Where Every Family Matters

Back-to-School Clothes Shopping Tips

Kids need new wardrobe? Make those all-important new clothing purchases with ease.

Youth apparel is a billion dollar industry that peaks each fall with back-to-school clothes shopping. To get the biggest bang for your buck, consider these helpful tips:

1. Get a Game Plan.

The most common mistake shoppers make is buying too much on impulse when faced with a large selection or buying too much of the wrong thing. Before leaving home, know what your child needs and what you want to purchase. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed when you get to the stores.

2. Take Inventory.

Make a shopping list of the basic items needed based on your closet inventory. Though this list should be your guide, leave some room for flexibility. Your child may see an extra-special sweater that matches two or more basics in her wardrobe.

3. Establish a Budget.

While not every family can spend hundreds of dollars on back-to-school clothes, it’s important that you decide what your budget is before you go. Equally important is knowing your price point – are you going to spend $40 or $80 for that pair of jeans?

4. Consider Gender Differences.

Statistics show that parents tend to spend more on girls’ clothing than boys’. This is due, in part, to girls’ higher interest in apparel, although boys can be clothes horses too. Girls’ clothing tends to be slightly higher-priced than boys’ due to special details, such as lace, buttons and fancy collars.

5. Anticipate Budget Hikes.

Keep in mind that as a child’s age increases, so does the price. As children move into adolescence, expect a gradual 25 percent hike in clothing prices. The combination of increased peer awareness and pure size — more fabric, construction and fashion features — adds to the bottom line. Older children also tend to have a wider variety of social activities that require a more diverse wardrobe.

6. Spread it Out & Change it Up.

With growing kids, it’s actually best to spread purchases across a longer period of time. And don’t overlook alterations. Those too-little pants or jeans can be easily made into shorts or capris.

7. Look for Value.

While budgets are partly about establishing spending limits, they’re also about getting the most value for your money. Since elementary-age kids, 6 to 11, tend to be rough and tumble, value often comes from buying quality, durable clothing with easy-to-care-for features. When assessing additions to your child’s wardrobe, consider durability, versatility, quality and comfort.

  • Durability: Look for good enough quality to withstand repeated laundering while remaining colorfast without shrinking. Check for reinforced stitching and well-sewn buttons and buttonholes. When purchasing knits, go with fabric that’s more dense than loose, with limited stretching. Keep in mind growth features such as elastic waistbands, adjustable straps and longer shirt tails.
  • Versatility: Staples, such as jumpers for girls and khakis for boys, are great dress-it-up or dress-it-down pieces, as are various colored T-shirts. Mixing and matching with the basics — jeans, tops, and other pants or skirts — make a wardrobe work harder.
  • Quality: Getting the most value for your money means budgeting for quality. Backpacks and jackets, for example, are likely candidates for heavy wear and tear. For items like these, it’s a good idea to buy brands you trust. Some items, such as backpacks, even come with warranties.
  • Comfort: Children need to be comfortable when they’re in a learning environment. When trying on clothes in the dressing room, have your child sit, kneel, twist around and bend over. Are the clothes tight anywhere? Do they ride up or fall down? Are they itchy? If so, it may distract him while he’s trying to learn.

8. Turn Opposition into Teachable Moments.

There may be times when your child wants something more than your budget allows, or  it’s an item you simply find inappropriate. If you have a game plan before leaving home, you both will know what the expectations are, and you may be able to avoid an argument. When conflicts do arise, seize the opportunity to discuss the reason for spending limits with him. This is usually tied to parents’ personal convictions about what is and isn’t extravagant. It’s an important way to impart values and introduce ideas that will make him a competent money manager as he grows up.

9. Consider a Compromise.

If the situation warrants, negotiate. This keeps fun and camaraderie in the picture as parents and kids plan for back to school. One idea is to set aside at least 10 percent of the overall budget for the unexpected. That way, when you encounter an item that isn’t essential, but extra special, your child has some freedom of choice.

10. Let Them Buy It.

Another option is to let children use their own money to buy that “must-have” item. Kids these days are spending more and more of their own money on back-to-school clothes. If they find something they want and it isn’t in your budget, let them purchase it themselves.

Overall, preparing a back-to-school wardrobe can be a fun and rewarding experience. The key is to plan ahead, establish a budget, and keep an open line of communication with your child. Then you can shop for style with savings in mind.


Save some dough on those back-to-school clothes, supplies and more during the 2015 Sales Tax Holiday. From 12:01 a.m. Friday, July 29 – 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 31, you can shop tax-free for clothing ($100 or less per item), school supplies ($100 or less per item) and computer equipment ($1,500 or less per item). For a list of all tax-exempt items, visit the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

About the Author

Denise Yearian

Denise Morrison Yearian is a former parenting magazine editor and the mother of three children.