Oh boy. Back-to-school shopping season is upon us. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. If you hadn’t already noticed the department store displays full of brightly colored, slightly creepy anthropomorphic school supplies dancing with children in jeggings, I’m sure you have the date of your state’s tax-free weekend practically etched into your planner.
However, now that I’ve joined the dark side and have a few children of my own, back-to-school shopping means more to me than waking up at 4 a.m. to stuff every piece of merchandise I can into an Old Navy duffel bag for $15 (though I must say, this talent is truly underrated). Back-to-school means actually spending time with sale papers, comparing deals, bargain hunting, and even *gasp* organizing coupons. It means heading into the war zone that is the stationery aisle to make sure that dammit, if there’s one kid who is going to be prepared for first grade, it’s going to be my kid.
As it goes in any war, sacrifices must be made. I may still be a rookie in the game, but I’ve learned that when it comes to school supplies, less is definitely more. Here’s my list of seven things you definitely should not buy for back-to-school season.
1Book bags made of plastic
I despised the book bags my mother bought for me when I was in grade school. Every three or four years when I needed a new backpack, she would come home with a Jansport in the latest shade of sadness. I swore I’d never put my kids through the same monotone color shame. When my son started school, I bought the gaudiest possible Spider-Man backpack complete with a matching reflective lunchbox. It cost $45. By mid-January, the poorly constructed bag was so mangled that Spider-Man was hanging by a literal thread. I tossed the whole thing in the garbage and ordered him a Jansport off Amazon the next day in my favorite color: Responsible Adult Ruby.
2A five-subject notebook
Where were you when you realized what a sham five-subject notebooks are? I was well into college went I discovered how much easier it is to divide your subjects into several one-subject notebooks instead of one massive book, poorly divided by flimsy pocket folders, that looks like it was a Dunder Mifflin reject product. Raise your kids right. Don’t let them be like me.
3Shoes that do literally anything besides walk
Remember, parents: kids are mean. Even yours. They get weirdly classist when their possessions have extra features, even if those features are utterly pointless. If you buy your kids fancy shoes, they’ll inevitably become either a classroom distraction or a point of contention and comparison on the playground. Fancy kicks never end well. Ask yourself these important questions when buying footwear for your little ones: Does it skate? Don’t take the bait. Shoes with lights? We gon’ fight.
4A pencil case
Let’s be honest, the only thing these are really good for is hair accessories. Buying a separate plastic pencil case for holding pencils is like buying a hat rack for your hallway. Sure it looks nice, and it’s practical, but aren’t you just going to put your hat on the couch anyway? Same goes with pencils. Your kid is never going to use that case for actual pencils, with the exception of artistically inclined students. Save yourself the $1.25 and skip it.
5Mechanical pencils for kids under age 10
There are a lot of reasons for this. First, there are too many moving parts. Kids under 10 will break these, and more than a few will do so intentionally out of pure curiosity. Second, mechanical pencils are another one of those things that some kids use to belittle others, and you never want to give kids that kind of fodder. Third, wooden pencils build character. Back in my day, you had to crank the pencil sharpener.
For the love of god, unless you’re donating to a general sticker fund for the teacher’s reward system, do not give your child the power to stick adhesive glue to surfaces indiscriminately.