Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Week 30--Don't Bust Your Budget for Back to School

This week's task on Green Boot Camp may not be for everyone. Why? Because it's focusing on back to school. Now I realize that not everyone has kids that will be going back to school shortly--or may have already gone back if you live someplace where school started last week--but I promise that some of my advice and suggestions may apply.

OK, for starters, do not--I repeat, do not--head out to go back-to-school shopping before you've had the chance to do an inventory at home. The easiest way to collect more stuff, and therefore create more trash, is to buy and bring home items that you actually didn't need. And with too much stuff comes clutter. And as Flylady always says, "You can organize clutter."

So how do you get your inventory started? Well, if your kids are like my kids, they came home on the last day of school with a backpack full of half-used school supplies. That means that your first stop is to locate that backpack (I found both of my daughters' backpacks on the floor of their respective closets) and see what you've got inside. Turns out I had at least two packages of lined, three-hole-punch notebook paper that were never opened. I also discovered those stretchy Book Sox book covers, which I tossed in the laundry, and now they're good to go for the next school year. I tossed all of these into my all-purpose school supply box, which I learned about creating before the start of the last school year.

Next I want you to take a look around your house and see if there are any paper products, writing utensils or other items that you could easily reuse as back-to-school supplies. For example, last year had me attending a number of business meetings, which ended with my coming home with a pocket folder full of information. I know enough not to toss these kinds of pocket folders--once I've emptied them out and filed whatever it is from inside that I want to keep--so a few days ago we raided that stash of pocket folders to see if anything would work for back to school. Three such pocket folders did. We also discovered a few unused three-ring binders (not enough for both girls), some empty spiral notebooks, and three Rubbermaid-like container each filled with colored pencils, markers and crayons.

You can bet that I'd like to dip into each of those containers to fulfill the writing-utensil portion of my daughter's supply lists. I mean why buy new when I've got all of these perfectly good (yet not in a package) pencils, markers and crayons? Truth be told is my youngest is embarrassed to reuse colored pencils; she wants a fresh package. So I made her buy her own.

Speaking of supply lists, that should be your next step. Download them from your kids' school website (assuming your district is technologically advanced), and review the list with what you've already got in stock. Chances are you'll still need to buy some new supplies, but wait: don't head out to Staples or Wal-Mart or Target just yet. Now you've got to troll the sales, assuming you've got the time to buy a little bit of supplies each week.

For example, a few weeks ago Staples was having its penny sale, so we stocked up supplies we needed that were dirt cheap. In the end we spent only 13 cents on supplies. Last week Staples had other items on sales--like those marble-covered composition notebooks for 25 cents and filler paper for 10 cents a pack. On that trip, we stocked up on those items. For us now the only thing we've got left on our list are three-ring binders, and hopefully those will go on sale before school starts in September.

My wait-for-the-sales approach to back-to-school shopping assumes that your trip to a store selling school supplies isn't so far that you'll eat up your savings in gas by making multiple trips. I'm lucky that Staples is less than a mile away from where I live, so I can stop in on my way back on an errand day, when I'm in the car anyway, or we can walk to the store.

In the meantime, I can't stop thinking about those containers of colored pencils that we'll probably never use. So I'm thinking of culling them and putting them up as an "offer" on Freecycle. Maybe some other family will be able to put them to good use.

In fact, if you don't have kids going back to school, maybe this is how you can use this week of Green Boot Camp to your advantage. You could figure out how you can declutter your school-like supplies and give them away on Freecycle (or another kind of swap site, like I discussed recently on my other blog) so that your stuff doesn't end up in the trash, you'll have less stuff around that you're probably not using anyway, and you'll help out a family that maybe can't afford to get its children all the school supplies that you're going to give away for free.

Let me know how this week's Green Boot Camp tasks work for you.


Daisy said...

Each year in June, I tell my student to either take their supplies home or donate them to my classroom stock. When I find usable pencils in the wastebasket, it bothers me! This happens less in my current job in a low-income school; the kiddos value their supplies because they don't have extras.

Leah Ingram said...

Hearing your feedback, from a teacher's perspective, makes me even more sure that I'm going to donate this stuff via Freecycle. Hey, is there a teacher's version of Freecycle, so I can ensure that a teacher gets this?


Kerrie said...

Call your local school. They will be able to get your box of extra school supplies into the right hands. Usually there's someone on staff who acts as a point person for matching needy kids with services or supplies.