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!



Apps That Aren’t Rotting The Kids’ Brains

CommonSenseMediaSummerLEarningGuideIt has been the busiest of summers, despite my best efforts to plan otherwise.  Many days this summer my kids have had to accompany me to work and do their best to play quietly while I bang out registration for classes or curriculum changes or meet with other adults in their presence.

Needless to say, I’ve relied pretty heavily on technology during those times. In an effort not to totally succumb to “Watch TV” apps, I went to Common Sense Media to find a list of apps my kids could download and play that just might actually teach them something! At the very least, they wouldn’t rot their brains.

Here are our Kid-Test Reviews. For even more apps and information in a beautiful, category and age defined list, head to Common Sense Media’s Summer Learning Guide. It’s only July 25th after all!


The Girl’s App Pick: 


Style Studio: Version for iPod Touch

Kid Take-”It was really cool.” You design your own outfits choosing from different styles of clothing that you can then choose the fabrics, patterns, colors, drape etc. Then you put them together to make outfits.

Mom Take: She loved this app but I’m not sure how much education she got from it. However, it is better than staring at television because it required her to think and use her creativity. Also, when I was a kid I TOTALLY would have loved this. It’s like modern day Fashion Playtes!


The Middle One’s Pick:

Terraria Screen shot

Terraria: Version for Samsung Android Tablet

Kid Take: ” It’s like a version of MineCraft and the Game Cube World kinda mixed together.” You start out in a random world with a sword, pickaxe and axe, and you have to find materials and build a house before night time when zombies come. The most fun part was that you were able to craft a different kind of work bench to make other things that you could use in the game. Mom Take: Anything this kid says is similar to MineCraft must be great because he still can’t get enough of MineCraft. What I love about these building apps is not the exploding that the boys love, but rather the fact that they are using spatial awareness and reasoning to come up with  ideas to create the worlds in which they play and survive zombie attacks, apparently.

amazing-alex1The Baby’s Pick (FYI The Baby is 7)

Amazing Alex: Kid Take: “It’s awesome! It’s basically a game about chain reactions. You have to build your way out of failure. That’s basically how the game works.” (I put that in quotes because I wanted you to know this is exactly what this crazy kid said!) What he liked best was that it made him “be creative”.

Mom Take: Similar in theory to the earlier game, he had to build inventions to get himself out of sticky situations using tools available to him. You can also see how others got out of a level if you choose but there is no direct interaction which this mom likes.

There you have it. In between bike rides and riding the waves, my kids still have screen time. Here are just a few ways I’m trying to keep it productive and fun.


Three is a Crowd. But We Like it That Way…Now

Three Then? Whew!
I got a text the other night from The Husband that said, “Taking the Bigs for ice cream.” I was at a playdate (for moms and kids) with the littlest one and his classmates so my husband had the older two at another event (the story of our summer-scattered here and there). He referred to them as The Bigs, because that’s what we call them. The two oldest are either The Bigs or The Kids (dubbed by the littlest when he was The Baby). The youngest are just The Boys and the The Girl and The Baby are The Bookends.

The Boys

The Boys

No matter the arrangement, we have nicknames for our groupings of children because no matter the arrangement, we have groupings of children. Three kids means you have groupings.

The Bigs

The Bigs When They Were Small

I know a few women recently who either just had or are pregnant with their third. A few years ago, I used to look at these women and try so hard not to show the terror or pity I felt for where they were about to go. Three kids, a few years ago, seemed the worst thing one could choose.

The Bookends

The Bookends

Clearly, I was overwhelmed with my choice back then. And let’s be clear, it was a choice. I was certain after two babies that my family was not complete. I chose three and it nearly killed me. Three under five is just not easy. If someone tells you it is, they’re lying or heavily drugged.

But now, just a few short years later, I feel so grateful for our family of five and can’t imagine it any other way. I love our Bigs and our Boys and our Bookends. I love them one on one. I love them all together and I love them in pairs. The groupings of three mean endless personality possibilities and it’s fantastic for everyone.

Three Now? Pretty, darn good.

Three Now? Pretty, darn good.

Now, just to be sure you don’t leave here thinking I am either lying or heavily drugged, please know that three is still quite challenging and often terrifying and always loud. Always. Loud.

Three is a crowd more often than not, but no matter the mess and noise and awkward seating arrangements in restaurants, and the chronic need to drive a damn mini-van, I think three is a pretty perfect odd number. Odd suits this gang of fools just fine.

They Never Really Change Do They?

DanGriffSurf13The other night there was an epic meltdown over the mere suggestion that my youngest might try a music camp this summer or fall. The Husband is convinced we must push him to do something and he will push sports if I don’t intervene. It’s not because The Husband is pushy. It’s just sport is the no-brainer. Sports is what we know and what our other kids do and this kid would probably be good at whatever sport we pushed. However, sports is not his thing and as a youngest child who played sports because everyone else played sports before me but I probably would have loved just being in the chorus of any school’s production instead, I’m extra sensitive to this kid being signed up for soccer against his will.

Thus the conversation about music camp, or electronic camp or inventor camp or any damn thing he wants camp. All this camp talk led to massive tears and screaming that might have alerted our neighbors to call protective services if they were so inclined.

In the middle of the meltdown I had an a-ha moment and shared it with the boy. “This thing you’re feeling”, I said, like the sage that I am, “this things that’s got you all wound up like bugs are crawling all in your heart and through your lungs” (we’ve clearly had this conversation before) “this thing is fear”.

He responded with silence and wide eyes so I jumped on the chance to explain.

This led to a family conversation about how we’re all afraid of new things and things we don’t really understand, even mom, mostly mom. We can choose to give in to it and never try anything but then we’ll be old and angry because everyone else is off doing cool stuff and we’re stuck in a rut. Or, we can fight it and try new things and then use those “Trys” to decide what we really like and what we can leave to someone else. All three kids joined in the conversation and it seemed to pacify all of us.

Someone's trying to find his stripes.

Someone’s trying to find his stripes.

Later, when I walked the dog,  the real a-ha came.

This boy is exactly the way he was as an infant and so are the other two. You know how you’re supposed to teach babies to self soothe in order to help them gain a bit of indepenence (and allow you some much-needed sleep)? Well, with each kid that self-soothing pattern has almost exactly translated to the way they act today.

The Girl loved a wind down period and was content sucking a pacifier and looking around until she got naturally drowsy. But, if she woke up in the middle of the night, she cried and cried until someone came in and gave her back her pacifier and then she fell right back asleep. She knew what she needed. She just sometimes forgot how to get it. Now, she still knows just what she needs, but sometimes she loses her place and wants someone to step in and point her back in the direction she’s always known she wanted to go.

The Middle One, he’s been in charge of his own self since minute one on Earth. He dove for his crib and feel asleep with his arms behind his head and his ankles crossed like he was lying on the beach. It was always his decision to sleep, eat, play and the only thing that got him riled up is if he couldn’t figure out the problem and might (God forbid) have to ask for help. Today, as long as he believes he is either in control, or his feelings have been appropriately heard and noted, he’s easy as pie. If you cross him or if he gets frustrated about not being able to do something on his own, the wrath is like nothing you’d ever imagine could come out of such a sweet faced boy.

The Baby? Well, the baby didn’t sleep for two years and quite honestly the only time I could guarantee he wouldn’t cry was if I had him wrapped up against me in the tightest carrier made for babies for years passed the expiration date of those carriers. It was as if he didn’t trust his own thoughts enough to even try to self-soothe. If he couldn’t do what his older siblings were doing exactly the way they were doing it, he didn’t even want to try. Can’t walk? I’ll make mom carry me so I’m not looking up at people. Sleep behind bars? Nope, I’ll cry ’till they bring me into a bed. Scared, nervous, anxious, tired? I’ll get mom to help. Today, he still climbs up in my lap to be soothed. He still gets most upset when he’s asked to decide who he is. “What do you like to do?”  at dinner that night was perhaps the scariest thing he’s ever been asked.

He doesn’t know and that is almost as terrifying as what he must do to find out.

Being the youngest is tough. Being the youngest of a bunch of achievers is even more tough. As his mom, I want nothing more than for him to not only figure out who he is, but learn that he is smart enough, capable enough and can trust himself enough to choose whatever is right for him, even if it doesn’t look like anyone else.

As a  mom who is the youngest, I’m committed to making this so for my baby because I know how great if feels to figure out who you are and feel good about it. Even if it isn’t like anyone else you know.