Sunday, July 31, 2005

My Big Annual Scavenger Hunt

This morning, I went out for school supplies.

This may sound strange, but I find shopping for school supplies to be a lot of fun. It’s like a scavenger hunt to me. First of all, even the supply lists that I get from school are interesting reading. K9 is in elementary school; I12 is in middle. Normally the lists that come from our middle school are really easy and nonspecific, something like this:

A few pens
A bunch of pencils
Some markers or something
Pencil pouch to carry all that stuff in
Some sort of binder
Lots of notebook paper

Whereas the elementary school gets really creative with their lists. They like to specify colors and brands, and use capital letters a lot, like in this example:

41 sharpened pencils
Folders with prongs, with a pocket on front and ABSOLUTELY NO pockets on the back:
- three red
- four green
- five blue
- two yellow
- fourteen octarine
- one any color you want
One large red, white and blue, 137 page notebook by SchoolThingamajigies, Inc. (MAKE SURE YOU BUY THE CORRECT BRAND!!)
One large green box of tissues
One box of gallon-size Ziploc baggies
Seven rolls of two-ply toilet paper with butterfly pattern

And so on. You get the general idea.

I have to tell you, my first years with this stuff were a challenge. I12 started school a year after we came to America. We knew we had to move into the right neighborhood and buy him a book bag, but no one ever told us about the school supplies, so, when the list came in the mail, I was beyond puzzled. I spent the next two weeks wandering the school supply departments of various stores with the list in hand and a “WTF is this list saying?” expression on my face. Then after a year or two, just as I got the hang of it, K9 started kindergarten and I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume.

By now, I’ve been doing it for seven years (this is the eighth) and I’m proud to tell you that I got it down to an art. Here’s how I did it this year.

I have to warn you that there is a ton of practical advice coming up, so, unless you are another Mom in search of school supplies, you may get bored.

First of all, the school supply scavenger hunt doesn’t start a day before school begins. There’ll be nothing left in the good stores by then and you’ll have to resort to upscale places like OfficeMax. Neither does it start when you get the supply list in the mail, or when the Back To School sections open in the stores. No, it starts on the last day of school of the previous school year. On that day, your school sends home with your kid all of the supplies he has not used during the year. Sort through them; set aside anything that is in good condition, pens that still work, etcetera (a lot of stuff will actually come home in its original cover, unopened). Stash that in a safe place and wait.

Sometime in late July – early August, you get the list (or at least, I did). First thing I did was, I sat down with my two lists and wrote everything down on a separate sheet of paper, broken down by category; and by “category” I mean “the order in which school supplies are displayed in the store”. Such as “pens/pencils”, “markers/crayons”, “notebooks/paper”, and so on, ending with “other” (this is where you put your Kleenex and your TP). After that’s done, pull out your secret stash. Go through your list and cross out what you already have. What’s left is your shopping list. You are now ready to begin the Great Scavenger Hunt.

I always start at Marc’s. I don’t know if your place has a Marc’s or its equivalent. If it doesn’t, this probably means you are living in a wealthy neighborhood, and more power to you! This place is like an outlet where they sell everything that they normally would at a grocery store, plus a few random household items and sometimes even small furniture. And they sell it really, really cheap. During our first few years in the country, I was a regular at Marc’s; then I started to notice that the place has its down sides, such as: lines that stretch well into the next century; shabby customer service; and the general low reliability of their merchandise. Marc’s only takes cash or checks, no credit. You are not allowed to return what you bought, unless you paid in cash (something I learned the hard way). Without going into anymore detail, let me just say that these days, I only visit this fine establishment once a year – during the Scavenger Hunt. Other days, I avoid it like plague. I hate this place with a passion. I hate it like a parent of young kids hates Chuck E. Cheese’s. But there is one day each year when I have no other choice but to walk through its doors.

I used to come there after work, but the lines were killing me. So this year, I decided to try Sunday morning. That worked great. I still got caught in a bit of a line at the checkout, but at least the isles weren’t crowded as they are in the evenings, and I was able to get in and out relatively quickly.

My next stop was (and always is) Walmart. I know a lot of people here do not like it, but, after Marc’s, it feels like an upscale mall (as far as I can guess; never been to one). The first thing I buy at Walmart is sharpened pencils, as Marc’s does not carry them. I used to just grab the cheapest box of pencils and go. Then, after one year when I had to sharpen fifty pencils, I started buying them sharpened.

I got stuck in a small line at Walmart as well, behind someone that didn’t know how to use the self-checkout.

Normally, by the time I come out of Walmart, there are only two or three really exotic items remaining on my list. Today, it was:
- vis-à-vis markers
- dry-liner white-outs, NO LIQUID
- ring for index cards, and
- three-ring binder hole puncher

This is when I know it’s OfficeMax time. Another thing I buy at OfficeMax is binders for I12. Last year, I got him the cheap kind, and they fell apart before it was even Christmas. Like a true teen boy, I12 is brutal with his school equipment.

While I’m at it, I’ll add another thing that I have learned I need to spend top dollar on, and that is bookbags. Up until last year, I used to buy them for $3 at (what else!) Marc’s. Then a week after I12 started 6th grade, his bookbag fell apart right as he was walking down a hallway. Can’t blame him; he now has to carry fifteen pounds of stuff in that thing. I went out and got him a Jansport. No visible damage so far.

Back to the Scavenger Hunt. This year, I have set a personal record. If you have beat it, please let me know in the comments, so I have something to aspire to next year. Here’s how I did on this year’s hunt that required school supplies for a 7-grader and a 4-grader.

I left home at 11:00 AM (“But, Goldie, you said you went shopping on Sunday morning!” - well, guys, there was a party at our house last night, so 11AM was as close to morning as I could get today).
Left Marc’s at 11:50 AM; spent $80.
Left Walmart at 12:25 PM; spent $44.60.
Left Officemax at 12:50 PM; spent $29.82.
Came back home at 12:55 PM and spent a total of 1hour 55 minutes and $155. The total could have been less, but I got a few spares at Marc’s – pens, folders, that kind of stuff – so I don’t have to go back there again until next August.

Can you beat that?

The Goldie has spoken at 6:42 PM

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