Five Back-to-School Items I Refuse to Buy This Year

Is there anything that says “summer is basically over” quite like the arrival of next year’s school supply list? Since my children’s school follows a “modified, year-round” schedule, they head back to school today, August 2nd. This is a huge departure from when I was a child; back then, we had three full months of summer, as we didn’t start school until after Labor Day.

So yeah, our kids get a shorter summer (eight weeks), but we make up for it with a two-week fall break, winter break, and spring break. It’s a fine arrangement if you ask me, other than the fact the new school supply list came out in early July – well before I was ready to face it.

This year’s supply lists aren’t that crazy, as the first- and third-grade teachers aren’t asking for outrageous supplies like specialty Ticonderoga pencils or reams of paper.

It does have the standard list of “optional contributions,” like Ziploc bags, baby wipes, and Kleenex, but I’m more than happy to chip in for those. As we all know, teachers are all-too-often stuck paying out-of-pocket for supplies that parents don’t donate and schools don’t fund. By adding in those “extras,” I can hopefully save my kid’s teachers from spending their own money.

Still, there are a few standard back-to-school items I just won’t be buying this year. We don’t need them, and I resent the constant pressure and sales ads that insist I buy them anyway. Here are five items that won’t be on my back-to-school shopping list this year:

#1: A New Wardrobe

Shopping for back-to-school clothes is a standard tradition, although it varies from family to family. When I was growing up, we would normally get a few pair of jeans along with two or three coordinated outfits. I would estimate my mother probably spent $100 on clothes for each of her children, which was quite a bit of money back in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

And that was fine; to be honest, we probably needed those clothes. I grew up in a one-income household where we barely had more than the necessities. Back-to-school shopping was more than practical; it was necessary.

But, my kids are in an entirely different boat. They both have late spring or summer birthdays, which means they have some newer clothing already. I also bought them some nice dresses and tops at garage sales and from friends this summer.

The bottom line: They don’t need new clothes right now, so I’m not buying them a new wardrobe for the first day of school just because society says I should. Actually, I would much rather wait until fall, when they actually need some new jeans and cold-weather clothes. Right now, they’re doing just fine.

#2: New Shoes

While I bought new shoes for my kids’ first day of school last year, I’m skipping the tradition for first and third grade. This is mostly because they both got new shoes earlier this summer. Warm weather brings heavy play, and they’ve actually both ruined a few pairs this year.

If I bought new shoes now (simply to comply with the back-to-school tradition), they’d probably outgrow them before they got to wear them too often. Since their feet (and everything else!) grow so fast these days, I’m going to hold off shoe-buying until they wear out their newest round of footwear. At this rate, it won’t be long anyway.

#3: New Lunchbox

Last year, my kids wanted new lunchboxes for those days when I actually pack lunches for school. That was fine with me, so they each chose their own style for around $10 each at Meijer. While my youngest chose a Finding Dory lunchbox, my oldest chose a purple lunchbox decorated with smiling owls. Those lunchboxes held up fine all year and everyone was happy – that is, until we were back in Meijer last week.

Now my kids are aching for new lunchboxes to keep up with their changing styles. Apparently, Finding Dory is out and Trolls are in. And owls? My oldest daughter says she’s more into koala bears this year.

Sorry, but it’s not happening right now – at least, not until their lunchboxes fall apart. I hate wasting money, but we also dislike wasting perfectly useful items, too.

#4: New Backpacks

The backpack is another necessary item that we’ve been programmed to upgrade each year. But, just like with lunchboxes and shoes, the backpacks they have now still work perfectly fine.

We’re not going to get rid of perfectly good backpacks until the ones we have fall apart.

#5: Disposable Lunch-Packing Supplies

Last but not least, I did something different this year when it comes to prepping for the kids’ lunches. Normally, I would stock up on plastic baggies (the kind that fold over) and snacks that come in single-serving sizes. This year, though, I’ve vowed to be less wasteful and make a real effort to avoid most disposable products.

So I bought several sets of reusable lunch containers. The ones I purchased are similar to these, except they’re a generic brand offered through my local grocery store.

My hope is that these containers will help us reduce waste, spend less on plastic bags and single-serving snacks, and make it easier to pack healthy, nutrient-packed foods. No more single-serving bags of chips or pre-made crackers with cheese. With these little containers, it should be easier to pack more fruits and veggies instead.

The Bottom Line

Back-to-school season is expensive, but I’m afraid many of us make it more expensive than it needs to be. While the standard “school supply list” is full of important provisions our kids actually need for school, it’s up to us to decide how much we spend on everything else.

If we want to save more or simply reduce waste, it’s up to us to cut through the hype and figure out what our children really need. This year, I overlooked much of the back-to-school marketing and promotion. Instead, I chose to make the most of what we had.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at

Related Articles:

Are you buying everything on your kid’s back-to-school list this year? What do you refuse to buy?

Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

Loading Disqus Comments ...