Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fall Frenzy

As a kid, I think I started begging to go back-to-school shopping sometime around the Fourth of July.  Everything about the process thrilled me - I'm still a sucker for a bulky sweater and a fresh composition book.

While my mother was a reluctant shopper and always argued for delay, most years I ended up with pretty much everything I wanted, from Kangaroo sneakers to fancy pencil cases to Jordache jeans.  When I left for college, I had the same level of madness:  a drying rack, a plastic shower caddy.  Never did I consider myself anything but overindulged.

And yet I'm overwhelmed by the number of products on the market - and the fact that many are required purchases by our children's schools.

Target allows schools to publish supply lists online - a brilliant move, I think - and has them available in-store, too.  Many teachers are deliberately modest, keeping their supplies to around $10, which a savvy shopper could probably cut in half.  But I've counted a few lists that go closer to $50, and contain items that I consider pure madness.  More than one list requested stretchable bookcovers.  At $1.50 each, even six wouldn't be a huge financial burden, but it is $10.  What ever happened to brown paper bags and masking tape?

Some of the requests reflect tight school budgets.  Markers and scissors used to be supplied by classrooms; now teachers are relying on parents to fill up their supply bins at the start of the year.  The same goes for tissues and hand soap, items we regularly buy for Freddie's nursery school.

At the same time, I was reading interviews with shoppers in neighboring Virginia, the recipients of an annual tax holiday for back-to-school shopping.  The interviews detailed their purchases and their cautious attitudes, and I must say - to my ear, they didn't match.  One mom purchased six shirts, five pairs of jeans, a dress and a sweatshirt - all for one 10 y.o. child.  And this was their second day of shopping.

I'm truly puzzled.  Costs are up; income is down.  Even less-than-liberal folk agree than environmental issues are real.  But instead of just not buying, the solution for many seems to be bargain hunting - hitting Target instead of Macy's, or the outlets instead of the mall.

Of course, I don't have a 10 y.o. daughter - I have a 3 y.o. son content to roll in dirt and wear his sandals on the opposite feet.  Who knows what life will be like when Fiona is old enough to read the circulars and lust after the 2018-equivalent of a Camp Rock lunchbox?

I don't have an answer; I'm not even sure I have a question.  But I finally understand why my mother greeting the waning days of summer with groans of frustration.

It's Fall Frenzy time, and opting out feels impossible.

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