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Back-to-School Shopping Q&A: Mr.Dad’s Armin Brott

For those who still haven’t gotten around to back-to-school shopping, have no fear. Check out this edition of our back-to-school shopping Q&A series with super dad Armin Brott from Mr.Dad, who shares his back-to-school shopping expertise.


What are the must-have items on your kids’ back to school shopping list?

I can’t decide between a backpack with wheels so my daughter can carry all her stuff without doing any long term damage to her back or a much smaller backpack that would keep her from schlepping so much stuff in the first place.

What suggestions do you have for parents trying to shop with children of varying ages?

Group the kids together by age and make separate trips for each group (or individual). Older kids won’t have the patience to deal with buying glue sticks and colored markers for little kids. And the little kids won’t have the attention span to endure waiting for tweens or teens to agonize over which color mechanical pencils to buy.

What should parents avoid when back to school shopping?

They should avoid buying a lot of clothes–especially for middle schoolers and above. The real trends will be established after school starts, when the kids have a chance to scope each other out. If you’ve bought your child something that seemed like it might be cool but turns out not to be, you’ll have wasted your time and money.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for saving money?

When it comes to all those classroom supplies—binders, folders, paper, pencils, markers, etc.—parents should get together with other parents and order all those thing in bulk. It’ll be a lot cheaper that way. Better yet, contact the school and have them order all the supplies for all the classrooms, then bill the parents. Besides saving parents a ton of time and money, this approach would also help the environment by eliminating hundreds of car trips, thereby reducing pollution and fuel use. Of course, there’s looking for coupons, shopping the sales and holding out for the buy-on-get-one deals. Also go through your house before you go to the store. Chances are your child didn’t use up last year’s paper, pencils, etc. and stashed them under his or her bed. There are probably a lot of things you can buy less of or skip altogether.

How can parents and kids avoid burnout when back to school shopping?

Spread it out over a few weeks. There’s no reason why all the shopping has to be done in one day. For older kids, give them the amount of money you’d spend on clothes and let them make their own decisions—with the understanding that if they blow it all on a fancy pair of jeans, they’re going to be out of luck for a few months.

How does online shopping aide in your back to school purchasing?

It can save you a ton of time on anything that doesn’t need to be tried on (like clothes). If you’re pooling resources with other parents or school administrators (see above), buying online is really the only way to go.

How do you work out wish-list discrepancies with your kids?

Give the kids more say in the matter. Make lists of everything that’s needed and estimate how much it will cost. Tell the kids that once required items are purchased, they can spend the money anyway they like. If they come in under budget, they can keep the difference. If they’re over budget, they’ll have to dig into their own savings or make arrangements with you to work it off.


Armin Brott has been building better fathers for more than a decade. He is the author of eight bestselling books on fatherhood, has written for dozens of major publications and websites and been a guest on hundreds of radio and television shows. As a trusted spokesperson, Armin speaks on fatherhood around the country and teaches classes for expectant and new dads. Armin lives with his family in Oakland, California.

For more updates from Armin, follow him on Twitter at @mrdad or like Mr.Dad on Facebook.

Gadgets for Your Little Students

Help your little ones do well in the upcoming school year with these kid-friendly gadgets:


Credit: Mashable, FatBrainToys, Amazon

VTech MobiGo: The VTech MobiGo Learning System features a touchscreen that allows your kids to look, listen and touch while playing educational games and activities that help them learn math, vocabulary, spelling, logic and more. The system comes equipped with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and one cartridge.


VTech V.Reader: Give your child an e-reader of their own. The VTech V.reader is an interactive e-book reader that helps your child become a confident and fluent reader. The fully narrated, animated stories come as downloads or cartridges and the device also has reading skill games and a dictionary.


“Teach Me Time” Alarm Clock: Waking up for school can be hard for little ones—especially if it’s on the wrong side of the bed. If your youngster is still learning to tell time, the “Teach Me Time” Alarm Clock can help. The alarm clock has interactive time-telling games, turns green when it’s OK to get out of bed and doubles as a night light.


LeapPad2: This kid-friendly tablet is like an iPad for your kids. The LeapPad2 has front-and-back cameras, a 5-inch touch screen with an attached stylus, 4GB of onboard memory and a library of hundreds of educational games, apps, eBooks and videos.

Funky Flames Add Fun to Summer Campfires

This summer whether you’re enjoying your backyard fire pit or sitting around a campfire while camping, make it a colorful experience with Funky Colored Flames.  You can turn any ordinary wood burning fire into a personal light show.  Safe for use indoors and out, Funky Flames Fire Color Changers change the color of the flames.  Just sprinkle a packet of Funky Flames on your fire and watch as the colored flame crystals burn blue, green and purple.  Each packet of crystals will burn for about 30 minutes. Sold in a box of three for around $6, this novelty is fun for campfires and bonfires but is not to be used while cooking food over the fire.  Campfires are mesmerizing as-is, imagine their beauty with Funky Flames!


101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever!: The Entertainment Solution for Parents, Relatives & Babysitters!

Every parent dreads the words “I’m bored”, especially during summer break. The 2 bloggers behind wanted to provide entertainment solutions for parents, relatives and baby sitters so they created 101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever! which includes boredom busters, pranks, crafts, games, simple science experiments and other things to do with kids.

This is a great book for babysitters!  It’s also a great guide for parents that could use a little help in the creativity department.  The activities in the book were selected to keep kids laughing and learning for hours.  From spray bottle freeze tag to tissue box monster shoes, both indoor and outdoor activities offer never ending family fun.  The book is available for pre-order now and will be released on June 10, 2014.



Back-to-School: College Edition



Know someone heading off to college? Help them feel prepared with the top must-have items for college we’ve listed below:

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Credit: Men’s Health,

Beats by Dre Mixr Headphones: Whether they’re walking to class or trying to study, your college kid will be thankful for a good pair of headphones. Beats by Dre Mixr are high-quality headphones that include smart features such as input jacks on both the left and right sides (so you don’t have to awkwardly stretch the wires to reach where you need to plug them in) and volume controls built into the cord. The headphones pivot 270 degrees for extra versatility.

Dolce Gusto Single Serving Coffee Maker: With long days, all-night study seshes and early morning classes, coffee is a college necessity. The Dolce Gusto Single Serving Coffee Maker lets students easily brew a super-fast latte, cappuccino or cup o’ joe from a Nescafe single-serving capsule.

Belkin Conserve AV Switch: Money is tight in college. The Belkin Conserve AV Switch helps students save money on electricity. The surge protector fits into any standard electrical outlet and allows you to automatically turn off power flow to any device that’s fully charged, conserving energy. The switch has ten sockets, including two that are “always on” for items that should always have power and even comes with a remote that controls the outlets.

Everything College CookBook: For many, college is the first time they try their hand at cooking. Don’t let your student cave into a daily Cup of Ramen meal. The Everything College Cookbook has 300 hassle-free recipes created specifically with busy college students in mine. With recipes that use a hot plate, studio stove or microwave, they’ll find everything they need for a delicious and satisfying college meal.

Back-to-School Shopping Q&A: Mommies with Cents’ Holly Duce

Ready for the back-to-school shopping season? In this edition of our back-to-school shopping Q&A series, parenting and shopping pro Holly Duce from Mommies with Cents shares her back-to-school shopping expertise.


What are the must-have items on your kids’ back to school shopping list?

For our family, we have a few must-have basics that help stretch the kids’ wardrobes from summer to fall and winter. We stock up on long sleeve tees and thermal shirts for both boys and girls and basic black and grey leggings for the girls. The long sleeved shirts can be worn under sleeveless dresses and short sleeve tees when the weather cools down. Leggings can be added under dresses for the same reason. Jeans for all of the kids are also a must.

What suggestions do you have for parents trying to shop with children of varying ages?

Definitely budget a little more for the older children. They’ll have more specific requests for name brands, etc., while the little ones won’t care as much. Also, purchasing better quality clothing for the older children means they’ll be more likely to be passed down.

What should parents avoid when back to school shopping?

Avoid last minute shopping, especially on weekends. If possible, start shopping mid-summer. Visit stores during the morning hours on weekdays to avoid crowds.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for saving money?

Shop summer clearance for cool tees that can be layered with thermal shirts or long sleeve tees for the fall and winter
How can parents and kids avoid burnout when back to school shopping?

Do the majority of the shopping alone, without children. Buy socks, underwear, jeans — all the basics. Then plan an outing with each child separately to pick up a few things to add their personal touches and to buy shoes so they can try them on!

How much time and money should families allocate?

It’s a good idea to set a budget before hand to avoid overspending but this number depends on the needs of each family as well as their financial situation. As far as time, if you aren’t doing any online shopping, plan on at least 2-3 outings for school supplies and clothing. If you try to squeeze everything into one day, be prepared for some frustration and extra stops as you likely won’t find everything you need at the store(s) you plan to shop at.

How does online shopping aide in your back to school purchasing?

Online shopping is a huge time saver for me and it also helps me to plan and budget better. Plus, I can take advantage of online discounts and cash back from sites like Ebates and Extrabux.


Holly Duce is a mom of 3 young children and a former nanny. She currently spends her time writing for her blog Mommies with Cents to help families save money and discover useful new products. She enjoys shopping, spending time with family and traveling.

For more updates from Holly, like Mommies with Cents on Facebook or follow her on Twitter at @mommieswithcent.

Back-to-School Shopping Guide: High School Edition

Not sure what back-to-school essentials to get your high schooler? Check out some of the top school supplies for teens we’ve listed below: 

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Credit: Good Housekeeping

Backpack: High schoolers have a lot of books and gear to carry with them, so make sure they have a good quality backpack to hold it all. We’ve looked to Good Housekeeping for their most highly rated offerings:

-       North Face Hot Shot: This North Face backpack is made with durable ballistic nylon that can survive being dropped and abraded and is water-resistant. Its various compartments, pockets and pouches keep your student organized, while the waist and chest straps provide them with extra support when they have to carry a heavy load.

-       High Sierra Loop: If your teen loses everything, this High Sierra backpack is an ideal choice. The backpack has tons of compartments for easy organization with three large areas for books and gear, two pouches and a large hook on the front of the bag for cleats, water bottles, etc. The backpack is made with durable fabric and comfortable straps—plus its affordable.

-        L.L. Bean Turbo Transit: The L.L. Bean Turbo Transit’s padded straps and lightweight material make it both comfortable and portable. The backpack comes with plenty of pockets and has a separate bottom pouch great for smelly sports gear such as sneakers or a jacket.

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Credit: Seventeen, Faye&Co., Wanelo, FashionForth, SheKnows

Accessories: Teens have the basic school supplies down by now, be sure to equip them with these high school essentials that have character:

-       Stay Organized: Get them a dry erase board to hang in their room or locker to help them keep track of homework assignments and after school plans. With all those extra-curricular activities, sports and classes, a mini planner is another great way to help them stay on top of all their responsibilities.

-       Locker Accessories: Locker hooks for hanging keys, sunglasses or jewelry are key for keeping lockers nice and organized. Get them locker lights so they can find all their supplies and give their lockers some pizazz with locker magnets.

-       Study Tools: Flash cards are a must for studying. Make your own with colorful index cards that won’t get mixed up with anyone else’s—plus the color-coding can help with memorization. Highlighting is another essential tool for studying. Highlighter tape is helpful because it doesn’t bleed through the page, doesn’t smudge and can be erased if needed.

How to Use TheFind for Eco-Friendly Back-to-School Shopping

Want school supplies that are a bit friendlier to Mother Nature? Check out the eco-friendly school supplies below and utilize our search tips to find all your green back-to-school essentials on TheFind:

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.42.00 PM Credit: Creative Document SystemsAmazon, The Container Store

What You’ll Need

The Basics: Every year over 60 million binders are made of PVC, one of the most environmentally destructive materials. Make sure you purchase an eco-friendly binder to avoid damaging the earth. Also make sure to get eco-friendly pens, highlighters, pencils and notebooks.

Bobble Water Bottle: In addition to being good for the environment by using tap water instead of bottled water, Bobble Water Bottle encourage kids to drink water instead of soda or other sugary drinks. The bottles have a built in, replaceable carbon filter that removes chlorine and other organic contaminants for at least 40 gallons worth of water.

Solar Backpack: With all those eco-friendly supplies, you’ll need an eco-friendly way to carry them. The Voltaic Array Solar Backpack provides just that. The large, waterproof bag has enough space to carry all your books and supplies, while the solar panel on the back offers a green way to charge your gadgets.

How to Utilize TheFind When Shopping

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Narrow by Brand or Store: Know of a brand or store that has your favorite eco-friendly materials? Narrow your search results to show only items from your preferred brands or stores.


In-App Coupons: Make sure you are getting the best deal by checking for coupons. TheFind brings coupon codes directly into the app for you—simply click on an item and if a coupon is available, a coupon icon will appear in the upper right corner of your screen. Click on the coupon to apply it to your purchase.

In-Store Price Comparison: If you’re out shopping and find the perfect eco-friendly item but want to make sure you are getting the best price, scan the item’s barcode by touching the ‘barcode’ icon to see all of the item’s available published prices.

Back-to-School Shopping Q&A: GeekMom’s Dakster Sullivan

Are you prepared for back-to-school shopping? Check out this week’s edition of our back-to-school Q&A series with GeekMom’s Dakster Sullivan, who gives us the scoop on her best back-to-school shopping tips.


What suggestions do you have for parents trying to shop with children of varying ages?

Remember that every age is different. A preschooler isn’t going to care about what they wear to school while a ten year old will. Do the list making for the younger children and give the older kids a chance to make their own list. This is a great time to teach them budgeting and responsibility when it comes to getting what they need verses just want they want. Once you have a list for each of the children, set out on your mission and take your time. Most importantly, make your children stick to their given budget.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for saving money?

In an effort to compete with online retailers, a lot of stores will price match and some will accept competitor’s coupons. Buy extra crayons, markers, paper and folders if they are on your child’s supply list, because these items are dirt cheap during back to school season and they are the items most likely to be replaced during the year.

How can parents and kids avoid burnout when back-to-school shopping?

Do it a little bit at a time. Going out all day might exhaust both your children and your patience. Doing it all on Tax Free Day (if applicable in your area) can save you some money but it will tax your patience to death. Take them out once or twice a week to pick up a few items and then do the more expensive shopping on Tax Free Day.

How much time and money should families allocate?

My husband starts doing the back to school shopping as early as July for my son’s clothes. Doing it a little bit at a time helps to ensure that the final bill doesn’t hit us all at once. Inventory your child’s supplies from last year and see what can be reused. To make sure you don’t overspend on clothing, go through their closet and get rid of anything that doesn’t fit. If they want the latest trends in clothing, make a deal that for every two items they get rid of, they can replace it with one. In terms of how much to spend, set a budget that you are comfortable with and stick to it.

How does online shopping aide in your back to school purchasing?

Online shopping is a great tool to find the best deal. A lot of stores are starting to price match Amazon, so use that as a bargaining tool when shopping in brick and mortar stores. If the retailer won’t match the price, then go with the online store instead (just make sure you factor in shipping if you don’t have an Amazon Prime account). If you have a smart phone, download Amazon’s app and use the built in price scanner to check prices quickly.

Are there any items that you recommend parents wait to buy and why?

If you have a Tax Free Day in your area, buy the most expensive items then to save some money.

Daily Planet Crop

Dakster Sullivan is an all-around technology and comic book geek. When she’s not at the office being a Network Administrator, she’s hanging out with her Minecraft-obsessed 8-year old son and Star Wars-obsessed husband. On the weekends, she enjoys cosplaying for charity with the 501st and Rebel Legion costuming groups.

To learn more about Daskster, visit her personal website here. For more updates from Dakster, follow her on Twitter at @Dak903.

Back-to-School Shopping Guide: Grade School Edition


Credit: The Good Blog

Back-to-school shopping season is in full swing! Check out the below guide of back-to-school must-haves for grade schoolers:

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Credit: Good Housekeeping 

Backpacks are one of the most important back-to-school necessities. We’ve looked to Good Housekeeping for some of their most highly-rated backpacks for kids ages 8-12:

-       FUL’s Heart Breaker: The FUL’s Heart Breaker backpack is made of durable polyester that can withstand serious wear and tear, so you can be sure it will last the entire school year. The spacious backpack can easily hold 10 pounds of school items while its curved, padded straps provide extra comfort. Plus, the backpack has a 1-year limited warranty.

-       Pottery Barn’s Mackenzie Large Backpack: Perfect for a kid that wants to carry everything they own with them to school, the Mackenzie Large backpack easily fits everything from books to extra clothes while the two adjustable straps can hold a coat or even a skateboard. It is made with a 600-denier polyester that can handle abrasion, water and being dropped. The backpack is comfortable to wear and easy to carry, making it a great choice for your over-packer.

-       FUL Superstition: If you’re on a budget, the FUL Superstition is an affordable option that won’t let you down. Though it has a more simple design with just one large compartment and one smaller pouch for all your school essentials, the backpack’s durable, luggage-grade fabric and decent storage space make it a solid option. The bag can hold 10 pounds of gear and is comfortable and easy to carry.

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Credit: Amazon,, Ebay, frecklebox,

Southpaw, Amazon, Redbook, Walmart


-       The Basics: Kids like their supplies to be fun and bright, so search for erasers, pencils, pencil sharpeners and notepads with colorful, kid-friendly designs. Don’t forget the pencil pouches and folders to help keep them organized.

-       The Extras: If they’re old enough, get your kids a fun and simple calculator. We also recommend getting Grotto Grips pencil grasp trainers to ensure correct writing position and Crayola’s glue sticks that have a wide base to keep them from rolling off desks. Highlighters are great for studying, but kids make mistakes so get them an erasable highlighter so they can fix any highlighting errors. Lastly, put labels on all of their supplies to keep them out of the lost and found.