The school year has officially begun throughout the country. As families settle into bedtimes, lunches and homework, I've pulled out a few of my favorite back-to-school tips -- with the hopes of making this transition a little easier and cheaper.
Assignment book: If your child is forgetful about homework and household chores, get a special notebook for writing down assignments. This will give your youngster an incentive to keep track of homework, just like Mom and Dad jot down appointments in their special books.
Artist smocks: Old pillowcases can be turned into inexpensive smocks for kids to use when finger painting or doing other messy stuff. Cut a hole on each side for the arms and one large one at the top for the head.
Barter: Whether it's an education for your children or for yourself, you may be able to barter for the tuition. Offer to clean the music teacher's house in exchange for piano lessons or work in the office of the preschool.
Big crayons: Clean out a small, flat can (a tuna can works well). Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Fill the can part-way full of broken and small crayon pieces (paper wrappers removed) you would have tossed away. Heat in oven for 20 minutes or until melted. When the crayons are melted and the colors have run together, remove from oven. Cool in the refrigerator until hard. Pop the big crayon out of the can, and your kids will have a big new rainbow crayon. Note: Don't stir when crayons have melted
Book covers: Instead of buying expensive laminated book covers, use clear contact paper. It is much cheaper and performs equally well.
Chalkboard: Instead of buying an expensive chalkboard for your kids, purchase a piece of clear plywood and chalkboard paint (available at any paint store) for less than $20. Paint according to instructions.
Edible finger-paints: In a small cup, soften one envelope unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup warm water. Set aside. In saucepan, combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1/2 cup cornstarch. Add 2 cups cold water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick. Remove from heat. Add softened gelatin. Divide mixture into as many portions as you choose to have colors -- perhaps four or five. Add food coloring to each portion. Note: A drop of detergent added to each color makes cleanup easier but eliminates the edible feature.
Fine art as placemats: Cover your kids' drawings with clear self-adhesive contact paper. Then use them as placemats. You can also give these great works of art to grandparents as gifts.
Flannel board: Cover a large piece of cardboard with flannel using glue, staples or tape. Cut shapes from felt like rectangles, squares, triangles, circles, trees, letters and numbers and so on. Kids will spend hours creating scenes and pictures by sticking the felt to the flannel.
Would you like to send a tip to Mary? You can email her at email@example.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. Include your first and last name and state.