Thursday, August 14, 2008

School Shopping: Ending the Drama

I always hate school clothes shopping. It's not like buying something for yourself. It's a miserable process from any vantage point, an epic saga drawn out by whines and complaints.

To make things easier on myself, I once tried spreading it out over the summer with my three who were in school, taking one in June, one in July, and one in August.

Slight problem: In June, you can't find much for school (like backpacks and lunch boxes, not to mention any SALES) and any clothes you do buy will probably be outgrown just as the snow starts to fall.

Other years, as I've tried sticking to the budget I set for the event, the kids whine and complain and BEG for just this one extra thing. Okay, or two or three extra things. PLEEEEEEASE? And either I say no and look like Cruella deVille, or I give in like a soggy noodle and spend too much.

Either way, I lose.

This year I did something a bit different. I wasn't intending to fix the problem, exactly. I just wanted to experience the fiery furnace a different way. You know, shakes things up for a new kind of miserable.

But lo and behold, shopping this year was easy and (virtually) pain free.


Flashback: When I was entering my junior year of high school, Mom was just too busy to take my little sister and me school shopping. She handed each of us an envelope with cash in it and dropped us off at the mall to do it ourselves.

At first, I was thrilled. I could buy whatever I wanted. Bwahahahahahaaa!

But then something happened. I found a sweater I loved. I checked the price tag. Yikes. I could get at least two pairs of jeans for that. Did I really like it that much? Hmm. I'd come back and later and decide.

Soon I gravitated toward the sales and clearance racks. I scoured the slightly damaged racks.

I had the power to decide how to spend a concrete amount of money. And I ended up being highly selective with every purchase. I came home with the biggest and cutest wardrobe of my entire high school career.

This year with my kids, I kinda sorta did the same thing, but unintentionally. I told each one exactly how much money they had allotted to spend on school clothes and that they could spend it however they wanted. But when it was gone, it was gone.

Their eyes went big at the sum. Yeah. Anything over twenty bucks is massive wealth as far as they're concerned. I smiled and assured them that the money wouldn't go as far as they thought.

I didn't drop them off at the store with a wad of cash. (They're not old enough for that.) I tagged along with the cart and watched them go, adding up their purchases with them as they tossed items into the cart.

We went in three shifts with the four kids, and the result was amazing.

First was #4, who is going into kindergarten. Over her life, most of her clothes have been gifts from Grandma, hand-me-downs from her sisters, or bought by Mom when she wasn't around. For the first time ever, she got to pick. And boy, did she.

More than once I pointed out a shirt I thought was mucho cute and said, "What about this?"

She hardly glanced over. "Nope." And then she raced off down the aisle and pointed to something else. "I like that one! And that one!" And flung them into the cart. She had fun. She also got a lot of mileage out of her money, because clothes for someone as small as she is just cost less.

Next was the trip with the older girls, #2 and #3. Normally, we try to get backpacks every other year, so #2 wasn't up for a new one this time. But she opted to spend some of her clothes money on a new bag for school. And Mom let her. The power! She also got some earrings for her newly pierced ears in addition to the typical jeans and shirts and socks and shoes.

She also decided to use some of her school clothes money on a swimsuit for the rest of the summer. I wasn't sure about that one, but heck--it was her call. If she whined mid-year about not having enough jeans, it would be her fault. Into the cart went the suit.

#3 decided to not get a new lunch box, because it would give her a little more money to play with, or, er, spend. Her old one wasn't stinky, she said. It would work for another year. She thought long and hard about every purchase and got a great variety of items she was pleased with. (I think she takes after her mother . . .)

For my oldest . . . well, he wasn't able to stretch his dollars quite as far, reason being that he's getting so dang tall. (Next year I may have to allot more to him than his sisters just to be fair . . . and so he'll have enough clothing to cover himself.)

The thing that's freaking me out is that he's now straddling the boys' and men's sections. Most of what we found in the boys' section was too small, but the men's section is still mostly a bit too big. We had to go to both for what we were looking for.

And his shoes? Holy mackerel . . . they're bigger than mine. They're the same size one of his grandpas wears. Yeah. And in a few months, he'll be taller than his mother.

(I officially have a teenager. Pray for me.)

The best part of this year's shopping was that when the money was gone, it was gone. And everyone got that. No one whined or complained or begged for just one more thing. They knew it was gone. The end. Let's go check out.

This year, I don't think I got an ulcer or even an extra zit from the stress. I'll definitely be doing the same thing next summer.


Anonymous said...

I did this with my daughter for several years. It is a great life lesson and really helps them learn the value of money, even more so when they have to earn all or part of the money themselves when they are old enough.


Julie Wright said...

I love this! I am so ripping this page out of your book and tacking it to my forehead for further reference. My new teen is NOT fun to shop with. She used to be, but those days are soooooo long gone. I can't believe the simplicity of your brilliance.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I have a folder labelled "For When Our Kids are Teens" and I'm putting this in it. Brilliant!

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I am so doing this. What a great idea. My only problem is what amount to give them. I shop for clothes so rarely, I don't really have any idea what things are going to cost. I also have a son who has to buy all his clothes in the men's section and a daughter who is so tall and skinny I can't buy her the cheap jeans because they don't fit her right.

Josi said...

I've done part of this--the limit part, but I haven't been able to really let go of controlling what they get--I insist on putting my two cents in. but I HATE shopping, so why do I put myself in the equation at all? My two older ones could do this in a heardbeat (though one would easily spend both their money and the other one hates shopping more than I do so she wouldn't mind) and the little kids would be good if I just took them to walmart. You're brilliant. Now I just have to figure out where the money comes from. Oh, one trick I've done that works well for us is we do school shopping a week or two after school has started. That way they see what everyone else is wearing and don't buy things that are then deemed 'lame' once they get to school. Great tips, Annette. I'm so jealous you're done!

Heffalump said...

If I did that my boys would decide they wanted nothing but Mario brothers T-shirts. There would be no underwear or socks...
Maybe in a couple of years they will be ready for this, its a great idea!

Michele Holmes said...

I'm way impressed, Annette. You're not only a brilliant writer, but an awesome Mom too.
As for shopping at our
house . . . thank goodness for the uniform policy at our school. I know I have it easy.

angela michelle said...

Sounds like an awesome strategy. They'll learn so much. And maybe they'll take care of their clothes better too. I feel your pain with clothing a big boy. My 13yo son is tall and skinny and I'm starting to fear the world does not contain jeans that fit him. Too bad capris aren't in style for boys...

Alison Wonderland said...

Fantastic idea, I'm sold.

Josi said...

You totally inspired me with an idea for a link list on things that work for each of us. Anyway, I blogged about my idea and you're the first one on the list if you want to take a peak. :-)

An Ordinary Mom said...

So very clever ... I love how you tweaked it to work for your kids.

Karlene said...

Did this with my kids and it worked wondefully! :)

3 for school said...

This is a great idea. I don't have back-to-school shopping to contend with, but I have told them that anything they want to buy must come from their own earnings. So far, they have bought very little, spending their money for taekwondo testing only. Both boys check with each other about purchases, too.

Becky Rasmussen said...


I loved your post! It's so strange when you're children reach the age where you have frequent flashbacks and memories of the way your own brain worked at that age. It's helpful for me to put myself back in their shoes. -Becky


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