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

by Meagan Francis on August 13, 2009

opting out of school fundraisers Though 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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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Stefanie August 13, 2009 at 7:42 am

I often say that I’d much rather give the school $20-$30 a month than deal with all the fundraisers they come up with. Especially with three children in two different schools! One has cookie dough, another has a bake sale (where you are expected to PROVIDE the sugary junk food AND spend money to buy someone else’s sugary junk food. ARRRGH!) and the third is selling gift wrap… and then the next month it all gets shifted around crates of citrus fruits, chocolate bars (that they completely devour before I wake in the morning, so I have to pay for the entire box!) boxes of plant bulbs, cheap ‘as-seen-on-tv’ type items, spices, christmas wreaths… the list is endless.

And that doesn’t even include the various “a-thons” that require sponsorship!

Please! Schools! Listen to me! I will gladly give you cash every month to prevent you from sending home the sheets and sheets and sheets of stress and annoyance and useless competition. Really, wouldn’t the money be better used if it went DIRECTLY to the school instead of through all these middle-men organizations?

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Micki August 13, 2009 at 7:43 am

I’ve long ago opted out of school pictures and fundraisers for the same reasons you’ve listed. What really pushed me over to the dark side was moving between states and seeing the picture prices triple from the same company! I also refuse to participate in school carnivals. Last year our school netted $19K at the back to school carnival! They are making plenty of money without me, thank you very much!

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Marketing Mommy August 13, 2009 at 7:53 am

I also don’t participate in those crap fundraisers (although I will write a check or pay for an “experience” like a carnival).

But school pictures…maybe since my kids are still young, I have a soft spot for them. Sort of. I buy the class picture and 1 sheet of wallets to send to relatives. It just seems fun in a retro kind of way. And besides, 1 sheet of wallets–at least at our school–is about $5.

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Meredith August 13, 2009 at 8:16 am

Last year was the first year I had to deal with the school picture issue and I was so disappointed with the outcome. I take much better pictures of my kids. I will probably just get the class photo this year. As for fundraisers – AMEN! I say we start an Opt Out movement!

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toyfoto August 13, 2009 at 8:25 am

No a “happy” comment here, but as a board member of my daughter’s preschool – yes, preschools do this madness, too – I tried in vain to get them to stop the peddling of crap no one needed to raise funds.

The argument against just paying more tuition was that some families couldn’t and the fundraising, in essence, made ends meet in a fair and unnoticable way.

I disagree, but this kind of thing seems to be entrenched.

Here’s my happy thought:

As a photographer, though, I’ve decided to shell-out the dough for the basic pose against the blue backdrop and just think of it as a rite of passage.

Everyone has these cheesy, grinning likenesses in a box or on a wall somewhere.

I’m sure schools get kickbacks for those packages, too. Why else would one company be allowed in year in, year out, to perform a service for the school (IDs/Yearbook) and in addition sell pictures to families?

Schools get a cut.

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Meagan Francis August 13, 2009 at 8:45 am

Alma, I felt the same when my boys were littler. Plus they actually smiled back then so the pictures were cute, if cheesy. Now their pictures look like those ones that will one day end up on the evening news, you know?

Toyfoto, I tried to go along with the rite of passage thing…but with four kids in school this year it adds up fast. I’ve noticed the photos they take in the spring are much better…wonder why that is.

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Kellyology August 13, 2009 at 9:30 am

I hate fundraisers in which I’m asked to buy things I don’t need. My kids school, however, has come up with the perfect solution–a jog-a-thon. The kids get $ donated for laps they run, and it’s so popular that it’s the only fundraiser that is done for the entire year. The kids have a fun fitness day, the parents don’t have to buy stuff they don’t need, and the school gets about $30,000 every year to add to their budget. It’s great.

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Julie @ The Mom Slant August 13, 2009 at 9:44 am

I don’t buy anything from those fundraising packages, and I certainly don’t send my kids door to door bugging other people to buy. The worst part though is that I’ve been getting those damn things since my oldest has been in day care – and I’ve been ignoring them just as long.

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Donna August 13, 2009 at 10:56 am

I totally agree with the fundraising! Our school has an “invest” plan where parents are just asked to donate at the beginning of the year (per family not per child) in order to support the school. They also do fundraisers…which I opt out of knowing that I have already put the money into the school directly with the “invest” plan!

HOWEVER…I must have the school photos…I love them…however crazy they turn out it seems to be totally representative of my boys at the point in time! Everyone has their own opinion on this…but I love them and have a wallet-full!

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Mara August 13, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I love that idea about the jog-a-thon! I am completely in the anti-fundraising camp and have opted out the past few years. My son’s school also has a silent auction that I hate b/c there’s lots of pressure to attend (tickets are 40 dollars *a person*) and to bid on things, most of which I have no interest in. Bear in mind that although this is a charter school, it’s a public school. So I really was shocked by the “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” mindset that seems to accompany their money-raising efforts.

We donate money to the school, so I refuse to feel bad about my non-participation. The fundraisers in no way match one of my number-one life rules which is not to spend money on cr*p I don’t need (especially stuf that’s manufactured in Asia or Mexico). I wasn’t consulted about what the fundraiser would be, so I don’t feel like I need to participate.

I don’t like the school photos either, but everyone else wants them, so to please my mother-in-law, I purchase the bare minimum.

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Alyssa August 13, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I’d almost rather give $20 a month to the school rather than buying that mess. Most often it goes straight to my trash can. Last year I even didn’t sell some mandatory tickets and you know what they didn’t come after me. Can you tell I am NOT a fan of fundraisers?

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Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE August 13, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I wrote on one of the fundraising forms today, where it asked what I’d like to suggest for fundraising and I wrote something to the effect of: Tell me how much I’ll owe now so I can save for it… Don’t make me sell stuff!

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Jennifer Margulis August 15, 2009 at 5:49 am

Meagan, when I read the title of this post I thought it would be about opting out of going to school all together (smile) — a post about homeschooling. But I SO hear you about the pet peeves. Mine really gives me a Bad Mommy label. I really can’t stand the Scholastic book drives. I hate everything about them and, though we are a family that reads all the time, I don’t buy my kids Scholastic books. So the packages arrive and they are the only ones without them…

Here’s are some high points of what I hate:

1) It’s ADVERTISING in the public school system, which I think should be against the law.

2) Scholastic is selling things like necklaces and stuffed animals (made in China) in their school catalogues, instead of just books.

3) Authors who have books sold through Scholastic make something ridiculous like one penny a book. It’s so unjust and unfair I don’t know how Scholastic gets away with it.

I have more reasons — like Scholastic is a company that in the past has REFUSED to use recycled paper, etc — but I’ll stop ranting there…

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