Tuesday, August 26, 1997

Family gears up for new school year: The Sedalia family is like many getting ready for school this week

Published in the Columbia Missourian

Savannah Szymanski, 12, walked up to her mother with a different shoe on each foot.

"No, we're only doing one pair," said her mother, Ramona Mefford. Several minutes later, Mefford called to her children: "Look, here's Mom paying. That's what she does best."

The back-to-school shopping trip was over at last. The Sedalia family spent Monday in Columbia, as did many mid-Missouri families, getting ready for school to start this week. The amounts of time and money spent, while necessary, are never as moderate as parents hope.

"I dread it," Mefford said of the annual expedition. Mefford cares for her children as well as working at a Mexican restaurant. Her husband, David, has been pulling overtime at his job "so we can pay for all this," she said. "It makes them happy," she said of her children. "They really look forward to it." The day began at 10:30 a.m. in Sedalia. The baby, Anna, stayed home with her grandmother. Jacob, 3, insisted on going shopping with his older sisters. Savannah and her sister Stephanie, 10, each brought a friend. Kristin Ash, 11, and Samantha Ash, 9, already did their shopping for school, but came along to keep the Szymanski girls company. After more than five hours in Columbia, the group headed home. Mefford said peers at school now influence the buying process more than when the girls were younger. That outside pressure helped make this year's trip more hectic than usual, though the children helped watch Jacob.

"It can get real expensive," Mefford said of the girls' desire for brand-name items. "We can't go to Payless for shoes anymore." That is why they all ended up at the Columbia Mall. Savannah was in search of Nike or Adidas shoes, though Stephanie selected her old standard, Keds.

Savannah was helpful, keeping her eye out for sales or discounts on the shoes she looks for. Her mom appreciates that. "I don't like using a credit card so I have to save up," Mefford said.

The family enjoys coming to the Columbia Mall because it's a convenient place to shop, with the whole space air-conditioned and indoors. The mall also has a wider variety of stores than Sedalia. They can even go out to eat - a real family trea t - without having to drive anywhere else and find a parking space. The convenience hides the cost, however. Savannah needed new glasses, which cost $200. To be ready for school, she needed to buy shoes, for $65, various sports clothes, for about $20 per item, and jeans, found on sale for $22. All told, Mefford said, she spent $328 Monday on clothes for her two school-age children. Last week she spent just more than $100 on the girls' school supplies. "They're worth it ," she said with a proud smile. The girls also help around the house to get allowances, which, their mom said, they conveniently spend just before the big shopping trips.

The girls do help pay for things they want throughout the school year, from extra classroom supplies to clothes they want. Savannah and Kristin will soon be sharing a paper route to earn an additional $76 a month, which they will split. As the kids got hungry, they got restless and the family headed off in search of pretzels or pizza. With Jacob in tow, the four girls strolling along, Mefford pushed the stroller laden with purchases and quipped, "That's why I got a minivan."