BTS Budgeting

The Back-To-School Clothes Shopping Guide You Need

Experts weigh in on everything from finding the best deals to what to do when your kid pushes back against all the clothes you suggest.

2022 Back To School Issue

Your kids have barely dipped their toes into summer break yet, but still... you know what that means, right? Yup, it's time to begin planning your back-to-school clothes shopping strategy ASAP! There's no such thing as a break in the world of parenting. *Sigh* The silver lining is that getting ahead of the game means scoring the best deals and skipping the madness of the last-minute shopping rush. Need a game plan? Scary Mommy asked experts to weigh in on everything from finding the best deals to what to do when your kid pushes back against all the clothes you suggest, giving you a solid head start.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it's no secret that inflation is hitting family budgets hard. While this price surge is sparking protests worldwide and everyone is looking for relief, cutting back on non-essentials, planning purchases, and taking advantage of all the deals can help soften the blow. And once you learn to shop like a pro, you'll never go back to the days of making it rain like you were Lil Wayne — because, face it, you're not. But you might be cool in your kids' eyes when you say yes to buying them their favorite kicks. Shhhh. They don't have to know you got them on sale!

Ready? Keep reading for expert shopping hacks, pointers, and intel to save you money and frustration.

Appeal to Their Independence With Options

Before you even start looking at back-to-school clothes, you should set some boundaries. According to Reena B. Patel, parenting expert, psychologist, and author, around age 2, "[...] children want to be in control, gain a sense of independence, and make their own choices." This includes what they wear, making clothes shopping with them a potential nightmare. That's why Patel suggests starting small. "Offer two to three options [and] make sure all the options are what you are OK with. Once they choose, you should follow through. If they push back [try using] the phrase 'Do you want me to help you choose, or would you like to do it by yourself?' Sometimes giving them a few minutes to decode is helpful too."

Keeping Autonomy in Mind, Pick Your Battles

As kids get older, this can get trickier, especially once they hit their teens. "Clothing is one of the ways that [teens] express their individuality, as well as fitting in with peers. Most of us remember being teens and having adults be disconnected from what is 'cool.' [While] it is totally acceptable for families to have expectations around clothes and it is often worth it to fight about clothes and personal appearance, these fights can be experienced by your child as critical, controlling, and demeaning," says Helen Egger, child psychiatrist and co-founder of children's mental health app Little Otter.

And letting your kids have a say in what clothes they wear isn't just about giving in to what's cool or avoiding an all-out tantrum. In fact, Egger reminds parents, "It is also important to realize that supporting your child to make choices about clothes they like and feel comfortable in is one element of teaching our children to respect their bodies, their preferences, and their autonomy."

Listen (Really Listen) to Your Kid's Sensory Complaints

Parents also don't always realize the real sensory issues that certain fabrics or cuts may trigger.

"Listen to your child. If the seams of the socks bother them, get seamless socks. If tags in clothes are itchy, cut them out. If your child hates wearing wool because of the texture or itchiness, switch to fleece. Get to know what your child likes and doesn't like and listen to what they are telling you!" adds Egger.

Have the Dollars & Cents Talk Before Your BTS Shopping

Once you've established expectations on clothing choices, and if your child is old enough to have a lesson on finances, you can involve them in discussing a budget. This will help them understand that money doesn't simply grow on trees but requires planning and smart choices. Letting kids think they can throw anything into the cart (virtual or in-store) is a recipe for disappointment. The more financially literate kids are, the more they'll understand and respect the budget limitations you set.

Look for Deals with Brands You Trust

To avoid your child from getting their hopes up or simply being overwhelmed by too many choices, it's a good idea to narrow down the options before starting any actual shopping. And this is where the money-saving begins. Often, parents start their search by Googling the item they need. For instance, your child needs sneakers, so you type "kid's sneakers" into the search bar, turning up thousands of results, most of which are paid ads meant to lure you into buying a particular product. Instead, a smarter strategy is to start by turning to brands you already trust, checking to see if they have deals in the category you're shopping for. You can always price-check from there, but you'll save yourself time and the chance of buying a product that exceeds your needs and budget.

Use Apps & Go Online to Compare Prices

To that end, Jason Blom of Shopkick, a shopping rewards app, says, "Whether shopping in-store or online, parents should track their favorite retailer's prices and be on top of their promotional schedules to avoid missing sales or discounts. Additionally, use shopping rewards apps to earn 'kicks' (or rewards) just by walking into stores, scanning products on the shelf, and making purchases." Blom added this in-store savings tip: "Parents should compare prices online before even leaving the house, ensuring they get the best price. Parents can also save big in-store by shopping during their state's tax-exempt weekend."

Save Some of Your Budget for Season's End

If you really want to find the best deals, consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch says, "Clothing is cheapest toward the end of the season. So while it's better to wait to buy fall clothing well after school starts, you can snag plenty of amazing sales on summer clothing in August as retailers start clearing out inventory.” Woroch adds that parents should always remember to "go through [their] child's wardrobe to figure out what they have and what fits or has to go, and come up with a list of essentials.

So there you have it — a solid strategy and expert tips to save you the most on your back-to-school clothes shopping list!