One thing Virginia does, which I appreciate, is hold a tax-free weekend for back-to-school shopping. Downside: the stores are full of moms and kids, saying things like, “You need four binders??” and blockading all the rows. Upside: No taxes on school supplies. I like that upside. So being a budget-conscious homeschooler, I optimistically sallied out to do a little back-to-school shopping that weekend.
There are two schools of thought about buying school supplies with kids:
Growing up, back-to-school shopping was practically a holiday, and my family had a big time going together and picking awesome things. This method needs a list and/or a large budget, but it sure is fun.
The other approach involves Mom going all by herself to get what is needed, no more, and have done with it. I ran into a friend while I was out who was singing the praises of going alone (she said, with a cart full of kids). This method, btw, also needs a list. My girls don’t especially like shopping and their help tends to do difficult things to budgets, so I left them with Daddy and tried to embrace going by myself.
But hmm…. the list. The unspoken downside to setting tax-free shopping on a particular weekend is that people have to know what they want by that weekend. We’re only just barely moved in and I haven’t, actually, unpacked our school room or supplies yet. I’ve been busy doing things like hunting for a change of sheets and taking more boxes to recycle, and discovering that we really are out of apple juice again.
So my physical shopping list that day was full of house things. I needed a small coffee pot that isn’t a Keurig, filters for my giant group-activity-size coffee pot, a bath mat, baby wipes, a watermelon, and a roll of kraft paper for sewing. I put all our school supplies on an unwritten list, which included “school supplies,” “a big whiteboard,” and “a backpack big enough for a load of laundry or groceries” although I didn’t know which supplies or how big a whiteboard because I didn’t know where I was going to put it because, as you may remember, I haven’t unpacked that room yet. The unwritten list was obviously super helpful.
I do know what subjects we’re doing, and I reported them with my Notice of Intent legally and everything, but when you’re being stared at by aisles of pencils, you have to answer awkward concrete questions like, “Do we have pencils?” Um… probably? Also there’s the lurking feeling that Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are right around the corner and aren’t school supplies a great thing to put in them?
It was all very amorphous.
So my solitary me-party wandered listlessly up and down at Walmart and Target, vaguely buying masking tape, rubber bands, a plausible-looking tin for index cards, one graph paper notebook like in Peg + Cat, and plain notebooks, just on general principles. I didn’t buy any fun and awesome supplies. I did not even buy gold-plated desk accessories, not so much as the stapler or that paperweight that looks like a sea urchin, even though they’re really shiny. I decided I probably do want a snake plant, but I didn’t buy it either.
Nobody seems to carry indecisively large whiteboards. Everyone’s backpacks were mostly too small (school children don’t want to haul an entire load of laundry around with them daily? What??) and they seemed about evenly split between too expensive and too ugly. Sigh. The housey shopping was otherwise pretty successful, though not tax-exempt. I even found a small coffee pot which wasn’t a Keurig, which will definitely improve our school year. Meg was delighted with the graph notebook. The day wasn’t bad. It was just blah.
Planning ahead would have been helpful, while I was trying to plan ahead. Anyone could have guessed that. But then, not moving in August would also have been helpful. The moral of the story, that I really learned, is that the magic goes out of school prep if I go alone.
Photo Credit: Second and third photos by Carolyn Bales.