Back to School Must-Haves for Frugal Moms

I hate back to school time for so many reasons, the summer’s end, the return of Cranky Kids and possibly most of all, the huge wallop my wallet takes. I am lucky that my kids wear school uniforms, but that still doesn’t mean we don’t have back to school expenses that shock me every year, even when I think I am super prepared. I have learned along the way that there are a few items worth spending a bit more money on once, because it means not having to buy them again year after year.

With boys who tear through shoes and gear and a girl who can’t keep track of her things, the following three items are must-haves for this household.


Sperry Top-Siders from Stride Rite:


I mentioned my boys wreck stuff, right? Shoes are top of the list. I’m not sure if they walk all over the building dragging their toes or they poke their shoe with knives, but somehow they have managed to tear the toes out of every pair of shoes they’ve owned. That is until I bought them Sperry Top Siders. This picture is the boys’ shoes from LAST year. They look this good after an entire school year. Pretty impressive huh?


These suckers are not only indestructible, they are the only shoes my little flip-flop lovers don’t complain about in the fall! This year, we even found a velcro pair big enough for my lace-hater and stylish enough for the girl fashionista. I used to think Stride Rite was just for tiny kids, but we were psyched to find not just Sperry there, but some sweet new Saucony kicks for The Middle One and many other brands to keep all three in shoes all year long.  Kids are happy and mom’s happy. Win-win.


Land’s End Backpacks:


There is nothing I hate more than buying the same things year in and year out. If there is any way to reuse, I do everything I can to make it happen. I made the mistake early on of trying to buy cheap backpacks for my kid. THe problem was, she needed a new one halfway through the year so I really wasn’t saving myself any money. When we switched to Land’s End backpacks, all that changed. They hold up year after year and they look cool enough that my kids don’t fight me when I tell them they can’t get a new one. So far, my first grade, sixth grade, high school new pack rule seems to be holding up!

Mabel’s Labels:


Wait, I made a mistake earlier. There is one thing I hate more than buying new things and that is having to buy new things because my kid LOST the old one. Enter, Mabel’s Labels. Somehow, through some sticky magic, these labels stick on anything FOREVER. We have had labels last on water bottles through multiple summers at the beach. This seems impossible to me, but I swear it has happened. Mabel’s Labels also last through wash after wash of gym uniforms and soccer gear as well. This year, I just got a  Mabel’s Labels Ultimate Back-to-School Combo with our last name and let the kids go to town sticking them everywhere. I will never buy a new sweatshirt mid-year again!

So, there you have it, three ways I try to take the sting out of back to school spending. Sometimes, it pays to spend a bit more so you don’t have to spend less more often. Sounds weird, but it works!



An Equal Playing Field

springbrookHSThere once was a boy I knew who loved football so much that I never dared make him answer the question about which one he would rescue from a burning building, me or the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. I knew what his answer would be and I didn’t want to hear about my own fiery demise.

When we grew up (or at least got older) it was not a surprise to find this man not just at the front of an English classroom at our old school, but on the sidelines coaching the team he has always loved. You see, there may be only one thing this guy loves more than football, and that is helping kids. Our sweet pairing may not have lasted longer than a high school minute, but it didn’t take long as his mate to learn that his heart was unlike many others. He gives and gives and gives until he has nothing left. The young men on his football team are so lucky to call him coach. Because from him, they’ll get more than just lessons in football.

When Super Coach reached out to his high school classmates last year to ask us for help, I knew I wanted to do something more. See, my alma mater isn’t the place it once was. It is still situated in one of the wealthiest counties in America, but its student body does not share that same distinction. Springbrook High School is still an outstanding place to get an education, but the teachers there are educating a student body with 2/3 of its members at or below the poverty line. That’s a tough statistic to fathom and an even tougher one to fund.

While budgets get slashed across the board at schools all over our country, our coaches are asked to do more with less, just like our teachers. When all we talk about is common core and competing with a global tech economy, sports may not seem important to you. As someone who relied on sports in high school for discipline, focus, community and a sense of purpose, I am here to argue that sports are more important now than ever before.

Sports are an equalizer. Team sports provide kids an extended family to provide support and help push them in the right direction. Good coaches act as mentors and teachers and friends. In a place where two thirds of the kids come from homes where they may not be sure of their next meal, the football team can provide a way to escape a harsh reality just long enough to feel part of something bigger than yourself.

I am certain my friend  is trying to create that for the young men on his team. Because as much as he loves football, he loves those kids more, and right now, he needs our help.

They all do.

If you want to make it possible for young men to just be young men for a little longer every day, please consider donating to the Springbrook High School Football Fund. Simply go to paypal and send your donation to  AdamBahr at aol dot com. Coach Bahr will use the money to help defray the cost of school supplies, team meals and extra equipment that kids may need. The playing field can be a great equalizer, but only if the kids are properly prepared and suited up when they get there. Coach Bahr wants to ensure that is so. Please consider giving, every little bit helps.


Let’s Talk About White Privilege

I used to have a hard time entering conversations about racial inequality wherein whites are oppressors. I grew up the poor kid in the rich kid school and that school was not
Lily White. I had the great fortune of growing up in a culturally diverse school system. So I made the mistake of thinking my generation was “doing the race thing better”.
I was wrong.
See, I misunderstood Privilege. To me, privilege meant access to places not everyone could go. I didn’t attend the best colleges. I didn’t travel. I didn’t wear designer clothes. I had to work for what I had starting very young.
I thought that helped me understand being a minority. I thought simply because we were the have nots in a very have environment, that meant somehow I was closer to my black and brown friends.

I was pretty damn clueless.

This made me defensive and angry whenever anyone suggested I might be part of the ongoing racial problems. Somehow, I was the oppressor and I just refused to swallow that.
Then, I had kids and I started watching other moms to learn from them. That’s when I saw it.

Privilege has nothing to do with what is, and everything to do with what was and what could be.

In all our broke-ness as a family when I was young, we were never looked down on as if we somehow deserved our economic position. In fact, my mom was supported at every turn. She was given two jobs to help care for us. Did she deserve them? Probably, but not because she was white. Did she get them because she was white? Maybe not. But would she have gotten them if she wasn’t?

If my mother was a single mother of six who suddenly needed work after years of “doing nothing” at home with kids and she was black, would she have had two administrative jobs available to her immediately upon my father’s death? How about one where she was fully in charge of the money? Probably not.
That’s privilege.
How about those moms I watch now? My friends of color who raising kids right alongside me. When our babies are out together as teens, doing the stupid stuff kids are apt to do, will my kids fear for their lives if they’re caught? Probably not. Will theirs? You can be sure.
I’ve never had to teach my kids how to behave differently for authority. Sure, I teach them manners and proper behavior, just like my friends of color teach their kids. But I have never told my kids they can’t dress a certain way because it may warrant abuse by authority.

I’m sure my friends have.
That’s privilege.
In my town, my white friends worry about the safety of their kids on bikes at night because of busy traffic. My black and brown friends worry that if their kids are out at night they may be stopped by police because they look suspicious-in their own neighborhood.

My kids never look suspicious. I have never looked suspicious. That’s privilege.

So what? What now? This isn’t meant to shame or point fingers of illicit guilt. It’s meant to spur thought and action.
I hope we can all agree the stuff that’s going down in Ferguson is unacceptable. For all of us. Mostly because it’s not actually that rare, or surprising. That may be the worst part.
So what do we do about it?
I’m brought back to something a priest said when addressing our responsibilities for all the problems in the world.
Start small.
Have a conversation. A real one that may be horribly uncomfortable but is so, so necessary. Ask questions. I plan to . I don’t know what the heck I can do to be part of the change that is so necessary, but I know I have to be part of it, so I plan to find out how from all those friends of color I keep talking about.
For a long time I was afraid to say this stuff out loud. I lectured my kids about equality and fair treatment. But I was afraid to speak up in front of anyone else, afraid of confrontation, afraid I’d lose friends.
After all, I remember how terrible these facts of privilege made me feel and I was afraid of pushing them on others.
Over the years, I have removed people from my life that outwardly disagree with the way I feel about this. Currently, If you’re spewing outrage or justification on social media about 50cent cigar theft and looting, you’re probably not in my feed anymore. I’ve quietly removed you.

There is no justification for a boy being gunned down and left in the street like road kill. None.

I can’t sit here quiet anymore. This racism is real. It’s old and it’s deep and it’s real. Even if you and I don’t think we’re perpetuating it, we just might be through our tacit silence. It’s time we stand up with all those black friends we claim to have when we need them. It’s time us white folks did something.
Quiet nothing is no longer an option.
My kids should be just as cautious about stealing from a convenience store as my neighbors’ kids. Because stealing is wrong. Not because they might get shot for it.

#ScienceSummerFun at Liberty Science Center-Giveaway!

LSCoutsideTypically, the last thing I want to do in the summer is spend time indoors. I made an exception a few weeks ago to take my kids to the Liberty Science Center and it was the smartest decision ever! The kids had been there before, and they had been begging to return for a while as they all had a blast the last time climbing beams in the construction zone or watching the IMAX movie.

This time we started with a Clifford sighting and even though my kids are older, we quickly learned you’re never too old for the Big Red Dog.

We were treated to some special hands-on time during lunch which included a demo of Liquid Nitrogen-always a crowd pleaser!

We were there for a special event, but these types of activities are always offered at Liberty Science Center as part of their education program. I was so impressed with the people who were working these exhibits. Not only are they super-smart science types, they truly understood kids and how to keep them engaged.


Right now, there is a Rubik’s Cube exhibit which just warmed my little 80′s kid heart. Luckily, it also fascinated each of my kids as well. We spent quite a bit of time learning how to master the cube in all manners!




The Girl was partial to the “Infection Connection”. I didn’t take pictures there, but I’m sure you can imagine the icky-gooey stuff she learned about!

I’m only touching on a very little bit of what LSC has to offer. We could have stayed there for days! I”m certain we’ll return soon-even on a nice summer day!

Here’s the best news: I have family passes to give away for your own visit to Liberty Science Center! All you have to do is enter your email in the top right box above to receive Reinvention Girl right in your inbox once a week. Then you’ll never miss a contest! If you’re already a subscriber, just leave a comment below to tell me so. I’ll choose a winner early next week so you can still catch some #ScienceSummerFun!


Disclosure: I was given free entrance to LSC for my family as part of the Blogger event. All opinions (and rad experiences) are our own.