I was grocery shopping recently and saw the back to school shopping displays and chuckled to myself. It is nice to be older and wiser.
Back to School Shopping is a waste of money.
My attitude about back to school goes against everything I usually say about planning ahead and avoiding the stress of waiting until the last-minute.
But in this case, I will make an exception. I have discovered a secret about back to school shopping.
It can be a huge waste of money.
According to Deloitte parents spent an average $488 per student on back-to-school items in 2016. See the full article here.
Some of my experiences with back to school shopping.
- The year I bought a bunch of fall clothes second-hand in the spring. They were a size too large, perfect for school in the fall…
Except she grew 2 sizes over the summer and they all went in the donate bin unworn.
- The year I bought her the cutest sweaters for winter…
Only to discover that they overheat her classroom and she would only wear short sleeves to school.
- The year we got her t-shirts with her favorite [insert popular kids TV show] character on them…
For her to come home after the first day to tell us that “that’s for babies” and refuse to ever put them on again.
- The year her school insisted on black jazz dance shoes which took us to 4 different stores all over town…
And cancel the class two weeks into school for lack of interest. (It was probably parents giving up on the shoes.)
- The year she picked out lovely back to school ‘outfits’ that were all grown up and color coordinated and ‘awesome mom!’…
And come home from school saying all the girls wear dresses and wanting to wear her ‘going out for dinner’ dress to school.
And we’re only starting GRADE ONE this fall!
In every single case, I thought I was all done and ready, only to be back at the store the following week adding to more clothes to an already full closet. And it is not just the clothes; this applies to bags, pencil cases, etc… Things have changed since the days when kids just took whatever was piling up in mom and dad’s office.
I know I don’t have to give in to this pressure, and sometimes I don’t. I realize that kids need to make do, so I don’t run to the store at my child’s every whim. But I absolutely hate having the fun and excitement of back to school shopping overpowered by my daughter’s disappointment in her choices.
So we wait. See my Back to School Checklist post for things to do in the meantime.
The first two weeks of school can be pretty crucial, especially in the early years. Kids compare notes about interests and activities and set the social norms for their class. Some school districts even allow some of the curriculum to be determined by a class’s interests.
It is only natural for your child’s desires to be influenced by this. The easiest thing is not to fight it, but to accommodate it. It does not have to mean capitulating completely to peer pressure, just allowing some influence by social norms. Much like different office cultures despite identical policies. We conform to some ways in order to stand out in others.
Here’s what we do instead
2 weeks before school starts
This usually takes about an hour. Put on music, make it a fashion show, anything to make it more fun and less work. In our house, she tries on an outfit, I fold it and put it in the right basket, and her dad updates the list. We can work through her entire wardrobe including accessories in less than an hour.
- Try on all of last years clothes and put what fits and is still in good shape in a laundry basket in her closet; the rest goes to garbage or charity.
- Go through shoes, coats, boots and make sure that there is nothing left in the house that is too small or worn out.
- Check all school supplies, bags, etc… and put them in a box, ready to sort out and pack for the first day.
- Make a list of what we need, what we already have and what we need to buy.
1 week before school starts
For us this one depends on our vacation schedule. Sometimes we do it before we leave, if we are coming home last-minute. Other times we do it at the end, if she is going to camp right up until school. Usually takes us a couple of hours at most to get everything washed, folded and put away where it belongs.
- Wash all the summer clothes and go through them all to select the best ones for school.
- Load one drawer with outfits for the first week of school. These are often the clothes that I wouldn’t let her wear to camp because I was afraid everything she owned would be torn or dirty.
- Load one drawer with her outfits for camp the following week. This is to make sure she doesn’t wreck anything that I am saving.
- Give away or throw away any summer things that we are not keeping.
- Pack her best backpack with the best of the supplies she will need for the first day.
Week 1 & 2 of School
Most of this can be done about 5-10 mins per child over dinner each week. We put the list on the table on Thursday or Friday and discuss this stuff, then we can jot it down before we forget.
- Wear the nicest summer clothes from her drawer. It is always too warm to wear all the fall stuff anyway.
- This is the week many teachers send home a recommended supply list which sends you back to the store anyway.
- Talk about what her classes are like and what she might need for them.
- Find out which extra-curricular activities will be available this year in which she would like to take part.
- Go back through the “keep” stuff and make sure there is nothing about which she’s changed her mind.
- Update the shopping list for school.
Week 2 & 3 of School
This is usually ALL DAY Saturday.
- Now we go back to school shopping.
By now our list also includes shopping for any after school activities, and sometimes even Halloween. In fact, if I get lucky, this one trip will do us until early November.
- We buy only what we need, and what she has decided is “cool”. Within reason; she wears through her knees in weeks not months and nothing she buys now will fit next year, so I NEVER pay too much or buy too much. Forget fancy labels and designer fads, I am not interested. But I don’t want to fight with her every morning either.
- Our back to school shopping day is a marathon. We usually try to get to the first store when it opens and so on until we have everything on the list. Then is it usually take-out and a movie at home while we remove all the labels. If she tries everything on without too much complaining, then she picks out the movie.
- After dinner, I will sit with a basket and remove all the labels, and fold the clothes and put them in outfits. By the time the movie is over, we put everything away in the closet and drawers and she is ready for school on Monday.
- We deal with the supplies on Sunday morning over breakfast. It is easy to sit over coffee and let her organize everything into her new backpack.
What do you buy?
But what do you need to buy for school? I hate to say it, but that depends. It depends on the school, the teacher, the child and your home.
“My home?” you ask “Why?”
How and how often do you do laundry? This is the first question I ask myself when buying my daughter’s clothes.
My daughter does her laundry every weekend. Unless something comes up and we’re away. So at most, we do laundry every 2 weeks, so for me that means she needs 10-15 outfits, depending on how busy we are likely to be. I usually favor 15 because we are always busier than we think we’ll be. This gives you a baseline. If you can do laundry twice a week, then you need less, although I probably wouldn’t go with less than 10 outfits because it is too much pressure.
Now about your child
This one is fairly obvious. How active is your kid? How often do they tear, stain or wear through their clothes? We throw out a pair of pants a week. This is why I love inexpensive and second-hand clothes. I always have 5 extra pairs of pants for her and by the end of the season I am usually shopping again.
The other factor is potty training of course. Now when she was going through multiple outfits a day, we actually had about the same amount of clothes we have now and I usually did laundry every 2 days, but I had help. You will have to take that into account as well.
Make sure you don’t have too much. Your child will be overwhelmed if you do. If you want to your child to dress themselves, or help with their laundry, it is best for them not to have too much choice. I recommend one weeks outfits assembled and in a drawer or on a shelf ready for them to choose. Keep all of the spares out of sight.
What about you?
It may seem like a silly question, but your attitudes towards your children’s clothes are one of the largest causes of how much you buy when they are young. Consider cleanliness and repairs, what is your tolerance and how much time do you have? If you have a very high standard of cleanliness for your child, then they may need more clothes and you may be replacing them more often.
My mom couldn’t stand grass stains or holes and insisted on dresses for school. I’m surprised my parents didn’t go broke replacing my tights. I am much more easy-going about my –daughter’s appearance for school. She’s as active as I was, so I am happy as long as I know it’s clean, even if it doesn’t look it.
Lastly, the school and teacher
Make sure you know the school’s standards and tolerances before you spend too much money. If there is a dress code, you don’t want to buy a bunch of clothes your child can’t wear. Alternately, you don’t want to make my mistake of paying too much for the “mandatory” uniform shoes only to find out that nobody else bothered to conform to that rule and the school didn’t bother enforcing that rule.
For school supplies, you want to make sure you have the teachers recommendations first. I will never forget the year my mother bought me all of my school supplies, (back when they were very expensive, and we used to drive to the city to get them) only to find out on the first day that the teacher did not allow binders, but insisted on separate spiral bound notebooks for each class. Mom was sure upset. Now I wait until we hear from the teacher.
Some teachers even have a deal where you send the money and they get the supplies. It can be a lot cheaper because the teachers can get both a professional discount and a volume one. Most teachers who do this are trying to avoid having haves and have-nots in their classrooms when it comes to supplies. This way everyone has the same standard pencil and there is no competition. The other perk is how much easier it makes things on the parents. I love this practice and wish more teachers did it.
One thing I will suggest are practical pencil holders and cases. I have found that the cardboard boxes and plastic sleeves in which they sell crayons and markers and the like don’t hold up very well. Do your child a favor and get them fabric or plastic holders for their supplies. Preferably ones that will sit solidly on the desk and display their contents easily. Ones like these:
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Okay, that’s nice, but just tell me what I need to buy.
All right, fine, since you insist, here is a shopping list with some suggested numbers. The supplies are for multiple grades, you will need to edit it heavily, based on your child’s age.