Back to School savingsIt’s only early August, and yet you’re already probably inundated with back-to-school advertising! My advice is to enjoy the ever-shrinking summer while it lasts, but here are some tips for going green while saving the greenbacks once you do start getting ready to send your kids back to school.

One caveat: my daughter, despite her ability to ‘go get the y’ from the alphabet magnets on the fridge, is only a year old and hence not in school yet, so these are ideas gleaned from others. Do you have some tips that have worked for your kids? Add them in the comments. And enjoy the fleeting sweetness of summer, while it lasts. (In that spirit, there’s an ice cream recipe in a link at the end of this article, proving that pink and green parenting can be fun!)

1) Brown bag it. And reuse the brown bag. A homemade, brown-bagged lunch is a yummy, healthy, and green alternative to the junk in the school cafeteria. And it’s cheaper, too. Avoid prepared foods, especially those that claim to be something known as ‘lunchable’, and use as little packaging as possible. Get your kids on board with this by letting them help choose what’s in their lunches.

Try to prep it all Sunday night, and get them to help. If you’re including healthy, whole foods, it’s fine to include a sweet now and then, too. A homemade chocolate chip cookie is a heck of a lot healthier than most of the stuff that passes as lunchmeat in school meals! Use brown bags and a thermos, and ask your kids to reuse them. They can decorate them if they find them too boring. For the Advanced Pink and Green Parents: If you’ve already greened your kids’ lunches, try greening the whole school’s lunch.

2) Ignore those “back-to-school” clothing specials. Most of those deals being hawked in paper-wasting flyers right now…aren’t really deals. They’re come-ons to get you in the store and spend, spend, spend. Instead, make a list — with your kids’ help—of the must-haves for fall. Then, see if you can find them gently used, online or in brick-and-mortar stores. Again, try to get your kids excited about the process; let them know that they can afford to get more stuff if they get it used.

3) Make a budget for clothes, school supplies, etc., and stick to it. Include a splurge in your budget. This is somewhat self-explanatory, but it’s so easy to get caught up in impulse buys, come-ons, and so on. When it’s hot out and the air-conditioned mall beckons, it’s easy to give in to the “Mom, I NEED it” syndrome. Get your kids on board: have them help you make the list of what they need BEFORE you hit the stores or online websites, and break down how much they want to spend on each item. If you have older kids, have them organize a clothes swap with their friends.Include a splurge —small or large, depending on your budget. Maybe you can’t afford an entire new outfit, but you can afford a brand new knapsack or pair of shoes. Stick to your guns—you’re modeling good financial behavior here. Making room for a splurge sends the message that budgeting leads to financial empowerment and fun.

4) Wait. Everything will go on sale after Labor Day. Only get what your kids absolutely must have right now. If you know one of your kids needs a jacket, for example, wait until after Labor Day to get it, when fall clothes begin to be discounted. This also gives your kid a chance to see what’s in and what’s out, and adjust their wardrobe accordingly if they are the sort to follow trends. ( I could have saved myself the shame of being covered head-to-toe in whale paraphernalia in middle school if I’d followed this advice…but that’s another story!)

5) Combine shopping with non-consumerist fun. I like shoe-shopping as much as the next girl, but I don’t base my life around it.It’s fine for your kids to get excited about back-to-school shopping, and it can be a way to get them excited about and focused on the school year to come. Talk to them about other aspects of their upcoming school experience (new teacher, friends, activities), and combine each and every shopping trip with a non-consumerist summer activity such as swimming or a visit to a park or museum. This will both de-emphasize consumption as a key bonding activity, and allow you to have some low-key quality time with your kids before you are all sucked into the vortex of the school year. And you’ll save gas if you piggyback a non-shopping activity with a trip to the mall.

6) Educate your kids about the environmental impact of their consumer behavior. And celebrate their green choices. Discuss how the throw-away clothing culture negatively impacts the environment. Find articles that explore this, and discuss this with them. Do the same with the lunch and lunch bag issue. But don’t make this a big Debbie Downer talk; make sure to mark and celebrate when your kids make greener choices. Include them in the conversation about greener living. See what ideas, thoughts, questions, and suggestions they have, and try to incorporate them into your family’s practices. Reward their green choices with words of praise. Or homemade ice cream!

What other tips do you have for greening the back-to-school madness? Any tales from the pink and green parenting trenches?