Practical Dad

PracticalDad’s Shopping For School Clothing and Supplies

There was an office supply store commercial several years ago that showed glum children shopping for school supplies while their father rode on the shopping cart with the Xmas tune It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year playing on the soundtrack.  Spend significant amounts of time with kids in the summer and you're liable to agree with this assessment.  But before you can get to that point, you have to perform some true drudgery in getting ready for that first day.  You can walk into the store and start spending, or you can actually save some money by planning ahead on what you need and that's the drudgery.

School shopping consists of two parts - the paper and school supplies themselves, and then the dreaded clothing.  The school supplies are relatively easy since the materials generally don't change from one year to the next and you can actually stock up on really good sales, keeping the materials stored for years while you slowly exhaust them.  But the tricky part is outfitting your child's clothing because of growth, and in the case of many girls, fashion changes. 

School Supplies

Various stores will start rolling out the back-to-school sales in the first week of August and there will be all manner of stuff available.  Some will even run super specials with items for the dime during a specified period and it's tempting to run in and then pat yourself on the back for all of your savings.  But there are several things to consider.

  • Just because school supplies are for sale doesn't mean that your child(ren) will necessarily need those particular school supplies.  You might see all manner of items in the Sunday circulars and some office supply stores will even have generic lists available of what items are required for different grades in a particular school district.  But the reality is that there can be variances within school districts and even amongst teachers.  We've been burned on several occasions and at the elementary school level, now wait for the introductory letter from the teacher to see what he or she wants our child to bring.  Some things are a given, such as backpacks and crayons, but there can be differences.
  • If there's a great sale on truly utilitarian items - yellow high-lighters and lined notebook paper, for instance - then consider buying in quantity and then storing them until they're finally exhausted.  We've got reams of notebook paper, two pocket folders and highlighters in the basement and just feed off of them.  But be sure to take stock of what's in storage before spending money needlessly.
  • When you get the items home, sequester them so that excitable kids don't disperse them all over hell and half of Georgia.
  • Pay attention to the receipts, especially if there's an item on it that can be rebated.  This is where women have it over on men since they're able to get away with purses; I'm able to bend gender roles in multiple shapes as the need arises but I'm not going to spend my time correcting people that I'm carrying a satchel and not a man-purse.  Thank you very much.

School Clothing

  • Before you even worry about shopping, ascertain what clothing you already have and that's especially the case if you're using hand-me-down clothing from others.  With two boys, we have plenty of clothing from friends flowing through the house and it's made a significant dent in the clothes spending.  That means that you'll have to physically cull through the clothing articles and dispose of obviously small items while setting aside others to be tried on.  Once that's done, then you know what you'll need.
  • Have a sense of what the school's clothing policy is so that you can eliminate needless argument from the child or teen.  If your kid attends a school with a uniform policy, you're golden in that regards. 
  • Be prepared to spend the better part of a day in shopping for clothing.  If your kids are younger, be prepared to break the shopping into several separate increments.  In our case, we wrap the shopping into other events that keep it tolerable for the kids - lunch at the food court, browsing at the book store or a stop at the music/video store.
  • If time is an issue - as we were shopping for Youngest's blue jeans while Eldest was at soccer - then simply purchase clothing of the size needed and then try it on at home.  In Youngest's case, he knows that he'll try on jeans after school and I'll return it tomorrow night for a refund.  Stores are willing to let people take things home to try on and return provided the tags and receipt are presented at return.  Again, keep the receipt.  If your mate can keep a grocery receipt in her purse for nine months, then you can keep the thing for a few days.  And DO NOT remove any of the labels or the items will be unreturnable.
  • Be ready for commentary from the kids as they age.  I was surprised to find that kids in elementary school are concerned about whether they're perceived as wearing tighty-whities  and granny pants.  It makes things stressful but it can be entertaining as they age and you see where their tastes lie.

Preparing for school isn't a spur-of-the-moment thing but if you consider what you're doing, that time spent doesn't have to be miserable either.

And for Pete's sake, don't lose the receipt.

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