The (financial) crush of back-to-school shopping

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News
Holder of the purse strings, Janine Lang shepherds children Olivia and Elias through the backpacks at Take A Hike Outfitters in Black Mountain recently.

As every parent knows, backpacks are more than totes for kids heading back to school. They've got to look good. And they have to be big.

Janine Lang and her kids Olivia and Elias were backpack shopping the other day at Take A Hike Outfitters in Black Mountain. The choices seemed endless. Olivia and Elias pulled down several to try. All they got in the first 15 minutes of shopping was their photo in The Black Mountain News.

It's that time again when conversations around family homes are about school starting (Monday, Aug. 29 in Buncombe County this year) and what's needed for the big event. It's hard to enter any big store without being reminded that schools about to start.

At the Langs' Black Mountain home, Olivia and Elias are thrilled when it's time to go back-to-school shopping.

"My kids love to go shopping with me to see all the new and colorful school items in the stores," Janine Lang said. "It is a fresh start they get excited about."

Key items the family agreed upon are a good-quality backpack that can withstand lots of wear and tear. New water bottles and academic supplies requested by the teacher are in order. The Langs tend to hold off on new clothing until the weather turns cooler. Sometimes, they are out shopping a day or two before school starts.

This year marks an important transition to new schools for the Langs.  Elias enters fourth grade at Black Mountain Elementary this year, and Olivia starts sixth grade at Owen Middle. Though many of items they need are similar to past years', there is a dress code to factor in at each school. And some added supplies are included on this year's list as well (Olivia's favorite - colorful pencils).

Things are looking up for rising fourth- and sixth-grade students Elias and Olivia Lang, shopping with mother Janine Lang.

April Roy's big school purchases this year will be shoes for her two sons, Graham and Cole. "We always need new shoes because the boys are so hard on theirs," the Black Mountain resident said.

Parents aren't the only ones doing the school shopping. At Missy and Michael Harrin's home in Swannanoa, it's a late summer tradition for each of the four Harrin children to shop with their great aunt, Everlyn Hyatt of Candler. She has taken them to stores in Asheville since the kids started kindergarten. Missy Harrin gets each child's classroom supply list ready, and they head out for a one-on-one outing with their aunt. Their parents appreciate the financial help and the time the kids get to spend with another family member. The Harrins get to focus on other needed items, such as the first-day-of-school outfit, a backpack or some sports equipment.

The younger Harrin children, Clancy and Malachi love going shopping with mom for a new outfit. The older children,Camillia and Kennedy, at Owen High and Owen Middle respectively, need volleyball shoes, a laptop case and a band instrument this year. The items add up quickly, so help from relatives is a nice show of support, their parents said.

"Most years we can recycle backpacks we already own," Missy Harrin said. "My younger children get to pick a different one to use each year that their older sisters used."  Even though they shop carefully, the Harrins usually spend more than $100 per child to get ready for school. 

It's easy to see how costs can mount quickly. Classroom supply lists sometimes run a full page and include items such as composition books, binders, notebook paper, graph paper, glue, pencils, colored pencils and markers, calculators, highlighters and ear plugs. Teachers appreciate help with cleaning wipes, tissues, colored card stock, dry erase markers, plastic bags, hand sanitizer and more.

Perhaps more important than flashy backpacks, the latest jeans, clean shoes and new notebooks are the things that take place inside the home, said Ellen Begley, a licensed professional counselor at the Black Mountain Counseling Center with more than 25 years in child development, adolescent and parent counseling. "The excitement and anxiety of the return to school can radiate through the home and school during this transition time," she said. "And as with any stress, it is contagious."

Here are Begley's suggestions to smooth the transition back to school:

  • Develop a good relationship with your child's teacher. Read the handouts the teacher sends home. Attend open houses and look for ways you can assist the teacher.
  • Check your child's  homework log and backpack daily. This shows your child you're interested and helps you stay on top of the child's organizational skills.
  • Establish a study time and place to help kids get on track for learning. Organize the space with needed materials close by.
  • Limit TV and video games and make yourself available to assist the child where needed.
  • Help your child establish realistic goals for the new school year, whether academic, athletic, organizational, social or other goals. Reward progress towards each goal.
  • Consider learning a new skill or hobby yourself to model lifelong learning.