The Happiest Home’s Back-To-School Survival Guide: Opting Out

opting out of school fundraisersThough I love back-to-school time more than almost any other time of year (crisp fall days! New sweaters!) by the end of September, I’m generally experiencing no small amount of stress. I think it’s because of all the obligations that pile up during that month. If the seemingly hundreds of forms you have to fill out weren’t enough, a steady stream of paperwork flows from your child’s backpack daily, and it’s mostly things that have to be dealt with: upcoming meetings, registration for this activity or that sport, and—my least two favorite things in the world—school pictures and fundraiser catalogs.

I don’t like to be a Scrooge, but both these things set my upper lip in a curl. First of all, the pictures always seem to be horrible—not to mention horribly overpriced. They put awkward packages together that would seem to fit no family’s needs and then you have to either buy two expensive packages, or just one expensive package plus expensive ala carte add-ons. All for a photo of my child that makes him look like a future serial killer.

Fundraisers, especially the “catalog of crap” sort, are my other Scrooge-y peeve. I hate everything about them—the way they turn it into a competition for the kids (who have no power over whether their relatives or family friends are willing to shell out dough for overpriced wrapping paper and cheaply-made-but-not-cheap trinkets), the fact that it promotes buying more stuff nobody needs at prices few can afford, the fact that the fundraising company is lining its pockets with cash that families may not be able to spare just so their kids aren’t left out of the “fun”. I’d rather just write a check to the school. They’d get more money, I wouldn’t be loaded down with stuff I don’t need, and I wouldn’t have to turn my kids into mini-marketers.

For the last few years we’ve been opting out of fundraisers (except during a moment of weakness last year when I bought a few things from the holiday catalog—purchases I lived to regret later) and this year, I think I’ll opt out of school pictures as well. It’s not worth the money or irritation, and it’s not as though I won’t have any photographs of my children without them! You may be surprised at how many other parents feel the same way: I polled a group of moms I know online about their feelings on school pictures, and a surprising number of together, organized and loving moms said they simply don’t buy them. I think somewhere in my head, I’d had this idea that buying school pictures is Just What Good Moms Do. And yet, many good moms….don’t.

As for the kids, they don’t seem to care much. They never hand out the wallet-sized school photos and usually seem vaguely embarrassed about the whole shebang. I have used fundraisers as a teaching opportunity, and explained that there’s no way our friends and family would have bought enough stuff to win them the iPod, anyway…they’d have been stuck with the nylon jump rope.

I know, I know, fundraisers serve a purpose. Schools wouldn’t keep doing them if they didn’t make money for the school. And schools wouldn’t keep doing back-to-school pictures unless parents wanted them to. But that doesn’t mean I have to grit my teeth and join in. I can find other ways to record my child’s first few weeks of school (pictures taken at home always seem to turn out better), and I can contribute to the school financially or via volunteering and helping out. If I simply opt out, I don’t have to go into a mini-mental rant when the forms and catalogs come home—I can simply shrug, toss them in the recycle bin, and move on to something more worthy of my time.

I think if you’ve got peeves like this, it’s OK to consider opting out. In many cases, I think it’s better to simply say “I choose not to participate” than gnash your teeth and grudgingly join in. Being resentful—and straining your bank account—is no fun, and your kids may pick up on your negative feelings and feel badly themselves as the “cause” of your stress. And just because everybody else seems to be doing something doesn’t mean you have to. Sure, your kid may miss out on that jump rope or plastic sports bottle, but maybe you can make it up to him with a trip out for ice cream. You can even afford a brownie sundae, with all that money you’ll be saving.

What are your school-year pet peeves? Would you ever opt out of participating in them?

About This Post
It’s back-to-school time, and this year Sprite and TwitterMoms have partnered with bloggers like me to share back-to-school tips and tricks, advice, stories and more! Visit Sprite’s back-to-school channel on TwitterMoms to get helpful ideas, learn how to survive the back to school rush, seek out advice from other TwitterMoms and join the conversation. You can learn more about donating your My Coke Rewards Points to support your local school, how to enter for a chance to win some Back to School cash, check out recipes, or even play some fun games. Here’s to a successful and stress-free back to school season from Sprite and TwitterMoms!

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