Tips for Back-to-School Shopping – As seen on ABC 7 News + more!

I was so flattered when ABC 7 Chicago asked me to come back to their studio bright and early today to talk again about savings on back to school shopping. This year I was really focused on gear versus supplies; for some reason the supply list is very short. Plus, I love to shop and bargain shop. And shop some more.

So here are my tips and tricks for saving on back to school gear, supplies, tech and more for kids of all ages and stages.

backpackScreen Shot 2013-08-09 at 11.12.44 AM1)   Backpacks: Backpacks are a must to buy FIRST! Seems like they are always out of stock and usually they are on sale so you can get the best price on the styles you want. Target.com has a slew of backpacks on sale currently at about 20% off plus free shipping – you can avoid the lines!

Also, it is smart to buy a higher quality backpack – this year I found a past-season Patagonia one on sale for my little guy for under $40 and free shipping. I’ve gotten lots of tips that Lands End has a guarantee on its backpacks – that it will replace broken zippers and the like – prices starting at around $39, plus you can monogram it so that your child theoretically doesn’t lose it.

2)   Utilize your network and others to find deals: Friends aren’t just good for going to the movies or lunch – they also usually have kids your kids’ age. So why not get a group together for a clothing swap? I’ve given plenty of good barely-worn baby clothes to my neighbor.  You can find some local clothing swaps by searching Meetup.com. In addition, you can find really key school clothing pieces at secondhand shops in your local neighborhood or on a site like http://www.thredup.com/  – an online consignment shop specializing in providing high-quality like-new clothes at reliably low prices.

3)   It might be hot out but buy your winter gear now! By the time it is cold out, you’ll never find long underwear, snow pants, mittens, hats and gloves. Plus now there are major past-season sales going on where you can save up to 40% off winter gear. I love www.backcountry.com, rei.com and sierratradingpost.com.

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4)   Utilize coupons or discount codes- According to National Retail Federation, 36% of parents will do more online comparison shopping to find the best back-to-school deals. I never shop online without looking for a coupon code first. I use retailmenot or coupon cabin to score the most recent codes, or you can use a site like www.cardpool.com to score discounted gift cards to over hundreds of retailers.  (I saw discounts for LL Bean). Other good sites are pricegrabber.com, the ShopGenius App, RedLaser App and Decide.com.
5)   Buying for college? Your college-bound kiddos may be craving some brand name labels to take to college and you’re in luck with the opening of the Fashion Outlets of Chicago – http://www.fashionoutletsofchicago.com/ – they just opened ten days ago and are having lots of special sales and offerings for their grand opening – check their offers page for the latest. Bloomingdales Outlet there has a great sale going on through today – up to 60% off discounted prices – it’s a great place to get brand name coats, polo shirts, and denim for your high school grad.

shoes16) Tips for shoe buying: Kids grow out of shoes fast. And shoes are expensive. Famous Footwear has some good tips for shoe shopping – buy versatile shoes that you can wear with many occasions and that have a little extra wiggle room in the toe area. Famous Footwear is also offering a BOGO offer for buy one, get one half off at all Famous Footwear locations and also online at famous.com. 

This is what I’m shopping for these days…

drugstore I’m just a walking pregnancy cliche.

And if you’re like me, with no real desire (or money) to shop, check out my local tips for staying stylish while being frugal in this month’s Mindful Metropolis. Your wallets and husbands will thank me.

Thing #443 to freak out about while pregnant

At first, I was going to write this post about all the scary things I’ve been reading about regarding endocrine disrupting chemicals and their affects on unborn fetuses. I mean, Dr. Karp told me personally to avoid nail polish and other beauty products in order to avoid being a phalate-carrying menace. Boy did that put me in a bad mood. Double-whammy for me is that this crap really matters in the first trimester, and since I’m almost at month 6, well, hell, I’m going to get my feet rubbed and scrubbed. (In all seriousness, though, Nicole of Nine Naturals did send me a link to this site, which is pretty helpful.)

But no, not even after trying to find a safe, toulene-free nail polish (although OPI brand does not use formaldehyde anymore), I gave up and started worrying about something else entirely.

I’ve lost the desire to shop.

It’s scary, I know. I have no interest in perusing stores, browsing online or gasp, even going to the low-hanging shopping fruit known as Target.

I should have known something was amiss on Friday, after I got my haircut downtown and had no desire to make the three block walk from my salon to H&M. I always like going to H&M.

But the pregnancy hormones have overtaken even my frugal shopper hormones (remember when I was supposed to be all about being frugal here?)

I’m not even a frugal shopper anymore. I’m an abstinent shopper. I don’t have the drive or the will. (Or the money.)

Maybe the winds of Fall will also bring my shopping mojo back again. But until then I’ll be high and dry and wearing my old, elastic waist duds.

Sick is cheap

I’ve spent no money this week. Well, not zero, but not enough so that when my husband asks me if I have cash on me, I can actually say, “yes!”

I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been living up to my frugal promise.  Alas, the real reason behind my full wallet is that all week we’ve been sick. Sick as a dog, we pretty much didn’t leave our house sick.

And, I don’t do sick very well. Almost nothing makes me more crazy than not being able to go anywhere or do anything (except go to the doctor).  Add a sick toddler to the mix and I thought I was going to lose my shit all week.

The clincher, though is that we’re on spring break this week, and with no schedule I only have one option to keep my sanity (and my wallet from emptying): Go visit my parents.

I’m hoping their generosity of time and funds will get me through what otherwise would be another very long week.

The annual it’s my kid’s birthday what was I thinking? post

Every year I kvetch about the preparations for my son’s birthday and how I’m not going to go crazy with it all and EVERY YEAR I IGNORE MY OWN ADVICE. (Warning: overuse of the CAPS LOCK button ahead.)

It’s like I get amnesia every March when I start thinking about the birthday planning. Or maybe it’s that the relatives start asking me in November what I’m doing for the upcoming festivities in APRIL and I can’t help but get into hysterics. Remember? I have lots of relatives, none of which who live here.

This year, though, because of my frugalness, and because he’s only going to be THREE, I vowed to tone it down a bit.

Meaning of course, instead of ordering invites from my favorite website, I handwrote all THIRTY invites. (It’s called the “No Child Left Out of Birthday Parties Act” that our preschool class rigidly enforced. I was all for it until my hand ached so bad I had to ice it the next day. And realized it basically threw my budget out the window)

invite2a

Thank you to @Uniball_USA for the awesome pen used to handwrite all invitations.

I did, however, come up with a brilliant idea for the aforementioned preschool class wherein all the moms pitched in $10 to avoid spending a ridiculous amount of money to buy 16 separate birthday presents (he has 14 friends outside of his class, what can I say?). This not only saved a huge headache from gift shopping, but it also allowed me to avoid getting my son a birthday present.

There, I said it. Everyone else’s kid got a box of Magnatiles, and we, cheap frugal  parents that we are, are going to give him his old Hanukah presents that I forgot to get out of the basement closet in December. And maybe a $20 Little Tikes swing he HAD TO HAVE out of the new catalog.

presents

He’ll never know what he missed out on until he can read this post.

I also decided to schedule his birthday party from the hours of 4-6 pm.  This way, I figure, I can really cut down on the amount of food (food= MONEY) the adults will eat at the party.  Because we all know how much pizza I we all can scarf down during those “lunch time” parties. (At 11 o’clock I can eat at least 4 pieces, hello!? They’re kiddie size.)

I figure those adults who want to join the kids eating dinner at 5 pm will really stand out.  It just screams “I’m on kiddie time” if you can force your body to eat that early.  I’m not above it (I usually start getting hungry around 4), but I’m thinking some others won’t admit that.

As far as party favors, go, though, I couldn’t totally skimp. But instead of ordering $100 worth of tchotke from Oriental Trading Company, I found these really cheap cute cups and plates from everyone’s favorite store, Party City.  And because I gave them my email address, I got $5 off my total bill. And probably sold my soul to the devil.

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I’m guessing for $1.99 a pop these aren’t BPA and lead-free.  The kids will live.

This has gotta be the cheapest most hassle-free and fun birthday yet. At least for the neurotic Jewish mother living in a posh neighborhood trying not to look like a cheapskate set.

Another victim of the recession: volunteering

There’s only so many hours in my day, and only so many funds in my bank account to pay for babysitters.  I have to use my free time efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, I’m finding this means I’m spending more time shuttling between the grocery, dry cleaners, and car wash and less time doing what I set out to do when I quit my job: volunteering.

The recession has impaired not only my shopping budget, but my ability to give of my time and self to others.

I’m a selfishista. A cheapista. A narcissista.  I can’t get past paying the babysitter to stay a few more hours so I can do something besides accomplishing my bare bones needs.

When I stopped work, I made a pact with myself to give back to the community considering my new “lady of leisure” status.  I was elected to a local board, joined my Temple’s membership community, and got involved with my son’s preschool. But while I thought that all this volunteering would just cost me time, I’m found myself adding more and more babysitter hours to fulfill all my non-paid commitments.

The belt tightening around my house didn’t necessarily mean I had to get rid of my babysitter altogether (hello, I can be cheap, but I still need my sanity), but it does mean that I have to make tough choices. And the grocery, even though I loathe it, will win every time.

The selfishista has arrived, and unfortunately, volunteering is going to take a hit.  Anyone else out there cutting back on the unpaid commitments too?

The lonely frugal life

Sometimes I feel like this frugal thing is making me a lonely lame-ass.

“Want to go out to dinner tomorrow night with the kids?”

“Uhm, only if it’s Man Jo Vin.” (Where everything is under $3. And greasy)

“Want to make a lunch date?”

“Want to come here and eat?”

“How about a shopping excursion?”

“I’ll come watch you.”

As if motherhood is hard enough, now I feel guilty making plans that involve money.  And we all know that when it’s nice out on a Tuesday morning there’s no better way to kill time than to sit at Starbucks with a friend and watch your kids eat their scones and make a mess on somebody else’s floor. And then make a fast getaway before all the employees realize it’s your hellions who’ve ruined their floor.

There are only so many times a bag lunch will cut it.

In fact, when I busted out the turkey slices, cheese and clementine today at the zoo, all I got from my son was, “I want to eat out somewhere.” 

It’s all I can do to not grab him by the arm and say, “do you know how lucky you are to be able to eat overpriced organic no preservative turkey?!”

He doesn’t yet, but I know that even though we’re eating out less, we’re very lucky.  We have our jobs, our health, and the ability to spend $44 on one bag of groceries at Whole Foods that we’ll actually eat and not totally flip out. Yet.

Frugal vacation tips

Tip #1: Vacation with your generous parents.

Tip #2: I have no other tips.

My style is now for sale

I owe a lot to another Sarah. First, she gave me some great insight in how she’s living  frugal life. Check out her story and others in my newest Chicago Parent article.  (Yay! A little freelance work in a sucky economy!)

But more importantly, Sarah gave me the brilliant idea to my other money making venture: Selling off my old, yet still terribly stylish clothes, on eBay. I mean, the clothes are just sitting in my overstuffed closet gathering dust.  Wouldn’t they look better on you?

So, herewith is the beginning of my weekly-ish eBay auctions.  We’ll see how much stuff I can clean out and how much I can clean up in the world’s largest online auction space.  Ah, I love the internets.

For sale this week: my barely-worn lululemon Still pants in royal blue. They’re fabulously comfy, but just don’t fit me right anymore.

lululemon

Be still my beating heart from this terrific workout pant.  

On diamonds

Dear fellow lululemon shopper,

Yes, I was trying on the Shape Jacket next to you today.

Yes, I asked you for your opinion on color and fit.

But no, no, I didn’t think I needed it in more than one color.  I told you we were in a recession, remember?

Therefore, I really didn’t appreciate your subsequent comment about my earrings.

Because, just because I happen to have a nice pair of diamond studs (which, ahem I inherited from my grandmother back in 2002), doesn’t mean I can freely drop $100 on a sweatshirt.

Signed,

This recession(ista) can be a real bitch

diamond

Yes, they’re real and they’re fabulous.

p.s. if you want great advice on what’s in style for a steal check out this new blog. Love it!