Kerri Williamson talks fast, as if she can’t wait to go find deals on back-to-school supplies.
Mother of three students at St. Cecilia School in Beaverton and an infant, Williamson has gained a reputation for smart buys, good advice and efficient action. She appears occasionally on KATU television to give other moms advice.
Williamson — whose kids will be in seventh, fifth and second grades at St. Cecilia — talks clothes first. For those in Catholic school, she suggests a trip to the school uniform closet. Often, parents will bring the uniforms that have gotten too small. The hardest items to find are boys pants, since the little fellas wear them out so fast. If the school is not too particular on the brand of polo shirts, Walmart sells low-cost, high-quality polos at about $20 for three. She knows some people object to Walmart.
Williamson says public school kids can usually get through September and October in the same clothes they wore during the summer, since in western Oregon, fall can be as hot as the dog days. For fall, she suggests buying high-quality used clothes at consignment and thrift shops. Since kids are growing, there is no need to buy new.
Williamson recommends saving money where possible and spending more where it matters: lunch boxes and backpacks. In those categories, going cheap is a poor idea, she explains. She suggests finding coupons on a site like retailmenot.com and get lunch boxes and backpacks from a trusted retailer like Lands End. Well-made items might last two years, whereas cheap ones may not make it past Christmas.
On desk supplies, Williamson’s first money-saving tip is to recycle last year’s stuff. No need for a new ruler every year. They stay the same. Even paint sets usually can be reused. Is the glue stick only a quarter used? Put it away for the summer and break it out for school. Williamson does not bring crayons back from last year; getting a new box is an annual rite of passage. Last year’s used crayons get tossed into a box and used for home projects. She also allows kids to get new folders with a design they like — her daughter goes for horses — since folders are talismans of school life.
As for which store to pick, Williamson says shoppers can go for savings or convenience but not both. Big stores often will knock down the price on one item — like notebooks — but other school supplies will be higher. The alternative is to bounce from store to store, finding what’s on sale.
Office Depot, fresh off a merger with OfficeMax, has listed more than 1,000 back-to-school items for $5 or less. Julianne Embry, spokeswoman for Florida-based Office Depot, says some of the hot choices for school this season are tie-dye clothes (for free-dress day at Catholic institutions) and die-cut personalized notebooks. Locker items in demand are magnetic pencil cups and mirrors, chalk message boards and even a tiny chandelier and carpet. For backpacks this year, expect to see polka dots, camouflage and tie-dye.
For school uniforms, one of the nation’s largest vendors is headquartered in Southeast Portland. Dennis Uniform, located below the Hawthorne Bridge, has extended its hours through Aug. 30: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
At Christ the King School in Milwaukie, parents have an online option for back-to-school shopping: schoolsuppliesdelivered.com. Parents can log on, use the school’s unique code, and in a couple steps have their child’s complete list of supplies delivered in a kit to school in time for the first day. This is the first year, so no one has an assessment yet.
“So far, parents seem positive about the ability to forego the arduous task of driving from store to store looking for various items,” says Joyce Auxier, administrative assistant at Christ the King.
Sue Harris, principal of St. Cecilia, has heard parents report that they are doing more shopping online, though some prefer the August back-to-school ritual at local stores. Target seems to be a popular venue for shopping, Harris says.
St. Cecilia asks students in grades six through eight to purchase their own tablet. That means families are comparing function and price. Meanwhile, Apple is giving special deals for education buys, especially MacBooks, iPads and iPhones for college.
A group of parents from St. Mary School in Stayton offers some back-to-school shopping tips, including keeping the school supply list handy. Misty Zerkel and Margo Fitness keep a copy in their purses, while Selena Galindo takes a photo of the list with her smart phone. All three women then can pick up good deals when they are out and about.
Fitness even thinks a year ahead when she deals and stocks up. Galindo makes sure grandma is invited on the trip because she loves to contribute in that way to the youngsters’ education.