I’m not Back to School shopping this year. I’ll buy a couple outfits for Declan and a pen or two. That’s it. I stand firm. I’ve spent years going broke buying thousands of things for students. Until they have “Back to School” coffee sales for me, I’m done.

I’m on year three of my hiatus from Back to School spending and I still have a box of lined paper. I share with English teachers who make their kids write really long essays. I don’t want to be a hoarder–teachers can easily become hoarders. Broke ones at that. Going broke is never a good thing.

Back to school season is one of the biggest consumer spending holidays after Christmas and Halloween.  In other articles I’ve written, I note the National Retail Federation estimates the average family will spend about seven hundred bucks on Back to School this year, bringing total spending for K-college to around $74B.

That’s “billion” with a “B,” a number so high I downloaded an app to handle the zeroes. That’s more zeroes than the nation’s high school students receive on their collective report cards, and believe me, I see a lot of zeroes.

We don’t call them zeroes anymore, incidentally. That hurts kids’ self-esteem. We call them “numbers way less than one-hundred.” Sounds better and doesn’t have the same negative connotation when the news gets ahold of our scores, because after all, zero is not a negative number.

But yes, it’s Back to School time. For those of you considering overspending , I did some research. Though I hate shopping, I took one for the team going to the biggest store in the world to see which items were new and trendy–what you should buy and what you should pass by.

Here are the top five things you don’t need for Back to School according to the official research firm of Me, Myself, and I.

1. Industrial loaf shaped sandwich containers: This overpriced Tupperware mirrors the shape of chemically infused store-bought bread which tastes like cardboard. When I bake my bread, it’s never that shape. I wrap it in a cloth napkin furoshiki-style. It’s good for the environment, and I can wipe my face if jelly drips out.

2. Twenty dollar lunch cubes with the ice built in. First off, if you’re a mom, you know Houdini invented Tupperware. Lids disappear. They’re in the magician netherworld with all the socks from your drier. Never buy expensive Tupperware. One-half will be lost or you’ll forget to clean out the lunchbox  and the ice-cube part won’t be ready. It’ll sit atop a moldy snack. Buy cheap locking Tupperware and invent your own fancy bento box.

3. Packs of twenty colored gel pens. Sure, they look great if you’re a freshman girl, but teens know they’ll be texting anyway. Save the pens for old people at banks. If you’re going buy pens, those bank cords are a great idea. Have cords attached to the pens and surgically implanted in your child. That way the pen won’t be lost. You won’t have to buy more and I won’t have to hear, “Miss, you got a pen?”

4. Designer paper. I found neon notebook paper, and notebook paper with really pretty designs. I’m not interested if Justin Bieber is on notes. If he makes you five times as  happy–because that’s the cost difference over a regular pack of paper, go ahead. As a parent, I’d say, “Nope.”

5. Trendy fashion “everyone” has. Maybe I’m sentencing my kid to nerddom, but I’m not buying designer anything for my seven-year old, and he’s going to be the hand me down boy for a while. When kids only want what their friends have, I feel it’s time to Get–A—-Job.  I respect my students who transcend fashion and let their personality shine.

One thing you to should buy: 

The God Line:

This year, I found something special in the Back to School section. The God section. There was a whole giant end display of supplies with God sayings. It’s tough to get an end display in a large retail store–This proves God does indeed work with Wal-Mart.

This product line is genius. There’s a huge number of kids who invoke the Almighty during my class, “God dammit,” or “Oh my God,” or “God help me, I’ll study.” I’m surprised someone didn’t invent the God line sooner. This should be in every parent’s cart, atheists included, just in case.

Imagine taking a standardized test with a #2 pencil endorsed by God? We wouldn’t be having this high-stakes testing vs “boycott” conversation. Imagine notebooks with “I got this! –God.” If God’s got my students’ final exams, they won’t even have to study. Life would be perfect indeed. The entire landscape of public education will change.

This line needs to expand, though. I couldn’t find a notebook with the Buddha saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…less angry,” or a Torah line with sayings like, “If you don’t do your work you WILL turn into a pillar of salt,” or even a notebook saying, “Allah be praised, this notebook has handwriting in it!” There’s still work to be done here, but the outcome could be amazing.

Summing it up: What should we do?

  1. Don’t buy dumb things.
  2. Don’t stock up for the world.
  3. Say “no” to stupid or expensive kid fashion.
  4. Stock up on coffee and things for you.

When they say “It’s not fair,” tell them it’s the spoils of adulthood. If they work hard in life, maybe they’ll get to do buy things for themselves or deny dumb things to the next generation.

It’s entirely up to them. But as for you, don’t go broke. Don’t join the rat race. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

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