Written By Cathy Drinkwater Better

When my kids were growing up, their three least favorite words in the English language were “back to school.” Well, their second-least-favorite, actually, after “clean your room.”

“Back to school” meant shopping for school supplies. With me. The only thing worse, as far as they were concerned, was a trip to the dentist. On their birthday.

My goal was always to get everything on their school supplies lists for under 100 bucks and in less than four hours (that’s how long it took my Valium to wear off). So I’d drag all three of them to the warehouse outlet, commandeer a flat-bed cart, and tell them, “We’re not leaving until we have all your school supplies or the cart collapses, whichever comes first.” My kids have never really shared my enthusiasm for buying in bulk.

“Mom,” begged my high schooler one year, “can we please get some new book covers? I’ve been using the ÔMagnum, P.I.’ ones since I was in fifth grade, and the other kids are starting to make fun of me.”

“No,” I told him, “they’re just jealous. And last time I counted, there were only 150 left.”

Some kids change into forbidden clothes after leaving the house for school; others put on make-up or sneak metal rings into their noses and eyebrows. The minute my son was out of my sight, he’d switch his book covers for ones made out of brown paper bags.

Then there was the year I had to give my seven-year-old a lesson in economics. “My school supplies list says Ôtwo erasers’,” she noted. “Why are we buying two hundred?”

“Because then they’re only 10 cents a piece,” I grunted, heaving a one thousand- count package of report folders onto the cart. “Now be a lamb
and climb that shelf and throw Mommy down that big carton of white glue.”

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how much money I really saved by buying in bulk. Sometimes I’d forget to take inventory and load up on stuff we already had. The neighborhood kids didn’t seem all that thrilled when I gave out glue-sticks and plastic rulers for Halloween three years in a row; but I think their parents appreciated it.

One thing I always bought by the dozen was three-ring binders. Personally, I love a new three-ring binder: spotless blue canvas cover; colorful plastic divider tabs; sheets of smooth, unblemished, wide-ruled paper. I never wanted to make that first mark on one of its pristine pages, and I prided myself on keeping my binder nice and clean all year long. (My therapist blames my toilet training; but that’s another story.)