4 simple rules for making back-to-school shopping more affordable!

It's the time of year again…BACK. TO. SCHOOL.
Our sanity Cheers!
…Our wallets BOO.

My oldest is only 3.5 and I don't have to think about preschool until…well…the morning-of.
Rough life.
However, I have worked with kids and teens A LOT (I worked with at-risk youth before being a mom, was a substitute teacher, and taught 3rd/4th grades for the Boys and Girls Club…oh yeah, and I was a kid once too…) so I have a general idea of how it goes.

I got a great question from a reader on Facebook:

“Well, its that time of year! Second most expensive to Christmas, what is it you ask? Back to school! Between clothes for 3 in school children, two where it actually matters what they wear (phhfft) and Jr High fees, this momma is broke! So I thought, there has to be a way to get great deals on school supplies, clothing, shoes etc! Anyone want to share any tips, coupon codes, etc? Remember, I have a teenage girl (eeeeeeeek!) Jordan Page, do you have a post on this topic?”

Pretty darn good question, right?!
To answer it, here are 4 simple rules to help you keep YOUR sanity (and finances) in check during this expensive time of year:

Rule #1: Start early…or late.

  • However you look at it, if you are buying things when you NEED them, you are forced to pay the going rate…which is always too high. (Remember my FACT's, you should never pay full-price for anything!).
  • As soon as all the supplies go CRAZY on-sale, stock up for next year! This also works for things that aren't uber trendy, and things that are one-size-fits-all like backpacks, accessories, and maybe even winter gear and coats. Throughout the year, stock up when the good stuff goes on clearance. See how I shop sales for ideas.
  • Be patient. Just wait an extra month (ish) and the clothes are bound to go on sale as they clear things out for winter. I know this is hard for teens who want to look super fly the first few weeks of school. Maybe compromise by buying one or two new outfits (trying to use coupons and shop sales if at all possible), but otherwise wait for everything else.
    • Explain to your kids that everyone only has a handful of new outfits. By the end of the first month, everyone will be back to wearing their old stuff…and then your kids will waltz into school like a boss looking hip, new, chic, and oh-so-trendy. BAM. *Enter teenage excitement*
  • Buy off-season. If your child is old enough for school dances, watch for dresses OFF season. Sporting equipment, winter coats, and even seasonal shoes…buy them during the opposite season and it will save you a ton.

Rule #2: Transfer the pressure.

  • No, we're not talking about applying pressure to wounds here (well, not literally anyway…). What I mean is, put your kids in charge. You heard me. The BEST way to make your life easier, teach your kids all the tools they need for adulthood, and to get them to appreciate everything they have is…give them 100% control.
  • The best way to give them control? Give them the cash and allow them to buy whatever they want for their school clothes.

Here's how to do it:

    • Set a reasonable budget (see next section for more info).
    • Pull it out of your bank account in cash.
    • Give the cash to your child in an envelope.
    • Write the things that they should focus on finding on the envelope: 2 pairs of jeans. 2 Pairs of shorts. 6 Shirts. 1 sweatshirt. 1 Jacket. 2 pairs of shoes. 1 backpack or whatever. Just give them ideas on how to spend the money.
    • Drive them to a mall, go grab yourself a smoothie (or a stiff drink 😉 in the food court, and let them go at it. It might be hard to relinquish control, but I promise, it will be one of the greatest lessons they'll ever learn.
      • If your kids are too young to shop by themselves or if you haven't taught them how to shop responsibly yet (hurry and get on that, by the way!) then go with them to the stores, but let them make the ultimate decisions. Have them make a pile of the clothes they've picked out, tried on, and like, and you guide them on how much to buy.
      • You might need to give younger ones a little guidance by saying things like, “ok great. You like this hoodie? Well, this is $15 which is most of the money you have left. Since you have a hoodie at home wouldn't you want to look at the t-shirts instead since you still need 3 more of those? No? Ok, well that's your choice.”
      • Ultimately take it child-by-child based on maturity, but allow them the opportunity to take control!
    • If they lose the money, buy something that doesn't fit, buy things they don't need, blow it all on video games, or buy things that they decide they don't like 1 month later, TOUGH. LUCK. Just say “Oh, well, we'll try again next year.” Don't give in. Don't bail them out. Don't give them more money. Don't return the items for them and buy better things.
    • If they want to return something, drive them to the store, park outside, and tell them to have fun. They will NOT get hurt by this experience, and figuring it out on their own will propel them more than you can even imagine!
      • If they lose the receipt and can't return something, tell them to exchange it. Can't exchange it? “Darn, we'll try again next year” or “well, there's always Christmas, maybe you'll get money as your gift then and can use it for more school clothes.”
    • This money should go toward everything except for school supplies. Paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, school fees are all separate expenses (sorry parents!). But backpacks, shoes, accessories – that cash needs to cover it!
  • What is a reasonable budget? That completely depends on your financial situation. For that reason I really hate to get too specific, but I also know that's what many of you are desperately wanting (right??). So here you go (and please remember that this is a GENERAL range):
    • I would think roughly $200-$250 for a teenager,
    • $100-$200 middle school,
    • $75-$150 for elementary

Now, if you shop like I do, that is about double what I would need to spend. BUT…I know many of you are FCF Queens in Training, so I'm lightening up on you a little bit 🙂

Once again, I promise this is not mean or cruel in any way. My parents did this to me when I was young. I learned to talk to adults. I learned fractions. I learned to watch prices. I learned to judge quality vs price. I learned to shop sales. I learned the value of stretching my dollar. I learned how to return things. I learned how to be smart with my money. And I gained a LOT of confidence. While I'm not perfect and still have lots to learn, look where I'm at today.

That's gotta say something, right?!

Rule #3: Space it out. 

  • Especially when it comes to extra-curriculars, school can be very expensive! Don't let the school fees hit your wallet all at once. 
  • Plan ahead. Add up what you paid for school fees, equipment, extra curricular activities, etc. last year (or estimate as best you can for the coming year), divide it by 12 (months in a year), and each month set that amount aside into a bank account for your kids for the next year. I recommend auto-drafting this into your family savings, or into a separate account for your kids.
  • Try not to buy everything NEW every year. Granted, your kids will outgrow shoes and clothes, that's understandable. But instruments, sporting equipment, certain school supplies, and even backpacks and accessories (winter coats too)…try to make things last for more than 1 year to space out your dollars a bit.
  • Don't feel like you have to buy everything. In high school my parents let us choose between a year book, a letterman's jacket, or a class ring. They said they'd buy ONE for us, and anything else we wanted we had to buy ourselves. Suddenly that jacket wasn't such a priority for me when it was coming from my own wallet. Same with school dances. I had to buy my own dresses and pay for my own dates, but my parents gave me money for pictures (because they wanted copies for themselves). Don't feel like you have to buy everything…because you don't have to!

4. Utilize resources.

  • What do I mean by utilize resources? Don't reinvent the wheel! There are a BAZILLION websites, articles, blogs (..he'em…like this one…nudge…nudge…) that can help. Use them. (Sounds vaguely familiar to my “T” in my F.A.C.T's, right? Take advantage? Interesting…)
  • For example, This is a great article (and great site in general) to help you find back-to-school freebies, especially for those in a tough financial situation. She also has a great post of the best teacher freebies! She really shows lots of resources that I never knew existed. This is especially helpful for those who are in tough financial situations. Don't feel like you have to do it all on your own. Read her blog and learn ways to help you through this tough time!
  • One great resource that you should always take advantage of? COUPONS. Whether it's for haircuts, clothes, school supplies, or even school uniforms, look for a coupon before buying anything!
    • To find coupons: Check your mail – junk mail might not be junk! Google “coupon for ___” or “coupon code for ___” online before buying. Search stores' websites. For example, if you like to shop at Target, be sure to go online first and print out their coupons.
  • Buy used. Musical instruments, sports equipment, even text books. Buy used when at all possible. I like to check my local classifieds like craigslist.org or Ksl.com for Utah/Idaho.
  • Creative DIY when at all possible. Teacher gifts? Oh, for heaven's sake, PLEASE don't spend an arm and a leg! Trust me, I am 110% the biggest fan ever of teachers. But does that mean you need to run out and spend $25+ per teacher on gifts? Um, no. Get creative, thoughtful, and genuine with teacher gifts, and you will be able to come up with something incredible for very little! This article gives 25 DIY teacher gifts that are all unique, adorable, and yes, affordable.
  • Lastly, utilize ME! I'm going to have another live Q&A session coming up this Monday (Aug 12) at 8pm MST. Log in and fire all your questions at me. The more specific the better, I'm happy to help!

So there you have it!

Just remember…

you are doing your kids NO favors by giving them everything they want – regardless of their age. Delayed gratification and patience are the two major things our new generations are lacking (my generation included), which has led to the downfall of this economy. Your kids will not DIE if they don't have all the hippest and greatest RIGHT NOW. They won't be shunned at school if they don't have 5 pairs of new shoes. They won't have a harder time making friends if they aren't wearing the nicest brands.

Spoiler alert: making friends is more about personality and kindness than it is about brands and style. Teach your kids to love themselves regardless of the shell they are wearing, and I promise, they WILL get farther in life and WILL be more successful than the rest. Confidence is more valuable than any brand on the market.

*climbing off soap box*
Now, get out there, do some shopping and GOOD LUCK THIS YEAR!
…you might just need it,

Note: All photos for clothing are from Target! All are affordable too. Bingo.


  1. This is great stuff Jordan. My son just asked me yesterday if he can get cash and do his own school shopping. I was a little hesitant, but now I'm wondering why it took me so long to get with the program! I'm off to the bank for some cash. =)
    My recent post In the Big Time Now!

  2. Awesome advice. Don't forget about the new Target cartwheel app. It is easy to use and can help you save a lot when you combine it with a sale and your target red card discount. The red debit card is Awesome!

  3. Thanks! And seriously, thank YOU for the awesome info. Had no idea about the debit card, love that idea!

  4. Love this! Pinned. You give such good advice, especially to moms like me that are new at this.

    I have a blog link-up on Fridays, called Free to Talk Friday, I hope you'll come and join. I know my readers will love this post just as much as I did. It will be open late tonight at dreamingofperfect.weebly.com

    My recent post Do you like my new look?

  5. I love shopping clearances on clearance. Scored on those! Thanks for the many other great ideas. Love your blog!

  6. I will tell anyone who will listen that one of the best things my mom ever did was give me a "clothes budget" when I was in jr high and high school. The first year I diligently saved some through the summer so I could buy school clothes. Then I promptly went out and bought shorts, capris and flip flops with all of my money. Then it snowed in September and I had to wear those to school. In the snow (yes it was Utah, what else do you expect?!) And my mom didn't bail me out. I had to wait until my budget renewed to buy pants. And yes it was cold. No, I didn't lose any toes and it was one of the best lessons my teenage self ever learned! I'm glad to hear someone else talk about it! Great advice!

  7. There was no mention of shopping thrift/consignment stores which can be great for a lot of the categories. And even those stores often have sales.

  8. I absolutely love the idea of giving the kids their own freedom to shop. At one point when my teenage daughter didnt like anything I used to give her my credit card to go shopping because I knew she would come home with nothing

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