Thursday, August 05, 2010

Back to $chool

The St. Louis Post Dispatch this morning reported that the average family will spend about $600 this fall buying school supplies. They didn’t say whether that was per child, or whether it assumed the average 2.4 or 1.9 or whatever children per family. Nor do they say whether it includes school clothes and sports equipment, or just the learning-related supplies.  But I believe it.
We only have one child to buy school supplies for, and she’s entering first grade. So there are no laptops or expensive reference books on her supply list. But that doesn’t mean our shopping list is much shorter than average.
Char goes to a private school, so uniforms are at the top of her list. And by “uniform” I don’t mean “generic white polo shirt and navy blue skirt that can be bought at Walmart”. I mean go to the one and only uniform provider to buy the one style of school-approved blouse, the one style of school-approved plaid jumper (which is different for first grade than the Kindergarten style), the one style of school-approved warm weather shorts, and the one style of school-approved under-the-jumper shorts.  Her shoes are likewise dictated by the school and available from exactly two retailers in the entire St. Louis metro area. And no, this stuff isn’t cheap. 
Purchased brand-new, it would cost around $120-150 to outfit her for a single day at school. Luckily, the school runs a used-uniform sale every summer, and she already has a collection of blouses, warm-weather shorts, and under-shorts from last year that still fit (many of which were bought at the used uniform sale last year).  Unluckily, Charlotte must be the smallest first-grader ever because there were no used jumpers in her size at the used uniform sale (she would be swimming in the lone size 7 that I found, let alone the 8’s and up on the rack).  So we still need to purchase one or two brand-new size 5 or 6 jumpers (at around $50 each).  Or I need to do some serious tailoring.  (In my free time LOL)
Besides every day uniforms, she needs an all-white dress for special feast days.  An all-white dress with sleeves, but NOT made of beaded satin like most of the First Communion-type dresses sold in department stores. In other words, the type of dress you can’t find anywhere. The uniform store has a limited selection of ghastly options that run around $125.  Hancock fabrics had some lovely white cotton eyelet for $5 a yard. So, about $30 for pattern, zipper, thread, fabric, lining fabric, plus several hours of my (free, LOL) time to cut and assemble. I feel for the families who don’t have the option of making their own dresses. And the boys who *must* buy a specific uniform-store-provided blazer and tie. (The boat we’ll be in once Trystan hits Kindergarten in a few years).
Lets not forget gym shoes (to leave at school), tennis shoes for warm-weather days (mostly white, no princesses or fairies or glittery pink-and-silver), tights (which last year lasted an average of 5-7 wearings each, tops), and plain red sweats for gym (not hot pink, no glittery emblems, in other words impossible to find in the girls department, and in dangerously low supply in the boys department of any given store). And soccer cleats. I’m not counting her soccer uniform (since it was paid for last spring with her registration fee), and she already has two pairs of shin guards from last year.  We won’t discuss costs for other extra curriculars (potentially dance or gymnastics, to be decided once we see the final soccer schedule).
Did I mention actual school supplies yet? This is the one place where I actually feel thrifty. The school contracted with some small business to provide packs of pre-approved school supplies, at $40 for the first grade list. But when I looked at what was on the list, I realized I could do much better.  She didn’t need another ruler (we bought 1 last year and she somehow adopted a second). She already had one of two required school-emblem pencil cases (the second was $3.50). She had a couple of folders in the proscribed colors that were still in good shape from last year. I had several 1” white binders with insertable covers that I’d bought in a pack for myself for something else. The rest of the items (pencils, crayons, markers, pointed scissors, additional plastic folder with or without clips in specific colors) were all available in the same styles/sizes/quantities from chain stores for very little money.  I think I spent about $15, and that included extra sets of markers and colored pencils for home (at $1 for the Crayola washables, why wouldn’t I?).
Not counting the uniforms, we will spend way under that $600 mark. Counting uniforms and soccer shoes, we’re getting closer. On the upside, Char doesn’t need as much of wardrobe as other kids, since she only wears jeans and dresses and things on weekends, so we do save money there.
And I won’t even begin adding up the cost of the tuition.  As I’ve joked, we’re not just saving for college, we’re *practicing*.


Bethany said...

There's a required pencil case? And a particular color of folders and style of scissors? Wow. That's pretty specific. What's their reasoning for the uniform supplies?

Kristi said...

They use specific colored folders for different classes or uses. For example, every kid has a red folder that goes home every night where the teachers put correspondence (forms, flyers, etc) and the parents can send notes and permission slips and things back. And homework papers (don't know how that changes as the grades progress). There is a blue folder where graded homework and tests come home. Other colors are for other subjects (last year yellow was health/gym, but they don't say which is which).

As for the scissors, I'm not sure exactly how picky they might have been, and I might have been able to send one of the 4 pairs of little kid scissors that we already own. But ours are all blunt-ended, and the list mentioned the pointed ones, and I'm sure its a fine-motor-control kind of thing to be able to cut out different shapes.

Basically, every kid has the same things, every kid wears the same things. Its kind of a nice equalizer for the classroom since there are a few kids on scholarships and quite a few whose parents dropped $10k or more at the fundraising dinner last spring.

Oh yeah, and this school has been around for (no kidding) just short of 200 years. They are run by nuns and HUGE on tradition and structure and things don't change much from year to year. For a family like ours where we all probably have varying degrees of ADD, having the structure and continuity is a good thing for the kids. Usually :)

I don't think I even mentioned the name labels. Since everything is the same, everything must be labeled. I'm talking every pencil, every crayon, every marker must have my daughters name or initials on it. I bought a label maker last year to help (and personalized iron-on ones for her uniform), but still had to hand-write initials on all 24 crayons with a Sharpie.