Family life

When is the right time for back-to-school shopping?

It’s the summer’s biggest killjoy, but if you snooze, will you lose?

When is the right time for back-to-school shopping?

Photo, iStock

Like many of you, my face crinkled in disgust at the back-to-school sales promoted in the flyers in my mailbox in July. Now that I have two kids in school, the promotion seemed especially offensive after my daughters eagerly counted down to that last day of classes seemingly just days before. The last thing any of us were thinking about was what was needed to gear up for a new school year.

But, I have to admit, it’s successful advertising. The retail world always has to remind us that there are things that need to be purchased and we’d better hurry up and get them before we miss out. You may have trouble finding sunhats or sandals in these early weeks of August, but I’ve heard from three parents who have already purchased their kids’ snowsuits from Costco. Why? They’re worried they’ll be sold out otherwise. In July.

Well, I wasn’t going to get sucked into that nonsense. In fact, the only credence I was giving to back-to-school advertising was to acknowledge that we needlessly buy things that don’t need replacing. I did a little assessment and found little that my girls will need for September. They both needed shoes this spring, so we got a couple of pairs (one for indoors) and have that covered. We bought backpacks at Old Navy last year for just $10 and they still look brand new, so we’re good there. My kids don’t ever need much in the way of school supplies, but what’s needed can be pulled together from what we have. Then there’s clothing, and I’m sincerely hoping they don’t need jeans and hoodies in September. We’ll be fine to wait for a sale when they need something and we’ve never done the “first day outfit.”

The only thing left was lunch bags. I’d pondered going the bento-box route this year, which would mean I’d need to buy new containers for them. Bentos mean kids open up one box that holds all of their food in different compartments, and I see it done with such creative simplicity that I thought I might give it a try. It would make it easier for my kids to pack their own lunches (which I’m very keen to see happen this year), because we can organize some healthy options and they can fill in the spots themselves, and we can also eliminate the myriad plastic containers and lids that fill (and come spilling out of) one of our kitchen cupboards.

I’d done a little online browsing, but still, I wasn’t going to get on this until later in August. But then I was browsing at Target and saw the big pencil with “Back to School” written on it suspended from the ceiling. I wasn’t going to go there. I swear. But then I decided to just swing by the aisle and then move on with my summer. What if they had a bento and I could save the shipping costs on those I’d seen online?

I found one. It was plastic (I wanted stainless steel), but it had three different sections with lids, which I thought might be a better approach than everything visible under one lid. It also came with a couple of leak-proof containers that fit inside one of the compartments (I’d been wondering what you do about yogurt or other messy items). What I loved most is that it came with an insulated case (which was sold separately and expensively with most other bentos I’ve seen) all for $24.99. So it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but what if it was better? And, of course, there were only two of them, so I worried I’d found the perfect thing and I might never find it in stock again (in July!). Even as I was considering the purchase, I clung them to my chest, in case one of the dozens of parents strolling the back-to-school items had the same idea. Then I bought them. I just had to.


Here’s the thing I never considered about buying back-to-school items early: You get to test them out. When the girls went to day camp the next week, they excitedly took their new lunch boxes with them and returned with their reviews (all positive, except that the sleeve can be a little tricky to get back on, but they managed).

The funniest part? Avery told me that two of her friends at camp loved her lunch box so much that they told their parents about it and their parents wanted to know where it came from. “I got it at Target,” I told Avery. “But these were the last two at that time, so I don’t know if they’ll get more in.” After all, it was early August by this time. And clearly, when it comes to back-to-school shopping, the early birds get the bentos.

When do you start back-to-school shopping, or do you find it unnecessary?

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her@T_Chappell.

This article was originally published on Aug 08, 2014

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