I recently went shopping for back to school clothes with my three young kids in tow. Sound crazy? Perhaps it was, but I was a woman on a mission. As insane as it may seem to take your kids along with you while picking out clothes for the season, it actually makes things easier and more efficient as you're able to size things on the spot.
Determined to get the job done in the face of potential adversity, (three kids all wanting their own "stuff") I soldiered on. With a few main goals in mind, I loaded the kids into the minivan and hit the road.
Now, as a word to the wise, I did have a few things in mind before doing the deed. Back to school shopping can be stressful to say the least, so being prepared was paramount to my success.
As the first day of school looms, here are some proven tips for back to school shopping with kids.
1) Make a List - Take inventory of what your child has already, what she needs and what can wait. Go through her closet and drawers together so that you have a full understanding of what needs to be bought and replaced, or what can last for yet another season. You may be surprised to find that what seemed like a huge shopping expedition is actually not the case and that you only have to replenish or add to your child's wardrobe minimally.
2) Set a Budget - "Money doesn't grow on trees, you know!" If you've ever uttered these words to your kids, then you know what I'm talking about. As parents, we're all watching our bank balances to make sure that we're on target. While it's important to know what your limitations are in terms of back to school spending, it's equally as important for your kids to be aware as well. Letting them know what to expect and the amount that will be purchased will alleviate pressure when you're actually in the store, picking out the clothes.
3) Coupons, Savings and Rewards - Back to school may seem like a daunting and financially scary time for most parents but it doesn't have to be. As a matter of fact, many retailers know just how apprehensive many of us parents get when the prospect of spending lots of money is presented to us as a fait accompli. By doing a bit of research, you can walk out of the store with your kids fully outfitted as well as with more money in your pocket than you anticipated. Do your research, plan your shopping trip and save. Oh -- and don't forget to check the clearance rack too!
4) Go Where You Know - Go where you know. If there's a particular store where you know that you can great great value and all of the items that your child needs, go there. Why waste time browsing in so many other stores, particularly when you have small kids in tow? Time is at a premium and tempers are often short when it comes to little ones. Do your research choose your destination and get shopping.
5) Get the Classics - Sure, trends are great and your child may try to convince you to purchase the latest neon-coloured jacket or similar fashion trend. While indulging your child is OK to some degree, remember that she likely won't like this same jacket a couple of months from now. Buy items in classic or neutral colours that can be mixed and matched. Examples include greys, navy blues, browns and beiges. The great thing about clothes in these colours is that they can be easily "spruced up" with more exciting options.
6) Splurge a Little - And by "splurge," I mean let the kids get one or two things that are a bit trendy. Perhaps it's that neon-coloured shirt that they must have or those sparkly shoes that will make a real statement during the fall season at school. By letting the kids exert a little bit of control over what they want, you'll have more willing and compliant shoppers during your outing, and isn't that what we're all looking for?
7) Mix and Match - Remember to purchase items that can be easily mixed with both newly bought clothes as well as those existing garments that remain in your kids' closets. It's really all about planning and thinking through the various combinations of clothing that will get your children through the season. As suggested in point #1, making a list will help you get focused as well as visually organizing your child's wardrobe. If you're particularly enterprising, do it digitally! Make a digital folder on your laptop or tablet that includes pictures all of your kids' clothes and potential combinations. Take it along with you when you're shopping and -- voila! You're done.
8) Don't Forget Footwear - Back to school shopping doesn't just mean clothing. It also includes footwear, including shoes, boots and more. It's often hard to consider winter boots when the weather's still nice outside but those sudden storms of late can make being unprepared particularly stressful. If you see a good deal on rain boots or winter boots, purchase them for your kids, along with the requisite back to school running shoes. Your kids won't regret it next time they wake up for school only to see a full-force snow (or rain) storm in progress.
9) Size Up - Yes, your mom was right. Buying clothes just a little bit bigger has its merits. If you're able to stretch out a pair of shoes, a sweater or some pants beyond the immediate back to school period, you're ahead of the game. Now: a full two or three sizes up (I'm not kidding) may seem like a money-saving technique for parents but let's face it, your child will be miserable schlepping around a huge sweater, or tripping over themselves in shoes that are way too big. That being said, us a half-size upwards as your guide and you're effectively buying yourself some time before you have to purchase a new outfit or pair of shoes for your child again any time soon.
10) Don't Go All Out - It may be back to school time but you can exercise some restraint when it comes to spending. Yes, get the kids what they need for the immediate time ahead but hold back for things that can wait. If your kids are on a term/semester type of academic program then they may not have swimming or gym class until a few months into the school year. Score for you because you don't have to buy them a new bathing suit or track suit that's premium priced. Wait for a bit and save.
Bento boxes are fun because you can compartmentize your child’s meal and give the impression that you are offering them something diverse for lunch. Unlike traditional bento boxes, the <a href="http://www.laptoplunches.com/" target="_blank">Bento-ware Lunch Boxes are divided into smaller removable containers</a> with sealable lids. The containers are microwave-safe and prevent leaking – eliminating the threat of soy sauce dripping from your child’s backpack. <em>Bento-ware Lunch Boxes, $24, </em>
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then how powerful will your kid feel with a Ruler Pen? <a href="http://www.goldspot.com/" target="_blank">The Ruler Pen</a> is actually a multi-purpose device that can also be used as a pencil, highlighter, and a PDA stylus – ensuring that your child has the write stuff. <em>Acme 4FP Ruler Pen Multi Functional Pen, $39</em>
Was that 35 left, 49 right, and 21 full circle or…doh?! Even if your child is a math genius, he or she will most likely forget their lock combination at one point or another. Remembering a single password such as BIEBER or 1DIRCTN is probably a lot easier and reduces the chances of getting the school janitor having to bust open your kid’s locker again. <a href="http://www.wordlock.com/" target="_blank">The Wordlock Padlock</a> offers 100,000 possible resettable word and letter combinations and is rated at 4047 pounds cut strength. All this durability and security is worthless, however, if you child simply uses their name as their locker password. <em>Wordlock Locker Padlock, $10</em>
Some kids will try to position themselves as Teacher’s Pet on the first day of school by giving their educator an apple (especially if they went to school in Pleasantville). Give your child a leg up on these brown-nosers by sending them to school with a 1 1/4" stainless steel enameled apple charm key ring – <a href="http://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/124696877/personalized-teachers-gift-apple-key" target="_blank">personalized with the teacher’s name. </a>Your child will easily win their teacher’s heart and the attention of cynical, larger classmates. <em>Personalized Teacher's Gift Apple Key Chain, $21</em>
A child’s backpack can be a bottomless pit of homework, slugs, snails, and puppy dog’s tails. The <a href="http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0050P2Q70" target="_blank">O3 Kids Pre-School All-In-One Camo Backpack</a> can help organize even the busiest and cluttered student. The front pocket of the backpack is an insulated lunch cooler, so kids no longer have to tote an additional lunch bag or worry about getting apple juice all over their homework. <em>O3 Kids Pre-School All-In-One Camo Backpack With Cooler, $41</em>
Back in the day, a parent only had to worry about their child destroying their paper notebooks. These days, your child could come home with a $400 broken iPad because they were playing monkey-in-the middle with it. <a href="http://www.belkin.com/us/p/P-F5L149" target="_blank">The Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case</a> not only offers aircraft-grade aluminum alloy protection from recess rough-housing or teenage negligence, it also doubles as a thin Bluetooth keyboard. <em>Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case, $100</em>
Re-writing notes is tedious and time-consuming. Save your child from writer’s cramp with the <a href="http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Product.do?sku=B11B206201" target="_blank">Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Scanner.</a> Students can scan class notes, textbook pages, assignments and documents up to 8.5 inches x 14 inches in seconds. The scanner can then turn the file into an email or PDF and upload them directly to cloud services. Correction tools allow students to automatically remove punch holes from scanned images, auto-size documents, and enhance text quality. You can even encourage your college-aged kids to scan their receipts and email them to you – so you can see exactly where your educational investment is going every month. <em>Epson WorkForce DS-30, $150</em>
Students as young as grade school don’t hit the books anymore – they pound the keyboard. <a href="http://www.asus.com/vivo/en/vivoBook.htm" target="_blank">The ASUS VivoBook S550CA</a> is compact enough to still feel as light as a textbook, while giving students new tools such as a Windows 8 interface, touchscreen technology like a tablet, and a 2-second instant “On” power-up button for last minute studying. <em>ASUS VivoBook S550CA, $849</em>
Help your kid get into the A-list lunch table with trendy lunch boxes used by the children of A-list celebrities such as Jessica Alba and Halle Berry. Students can even wear the<a href="http://www.soyoung.ca/" target="_blank"> coated linen lunch box as a backpack</a> or messenger bag. The lunch box/bag also comes with a leak proof insulated insert for easy cleaning. Just make sure your child doesn’t start acting like a movie star diva when toting around their Hollywood lunch swag. <em>So Young Lunch Boxes, $32 </em>
Parents sending their teenagers away to college for the first time have three key concerns about campus life: 1) Over-partying 2) Under-studying 3) Undernourishment (“Honey, you look so thin, are you eating right?”). You can at least alleviate the stress of worry #3 with the <a href="https://panasonic.ca/english/appliance/kitchen/toasteroven/NBG110P.asp" target="_blank">Panasonic NB-G110P Toaster oven.</a> The mini-oven features near-infrared technology and far-infrared heating elements for quick cooking without preheating – so students can make it to class on time. Clean-up is a cinch (even without mom or dad!) with the removable crumb tray. The only problem is: The toaster oven might make your kid so popular on campus that they’ll be hosting baked parties in their dorm every night. <em>Panasonic NB-G110P Toaster oven, $150</em>
Help your kid go back to school in style with the <a href="http://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/101960136/back-to-school-sale-tanya-in-red" target="_blank">TANYA unisex canvas backpack.</a> Although fashion conscious on the outside, the backpack is practical on the inside — with a spacious main compartment and pockets for gadgets, textbooks, and a laptop. The rucksack can also be used for different looks: students can carry it at the side like a messenger bag, handhold it like a purse, or wear it on their back with the adjustable shoulder straps. WARNING: With a bag this fashion forward, you are essentially giving your kid a hall pass into the land of popularity, and with it, the dangers of becoming a Mean Girl, or Mean Boy. <em>TANYA in Red Rucksack, $57</em>
If you’re a cool parent, you’ll know that the "Hunger Games" is a popular young adult-focused book and movie – rather than the name of what happens in the school caf when day-old meatloaf is re-served for lunch. Be the even cooler parent by giving your bookworm some <a href="http://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/109759170/on-sale-made-to-order-hunger-games-book" target="_blank">pencils wrapped in famous quotes from the Hunger Games novel. </a>They even come in a black jewelry box with two hand-stamped mockingbird Hunger Games symbols on them. <em>Hunger Games Book page wrapped pencils, $7</em>
If your kid is fortunate to have a tablet, make sure they don’t break it and have to learn from the school of hard knocks. <a href="http://www.overstock.com/Electronics/3-Ring-Binder-NeopreneTablet-Cubbie/7881516/product.html" target="_blank">The 3 Ring Binder Tablet Cubbie</a> is a protective case that fits in all three ring binders – making it less likely that students misplace or forget their expensive tablet. It also features heavy-duty stitching on a soft neoprene material to guard against unintentional scratches, dirt, and moisture. <em>3 Ring Binder Neoprene Tablet Cubbie, $27</em>
Think of the new <a href="http://www.rogers.com/web/content/motorola" target="_blank">Moto X </a>phone as a really smart study buddy for your kid. Your child doesn't even need to touch the phone. It will learn their voice and tell students what they need to know using Google Now technology. The phone is so personable; your kid’s imaginary friend might get a bit jealous. <em>Moto X smartphone by Motorola, $190 on select 2-year plans</em>
If you have a son entering high school, you’ll know it’s a time of transition as fresh faced boys start turning into scruffy young men. Make sure your son doesn't have to go to school with dots of toilet paper on his bleeding baby face by getting him the <a href="http://www.panasonic.com/us/home/" target="_blank">Panasonic Milano Triple ARC blade shaver.</a> It is easy to handle, easy to clean and can take on water — making it the perfect rugged shaver to groom the developing rugged good looks of your young man. <em>Panasonic Milano Triple ARC Blade Shaver, $80</em>
If you have a creative child who craves independence, help them rise above the crowd with a <a href="http://www.blurb.ca/" target="_blank">personalized notebook from Blurb.ca.</a> The notebooks can incorporate their favourite photos, images, quotes or even personal doodles and are created online, then shipped out. Perhaps their work of art might even be worth something someday. <em>Personalized Notebooks from Blurb.ca, starting at $5</em>
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