Just buy the Palm Beach County school district's list of supplies, they said. It'll save you some time, they said.
"Get the pre-packaged thing," my friend Kathy wrote on Facebook, referring to the easy-peasy, light and breezy collection of markers, pencils, paper and what-nots that I could have gotten with one click through Palm Beach County Schools, where my son Brooks will be making his kindergarten debut on August 12. She's not the only experienced parent to advise me that around $80, I could have gotten everything his new school says he needs for a successful education, leaving plenty of room for nostalgically weeping over his baby pictures while humming "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday."
That would have been the smart thing to do. But doing the smart thing isn't always fun. And I've watched too much "The Price Is Right" in my 48 years on Earth not to know a shopping challenge when I see it.
So although it would have been incredibly efficient to buy the pre-selected items - and much respect for those who decided they had other things to do with their time besides spending their Saturday morning schlepping through the dollar store, that's just the kind of thing that tickles my little penny-pinching soul. So last weekend, 90 minutes, two stores, one Web site and one "Can you buy me that?" situation later, I got the entire list, including a cool new backpack and the required preppy polo shirts, in less then two hours, under the expected $80. And I got to do some mother-son bonding, on which I'll look back fondly when I'm sobbing and wondering where the time went. Here's how:
Stop 1 - Dollar Tree: I had it on good authority that I could get the majority of my list from the only place where you know, up front, how much everything is going to cost before you get there. So I knew that the Tree was going to be the key to coming in under budget. What I didn't count on was the initial difficulty of figuring out where everything was in the store, which has a great "Back To School" display in the front. Displays are great, and contained a lot of what I needed, but they're also small-child magnets, in that they're big with signs and look like something you should be buying them. Once we established that everything we were buying was for Brooks - FOR HIS BRAIN - he piped down and picked out one $1 toy while I got to business.
And business was good: Dollar Tree carries quite a few brand names, including the requested Crayola crayons in the 24-crayon package, and the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I had no idea how many kindergarten supplies were cleaning-related, both those to tidy the child's work area, like disinfecting wipes for the table, and wet wipes to tidy the child himself. Besides that stuff, the Kleenex and the paper towel (kids are super messy). I picked up two pairs of small scissors but put them back because the list mentions the Fiskars brand, and I don’t want to have to do this over.
Store tally: $27.84, including tax and the pencil sharpener for the pencils that have to come to school sharpened.
Stop 2 - Bealls Outlet: Brooks and his new $1 toy and I next go to Bealls Outlet, which has always been my go-to place for last-minute party gifts, sports bras and kids socks and swim trunks when we need them right now and I’m low on laundry. But we were on a mission for two specific list items - headphones and a backpack, along with whatever polo shirts and khakis I find in Brooks’ size. After I convince him we don’t need the $30 Bluetooth headphones, we chose a pair of $14.99 ones. The backpacks were located both at the front and back of the store, and it was fun watching a five-year-old meticulously peruse each of them, try them on for size, and make his final pronouncement. He picked a gray and blue Adidas model that’s more mature and big boy appropriate than his current backpack, that’s shaped like a tiger. He’s growing up so fast….No, I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Store tally: $14.99 for the headphones, which are included in the school district’s $80-plus bundle.
•Stop 3- Amazon.com: After Bealls, we went home so that Brooks could assemble his Dollar Tree helicopter, and so that I could dash off the last two items on the list - two reams of plain copy paper (I’m not sure what for) and those elusive Fiskars. I do love pounding the retail pavement but sometimes it’s nice to shop for the necessities sitting on your bed watching “Law and Order” reruns.
•Store tally: $22.78
School district list (excluding backpack) $80.00 and up.
Leslie’s final tally: (excluding backpack) $65.61, at a savings of $14.39, bragging rights and the knowledge that when my big boy leaves the nest, he’ll go there in style.