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Heading back to school without breaking the bank

Getting ready to send the kids back to school is no small job. There’s the mental preparation as well as the hunter/gatherer work to be done for school supplies and new clothes to fit tiny tykes who shot up over the summer months.

Unfortunately, students aren’t the only things that have grown. Inflation is at a 9.1 % record high, which continues to increase prices on all consumer goods for families throughout Central Oregon. As more and more households struggle to put gas in the tank and food on the table, parents are coming up with thrifty solutions and alternatives to back-to-school shopping to avoid further financial strain.

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Lauren Selinger has a kindergartner and second grader to get ready for the new school year. Her family uses a multifaceted approach to pulling together clothing and supplies for the kiddos. From a popular neighborhood app to coupon clipping, her family can do back-to-school on a dime. 

“There are a number of good discount stores here, such as Ross, and the outlet stores, including Columbia, Nike and Carters,” she explains. “The outlets always have coupons on their websites too.”

Selinger suggests organizing clothing swaps with friends who have children of varying ages. She’s even hopped on her phone to find clothes that fit. “I've gotten hand-me-down clothes off of NextDoor,” she explains. 

When it comes to school supplies, Selinger suggests checking out Joann Fabrics and Crafts. “They have a great selection of art and school supplies, and they always have coupons, too.” She says parents looking to save can get up to 50% off their purchases. 

 Liz Morton is a local mom of three. She explains, “I've never been a huge fan of all the hoopla surrounding ‘back-to-school’ and the massive consumption that ensues in August and September.” She turns to the area’s second-hand shops and spreads her back-to-school shopping across all 12 months of the year.

“I typically shop second-hand all year long and stash school supplies, bigger clothes and shoes for each kid in a tub in their closet,” Morton explains. “They can ‘shop’ through their new-to-them clothes and get their drawers set. Then, over the summer, they pick out the first day of school shirt either from a family trip or at a local store—my personal favorite being Hopscotch Kids.”

For Morton, this approach allows her family to shop for quality used items and name brands while cutting costs by at least three-fourths. But the biggest perk for Mom? “I don't have to participate in the manic back-to-school rush.” 

Juli Parlan is the owner of Stone Soup, a popular children’s consignment store in Bend. She says back-to-school is the biggest time of year for her shop, so she makes sure to stock up on high-quality, name-brand clothing and shoes for families looking to replenish their closets. Families can count on Stone Soup carrying popular name brands like Patagonia, North Face and Hannah Anderson at 50 to 75% off the retail price. 

Currently celebrating its 15th year in business, Stone Soup caters not just to families looking to save money. She says that most of her customers, regardless of income, are also earth conscious. 

“We are able to still be in business through COVID because parents are wanting to reuse and recycle more,” Parlan explains. “I definitely have customers who could go spend the money at retailers, but why not keep something that is in good condition and can be reused?” 

click to enlarge Slightly loved shoes fill the shelves at Stone Soup in Bend. - SUBMITTED
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  • Slightly loved shoes fill the shelves at Stone Soup in Bend.

Along with clothing swaps, consignment shops and apps that connect neighbors, Bend Buy Nothing groups abound on Facebook. These gift-economy groups are organized by neighborhoods and surrounding areas and allow people to gift and lend each other needed goods. Parents looking to get rid of or find clothes and supplies can join these groups and request and gift all things needed to get ready for the new school year. The easiest way to find a Buy Nothing group is by conducting a simple Facebook search.

Selinger offers one last important reminder, “Check with your teacher about what supplies are needed before buying them. Since COVID, they don’t want a lot of items that are being touched, so it’s been a much smaller list than in previous years.” 

Morton agrees and says, “Last year Bend-La Pine provided all of the back-to-school supplies, so we didn't even need to go out to purchase classroom materials.”  

There are a variety of great ways for families to reduce back-to-school spending, but perhaps the most important takeaway from local families is that getting to know and networking with your neighbors and local store owners is key to staying financially stable through times that are changing and uncertain.

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