Do you feel that? The faint scratching of graphite across paper, the scent of chalk in the air? With Labor Day weekend a pleasant memory, parents and children alike are jumping back into the school year rhythm.
Retailers sense it, too. Your TV, radio, and newspaper are full of advertisements for deals on new sneakers, lunchboxes, and bright-colored binders. Everywhere you turn, stores scream "Buy more! Buy now! Buy extras!" If you don't plan ahead, you're likely to find yourself over budget and exhausted before the school year even begins. So once you've made a list of all the books, pens, and binders for your kids, take a moment to think through what to get this fall for yourself.
1. Coffee. Lots. Even when they run smoothly, school mornings mean getting up earlier to make sure children are up, dressed, fed, and in the car or bus on time. Stock up on coffee, tea, or whatever you need to get your day started. If you don't have one, consider investing in a programmable coffee maker. There are models under $25, and prepping coffee ahead of time means one less thing on your morning to-do list.
2. Travel mug. On the days you need to take your coffee to go -- or grab a second helping to down en route -- you'll be glad you've got one. My favorite brand is Contigo, which can get knocked around a backseat or tote bag without spilling.
3. Lunchbox. So many parents pack a healthy lunch for their kids every day, but don't make time to prep one for themselves. Save time and money by assembling a wholesome lunch for your children and yourself at the same time -- preferably the night before. Look for a lunchbox or tupperware that's BPA-free, dishwasher-safe, insulated or microwaveable, and leakproof. You'll thank yourself when fall properly arrives and you can bring hot soup!
4. Fitness gear. As you readjust to the school year and spend more time on chauffeur and homework duty, it's easy to let your workout routine slip. For the days you just can't make it to the gym, make sure you've got what you need to keep it up at home, whether that's a pair of running shoes, a resistance band, workout DVDs, or a yoga mat.
5. Tax-free Basics. Many states lift sales taxes for a few days around this time of year. It's timed for back-to-school shopping, but it's not limited to kids' stuff. Check your state's website to see when your tax holiday kicks in, and pick up clothing, office supplies, and electronics purchases for 4 percent-7 percent less.
6. Audiobooks. One of my clients told me what she missed most about her life before kids was relaxing with a book after work. Reclaim your reading time by listening to an audiobook while driving, doing housework, or running errands. Many local libraries will even let you download audiobooks for free from home with a current library card.
7. Outdoor Blanket. Keep a picnic blanket in your car and take advantage of the last few weeks of warm weather. When you find yourself with a few extra minutes, spread out in a park, playground, or your backyard for a little outdoor one-to-one time with your spouse or one of your kids while others are occupied elsewhere.
8. Family Calendar. Most parents I know use their smartphones to keep track of family schedules. But don't underestimate a big, old-fashioned calendar for getting everyone on the same page -- and for ensuring you're not the only one who knows what's coming up. Go over the calendar together in a weekly family meeting, and choose a prominent place in the kitchen or play area to hang it.
9. Bin for each child. Add a new item to their bedtime routine: putting their packed knapsack, show-and-tell project, or whatever they need for the next day in a bin. Above the bins, paste a list of what's needed every day (lunchbox, books, homework), and a calendar reminding them which days need special things (e.g., on Wednesdays, Taylor brings dance shoes and Alex brings the violin). Keep the bins by the door, where it's easy for mum and dad to glance over and see everything's sorted on the way out. Rest easy knowing won't get a panicked call at lunchtime begging "help, I've forgotten my permission slip and soccer cleats!"
10. Wine. Last, but definitely not least. Set up a playdate for your kids, pour yourself a glass, and spend an hour with a friend, your spouse, or that queue of audiobooks. Maintaining parental dignity and setting aside time for yourself is absolutely vital, so whether it's a glass of wine, a long bath, movie night with friends, or dinner with your spouse, make sure you get what you need to recharge.
Beyond your shopping list, remember organization is key for back-to-school season. Do everything possible the night before: pack lunches, lay out clothes, and set out plates and silverware for breakfast. Set your alarm earlier than the kids', and give yourself enough grown-up time to shower, dress, and compose yourself so you can avoid running up and down the stairs in a frenzy. Your calm will be contagious, and the whole family will get a better start to their day.