Back To School Bargains That Save The World

<center>Back To School Bargains That Save The World</center>


How can we save the world by buying back to school bargains? As I watch my neighbor’s kids pack up the car and head off to our fine institutions of higher learning like Stanford and Willamette, I can’t help but wonder just how much money is being spent at this time of the year on back-to-school stuff. I feel for the armies of parents scrambling right now to buy new school wardrobes or desks that’ll withstand all-nighters (or dorm parties).  But, I wonder just how much money families could save by skipping the back-to-school shopping spree at Macy’s or Target or {insert favorite store here} and heading straight for their neighborhood thrift store. So, I decided to embark on a little research. Did you know that back-to-school time happens to be the second largest retail season of the year, according to a USA Today, with the average family spending $808.71 on dorm essentials?  Neither did I.

A bright spot in the retail madness is that the high cost of back-to-school hasn’t been lost on some smart students, and there’s a growing trend towards student-led recycling programs sprouting up at universities across the U.S., including Cornell, Princeton and Penn State. At the University of New Hampshire, students started a “Trash 2 Treasure” program to reduce waste on campus, consisting of a two-day yard sale of unwanted dorm room furnishings, which was held over move-in weekend.  The sale brought in $11,750 and diverted an estimated 57,000 pounds of trash from landfills.  Not only are university-sponsored recycling programs getting popular, but students are ditching their blue 20% off Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons and hitting up yard sales, flea markets, Craigslist and consignment shops to furnish their college abodes.  And, lots of families are saving money by shopping for gently-used items online, at local garage sales and thrift stores or seeking donations from friends or relatives.

Fast forward to the end of the academic year and every summer thousands of students who live on campus pack up their bags and move out, clearing out their dorm rooms of furniture, clothes and small appliances…and dumping the rest. A few months ago, I helped my friend Heidi move her two daughters out of their Cal apartments and was amazed at how much “stuff” there was just left on the Berkeley sidewalks or in trash cans, as students were packing up and moving out.  According to the UNH Department of Facilities Operation and Maintenance, students throw away 25 tons of trash per month. But in May, the end of the academic year, this number spikes to 105 tons.  I believe it, and most of the stuff that I saw students throwing out was perfectly reusable.

So, in an effort to help reduce wasteful spending as well as waste, in general, I’d like to offer parents a gentle reminder to consider doing some back-to-school shopping at your local thrift store.  While there’s always been a contingent of college kids who naturally shop there, I hope that thrifting becomes a more frequently-used term in the college vocabulary.  Perhaps one day there will even be a new class added to college curriculum: Thrifting 101.

And, there are some really great things happening in the world of recycling for younger kids’ too, including San Francisco based ThredUp where you can buy and sell gently-used children’s clothing from brands like Gap, Gymboree, and Baby Lulu. Like their website says:

“Kids grow fast. Did you know your child is on track to outgrow more than 1,360 articles of clothing by age 17? You’re destined to spend countless hours and thousands of dollars replacing clothes that are practically new. Why? Because there’s never been an easy way to trade outgrown threads for the next size up… until now.

It’s a great way to recycle kid’s clothing and is an on-line boutique where you can refresh your child’s entire wardrobe at around 75% off without ever leaving your house.  What a great business idea — parents order a bag from ThredUp, fill it with gently-used kid’s clothes, then mail it to ThredUp and make money from the clothes chosen by the ThredUp team for resale.  The clothes get recycled, you earn money and others benefit by saving money.  The clothes have to meet certain criteria, though, so make sure there are no rips, stains, or torn-out labels.  Check out their website for more details.

There’s also a really cool site called KarmaGoat where you can buy and sell items and the proceeds go to a charity of your choice.  So, instead of buying or selling your items on Craigslist for a change, try KarmaGoat, and you could be helping save the Invisible Children being abducted from their homes to fight as soldiers in northern Uganda or help Doctors Without Borders provide vaccinations in Mali.  The story goes that back in 2009, when founder Jonathan Lehmann was moving from Paris to LA to get his MBA.  As he was dividing up all of his stuff into various piles:  stuff to keep, stuff to donate to the thrift store, and stuff he no longer wanted but knew his friends might enjoy, he wondered:  wouldn’t it be great if we could invent a fun, new way to give this unwanted stuff away and unlock its true value to achieve something good?  Jonathan turned his day-dream into reality by teaming up with three classmates to form KarmaGoat following his graduation from UCLA.   These guys have great Karma!  Check it out at

So, let’s all daydream about a world where our “stuff” can do some good.  Where we can help others.  Reduce landfill waste.  And, save money…I think we all could use a little higher learning on this subject, don’t ya think?

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