August is one of my very favorite months, partly because my birthday arrives, but mostly because I love back-to-school shopping. As a teenager, this was the one big splurge I got on clothes (the other came at Christmas). My mom wisely kept clothes-shopping to a semi-annual event. We’d have one marathon day where we’d hit the stores. I’d plan ahead by scouring fashion magazines and making a wish list. Then, we’d look for the best deals. By the end of the day, I’d have a lovely pile of clothes, and back home I’d put on a “fashion show” for my dad and my brother. Once school started, I’d have try to space my new things out, but usually I’d go on a big binge and wear everything the first few weeks, no matter how hot and humid it was in September in Missouri!
This year was the first time I got to be on the “mom” side of the equation. Over the weekend, we took my new stepdaughters back-to-school shopping. One is nine and the other is twelve, so the teenage years are almost official. The nine-year old likes to look cute, but is free from that girl teenage anxiety of having the “right” clothes. The twelve-year old is about to enter seventh grade. Ladies, we can all take a moment to shudder while we remember that feeling. You want to blend in with what everyone else is wearing, but still somehow “express your personality,” even though you have very nebulous ideas about what your personality actually is. I know that this led to some shocking wardrobe choices on my part, including stone-washed jeans with ribbons on the ankles and a bright-yellow, fuzzy teddy bear sweatshirt. Fortunately, the stepdaughter has better fashion sense. However, she definitely has her own “look” and shopping for her follows very strict parameters: only a few color choices (green and blue and pink), long, layer-able tees and tanks, jeans, no skirts. Day to day, she looks absolutely adorable, so I’m very relieved to have a fashion-forward stepdaughter. She even likes my style and happily wears my hand-me-downs. Even so, while shopping, she wants to take the lead. Dad and I are along only for sizing advice and payment, please.
So, how to make back-to-school shopping stress-free? Yield to the twelve-year old desires. We gave each girl a budget and let them run loose. The day actually went quite smoothly. Each girl went $5 over budget, but there was no complaining or wheedling. Since they were in control, they were happy with their choices. Since they stayed on budget, we were happy with what they bought.
Now, we did do a little behind-the-scenes maneuvering to keep them on track. We selected the order of the stores: Kohls, Target, and the mall. Fortunately, each girl ran out of money before we made it to the mall, so we all went out to eat instead. The older stepdaughter agreed that she could earn more money or use her savings if she wanted a “name-brand” sweatshirt or tee-shirt from the mall later. We also gently steered them to an even distribution of types, colors, etc. When there were three tee-shirts in the cart all in the exact shade of blue, I gave a little advice on which one to put back. Finally, I kept out a pad and tallied up prices as we went. That way, decisions were more neutral. The day became how to get the best sales or the most for their money, rather than that “if you love me, you’ll buy me this” kind of emotion. It’s harder to argue with the numbers.
All in all, the girls got a good taste of real life, budget included. They will always have to make choices with their money, so it’s good to get them started now. If you’re about to face the back-to-school shopping madness, I highly recommend the set-amount approach. While the kids may not pick out exactly what you’d pick out, they learn how to weigh all the factors of a good buy and get some measure of control over what they’ll be using and wearing. You get the benefit of less wheedling and comprising and worrying about spending too much. You may have to spend the next six months washing a bright-yellow fuzzy teddy bear sweatshirt. but that is a small price to pay for fiscal sanity! Look for lots more great back-to-school tips at the All About Parenting Blog Carnival.