Back to school shopping means something very different as a mom than when I was a kid. As a kid, I got excited about the giant haul of new things I’d buy. Now, I dread it.

Every year I feel like the amount I have to spend for school supplies for my kids is more than what I was given as a kid to spend on a whole new wardrobe. For the past few years I’ve kept my back to school spending at a minimum, I haven’t gone for the “ALL NEW” approach to starting school.

Some of this is rooted in my desire to push against the “should’s” I feel are placed on moms, and some of it just feels excessive. My kids don’t need everything NEW to start a new school year. I don’t want them to feel entitled to have it either, so we’ve never done the back to school haul like my mom did when we were growing up.

I want my kids to know the value of using things until they wear out, not until they tire of it. I want them to know that newer is not better, and that their worth is not contingent upon being the best dressed, most well decorated, or most stylish kids around. While I respect their ability to dress the way they want, and get the things they need, we keep it to a minimum as much as possible.

Because of that, last year was the third year of using the same backpacks for my boys. While they asked multiple times for a cooler design, or something different, I told them it wasn’t something they NEEDED, so their 3 year old backpacks served their purpose last year. They didn’t get an entire new wardrobe for the first week of school, and no crazy back to school shopping and everyone was just fine.

So, when back to school comes around, we don’t go for all new, we go for what is needed. The thrill is different, but I believe the value is even greater. To get the most out of the back to school sales, without being excessive, we have a process we go through each year to make sure we get the back to school essentials without being excessive.

Back to School Essentials

In my home, we stick to just the essentials;

  • working backpack (not a new one every year to fit the latest kid fad)
  • 1-2 pair of shoes without holes that truly fit
  • about 10 shirts that fit
  • 3-4 pair of pants that fit
  • 3-4 pair of shorts that fit
  • lunch stuff
  • any sensory things to help them focus and thrive in the classroom (these are MOST important for us!)


Before school starts, I go through what we have, ask the kids to try things on, and figure out what we can use for the upcoming school year. Jeans that are too short, shirts that are too tight, and shoes that have reached their max are all put into piles to pass on or throw out.

From there we shop sales and find what we need. It might mean that my kids will show up to the first day of school WITHOUT an entirely new outfit, but once again, so far they don’t seem to care. I’d like to keep it that way.

Sensory Items

If I were ruler of the world, I would make sure all kids in all grades had access to sensory essentials every day in school. They ALL need it to help them focus and sit through the long ours with very little movement. Our bodies weren’t made to sit still that long, so attention and learning decrease without access to the movement they need.

Related: Decoding Your Child’s Sensory System Free Workbook

Our essential sensory and focus items are;

Chewy Necklaces:

All three of my kids chew on things during the day. My oldest chewed holes through all of his shirts, my middle son chewed on crayons, and my youngest chews on her fingers. To help minimize the damage done while they chew, while still satisfying that need to bite on something, we invested in chewy necklaces.

They LOVE their necklaces and have been able to pay attention much better when they have them.

We’ve tried different kinds and the ones we get from Chewigem are by far the most durable. (On August 12th they are having their annual back to school sale and giving customers 20% off all purchases using the code B2S 2017)

Wiggle Cushion:

After a particularly rough start in kindergarten, we found that the simple addition of a wiggle cushion really helped increase focus, attention to the different tasks he was given.

We have this exact cushion in two different colors and use it all the time. It’s small and discreet enough that other kids don’t say anything about it. The benefits we’ve received from having my son sit on it have been huge. We won’t go another school day without it.

Backpacks and Lunch Items

When it comes to these things we use them until they wear out. For that reason, I go for quality more than anything else.


Last year I bought these for each of my kids and they’ve been great. I love them because;

  • they’re different and easy to find in the lost and found
  • they are durable
  • bpa free
  • the containers came in super handy for fruit and sauces
  • great size for my kids’ needs

Water Bottle

For the past two years we’ve had this kind of water bottles. I love them because;

  • in the classroom they meet my kids’ sensory needs
  • they’re spill proof
  • they’re bpa free
  • just the right size for my kids to finish during school

Sandwich bags

Four years ago I transitioned to reusable snack and sandwich bags. I had to get used to the idea of spending more for something to last longer, and in the end is better for my kids and the environment. I bought these four years ago and they’re still going strong, which has made them more than worth the money.


Honestly, I am just jumping into the realm of buying quality backpacks this year. Before now, I went for the cutest looking backpack my kids wanted from garage sales, or thrift stores. While it might not be the coolest thing to do, they all love their backpacks and keep them for multiple years.

This year my oldest is entering middle school and is out of the phase of using character backpacks so we are going for a good quality bag that he can use for years to come. As a kid I had this style of backpack and used it through my college years. With all the different colors and styles to choose from I imagine he won’t have any problem finding something that he will like.

This year as we do our back to school shopping, I’m excited to NOT purchase everything new, only get what we truly need, and show my kids the importance of using things as long as possible. In an effort to avoid the typical idea of the huge back to school “new everything” haul, we will choose what we need and use what we have.

How do you back-to-school shop?

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