(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY If you've got kids, you know that the last weeks of August and first of September are filled with events. There are orientations and open houses, first practices and meetings. It's nice to be back to the routine, but all of this takes time -- a commodity never in abundant supply. Here are some ways to streamline.
1. Order school supplies online. If you're signed up for Amazon Prime, you can get free 2-day shipping. It usually takes me that long to get to the store anyway.
2. Don't buy clothes. Older kids may care about first-day fashions, but most little ones don't. Since the weather doesn't change in much of the U.S. until October anyway, you can stock up on winter items later on (when they may be on sale).
3. Rethink lunch. If you're used to packing lunches, sending lunch money two days per week can buy you a nice respite (and introduce some variety into your kid's diet). Also, this is a great chore to outsource -- to your kid. If your child is old enough to pull a package of raisins off the shelf and an apple out of the fridge, she can start pulling together her own lunches. Meal-making is a very useful life skill.
4. Get a dinner routine. Trying to plan dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. as everyone's coming home from work or sports means you'll most likely be going through the drive-through. Instead, designate a few nights a week for a regular entree (Spaghetti Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pizza Wednesday...) Always keep the groceries for these meals in the house. Bonus points if you can get these groceries delivered!
5. Stock up on sitters. Try posting on college alumni lists (for new grads looking for side jobs), going through any local colleges that offer such services, or posting on Care.com. Even if you find someone great, do yourself a favor and screen several back-ups too. You can never have too many sitters you like on file.
6. Use a tutor database. If you're planning on hiring a tutor or signing up for test prep help, searching for the right one can take a lot of time. WyzAnt.com has close to 60,000 tutors on file -- many with user reviews -- so there's probably someone near you with a specialty in the subject bedeviling your child.
7. Map out your mornings. Just because you're trying to get everyone out the door doesn't mean there isn't time for fun, too. See if you can fit in a nice family breakfast, a quick game of tag in the backyard, or some stories. If you get up 30 minutes before your kids, you could squeeze in a workout video or a run, too.
8. Carpool. A half-hour invested in setting up a 4-family rotation for evening sports or theater practice can save you hours in the future. Do your future self a favor and set that up now.
9. Let it go. You know that project you keep meaning to do, to fix the backyard fence, or paint the upstairs bathroom? You can do it some other time. Or never. You will never achieve the perfect state where all home and life maintenance projects are completed. Learn to accept that -- and you'll be much happier.
How do you save time during back-to-school season?