Dressing Down

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

June 5, 2009 5 min read


Spend less on back-to-school clothes

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

From online purchases to scouring second-hand stores, there are several ways to find back-to-school clothes -- but the best place to start is in your child's closet, experts say.

In addition to saving money, you'll also have a way to teach your child "a thing or two about financial responsibility," said Adam Carroll, an Iowa-based financial expert and co-author of "Winning The Money Game" ($12, National Financial Educators, Inc.). "The key to being fiscally conservative when it comes to school clothes is two-fold: know your budget and know what you need.

"Too many parents are going school clothes shopping sans-list and sans-budget, which is a double recipe for disaster. You'll end up bringing home duplicate outfits, mismatched items and a hefty price tag to looking good. Why do this when your kids can look great on so much less?"

Begin with a clothing inventory, suggested Carroll, to figure out what still fits and what's needed to round out your child's wardrobe. When you've completed the list, create a spending plan. "Nobody likes the word budget, especially your teenager," he said.

Decide what you have to spend on things like jeans, shirts, shoes, and accessories -- and stick to it, he said. "Once they get a pair of $150 jeans out of you, you're toast."

The key is setting limits and expectations ahead of time. Sometimes it's worth spending a bit more and allowing your kids to pay for a part of it. "Teenagers who contribute to the purchasing of higher-end clothing may actually treat them better because there's skin in the game," he said.

Other times, it can teach lessons. "One savvy parent gave his kids a set amount of money to spend on clothes and when it was gone, it was gone. One of them found his high-fashion items at Goodwill and spent a fifth of what his siblings spent. He invested the rest in MasterCard stock. After all, there are some things money can't buy," Carroll added.

While children under 10 usually are less fashion-conscious, it still can be tough to find clothing for them at second-hand stores because of sizing and quantity. But once they approach their teens, it's a different story. These fledgling fashionistas need a goal, said Amy Williams, chair of the fashion program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and a 25-year veteran of the fashion industry.

One way is to challenge them to see who can come home with the nicest and most clothes for a fixed amount of money or find a couple of "hip" items at a local thrift shop -- a vest or different jacket to spice up their regular attire.

Williams believes the best time to provide a child with the fundamentals of clothes shopping is when they are about to enter the sixth grade, the start of what the fashion guru describes as the "amazing consumption years." If you teach them that it is better to buy quality over quantity, "it will make high school planning a whole lot easier and make for more mindful shoppers," she said.

Williams recommended shopping about three weeks before school opens. But, she cautioned, unless you live in an area where the weather turns chilly in late August or early September, you're better off buying a few pieces of summer clothing to start the school year and put the rest of your shopping off for a month or two.

"No one wants to wear their new cords until November," she said. Even better, if you wait until late October to do your shopping, you can take advantage of sales.

Savvy back-to-school shoppers should look to stores that offer deep discounts, participate in tax-free holidays or market their goods online. Lenka Keston, product marketing manager for promotionalcodes.com, a provider of online and store discount coupons for national retailers like Target, J.C. Penney, Kmart and Wal-Mart, expects a surge in visits to the site from coupon-seeking shoppers. It is a trend that began in 2008 when gas prices rose sharply and the economy started to sour.

Merchants are also upping the number of offers too, she added, as a means of staying competitive. But the coupon is very much alive.

"Some people who never shopped with coupons before now say they will never go back," she said.

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