Thursday, August 10, 2006

Frugal & Green School Supplies

Isn't there a cheaper and more eco-friendly way to obtain back to school supplies? The Center for American Dream has a few ideas that are frugal and green.

Most of the ideas are cool. My kids, however, may not go for the beach bag/backpack idea, but the other tips ring true.

Here is the news release:

Getting Ready for Back to School

"It’s that time of year again…time to rally the kids and head off to your local mega-mart to stock up on Back to School supplies. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American family is expected to spend $527.08 getting ready this year. But there are cheaper ways to prepare your family for the new school year. Here are a few tips for making the most of your financial resources, many of which will not cause you to look any farther than your very own home.

You could spend a lot of money to buy new backpacks with special compartments for iPods and other bells and whistles, but odds are you don’t need to buy anything at all to meet your children’s classroom needs. Do you have an oversized beach bag that will accommodate several textbooks and notebooks at a time? What about a roomy canvas tote bag or reusable grocery bag?

Yard Sales/Thrift Stores/Lifetime Warrantees
Even if you don’t have any appropriate bags already, you can often find these kinds of items very cheaply at thrift stores and yard sales—or tucked away in a closet. And did you know that some companies, such as Jansport, offer lifetime warrantees on their products? Even if an old backpack no longer zips correctly or has rips or tears, you can often send it back to the company for repair or replacement—at absolutely no charge.

If you do need to buy new, look for bags that are well-made and durable from a reputable company—preferably with a warrantee. Buying fewer products over the course of a lifetime is essential to saving money, and a good pack should last you for years and years.

As noted in many places, thrift stores and yard sales are the best places for one-stop shopping on a budget, and this is probably most apparent when it comes to clothes. Kids grow out of their clothes quickly, and you can usually find all sorts of gently used sweaters, pants, and accessories from second-hand sources.

But because kids come in all shapes and sizes, it can be hard to find a good fit. Never underestimate the power of hand-me- downs among siblings, or even among friends. Clothing swaps and hand-me-downs are a great way not only to save money, but to extend the life of resources that have already been manufactured.

Truly green computers are hard to come by, but refurbished models are both environmentally friendly and will save you money. To find used computers in your area, try Craigslist, or contact computer manufacturers like Dell, which refurbishes and resells its products through Dell Outlet. (Check with your computer manufacturer for recycling of old computer equipment, too).

But perhaps the cheapest strategy is to determine what your family’s computer needs are. Younger children, who do not do a lot of word processing or internet research, are probably best off sharing a family computer. It might not be until college, when your child moves out, that it will be important to consider getting your child his or her own computer. Even then, many campuses have stellar computer facilities with flexible hours and on-campus tech-support.

If there’s one thing most of us have too much of in our lives, it’s paper. Why buy a new notebook or a new ream of copy paper when most of us are literally swimming in perfectly usable paper? The catch is that most of it—indeed, most of the paper that goes into recycling bins and trash cans all around the country—has already been used. But just on one side.

Recycled Binders

Get a few looseleaf binders and a three-hole punch (odds are you already have these items). Then go through your mail. Are you getting credit card offers and magazine renewal notices that are only printed on one side of each sheet? Do your kids have old handouts from last year still lying around? If anyone in your family works in an office setting, he or she can usually come home with mountains of blank-backed pieces of paper from the recycling bins. All of this paper is 100% post-consumer recycled paper—the greenest you can get—and it won’t cost you a dime.

For recycled paper notebooks, punch holes in the paper and put them in a handy reusable binder. For recycled copy paper... don’t punch holes in it. And when you or your kids print out documents, remember to always print double-sided so you get the most use out of your paper. It is also a good idea keep a supply of one-sided paper next to the printer for printing essay drafts and internet articles.

Recycled Cereal Box Notebox
Don’t like looseleaf notebooks? Check out the cool recycled cereal box notebooks some students in Michigan are making. (You can contact them for instructions to make your own.). Kids can pick their favorite cereals and make notebooks that are truly unique. It is a great idea for a rainy day project that is inexpensive and will (temporarily) wrench the kids away from the TV.

How often do you actually use up the ink in your pens or wear your pencil down so far it no longer fits in the sharpener? Most of us buy this stuff all the time because we can’t keep track what we have. Invest in a reusable pencil case to keep writing utensils handy in the front of a recycled paper looseleaf notebook, or keep it simple with a Ziploc bag.

Bedroom and Decorating
If you have kids going off to college, don’t forget to check out the used furnishing offerings. Odds are you won’t find everything you need at the thrift, but you can find a lot of second-hand furniture at good prices there. Another excellent way to find more specific items is to search for them in the city nearest you at Craigslist (used, for sale) or Freecycle (used, yours for the taking)."

For more tips and statistics on back to school spending, visit New Dream


Through a Glass Darkly said...

I say go with JanSport or LL Bean for bookbags. I convinced my mother to buy me a JanSport in 8th grade--it was $50, so this convincing took a lot of work--and ... 13 (I had to count) years later, it's still going strong. My husband has had a similar experience with his LL Bean backpack.

I think backpacks are one area where it makes sense to pay a good chunk now to get something quality. And sometimes you can find JanSport bags at discount stores like TJ Maxx.

Frugal Duchess: Sharon Harvey Rosenberg said...

That's a great tip!
Over the long haul, quality is worth the price.