News

12 ways to go back to school (and not to the poorhouse)

The new school year is about to descend upon us any minute now — and that likely means an outlay of cash is in order. Is there any way to lessen the pain?

You betcha. The following tips can help you avoid spending too much on the clothes, shoes, backpacks, notebooks, paper, pencils, pens, protractors and art supplies your children will need — not to mention the high-tech gear you may get tapped to provide.

1. Begin by shopping at home. One way to get around spending hundreds of dollars per child is to avoid buying everything new. Take an inventory of what your family already owns. Have your kids really outgrown all of their shoes and clothing? Do you have an abundance of pens, pencils, folders and rulers? (Note: It’s not hard to hide company logos on folders and notebooks with stickers!)

  • Slideshow Photos

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    From sassy Mis-tah Kot-tah on "Welcome Back, Kotter" to Cameron Diaz's sexy educator who just doesn't care in "Bad Teacher," school's always in session in Hollywood.

  • Image:

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Breaking Bad' -

    When Walter White learns he has lung cancer on AMC's "Breaking Bad," he uses chemistry teacher expertise to become a meth maker and dealer. He even takes on a former student as his sidekick, providing Jesse Pinkman with a very different sort of education.

    AMC / AMC
  • Image:

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'The Sword in the Stone' -

    Young Wart (whose real name is Arthur) has no idea that his destiny is to be the future king of England in 1963's animated "The Sword in the Stone." But when Merlin becomes his mentor and teacher, Wart's life is changed.

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • GOOD WILL HUNTING, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, 1997, (c) Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Good Will Hunting' -

    An autodidact with an eidetic memory, Will Hunting (Matt Damon) hardly feels he needs to be educated by anyone. But psychologist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) gives him an outlet for his frustrations and turns out to be the kind of mentor and teacher the angry young man needs to be able to pursue his dreams in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting."

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image: MATILDA, Embeth Davidtz, 1996, (c)TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Matilda' -

    Matilda Wormwood is a lucky kid, getting Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) as a teacher in the 1996 film adaptation of Roald Dahl's "Matilda." The teacher speaks up for her smart student in front of bully headmistress Miss Trunchbull, and urges Matilda's parents to give her some attention.

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image: MEAN GIRLS, Tina Fey (foreground), 2004, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Mean Girls' -

    Tina Fey scripted herself as Ms. Norbury, a math teacher who is wrongfully accused in the "Mean Girls'" "burn book" as being a drug dealer. In the 2004 movie, she forces the young ladies to confess to the lie, then make amends to their fellow students and teachers.

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image: A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, from left, Patty, Schroeder, Charlie Brown, 1969

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'A Boy Named Charlie Brown' -

    In the world of "Peanuts," teachers -- like most adults -- are heard but not seen. Miss Othmar was one of the few teachers' names ever cited, and Linus had a major crush on her. In 1969's "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," the trombone-voiced teacher leads Charlie Brown through a spelling bee test, which he does surprisingly well on.

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image: BOY MEETS WORLD, Ben Savage, William Daniels, Will Friedle, 1993 - 2000. © Touchstone Television / C

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Boy Meets World' -

    As dedicated teacher (and later principal and college professor) George Feeny on "Boy Meets World," William Daniels has a devil of a time getting students including Cory (Ben Savage) and Eric (Will Friedle) to focus, but he does inspire the "Feeny Call," a shout that would draw the educator out of his house. When the show (1993-2000) signed off, he was the final character on screen and delivered the last line of dialogue: "I love you all. Class dismissed."

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image:

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Star Wars' -

    First seen in 1980's "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back," Grand Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) has become such a culturally iconic figure that to call someone a "Yoda" means that they are a wise mentor. In "Empire," he met Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and helped train the powerful son of Darth Vader in the ways of the force with wise lines such as "Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering."

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image: X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, Famke Janssen, 2006, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All right

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'X-Men' -

    In some ways, the founder of the X-Men, Charles Xavier, is a student's worst nightmare for a teacher: He can both control and read minds. Fortunately, the "X-Men" film's Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is on the good guys' side, a peace-loving crime fighter in a wheelchair who helps protect the non-mutant human species.

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Welcome Back, Kotter' -

    1970s comedy "Welcome Back, Kotter" was a big success, and even its moody John Sebastian theme song became a hit. Gabe Kaplan plays Gabe Kotter, a teacher who returns to his own alma mater in Brooklyn to teach a bunch of high-school tough guys known as The Sweathogs. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Freddy "Boom-Boom" Washington), Ron Palillo (Horshack) and Robert Hegyes (Epstein) are shown with Kaplan. Missing is perhaps the most famous Sweathog, John Travolta, who plays Vinnie Barbarino.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Stand and Deliver' -

    Edward James Olmos plays real-life high-school math teacher Jaime Escalante in 1988's "Stand and Deliver." In the film, he wins over his troubled Los Angeles students and teaches them so well that the testing service doesn't believe the students earned their high scores, and makes them retake a difficult standardized calculus test.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' -

    "Bueller? ... Bueller? ... Bueller?" That's the repeated query from an economics teacher played by Ben Stein, in the 1986 American teen coming-of-age comedy "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," written and directed by John Hughes. He reportedly ad-libbed most of his monologue about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and supply-side economics.

    Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'South Park' -

    School is often R-rated on "South Park," where Mr. Herbert Garrison (voiced by series co-creator Trey Parker) and his puppet Mr. Hat often teach Cartman, Eric, Kyle and pals things they really shouldn't be learning about.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Cameron Diaz

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Bad Teacher' -

    Cameron Diaz stars in the 2011 comedy "Bad Teacher," as Elizabeth Halsey, a teacher who smokes pot, drinks, swears at her students and sleeps through class.

  • DEAD POETS SOCIETY

    Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Dead Poets Society' -

    Robin Williams stars in 1989's "Dead Poets Society" as John Keating, an unconventional English teacher who shakes up a boys' prep school. The character's use of the phrase "Carpe diem" ("seize the day") re-invigorated its use in American culture.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Election' -

    Matthew Broderick, who famously skipped school in 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," goes back to school as teacher Jim McAllister in 1999's "Election," with Reese Witherspoon playing the overachieving Tracy Flick.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'School of Rock' -

    Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a rocker who turns to substitute teaching and teaches his kids to love music in 2003's "School of Rock."

    Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' -

    Sean Penn and Ray Walston, as Jeff Spicoli and Mr. Hand, had a famous in-class confrontation when Spicoli ordered himself some pizza in 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Glee' -

    On "Glee," it's not just the kids who compete against each other. Sharp-tongued Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and glee club director Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) are constantly at each others' throats.

    Fox / Fox
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' -

    Harry Potter and pals have many teachers at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) was one of the most evil. She forces students who are given detention to write with a blood quill, which cuts the words into its victims as they write them.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Best and worst teachers of TV and film

    of

    'The Simpsons' -

    Marcia Wallace naprovided the voice of teacher Edna Krabappel on "The Simpsons" from the show's inception in 1990 until Wallace's death in 2013. The jaded, chain-smoking teacher is always looking for a romantic partner, and ultimately finds one in Ned Flanders.

    Fox / Fox

2. Start sleuthing for bargains. Now is an excellent time to become highly attuned to clearance sales in your area and coupons that can help you at this time of year. Tiffany Ivanovsky, a dedicated couponer who appeared on the TLC reality show “Extreme Couponing,” notes that some coupons offer up certain school supplies for a dime or even a penny. If she spots a coupon like that but doesn’t have time to go to the store offering the sale, she’ll bring the coupon to Walmart and ask to have it price-matched. (Note: When you find deep discounts, remember to stock up for the entire year, not just the immediate future.)

3. Apply the brakes if your kids can stand it. Be aware that some of the best sales for backpacks, Thermoses and lunch boxes are likely to surface in September after school has already started. Can your kids make do until then?

4. Get thee to a dollar store. You might be surprised by the selection of paper products and other school supplies you’ll find there. Bring your child — a potential bargain-hound-in-training! — to the store with you.

5. Scour garage sales, thrift stores and consignment shops. These places typically require some legwork, but the bargains to be had are astonishing. On certain days of the week, some thrift stores allow you to fill an entire bag with clothing for $3 or $4. Thrift stores and yard sales also can be godsends for young people: They often serve up designer name-brand finds for $1 to $5, as opposed to $50 to $100. Why not give it a try?

6. Organize a clothing swap with other parents. “Sometimes kids don't need new clothes, they just need different clothes!” said Ivanovsky, a mother of seven who blogs about couponing and bargain-hunting at MyLitter.com. “School clothes might be in great condition still, it just doesn't fit your child anymore.” A clothing swap can be a completely free and fun way to recharge a wardrobe at any time of year.

7. Remember and . If your child simply will die without a specific high-end designer brand, look for new or slightly used clothing online at sites like these. The savings can be substantial, and the process may be less time-consuming than the thrift-store-and-yard-sale route.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Frances Benjamin Johnston

    Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    Education has come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse. Get a lesson from the history books with this scrapbook of archival photos.

  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Class in session -

    Education has come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse. Get a lesson from the history books with this scrapbook of archival photos from the Library of Congress.

    Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston captures an image of small children studying geometry in a 19th-century Washington, D.C., classroom.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Getting jiggy -

    School children learn a dance in a Washington, D.C., school yard in 1899.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Study hour -

    A teacher looks on while students read in this New York school in 1906.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Lace Makers

    Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Lovely in lace -

    Students take an outdoor lace-making class wearing white pinafores and hats at the Lois Weeden school in 1908.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Teeth Brushers

    Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Pearly whites -

    "Spare the brush and spoil the TEETH": Schoolgirls in a dental hygiene class are taught to hold a toothbrush. This photo was taken in 1908.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Staying in settlements -

    This photo, taken on Feb. 8. 1910, shows children from School No. 2 in the Buffalo, N.Y., Italian district. Many of these kids spent their summer vacations in the canning and fruit-picking settlements where their parents went to work during the season.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Publicizing their plight -

    Children in rural Williams County, N.D., are shown in their classroom in 1937. The photographer, Russell Lee, was employed by the Farm Security Administration, a government effort to fight poverty.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Off to work -

    This 1915 photo shows a two-room schoolhouse called Knearl in Brush, Colo. Taken seven weeks into the school year, only five pupils were present out of 100, as many children were off working on beet farms.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Spoonful of oil -

    Children in an Arkansas nursery school are fed cod liver oil in this photo, taken in 1938, shortly before World War II. During the war, children were given the supplement to boost their meager diets.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Barefoot pupils -

    Children study in a rural school in San Augustine County, Texas, in 1939. The boy on the left has hookworm, which infested this poverty-stricken region.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    In the attic -

    Lewis Wickes Hine photographed children at Dotheboys Hall in Hunstville, Ala., in 1913. The school was tucked away upstairs over a store. Hine described the scene:

    "Equipped with antique, dilapidated benches and chairs. The lessons begin at 6 a.m. and last for six hours, and these children who attend in the morning go into the mill in the afternoon and vice versa for the required eight weeks, which the law specifies. Taking everything into consideration it shows what travesty vocational guidance may become..."

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Gather 'round -

    Elementary schoolchildren gather to watch the teacher write on a blackboard in Washington, D.C.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    Wartime image -

    Rural schoolchildren in San Augustine County, Texas, are shown in this photo, taken in 1943. The photographer, John Vachon, worked for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Kickin’ it old school on Throwback Thursday

    of

    The dunce -

    Children read various crime stories in their classroom, while one boy wears a dunce cap and stands at the blackboard in this 1906 photo.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress

8. Set ground rules for clothes shopping. Choose clothes that will give your children room to grow. Pick up extra pairs of shoes in larger sizes when you find a good sale. Solid, neutral colors and classic styles — such as simple pullover shirts — are ideal because they’re easy to mix and match and less likely to look dated over time if you have younger kids.

9. Buy the right backpack. If you know your child is likely to overstuff his or her backpack, opt for a smaller one. Kids shouldn’t carry more than 20 percent of their own weight on their backs. Any pack you buy should have wide, padded shoulder straps. Rolling backpacks are available (if your child really will use the wheels and not just carry that extra weight around).

10. Don’t overspend on technology. Homework can be almost impossible these days without a computer and Internet access. If you’re thinking of investing in a personal computer exclusively for your child’s use, look for deals; there’s no need to pay top dollar for this purchase. Again, check out eBay and craigslist, and remember that refurbished computers are another option. As for other technology — a cell phone, an mp3 player, a handheld video-game player and the like — only you can be the judge of what your child should have. If you view a cell phone as a necessity for safety reasons, take care to sign up for a calling plan that will actually work well for your family, and teach your child not to subscribe to joke-of-the-day services, special ring-tone services and other kinds of “premium text messaging.” Otherwise it’s all too easy to get clobbered with astronomical cell-phone bills. For additional tips, read this Red Tape Chronicles post about kids and cell phones.

11. Track down the right calculator. If your child needs a fancy calculator for trigonometry class, bite the bullet and invest in a good one. It will last for years — so many years, in fact, that one of your kids’ grandparents might already have one that you could borrow free of charge.

12. Teach important money lessons. Back-to-school season lends itself to having frank discussions with your children about money, budgeting, and needs versus wants. Depending on their ages and maturity levels, you could negotiate back-to-school budgets with your kids and allow them to manage those budgets entirely. If they want anything above and beyond the amount you’ve agreed to provide, let them use their allowance money or baby-sit, mow lawns or wash cars to pay for it themselves. For more information about allowances and money management for young people, check out this TODAY.com column and this feature story.

TOP