart with Deco’

It may be difficult to convince your preteen not to draw little hearts, flowers and other designs on her folders and binders, but try. These items can be used year after year, as long as they’re in good condition. However, personal designs may reduce their shelf life. Next year your daughter probably won’t have a crush on the boy whose name she doodled all over the folder. She may decide she’s not into Hello Kitty anymore, which, of course, she stamped smack in the center of her folder. Or, if she no longer has use for it, her younger brother will likely resist using a binder that is covered with glittery, purple stickers.

For continued use of binders and folders, without squelching your child’s creative side, help her wrap it with paper (a brown paper bag, gift wrap, cloth, etc.) that she can use as a design or decorate herself. When she’s tired of that look, she can easily rip the paper off and start with a scribble-free binder. You can even put duct tape to use by letting your child cover folders and binders with the tape (it comes in many different colors and designs). She can then decorate it as she pleases. An added bonus: The duct tape helps to reinforce folders and binders, which means they’ll last longer.

Bag It

Although your child likely won’t be bringing the required 48 pencils back and forth to school every day, he will need something to hold his pens, pencils, markers and colored pencils. A compartment in his backpack won’t do, unless you want the backpack riddled with small holes and ink markings. The extra couple of dollars for a pencil bag will be worth it because your child will be less likely to lose writing instruments and other small supplies, like erasers, protractors and compasses, and if a pen or marker leaks, the pencil bag will protect folders, schoolwork and the backpack from damage.

Go with Plain Backpacks

Your child may try to convince you that he or she needs that backpack with the latest ‘tween star or superhero, but backpacks will get more wear for your money if they’re plain and non-trendy. That “cool” superstar may be replaced by the next big thing in six months, and your son may declare his favorite character is “for babies” this time next year. By buying a basic backpack, you don’t have to worry about the nagging and pleading to keep up with the ever-changing trends.

As with folders and binders, creativity can pay off here. You can jazz up a plain backpack by purchasing it in your child’s favorite color and then customizing it with beads, sticky jewels, or sew-on or iron-on patches of a favorite character or hobby. The good news is if you use items that can be removed later (like sewn on patches), your child can start over next year with a “new” backpack.

Keep the Extras Hidden

For items you know will need to be replenished (notebook paper, pens and pencils), buy a little more than your child needs while shopping the sales. Then keep them to yourself. When kids see they have more of something, they’re less inclined to take care of it. After all, if they lose, mangle, or sell it (yes, it happens), they always have extras. Aprille Franks-Hunt, an Oklahoma City mom of two knows this all too well. “I’ve found with my teenagers, if they have all of their school supplies, they use them all and give them away too,” she says. Her solution? She puts them away so they aren’t accessible to her teens. “I give them plenty to get started and let them know when they run out, all they have to do is ask,” she says. Because they no longer see a stack of folders or a few boxes of pens ready for the taking, they use what they have sensibly (and have stopped supplying others).

Store It Right

If you can’t find your extra school supplies when you need them or they become wet (and therefore useless) when the basement floods, it’s a waste of money. “To store supplies properly, keep the extras in one container so you’ll always know where they are when you need them,” says Stacey Agin Murray, a professional organizer in New Jersey. “Label the outside of the container and keep it away from water or elements that could destroy the supplies,” she adds. Not sure where to store the supplies? A shelf at the top of the closet, a high kitchen cabinet (not above the stove), or even a dresser drawer will work. The goal is to keep the supplies away from the little ones, in a place that is cool, dry and easy to remember.

Another storage tip: When your kid comes home with a dried out marker or pen, don’t toss it. “Throw out the marker but keep the cap,” says Murray, who is also a mom and former first grade teacher. “Next time your child loses a cap, you’ll have one to cover the marker and preserve the ink,” she says.

Keep It Clean

It’s frustrating to have to purchase a new lunch box because it has an odor that won’t go away. Even worse is having to replace your child’s backpack because three months into the school year, it has a huge unidentified stain that won’t budge. To keep odors and stains at bay, make it a habit (for you and your child) to remove old food and other trash from lunch boxes and backpacks every day. A good scrubbing with a baking soda and water mix will help keep lunch boxes odor-free and clean.

For backpacks, follow the cleaning instructions on the tag. If there are none, vacuum the interior, pockets and crevices to remove crumbs and debris. Then, using a sponge or rag, hand wash the backpack with warm water and a teaspoon or two of dishwashing liquid. Hang the backpack to dry, and you’re done.

To keep your child’s attire in good shape, be sure to treat any stains immediately, and always follow the directions on the tag.

For other stuff, like plastic folders, plastic pencil bags, or even sticky markers or glue caps, a quick wipe down with a damp rag or baby wipe will keep things fresh.

What takes only a few minutes can preserve your child’s lunch box, backpack and other school items for years.

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