Going Greene

Saving Money on Back to School

Amy GreeneCan you believe summer is almost over? Before you know it – if it hasn't started already where you are – buses will be rolling, new blue jeans will replace shorts, and tennis shoes will replace flip flops as the children head back to school. It is a time for new clothes and shoes, new pencils and erasers, fresh crayons and notebooks … and money to be spent. But there are ways – easy and quick – you can keep more money in your pocket while still getting all the supplies you need for your students. Here are a few ideas on how to save money on back to school supplies.

1. USE FEWER: We've all seen the lists sent out by the schools for the supplies needed in each grade. Is it just me, or do those lists seem to grow every year? When my first child started school (we had homeschooled for years, then decided to allow her to attend the last year of public middle school), we followed the list to the letter, buying exactly what was on the list, not deviating an inch. And boy did we spend the money – what a mistake! We quickly learned that those lists should be followed as a guideline, not a playbook! When my oldest started school, we saw that more than half of what we had purchased either did not get used, or did not get used until MUCH later into the year. Check the lists carefully. Decide from experience – what is a must have for the first day/week/month of school? What can wait?

notebooks and pencils | Fotolia/Vitalina Rybakov

Do your kids need more than just notebooks and pencils the first days?  Photo: Fotolia/Vitalina Rybakov

2. GO FURTHER: We have four children. When buying for more than one child, we discovered there can be quite a bit of leftovers in many areas, whether it's food, clothing or school supplies. We soon learned that having our children clean out their rooms before school started led to amazing discoveries of stacks of notebooks, reams of filler paper, multiple binders, boxes of colored pencils, crayons and markers, and even extras such as glue sticks, highlighters and scissors. I soon learned that, if I was going to save money, I had to use these items again. I found a central location and started stashing extras items where everyone could find them. At the end of a semester, or a year, we would put any excess items in our designated spot. We always "shop" our shelves FIRST whether at the start of the year or halfway through the year – so we don't buy too much or duplicate something we already have.

3. MAKE FRESHER: We have had some fun with this one over the years. It is interesting how different each child's taste in supplies can be. What one child thinks is amazing, the next child will most definitely turn up a nose. But – there is always a way to make something old look new. That old white binder? Use various colors of duct tape in interesting designs to make an original new binder. That practically new notebook with only a few sheets used, but it has a sibling's name on it? Markers work wonders to make that name into a crazy design. Pencils that are barely used? Use yarn or rubber bands to wrap them like a finger grip. Between your imagination and Pinterest – there are a HUGE number of ideas to make old supplies new.

add yarn to pencils for a fresh look | Fotolia/Jerome Romme

Pencils wrapped with yarn look new again. Photo: Fotolia/Jerome Romme

4. FIND GREAT DEALS: If, after doing all of the above, there are still items you need to purchase, do your homework. This time of year can be like Black Friday for school supplies. Make a list each week of where all the best deals are and then hit each store quickly. Buy the loss leaders at each place, and save money. Also, be sure to take advantage of rainchecks if you happen to get to a store too late for their deals. That way, later in the year when you might need more notebooks, you can use the raincheck and get them for the 25 cents each price. My first time school shopping, I thought it was foolish to buy anywhere other than one store. That was a huge, and very costly, mistake, as I realized too late how much I could have saved by bargain shopping several stores for school supplies the same way I do for groceries. It was a lesson quickly learned and never forgotten.

In short, being creative, and savvy can have a positive effect not only on your wallet, but even the environment, as you reuse items, use less of them, and recycle things that might otherwise have been thrown out.

What ideas do you have for saving money on school supplies? Leave them in the comments below.

'Til next time,
Amy Greene

My Crochet Teacher

Amy GreeneMy husband and I have been married almost 30 years. As I type that number I look at it in something akin to shock to realize I have been a part of his family for that long – and survived! However, one of the best parts of his family that I was able to experience was his grandmother – or as she was lovingly called, Mamaw. She adopted me as one of her own when all of my grandparents were gone much too soon.

My beautiful adopted  

My beautiful adopted "Mamaw."

Mamaw was someone who was "green" before it was cool to be. She planted a garden, canned the resulting produce, made clothes for her children, and crocheted gifts for everyone, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even several great-great-grandchildren! By the time I joined the family, Mamaw wasn't sewing clothes or canning food any more (she was far too busy mowing grass and helping out her siblings, as well as helping to care for my father-in-law who was terminally ill). However, she was still crocheting constantly. During the few times she was sitting down, she immediately picked up her crochet work to finish the current afghan, the current Christmas ornament, the current dishcloth, etc.

Mamaw was kind enough to help me learn how to improve my crochet skills. My godmother, who was a kind and patient woman, taught a less than excited 9-year-old girl how to crochet. I did a few things, but then it fell by the wayside when high school, college and boys entered the picture. But, when I got married, and met Mamaw, I realized how much I would enjoy being able to make beautiful gifts for people on our newly married limited budget.

The latest crochet project. 

The latest crochet project.

Mamaw showed me many new stitches – a triple crochet, a half-double crochet, a chevron, and more. She never tired of my many questions, or at least she never showed me any frustration. She was always willing to look at my work, exclaim with pride over its beauty, and encourage me to continue working on whatever new project I had.

Because of Mamaw's encouragement, both my daughters also learned how to crochet and have since used those skills to make gorgeous, lovingly handcrafted gifts when their wallets were empty. I believe this is one of the best testimonies to loving, close, connected families – watching each generation being taught by previous generations and moving forward to use those skills.

The double crochet stitch Mamaw helped me perfect. 

The double crochet stitch Mamaw helped me perfect.

Mamaw passed away a few weeks ago, and she leaves a huge hole in our family. We all miss her greatly – but all I need to do is look at my latest crochet project in my bag, or any of the many that my daughters are working on, to know that her spirit and her gifts will live on in our family forever. I just wish I could tell her "thank you" one more time!

Pass It On

Amy GreeneIt's interesting to me, in taking this journey towards self-sufficiency, how many aspects of "going green" or being "organic" I learned growing up with my parents. However, at that point, it was just the way we lived because my parents were born to parents who went through the Great Depression.

I was talking to my mom the other day about wanting to learn how to dehydrate food. She said, "We used to do that when you were little. Don't you remember?" I had to admit I didn't, and she reminded me of the apples, peaches and pears that grew in our yard that we picked by the bushel. She reminded me of the screens my brother made that we put out in the yard and dried the fruit the old-fashioned way – with sunlight.

Immediately the memories came flooding back – trying to put the screens up where the dogs wouldn't get them, covering them up so the birds wouldn't get them, carrying them in and out and out and in day after day. I was surprised I didn't remember that, but it did explain a lot as to why dehydrating food was something I really wanted to do – it's in my DNA!

dried pears | Fotolia/DLeonis

Dried pears. Photo: Fotolia/DLeonis

The same could be said of canning and freezing food. Helping my mom can is something I do remember – I also remember the complaining I did. (Sorry, Mom!) However, once I married a man who loved to garden, and was very good at growing things, I began viewing those long summer days in the kitchen with hot jars and fresh food in a whole new light.  

I realized just how much of that knowledge had seeped into my brain as I began to can tomatoes, freeze fresh corn and make various jellies. I can't tell you how many times I called my mom to say, "Even though I griped a kit, thanks for teaching me how to can."

canning green beans and more | Fotolia/shellystuart

Home-canned goods. Photo: Fotolia/shellystuart

Interestingly, over the years, I have taught quite a few friends how to can as well – people who weren't as blessed as I was to have a mother well versed in the ways of canning and freezing.

Along these same lines, it is very important to me to pass along this knowledge to my children. I want all four – both boys and girls – to have a basic knowledge of canning, dehydrating, freezing and other preservation methods for their future. I have already seen my children can green beans and freeze corn by themselves, start to finish. It was a teary moment – as well as a Kodak one! – while I was on the phone with my mother, sharing the moment that the knowledge she shared with me had been passed to another generation to be preserved through her grandchildren.

This is just one of the many things I want to pass down to another generation. What knowledge do you want to share, or have you passed along, to your children so that it can be preserved for the future generations? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

Keep On Trying

Amy GreeneIn my constant pursuit of trying to learn how to make things from scratch, I am usually willing to try anything once. Sometimes, if I know I messed up a recipe or was interrupted midstream, I will try it again. Such is the case with orange marmalade. My husband loves orange marmalade and over the course of our almost-30-year marriage, I have attempted to make this concoction for him. I have since decided that, although I can make jelly like a pro, marmalade is another story.

The first time I tried marmalade was not too long after we were married, when my husband made the usually fatal mistake of saying, "I wish you could cook like my mother – she makes the best orange marmalade." After successfully quashing any latent thoughts of severe pain for that statement, I called my mother-in-law to ask her how to make marmalade. "Nothing to it," she said, and gave me instructions. However, whatever I did wrong turned those lovely oranges into orange bricks.

Fast forward several years to a point where we were living in Florida to pastor a church. In our backyard were gorgeous orange trees with free fruit. Having grown up with Depression-era parents, letting anything like that go to waste was unthinkable. Therefore, I decided once again to make a foray into the world of marmalade. I followed a recipe in one of my cookbooks to the letter – or so I thought. My second attempt turned out to be more like orange mud – so into the trash can it went.

My latest – and possibly last – attempt was this past weekend. My husband bought oranges at Christmas from a coworker. We had eaten as many as we could stand, and given away more. There were just a few left and so my husband wistfully said, "Those would make delicious marmalade." Despite the knowledge of my past two less-than-stellar results, I gamely agreed to give it a shot. I scoured the Internet to find just the right recipe – one that was touted as "no fail." I again followed my directions, put everything together, even found cute little jars at a thrift store and ladled my marmalade in, ever hopeful that this, THIS was my time to shine.

After a night filled with the wonderful sound of jars sealing, I eagerly entered the kitchen the next morning, hoping to see gorgeous marmalade ready to eat. What I found was jar after jar of orange syrup. Yep, every jar was liquid – not a solid jar in the batch. I am sure my children will love their new supply of orange pancake syrup.

Crepes with orange sauce

Crepes with orange sauce (and ice cream).
Photo: iStockphoto.com/janecocoa

While I'm not sure I'll ever try to make orange marmalade again, my latest less-than-perfect project won't stop me from trying the next thing. I will admit, however, that it probably won't have the words "orange," "marmalade" or "jelly" in the title!

Until next time,