Simplifying Back-to-School Shopping

Back-to-school. It’s both exciting and terrifying, and for the same reason: summer is almost over and school is starting. That’s exciting because it’s a new beginning, it’s almost fall, it’s time to buy stationery (I know I’m not the only one who loves stationery), and the kids will be gone all day. It’s terrifying because it means I have to go back to busy schedules, getting the kids to school on time every day (like I ever did), and feeling guilty that I’m failing at even the semblance that I have my crap together. Oh, and homework. I freaking hate homework. But what really makes back-to-school frightening is the back-to-school shopping and the toll it takes on your budget. That and the fact that you actually have to bring your kids into the stores with you. The horror. Shopping for is always a fiasco for us, so this year I decided to make things easier on myself.

back-to-school shopping

I decided to simplify back-to-school shopping.

I planned ahead and didn’t let the beginning-of-the-year shopping creep up on me and wipe me out before school had even started. Some of you have already started school at the beginning of August, which is simply obscene. But the good news is that you are already done with all of this stuff, so yay! But for the rest of you, I’ll share with you how I simplified our back-to-school shopping for this year.

Simplifying back to school shopping

By scaling back.

What I really wanted was to buy my kids all new outfits for the beginning of the school year. I wanted them to have nice, new, trendy clothing to wear every day. But that’s unrealistic. Because money. No matter how good of a deal we get on their clothes, we can’t afford a new wardrobe for each of them because there are four of them who need new things all at the same time. That’s hard to budget for. Plus, we put off buying a lot of new things they need like shoes, backpacks, and lunch boxes until the beginning of the school year when we are already buying new stuff. This makes the budget even tighter. And honestly, they do already have clothes that fit and don’t have holes, so they don’t need a whole new wardrobe. Instead of 5 or 7 (or more) new outfits, we just buy them 2 or 3, depending on how many hand-me-downs have survived intact to supplement the contents of their closet. Then we get more clothes throughout the year as needed, but for now, they have a couple of new outfits for the beginning of the year, and our budget is still (kind of) intact.

By having fun.

We do let them get a couple of new outfits, even if they don’t absolutely “need” them. My 9-year-old has all the 10-year-old’s old clothes and doesn’t strictly need anything more. But it still feels good for her to get a couple of new items to wear.  It’s fun to have new clothes for the first couple of days of school in a new class with new classmates. It makes them excited to go back and not dread it quite so much. But the rule is that they absolutely are not allowed to wear their new outfits until the first day of school. It’s hard for them to be patient, but it keeps the outfits new and special for those first few days.

By not waiting until the last minute.

If you wait too long to do your shopping, a lot of selection will be gone and you’ll be stressing yourself out with desperately trying to get stuff done before school starts. This year we did our shopping a little earlier than usual. Although, full disclosure, that’s only because I planned my summer around school starting a week earlier than it actually does. Not because I’m super prepared, but because I never have a clue what the heck is going on and I honestly thought (until very recently) that school started on the 9th instead of the 16th. It turned out great though because it made it so we were able to avoid a panicked rush right before school started and gave us time to spread the shopping out into multiple trips to avoid burnout. So, I guess it’s a good thing I was so prepared clueless.

By waiting until almost the last minute.

We still waited until August to even think about getting the kids their clothes. We spent our July budget on fun summer outings so waiting until August to buy school clothes spreads out the damage to the budget a little bit. We aren’t even going to try to get any school supplies until we meet their teachers and find out exactly what they need. There’s nothing worse than buying all this stuff you thought they’d need and then finding out that the teacher requires a certain type of notebook, and only a certain size of pencil box will fit in the drawers in the classroom.

By dividing and conquering.

I was thinking about how school shopping went last year and felt like there was no way I could possibly survive it this year. It just takes forever. I usually pack up all five kids and traipse from store to store to store to store to store. I spend most of the trip whisper-yelling at kids who are hiding in clothes racks, climbing on shelving and escaping the changing rooms, until we are all hungry and crying.  I also spend a good portion of the time arguing with teenagers who are asking for shoes costing more than a week’s worth of groceries for the family, the tweens who are begging for unnecessary accessories they’ll never ever wear anyway, and the toddler who is screaming for (even more) ca-ye (candy). I always try to get it all done in one day, but inevitably quit 3/4 of the way through the pandemonium and end up having to try again the next day. By then we are already exhausted from the day before and are grumpy and miserable from the moment we set out.

This year I decided to nip the bedlam in the bud and plan ahead of time to divide the trip into two half days. I took both of the tween girls shopping together since they like going to the same stores anyway. The older boys stayed home to babysit the toddler and that way I was able to give the girls my full attention. We knocked out the girl’s shopping in one go and even planned in a snack break so we didn’t get too hangry.

By getting help.

Another day I took the teenage boys shopping together without the younger kids so I could take them shopping without being distracted by the girls and the toddler. Notice that that toddler is not welcome on any of these trips. That’s because kids between the ages of one and four should never be allowed in stores if it can be helped. It just never ends well. While I took the teens shopping I sent the younger three to grandpa and grandma’s house. They had fun with their grandparents and I had fun with my teenagers. And without being distracted with three additional kids, I miraculously had the brain power to pay attention to what the boys needed and do the math required to figure out if we can afford those shoes.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get all the shopping done for the boys in one day (who knew that the 15-year-old would take longer to try on clothes than the other 3 kids combined?). But a trip to the mall with all the kids will actually be fun for them and knock the rest out in one go (I hope and pray). Thank goodness we started shopping last week so we could have a break over the weekend before finishing the shopping this week. I will need all the resting up I can get in preparation for taking all the kids to the mall because the toddler will be with us and you know how I feel about that situation.

Planning ahead to simplify my back-to-school shopping did help to make the whole ordeal less horrible (so far). Soon I’ll be ready to take on the new school year (kind of) and get the kids to school on time every single day this year (Ha! A girl can dream). What are your back-to-school shopping tips? Are you done already? Are your kids already back in school? If so, I’m sorry your summer fun is already over, but I’m a little jealous your fall free time has already begun.

Momming is hard, amiright?

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