Friday, July 22, 2011

Martha Stewart Syndrome

Ah, Fall. A return to schedules, notebooks and backpacks. The crisp air becons us to shake off the haze of summer and dive into leaf piles and pumpkin patches.

At our house, autumn brings about a magical change. My husband calls it Martha Stewart Syndrome. I want to bustle about the kitchen baking and stewing all sorts of heavenly treats. I dig out the aprons that were too hot for summer and wrap my hair in an old bandana. Cleaning, organizing and cooking are the order of every day. When I finally come to my senses, there is soup on the stovetop, bread in the oven and my cupboards are overflowing with canned goods and pantry staples. And school supplies. And while all of that is very good, if Mrs. Pennywise isn't careful she could have overspent on everything. So let's tackle things one category at a time and see if we can enjoy MSS without breaking the bank.

Unless you're 12, you're probably not really excited to go back-to-school shopping. I'm not an expert on the matter, but I do know that both public and private schools in this area are kind enough to compile a list of needed items for each classroom. Moreso, it would seem, for the elementary grades where children can forget to bring the list home...or to give it to Mom...or that there ever was a list. The key here is to not overbuy. And remember that you don't HAVE to buy everything brand-spankin' new. Get a list, take it home and look it over. Chances are that you have many items already lurking about. Designate a shelf or bin for school supplies and place them there. Then venture out with your list. Leave the kiddos at home or you could end up with something like a Justin Bieber lunchbox or something. And do you really want to see that every morning at 6 a.m.? I thought not.

At this point you have a choice. My habit would always be to check loss leader stores (like Not-Little Lots and Hundred Pennies General). See if they have the items you need. If so, great! If not, just buy your standard item and leave. (What, you don't have a standard item?? Yeah, right. Everyone has a standard item they buy at loss leaders. I do. And it may or may not involve chocolate.) Then proceed to the larger store of your choice. Take a deep breath and plunge in. I should warn you that there will probably be 562 parents, 47 children and possibly 14 yaks. It's okay. Just grab only what you absolutely must have and leave. Just walk away. Another deep, cleansing breath....and there...it's over. Now all you have to do is take your stock home, only to return in a couple of weeks and finish out your supply shelf. Not only have you saved a tremendous amount of hassle, you could benefit from some pretty nice markdowns as well.

Parents of children who are homeschooled have a whole other set of temptations when it comes to the back-to-school season: curricula. Because most HSers purchase curricula themselves, it can be a real money pit. Once again, do your research! Talk to other parents, and make your decision. Then hit the internet with your list in hand. Use your search engine wisely and you're sure to find a bargain. Because curricula is expensive many parent teachers choose to purchase used material, much like collegiate material (more on that later). Just be sure you're buying up-to-date material. Of course, even here you can "choose your battles" so to speak. I tend to purchase older math texts because the rules of math just don't change. Subjects that need to contain updated material should be new, in my opinion. Purchasing non-used books can be done frugally as well. Keep your eyes open for the Pennywise page on Facebook for links and tips. And please respect copyright laws. It is really tempting to purchase one text and make copies for all the children. Most books for homeschooling have a note about copying, and what the publisher of that particular text would rather you do. Abide by their request and sleep better at night.

Public, private or home school households can also benefit from some good old fashioned bargain hunting in the guise of the yard sale. I LOVE yard sales! I picture myself as a grand adventurer (only with latte) searching far and wide for treasure. And boy, have I found it before. You know how fishermen have their one or two great stories, right? “There I was, fishin’ since dawn…” Well, I hit the queen royal of yard sales a few years ago. While we’d just made the decision to homeschool, it never really occurred to me that I’d find much while yard sale shopping. Little did I know that the home to which I’d come was that of a retiring elementary school teacher. (Insert celebratory Mardi Gras type music here.) I got a shoebox full of brand new pencils, several packages of erasers and crayons, left-handed scissors for my little southpaw and more for an embarrassingly small amount of money. She was so sweet! I even got some great advice. So hold on! There is hope that the next sale will have your school supply or clothing stockpile! The thing is, it won’t walk to you. You’ve got to invest some time and effort.

While many people consider new clothes and accessories as school supplies, that term takes on an even wider connotation when applied to the college student.For those who are going away to school it means buying the necessities of life, and it is easy to get caught up in the emotion of a child entering college. This is, once again, a time to pick your battles. Purchases that rate high on the "cool" scale and low on the "useful" scale should be carefully considered. Here is where impulse shopping will get you every time. Keep those receipts! There's nothing like realizing that you've blown the budget AND thrown away the receipts. You're left with buyer's remorse and a set of Hello Kitty steak knives. Knowing your priorities helps. You may not want to buy yet another pair of floppy sandles for shower shoes. But are you prepared to buy the $10 per tube athlete's foot ointment? I didn't think so. Buy the shower shoes. Despite the name, fungus isn't fun. Also consider what will get the workout. Invest in the best quality you can afford in things like laptops and backpacks, leaving the $200 touch screen mp3 player on the shelf for the student to purchase for themselves or Christmas.

Ask any parent or seasoned collegian and they'll tell you that a major money-eater is textbooks. Up until now, your only options were to mortgage the house (again) and buy new or camp out at the used bookstore and hope they have what you need. Even then, costs can be prohibitive. At last, this issue is being addressed. Hop on a computer, strap on your favorite search engine and look for "rent college textbooks". At the date of writing, that search phrase generated about 261,000 returns on Google. You read it right! One of the larger rental companies claimed at the time of writing to have saved students more than $246,000,000 over the cost of new books. Even though it's been a few decades since college, I decided to search for a textbook I liked so much I kept it. (Yes, I'm weird.) A business communication text by Thill & Bovee came in online around $110 new, but I found it to rent for $54. That's a substantial savings! Don't forget to check the college bookstore and local used bookstores too. Sometimes the internet doesn't have the best deal. (I know, right?! I was shocked too!) The recurring theme still holds true: do your research so you can make the most of your funds. Remember what P. T. Barnum said in The Art of Moneygetting, “A penny here, and a dollar there, placed at interest, goes on accumulating, and in this way the desired result is attained. It requires some training, perhaps, to accomplish this economy, but when once used to it, you will find there is more satisfaction in rational saving than in irrational spending.”

As for the lamps, d├ęcor and such that accompany this first adverture in adulthood…thank your lucky stars that retro is IN! That doesn’t mean you can run down to Goodwill, buy a lamp and have your young adult love it. Retro is in, yes…but think more along the lines. Like a house. No matter how lovely the home, paint it hot pink and lime green and it is no longer appealing. Consult magazines, craft stores, boutiques and websites. Know what you’re looking for and buy accordingly. If you can find exactly what you want – great! But if you’ll just be prepared to add a new fabric cover or fresh paint you could send your kiddo off to live in their stylish new digs.

As for the cooking and cleaning of it all, there are hundreds of internet sites and pages devoted to frugal cleaning method. Scour (pun intended) the net and you’ll find something to meet your needs. Once again, this is a time to choose your battles. I love saving money, but there are a couple of cleansers that I just can’t do without. So I use coupons and stock up on them while they are on sale. Vinegar and baking soda make a wonderful cleanser with antibacterial properties…the smell is pungent but dissolves quickly and tends to not disrupt people like me who have asthma.

Check out the net for more information – and recipes for homemade cleaning products that I’m certain you’ll love. You can also use this forum to ask a question or leave a comment. Until next time, I wish you happiness as you journey in frugality.