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Don't let back-to-school shopping break the bank

Hillsborough County School District curriculum specialist Lissette Godwin, 40 and her daughter Kayla Godwin, 17, shop for school supplies at Walmart on Gunn Highway in Tampa, paying special attention to bargains. 

LARA CERRI | Times

Hillsborough County School District curriculum specialist Lissette Godwin, 40 and her daughter Kayla Godwin, 17, shop for school supplies at Walmart on Gunn Highway in Tampa, paying special attention to bargains. 

Lissette Godwin knows school supplies. ¶ The 40-year-old mother of three is a curriculum specialist for the Hillsborough County School District. Two of her kids are in high school, the youngest is entering fifth grade, and she has 15 years of experience as a classroom teacher. Much of that time was in kindergarten, where crayons vanish by Christmas and glue sticks are always in demand. She has back-to-school shopping down to a science.

She goes to Walmart midday to avoid the crowds. She knows when to stockpile and when to wait. Why buy something your child doesn't need?

She agreed to share her wisdom and take me along on a shopping trip.

What are the big mistakes parents make when shopping for school supplies?

A really big one is waiting until the very last minute, at which point you can't find anything you're really looking for. And sticking to the name brand. The supply list says Fiskars scissors. But the brand doesn't matter, so long as they're blunt-tip and child-appropriate. Although the cheapy-cheapy ones don't last, so it's finding a fine medium. If you get the Walmart brand or the Target brand, it's good enough.

What are some other common mistakes?

Assuming they're going to need things that they may not necessarily need. You see these rows and rows of the kindergarten rest mats. Not every teacher uses rest mats. The newer buildings don't have the storage. The years when I did do rest, I said, "bring a beach towel or a small blanket. Fold it, then I can store it or you can take it home." So for the younger kids, find out what the teacher's policy is first.

But didn't you say to shop early?

There's certain things you can expect. But in kindergarten, they all assume that they rest and nap, and most kindergarten classes don't nap any more. And with the older kids, Trapper Keepers. They have all these really cool colors, and then the kids can't use them because they're not really functional for what the teachers need them to do. They don't have the right amount of pockets, they're not set up correctly. (Godwin's 17-year-old daughter Kayla corrects her when we meet up at the store; she knew a teacher who asked for Trapper Keepers. But you get the point: Wait until you know.)

I'm anti-pencil box. I don't mind the pencil pouch. But the box? They open it, they close it. So wait to find out if you'll need a box or a pouch. If they ask you for a presentation binder, they mean a presentation binder. (At the store when they find a display of beautifully patterned 3-ring binders, they consider calling one of Kayla's teachers to ask what kind she will need. Errr. … no.)

Other things, you can pretty much guess. They're going to need pencils, they're going to need crayons. And check to see what you have left over before you buy. Does he need a ruler? He has a ruler. A backpack? Throw it in the wash, and it looks just fine.

Should you be running around to 10,000 stores to find the best deal?

I don't. A lot of schools send the supply list early. Many schools have their supply list online. Those are their staple items. So every pay week, or whatever, what can I get off the list? Boom, boom, boom, A little bit each week. As opposed to $150 at one shot, and then tax- free week really didn't do it for me because I spent all my money, and there goes my paycheck. Just the little things, and several of them. Because come December, they're running out of supplies.

One of the things that flies off the shelf the quickest is composition notebooks. Buy those now. (We see them for 40 cents. I can't help myself. I buy three. I can always journal.)

Parent who cannot afford everything and have several kids, what can they do?

Some children will buy extra. We ask the parents, "don't label the supplies." They become community property.

Other times I do it with, like my sister. She's got her three: her two grandchildren and her son. He just graduated, so she's down one. We'll look at our supply list and go, "Okay, what do they all have in common and how can we split this up?" So if you can buddy up with a really good friend, a family member or a neighbor, you end up spending half.

As a parent, are there things that make you crazy that you have to buy? I'll tell you mine: the graphing calculator.

It's never on sale! Ever! It's a sticker-shock item. And good luck finding one because, again, they fly off the shelf. And then you have to be careful. You have to make sure it is school appropriate and SAT appropriate. … And I'll probably hit a few nerves with this one, but the 3-inch binder. It doesn't fit in anything. They don't come cheap, and they're broken by December because everything in the world is in them. And I can never find a 3-inch binder at Walmart (this time Walmart has the binders, although Godwin no longer needs one).

But the Trapper Keeper is always there!

Reporter Marlene Sokol, whose children play soccer with the Godwin children, can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Stock-up prices

How do you know when a sale really is a good deal? Here are some rock-bottom prices on common school supplies, so you'll know to snatch them up if you find them.

24-box

Crayola

crayons

25 cents

(This week at Kmart)

Copy paper

$1.99

(Walgreens with coupon)

2-pack

glue sticks

20 cents

(Target)

10-pack

Crayola washable markers

99 cents

(Walgreens)

24-pack

No. 2 pencils

90 cents

(Target)

Three-ring, 1-inch

binders

$1 (Kmart)

Five-tab

subject

dividers

39 cents

(Walgreens)

>>WEEKLY FEATURE

About the deals: In these tight times, we know everyone needs to save where they can. We're here to help with "Here's the deal," our money-saving feature. Every Monday you'll find advice for frugal living — from couponing for groceries to negotiating down medical debt to learning how to do work yourself instead of paying someone else. Can't wait until next week? Check out all our great money-saving tips and share your own at tampabay.com/heresthedeal; on Facebook at Here's the Deal Tampa Bay; or follow us on Twitter at @HeresTheDealFL.

Make shopping simple as ABC

Anticipate. You'll know in advance if your kids need crayons and glue sticks, pencils and pens. Stockpile the staples. You'll never find crayons and glue sticks for less than a quarter during the school year.

Buddy system. Find a close friend or relative with similar-aged children so you can go halves on bulk purchases of pencils, highlighters and other common items.

Careful. Don't buy anything big or expensive until the teacher asks for it and, with specific items such as high-end calculators and presentation binders, make sure you know exactly what your child will need. It's no fun trying to return things in the back-to-school rush.

Find the best deals

We give you a cheat sheet to find some of the best back-to-school deals. 8B

The tax holiday

Florida's back-to-school sales tax holiday is Aug. 12-14. You can buy school supplies ($15 per item limit) and clothing ($75 per item limit) and not pay sales tax.

Don't let back-to-school shopping break the bank 08/05/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2011 12:26pm]
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