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10 Tips to Survive Back-to-School Shopping

School is not the only place where children learn. Parents and children can learn a lot about life
and each other by tackling the back-to-school preparation process together. Whether you started preparing for back-to-school on July 2nd or you start preparing a few days before the school bell rings, these tips will help keep you all smiling from start to finish. 

1. Clear the way. Try to have each child’s room purged of outgrown items and rearranged to suit their new grade prior to the start of school. Work on this with your child to help start mentally transitioning into back- to-school mode. Pay special attention to setting up a homework station where your child can spread out their homework supplies within easy reach.

2. Measure each child. Don’t do a bunch of shopping before you realize how much your kids have grown.
Get your tape measure out and check heights and
assess chest, waist and hip sizes. Children are often proud of growing, but changing sizes can sometimes be unwelcome news for them to discover in the dressing room. Prepare to be a tactful and encouraging presence while they try things on to avoid upsets, especially during the middle-school years.

Once you get to the shoe store, compare shoe sizes to last year. Don’t forget that a pair of feet can be two different sizes. This will also save you time in dressing rooms and help you choose clothes and shoes in appropriate sizes.

3. Shop at home first. Hand-me-downs may be disappointing to kids, but some items survive the use of older children and are still in good shape for younger siblings. Items younger kids may not object to using include notebooks, binders, pens, paper, notecards, etc.

Collect all the reuseable school supplies at the end of each school year and keep them in a bin until the new school year starts. But when younger siblings desire items that express their own identity, don’t force them to inherit hand-me-downs. Donate old supplies instead and start over.

4. Delay clothes shopping. Surely each of your children will need a few new things before school starts, but sales don’t begin in earnest until after the first day of school. There is plenty of money to be saved if you can wait to purchase larger items later on in the shopping season. Besides, Fall fashions are usually for cooler temps that are still several weeks away. This is also a good opportunity to check out how fashions fare at your children’s respective schools before you finish shopping. For example, middle-school students may no longer wish to shop at a store that was perfectly popular during elementary school. If you do shop early, save receipts and keep tags on clothing until after the first day of school, just in case your child has a change of heart.

5. Create homework storage. Setting up a storage system for graded work and art can keep items tidy for each student throughout the year and make sorting papers easier at the end of the year. Middle-school students and older can learn how to use an accordion file to store their completed schoolwork. If students are too young for filing papers by class or subject, set aside a plastic bin for each child to toss all schoolwork that has been returned by the teacher. Then at the end of the year, you can sit down with each child and sift through what to save and what to toss. Only save items your child is most proud of that show academic and imaginative development. Don’t save every scrap of paper and artwork. Display oversize artwork for the summer, then take photos and dispose of it before the new school year begins.

6. Update the memory binder. Use one, 2-inch binder for each child to hold their academic certificates of accomplishments, awards, team photos, participation letters, etc. Keep extra sheet protectors at the ready inside. Store these somewhere where each child can access theirs, and when something new is to be added to the binder, let them add it. This gives them a moment to look back over what they have accomplished and reflect on their successes. If you keep this folder updated from Kindergarten through senior year, it will serve as a tangible reminder of their high points, which can boost their self-confidence. Finally, when it’s
time to apply for post-secondary
education or other merit-
based programs, the
contents of their binder
can be put to practical
use and may even
inspire essay ideas. We
use a nice leather
binder to make this
binder more special.

7. Water bottle sense. Many schools either require or suggest that students carry their own water bottles. This is a great habit for children
and one that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. In addition to keeping bodies and minds hydrated, water bottle carrying can discourage the consumption of sugary beverages. However, when it comes to keeping track of water bottles, consider the ages and levels of responsibilities of each child. In eighth grade, my daughter’s water bottle made it through the entire year for the very first time. Buying a young child an expensive water bottle may not be good use of your money. Also important: Look for water bottles that won’t leak. As children get older, water bottles will last longer, and then you can justify spending a bit more.

8. Become a joiner. Your child’s school may sell clothing and items in school colors. Collecting these branded materials may make your child feel more like part of their new school. This can be especially important to your child. However, follow the same rule as clothing shopping and don’t purchase schoolwear until classes start. Kids don’t want just any old T-shirt - they want
the schoolwear that works best for them. Perhaps offer to spend a certain amount on school items to be spread out among T-shirts, gym clothes, lanyards, water bottles, etc., throughout the year. And don’t forget: While budgeting, school groups and teams usually encourage the purchase of such items to boost camaraderie.

9. Choose your battles. We often toss this expression around as parents, and back-to-school is a good time to put it to use. With my daughter, our biggest debate is typically about brand names. Once she sees proof that other kids
at her school are wearing expensive name brands, she wants them, too. But this is where I draw the line. Our family cannot afford to sacrifice our budget. I explain to my daughter that she may look for these items at gently-used stores, but she can’t spend even her own money on a $50 T-shirt or a $100 pair of jeans. I just can’t reconcile these prices with our family’s values. Your back-to-school battles may be different, but go ahead and choose them, and use them as springboards for raising your child’s awareness on topics that matter to your family.

10. Items that express identity. Back-to-school time is an opportunity to let each child express individual identity through the items they select for school. Parents, shopping for these items with a practical eye, may be surprised by how much they mean to students.

Here’s a head’s up on the back-to-school items that usually matter most to kids. Since you are likely spending the money anyway, why not let them choose their own colors and designs? Don’t rush them to choose as they strive to make a good first impression. Whatever items make them feel comfortable and relaxed, within reason, is the path to peaceful agreement: 

  • Backpack
  • Lunchbox
  • Sneakers
  • Shoes
  • Boots
  • Workout clothes ✐ Underwear
  • T-shirts
  • Water bottle
  • Jackets
  • Phone case
  • Purse
  • Hats 

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina has been practicing the back-to-school transition for 10 years now. She may finally have gotten the hang of it. 





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