Back-to-School Consumer Tips for Tough Times

1. Buy only what you need: 
It's never too early to teach children the difference between needs and wants.  Any child old enough for school can start to appreciate that parents are spending a small fortune on necessities these days.  If you give in like I did (breaking my first rule) to the trendy backpack, explain that it's a splurge and that it had better last a really long time...

2. Don't go overboard chasing deals:
I've used coupons all my life, as well as price matching.  The loss leaders like the 25-cent crayons are a big draw, I understand.  When I tried to make sure I got the "best" deal on some basic school supplies, I spent an extra hour driving around from store to store to save about $5.00 total.  My time is worth more than that; how about yours?

3. Reuse what you can:
We're in the midst of a project to replace one child's initials with another's so that last year's trendy backpack can get a couple of year's more use.  I refuse to buy another one of those tiny, overpriced bottles of hand sanitizer when we can keep refilling last year's.  Could some of last year's binders last another season?

4. Respect the teacher's supply list:
I respect that someone with a master's degree and years of experience in education has a very good reason for wanting x brand of pencils instead of another.  So, I will comply, no matter what the cost.  On the other hand, if the teacher requires a pvc-filled notebook, I might politely ask if there could be an alternative.

5. Watch for health and environmental hazards:
The Center for Health, Environment & Justice points out that school supplies made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) are not only bad for your student, but for children in neighborhoods where these products are manufactured.  It further suggests that we all look for alternatives to plastics in items from backpacks to canteens and sandwich bags.  It offers a free back-to-school guide to PVC-free shopping.  Women's Voices for the Earth has been leading a campaign to rid soaps of triclosan, an ingredient found in popular anti-bacterial products that has links to hormone disruption and breast cancer.  Surely we've all learned to watch for BPA in hard plastic products and lead in cheaply made plastics or metals.  When in doubt, less is more. 

6. If you can't afford supplies, ask for help:
After the devastating tornado there, donors have provided every Joplin, Missouri student a free set of supplies this fall.  Many communities have similar fill-the-backpack programs set up to help students in need each year.  You could ask your child's teacher for a charitable group in your area that might be able to help.

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