School Book Fairs and Other Expenses

Jun 14, 2009

I hate the school book fair. There, I said it. Gossip about me. Shun me from PTA meetings. But, I can’t keep it in any longer. I hate them.

Why do I hate them? As my good friend Mr. Shakespeare would say, “Let me count the ways.” For the intent and purpose of this blog, I’ll only state a few.

First of all, I don’t know about your schools, but in my daughter’s school, they take the kids to the book fair and have them make up a “wish list” of all the books they want. They are then encouraged to bring their parents back to “buy them” those books. In all honesty, I don’t know how they word it to the children. I’m not in the classroom at that time. But, I know from experience that you can tell my 6-year-old a lot of things, but if you have her create something (like the above-mentioned wish list) then that is all she is going to remember. Thus, in my mind, they are basically telling our kids that their parents WILL be buying those books for them. And, in our house, that is just not the case.

To begin with, I’m opposed to buying books in the first place (someday I’ll write a post about my love affair with the library) But, I do remember as a child the feeling I’d get from walking into a bookstore, or the school book fair, and seeing all those new books. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them and begin reading. It was, to me, a whole world of possibilities and dreams under each cover. Thus, I don’t what to take that feeling away from my daughter (or any of my children). I want them to love books and I recognize that refusing to ever buy them a book could diminish that joy.

But, have you seen the price of the books at that school fair? My daughter never, ever has anything on her list under $17. This year, her first pick was a cupcake cookbook that came with cupcake liners. It cost close to $20! Now, of course, I was thinking that for just three dollars, I could buy her a box of liners, frosting and a Betty Crocker mix with the recipe right on the box.

Her real dream – the book she really wanted - was actually not a “book,” but rather, a diary.

All week long, she kept asking me and begging me and crying to me about how she wanted to go to the book fair with me. I heard about how all the other kids were getting books and she was not. And, to be honest, I did feel kind of bad for her. I wouldn’t want to be the only child in class who wasn’t allowed to buy a book. Peer pressure is tough, even at the age of six. But, $17 is just too much to spend on a children’s book. So, I sat my daughter down and explained to her that I, too, wanted her to be able to get a book, or a diary, if she wanted one. But, that the cost of those things at the fair was just a lot. I reminded her that we wanted to save our money to pay for things like our vacation or for her and her brothers to go to college. I promised her, though, that once her dad came home from work (and could stay with her brothers) I would take her to a store and we would get her something. I was afraid that this wouldn’t be a good enough compromise in her eyes, but instantly, the tears cleared and she was explaining to me the benefits of saving our money.

And, as promised, that evening she and I went to my favorite bookstore in Austin, TX. It is called Half Price Books, and, as the name promises, the books are half price. And, more often than not, I can find great items for even less than that! The kids’ section is especially nice. Whereas, the other sections of the store are usually “pre-owned” books, in the children’s area, I can usually find brand new (or nearly new) books for minimal money. That night, not only did Jordan find a wonderful diary which she loved (and I loved the price of $3.99), but I also allowed her to pick out a hard-covered book. She chose a brand-new book about Senator Ted Kennedy (from his dog’s perspective) and it cost $3.50. The regular price? $17.

I found myself in a similar situation a few months ago. My daughter’s school has an annual dance recital and I have already paid approximately $100 for her two costumes which she will wear for a total of 6 minutes. But, when they sent home a flier, encouraging the parents to purchase trophies to give our little dancers, I’d just about had enough. I knew from last year (because I purchased this trophy) that it was tiny, not personally engraved and, to my horror, fifteen dollars! I spent a night or two trying to find a way of getting out of buying another trophy. “Do you think we can just re-give her last year’s trophy?” I asked my husband. “No,” he told me. “She’ll notice that the year is wrong on it.” And, he was right. She would. She also knows where we keep that trophy and I’m convinced she would want to put her new one right next to last year’s – and how would we explain what had happened to it?

Later that night, I had a revelation. I turned on the computer and Googled trophy stores in Austin. I found one, less than a mile away and saw the options they had listed on their website. The next day, I went down there and asked if you could buy only one trophy. The owner said, “Sure.” I picked out a beautiful ballerina top with a purple pillar bottom (that had silhouettes of dancers on it.) Not only that, but they said they could personally engrave it with her name, the name of the school and the year (the current year). The total cost, including tax, came to $7.32. I left the store feeling very proud of myself. Not only had I saved half the cost, but I had gotten her a much more attractive item and it would even have her name on it. She, I’m certain, is going to just love it. And yes, I realize that her trophy is going to be different than the other children’s trophies, but in this situation, I do not believe she’ll feel self-conscious about it. These are not trophies that are presented to the children by the school, but rather, by the parents after their performance. Thus, my daughter will not stand out as being “different.” I would have rethought this if she would have stood out in any embarrassing way.

I just want to encourage all of you parents out there, who are struggling with ways to pay for “things” so that your kids don’t feel bad or left out or different, that there are ways to “get around the system.” You just need to be creative!

(Now, I want to state that if you are financially well-to-do and you do not need to save for such things as vacations and college and retirement, then please, by all means, go support your local school by buying expensive books at their book fairs and purchasing outrageously priced trophies. I am all for supporting our schools. I just can’t justify paying that much money for little silly items when I know that I can get better items for less elsewhere.)


Anonymous said...

I hate our school book fairs too. Parents actually send their kids in with $20. My kids are lucky if I remember to give them $5. I have to hear about it all week. See how much you hate it when all three have the stupid book fair!

Kim said...

Love it! Did Jordan like her trophy?

Lynda said...

Kelly - At my son's school, the week prior to bookfair, the librarian shows all the students (during their library time) this amazing, wonderful, marketing video.... ooops... did I say "marketing video", I meant "bookfair video". They highlight the newest books... they have convos with the authors.... oh... it is wonderful.

And all the children rush home telling mom and dad how they can't wait to put XYZ book on their wishlist.

The issue I have with the video (besides the whole marketing aspect) = they mainly target picture books. Not bad for the K and 1st grade crowd. However, when you have a 2nd grader who reads at a 6th grade level, well, WHY OH WHY would I want to buy him a picture book for $7.95 when he'll be finished reading it in 30 seconds?? I rather spend a few dollars more and buy a chapter book at his reading level (that he'll finish reading in 3 hours...but that's another story for another day)

Anonymous said...

Our last book fair was during the swine flu scare, so they weren't allowing parents into the library. All week the kids kept bothering me about it, but there was no way I was just going to give them money without seeing the books myself. Finally, on the last day, they opened the book fair to parents, so I told the kids they could each pick out two books that I approved. Well, we walked out with three books and a poster each. And, they spent most of the time in the library sulking about books they wanted that I would not let them get (e.g., I was not going to spend money on a Scooby Doo comic book).

I feel the same way about school pictures. You don't even get a chance to see what you're paying for. But I always feel guilty if I don't order at least the cheapest package, which is $20 and has none of the size photos that I really want.


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