Back to school time is a mixed bag of emotions for moms; a part of us hates to see the carefree, unstructured days of summer go, and yet somewhere inside we’re also cartwheeling away from the bus stop, giddy with the prospect of running errands without the kids for once.
Stock up on school supplies, tax free.
When you’re breaking the bank on fruit-shaped erasers and new pants that actually reach all the way down to your kids’ ankles, every little bit of savings helps. Did you know some states have Back To School Tax-Free Weekends when certain dollar amounts of clothing, school supplies and computer purchases are exempt from state sales tax? Yup. Check here to see if your state is one of them!
Avoid the stores if you can help it.
Ordering school supplies before the teacher sends home a class-specific list might sound like asking for trouble, but it can really save time and money. Find age-appropriate bundles online and shop from the comfort of home in those PJs that are too ratty even to wear to Walmart! This leaves you with only those inevitable, oddly specific requests (two canary yellow folders, a box of 37 organic crayons and one 1.5-inch binder that plays “Amazing Grace” when opened) to deal with after school is underway.
Relive your college years.
No, I don’t mean you should play beer pong until 4 AM and then try to take a European History exam on zero hours sleep. I mean you should take advantage of all the housewares on sale for big kids going back to the college dorms, and snag things you needed anyway on the cheap. Need compact furniture for the playroom, bedspreads for the guest room, and a mini fridge for your craft room? They’re probably all on sale!
Make a memory accessory.
Have something really important you need your child to remember? Write a note on a strip of paper, wrap it loosely around their wrist (message on the inside if it contains private info) and tape it on like a bracelet. Tip for mom: This goes for you, too! When I worked outside the house and randomly remembered a bill that was due or an errand I needed to run on the way home, I’d write a note to myself and tape it around the strap of my purse so I won’t forget by the time I left the office. Worked like a charm!
Streamline your after-school time.
Thought your diaper bag days were behind you? Not quite! Be prepared for anything (except maybe a diaper blowout) by having a go-bag ready for late afternoon activities. Keep it stocked and waiting by the door just like that old diaper bag; stuff it with water, snacks, sports gear, papers that need to be returned to the coach, coloring books or activities for younger siblings and whatever else you need to survive those practices and games you’re always rushing off to.
Freeze your breakfasts.
It’s dawn, you have to get the kids up and out of the house, get yourself ready to go, and remember to toss some food in your pup’s bowl. The last thing you want to do is waste time cooking breakfast à la carte for everyone in the house. Good news is you don’t have to. If you meal prep and freeze breakfast ahead of time, you can have delicious, hot food ready to go in a matter of seconds. Breakfast burritos and sandwiches, French toast, egg muffins, and pancakes are all just as yummy reheated as they are when you make them fresh. And this leaves you more time to guzzle a second mug of coffee in the morning.
If your kids brown bag it, reserve a spot in your fridge or pantry just for lunch food.
If you separate school lunch groceries and accouterment from the rest of the fridge, you’ll have everything together when it’s time to pack food, easily see when you’re running low, and if the kids know that area is off limits (WE SAID “OFF LIMITS,” CHILDREN) you’re less likely to discover on Sunday night that they’ve eaten all the sack lunch packs of crackers as weekend snacks.
Set a timer and offer incentives to your children.
Studies show the most effective study sessions include up to 25 minutes of work with 5-minute breaks (every third break should be 20 minutes long). Set a timer so your child doesn’t interrupt their concentration 800 times to ask you if it’s been 25 minutes yet. Even better, make them NEVER WANT TO STOP READING by putting a jellybean or M&M reward at the end of each paragraph to keep them going!
Nail homework time with a DIY project.
Pinterest tells you all about homework stations but that’s not practical for everyone — I, for one, don’t have an empty space in my house that isn’t already full of toys. Instead, make a homework caddy using a utensil caddy, shower caddy or even plastic cups nested in a muffin tin and load it up with everything they need. It’s portable, so they can take it with them wherever they find a clean spot to work, and there’ll be no more checking in on them 10 minutes into homework time only to discover they couldn’t find a pencil and got distracted by their Lego.
Give papers the pizza treatment.
The school year always brings piles of paperwork that you want to keep; organize kids’ homework, art, report cards and awards from each year in separate, clean pizza boxes, which you can often get for free from the local pizzeria if you ask nicely the next time you’re picking up dinner. Assemble them inside out so the plain side shows, let the kids decorate them and label them with the year. They’ll stay nice and neatly stacked until your kids move out, you pass these precious keepsakes along to them and they (probably) throw them straight in the garbage.
A version of this article was originally published in 2010.