Save on Back to School Shopping
How Planning Ahead Can Make a BIG Difference to How Much You Spend
Aside from the expense, the annual ‘back to school’ shopping ritual can cause considerable friction between parent and child.
From one parent to other, here are a few things I’ve learned about the process of locating the necessary school supplies and the perfect back to school outfit.
First off, don’t wait until those last few days of summer (when the back to school panic is in full swing and the malls are jammed packed with other like-minded parents and kids) before you start shopping for school related gear.
Second, if your children are young, do the bulk of their shopping for them. Just bring them along to try on shoes and pick out a knapsack and lunch bag.
Inventory school supplies
Before doing any back to school shopping, have your child go through his existing school supplies. Keep what is useful and get rid of things like dried out markers, glue sticks and bottles of liquid paper.
Evaluate the school supplies your child already has. Why purchase something he doesn’t need? If he doesn’t want to use the same backpack or pencil case two years in a row and money is tight, encourage (consensual) swapping with a sibling or creatively decorating it.
The process of taking stock of what your child already has helps him see what needs to be purchased and what doesn’t. It’s also a good time to discuss the difference between needs and wants.
Color code supplies
Keep things simple by having a different colored knapsack and lunch bag for each child. You could also take the color coding idea one step further and use it as a way of keeping your children’s class materials separate.
Each child could also have his own color of binder and pencil case. Individual class assignments could be color coded with stick-on labels or multiple colors could be used for each child to help them remember which class papers/assignments are what e.g. geography - blue, science - green etc.
BACK TO SCHOOL CLOTHING
Evaluate what fits and what doesn’t
Take everything out of your child’s closet and drawers. Bag up the clothing that isn’t worn for whatever reason and take it to a local consignment shop, give them away to friends (and/or family members), or donate to charity thrift shop. The key here is to get the unwanted clothing out of the room so you can focus on what’s left.
Make a list of likes and dislikes
Chances are good the process of taking inventory of your child’s clothing has resulted in the discovery of some items that aren’t being worn. Now is the time to open up a dialogue re: the type of clothes and colors preferred.
This step is crucial.
There is no sense buying t-shirts in six different colors if your child won’t wear them.
Ask your children the following questions and take notes.
What type of clothes does your child like?
What color(s) of clothing does she prefer?
Does she favor fleece and comfortable athletic wear or jeans and T-shirts?
Does she like zippers and buttons or pullover sweatshirts - with or without hoods?
Are blouses and skirts in or out in her mind? If skirts are in, what is the preferred length?
How about dresses? It may be cute in the store display and hanging in her closet but if she won’t wear it, why buy it?
Analyze what your child has
How many different outfits can you make?
What type of garments are you missing?
Make notes and create a list of required garments and accessories.
Invest in basics
Purchase quality apparel in favorite colors that is classically styled and coordinates with multiple wardrobe items. Pair up classic basics with the odd trendy piece of clothing for a signature look.
Socks and underwear
Now is also a good time to check your child’s supply of socks and underwear. If it’s in need of replacing, keep an eye out for upcoming sales. Department stores usually offer great ‘back to school’ deals on multi-packs.
Make lists of ‘must haves’ and ‘would likes’
Follow up your list of ‘must haves’ with a list of ‘would likes’ should your budget permit.
Shop with a plan
Grab the list of ‘must haves’. Bag up any clothing items in need of coordination e.g. a favored skirt that doesn’t have a top to match. Put the list and the ‘coordination’ bag (along with notes about your child’s likes and dislikes) in your car for the next time you’re out shopping. To eliminate having to take things back, bring picky children along.
Set a spending limit
This is especially important for older children who favor designer labels. To keep a handle on spending and to avoid arguments later, decide on a spending limit upfront.
You may wish to allot separate amounts for footwear, clothing, stationary supplies, a backpack and a lunch bag instead of giving your child one large amount to budget for everything.
Or do what I've done with my oldest child, and set one large dollar amount for all back to school purchases. By doing it this way, your child takes ownership in the process and gains valuable spending and budgeting experience.
Encourage your child to keep track of how much is being spent by saving receipts and keeping an ongoing list of what has been purchased and for how much.
You many also wish to hold a little money back until after school starts and your child sees what other kids are wearing. While I don’t believe that children need to dress exactly like their peers, I do feel it’s important for kids to feel like they fit in.
‘C’ is for compromise
Often children feel undue pressure to wear what their peers are wearing or have what other children have. If this is the case, a little compromise may be in order. The occasional compromise can be just what your child needs to feel more accepted. The key to compromise for both parents and kids is balance.
That said, you may want to remind your child we are not what we own, wear, or drive. She is a truly remarkable and worthy individual simply for who she is. Unfortunately advertisements tend to leave young people feeling that if they don’t have this or that they aren’t valuable, which simply isn’t true. The challenge is to convince our children of this.
If your child routinely wants more than you can afford or feel you want to spend, consider giving her an allowance or encourage her to get a job to earn some ‘back to school’ spending money. It has been my experience that children with their own money learn to make more careful spending decisions.
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