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How Much Do You Spend on Back-to-School Clothes?

As an auntie, back-to-school is one of my favorite events. It’s an excuse for me to take my niece shopping, and also give her a lesson in budgeting. What could be more fun, right?

Each year, I talk to her parents first about the strategy. Some years, they know she has outgrown a lot of her “basics” and really needs durable items that also fit her school dress code (which is midway between a free-for-all and a uniform). Other years, she still has lots of basics, and we can buy a more “fun” items, like a Sunday dress or a new backpack.

As I prepare for the auntie shopping trip of the year this year, I’m wondering how other people handle their children’s shopping. Is back-to-school your biggest clothing expense for your kids, or do you spread their clothing expenses throughout the year? Do you go all out, so they have the name brands other kids have, or do you do it on the cheap?

We pretty much do it on the cheap, and back-to-school is the main time for new clothes. Everything else is just replaced when it’s worn out. My niece loves H&M’s and Forever 21’s kids clothes (she’s a pre-teen). Since she is growing so fast, I don’t really have concerns about the quality of those items, although I have vetoed some things I know will fall apart. For coats and items I think she will use at least a full year or two (like a backpack), I usually try to steer her toward a mid-range brand. As for athletic shoes, Champion does great gear at Target. We haven’t delved into consignment shops, but I know a lot of parents have great luck with them.

Although the majority of our shopping is done in person, there are times when I will go online. For stores like GAP or some of the department stores, I’m often convinced I will be able to find a coupon code or a special offer to save some money. If she wants many items from one shop, or a more expensive item, 10% or 15% adds up quickly. It’s also a good excuse for a “cooling off” period if she wants to buy something I’m not convinced is a smart purchase.

As for prices, I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $50 on a single item of clothing for my niece, and most are in the $10 to $20 range. In total, her parents say her back to school wardrobe costs about $200 to $250 (including what I buy for her), and then another $75-100 for school supplies (I can’t believe all the stuff her school expects her to bring with her on the first day!). During the year, probably another $100 on other clothes. This seems really reasonable to me, and I think it’s a credit to her parents for being so strategic, and to my niece for not being demanding about name brands or asking for really expensive items.

She seems to really enjoy budgeting, actually. When we go shopping, I tell her how much she has to spend, and we talk about which item is probably going to cost the most and how she is going to plan around the cost of that item. Usually, she tries to find it first, and then we will go back to the other stores after she has found the most expensive item, and she’ll buy the other things she wanted if she can still afford them. The stores in our mall know that she is always going to ask them to “hold these items for a few hours, pleeeasseee?” So she is definitely growing into a savvy shopper.

Some estimates indicate that back-to-school brings in $70 billion for retailers. Obviously that covers more than clothes, but it is still quite a staggering number to think about. How do you budget for back to school? What is the most expensive item you usually have to buy for your child? If your kid’s school has uniforms, do you think that has lowered the cost of clothes, or made them more expensive?