Back-to-School Shopping for Kids — What’s the Deal?

Back-to-school shopping has always been an interesting concept. Retailers want to entice us to stock up on clothing and items our young will presumably “need” this fall.

Why this is a big event, I’m not sure.

It’s not like we can’t run out to Target or the mall at any time to buy whatever clothing our kids will need. Easier still, we can order online 24/7 from our kids’ favorite stores whenever we want.

Back in the 70s and 80s, my parents bought me a few clothing items and one pair of shoes each school year. It was very exciting to get something new. Sometimes we had to go to multiple stores as there weren’t the choices we enjoy today.

This was a big deal as times were all-around tougher than they are now. Those were the only new clothes we would be getting for A LONG TIME.

Nowadays though, the concept of “back-to-school shopping” is another way to create a need that may not exist. This seems like another manufactured holiday or event we are supposed to partake in.

And sometimes these touted back-to-school sales are anything but!

Back-to-school supplies

Our kids back-to-school supply lists are lengthy, and that’s a stress. Maybe that’s the meaning behind back-to-school shopping: Hunt for the exact glue sticks, markers, pencils on your kid’s supply list only.

(It’s disheartening to then simply toss them all in the classroom pool of supplies — we want credit for finding and buying the right ones!)

And perhaps you buy a new backpack or lunch bag.

But after that, I’m not sure what all the fuss and rush is about. We don’t need special First Day of School and Second Day of School Outfits. Whatever they’ve been wearing in June and July will be perfectly acceptable.

When back-to-school shopping makes sense

back-to-school shopping
Back-to-school shopping (Photo Credit: Rafael Sato)

Maybe your child wears a uniform to school. Maybe back-to-school sales are the best time to buy the certain pants and the nice shirts.

Otherwise, your kids can probably go on to school wearing what they’ve been wearing all summer and spring. If come fall their pants are too short, buy them a few pairs.

Depending on where you live, shopping for winter clothing seems to make more sense. This is especially true when kids are young and grow out of everything so fast.

Their winter items from the year before won’t fit them. But even still, this might mean a new coat and boots. But that isn’t typical back-to-school shopping.

Overbuying kids’ clothing

I know many moms who feel pressured to stock up on fall clothing. These same exhausted moms often tell me their child has 10 pairs of pants, four with tags still on them, unworn, come spring.

It’s too late to return them, and they won’t fit next year. Some lucky ones can pass them down to the next child, but others end up never being able to use them.

When my family lived in the midwest, and we had four different seasons, we did “need” a lot more clothing than when we’ve lived in more temperate climates.

It’s been a joy to not have dressers stuffed with clothing they will never wear. Do my kids each need five sweatshirts and jackets when one or two will do?

Use what you already have

Have you ever seen the Lost and Found table at your kids’ school? Most likely, it’s piled 3-5 items high, covering the entire table. In some areas, it’s cold in the morning and much warmer when school lets out, so it makes sense to see sweatshirts and winter coats there.

But when more and more pile up and no one picks them up, I’m left to wonder, “How many sweatshirts and coats do these kids have that their parents aren’t telling them to check the lost and found?!”

My kids each have two drawers of clothes. They have another half drawer of random clothes they wear less often. They have one nicer shirt hanging in the closest. It works for us. When my kids open their drawer and realize they are down to their last shirt, they can do their laundry in one load.

It’s taken years and hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars get to this point. For years, I donated bags of my kids’ clothing, much of it barely worn. Now we buy what we need, and aren’t enticed by back-to-school sales and manufactured demand.

Retailers creating shopping seasons

It just seems that everything is an occasion. We know how hyped up Valentine’s Day has become, with candy and treats instead of a simple card. Even St. Patrick’s Day has become a thing in some schools and homes. Did the leprechaun come and play tricks on your family? Did he leave some gold coins?

There are end-of-the-year bashes and themed parties throughout the year. Christmas has become something I start dreading in June, rather than looking forward to it in December.

Keeping up with friends

Our kids have more opportunities than ever, yet that comes at a cost, sometimes literally. I know a woman who let her daughter spend her own money on Ugg boots. She was five years old! What are we teaching our children when we seek out and pay more for brand name, trendy clothing?

Back-to-school shopping isn’t necessary

It’s hard enough to get back into the school routine. Summer just has a different feel than the school-year rush. Running to different stores to load up on back-to-school sales and buying school clothes just adds to the chaos of the school year. Can’t we keep it simple?

Do you spend a lot of money on clothes and items for back-to-school shopping? What are some things you buy every year?

And if you are going to be back-to-school shopping, be sure to learn the best tips for getting the best prices.