retail me not: how to avoid back-to-school shopping


As a teenager, I felt a certain urgency around having a few new items to wear to school in September.  I know now that the urgency I felt was manufactured by marketing and advertising in an attempt to get me to spend more money on things I probably didn’t need in the first place.  Even now, nearly a month ahead of the start of the school year, the “Back to School” sales and promotions have begun.  On a grocery trip to Costco this past weekend, I noticed a huge selection of backpacks, books, writing utensils and other school related items.

According to a study by Visa Canada, Canadian shoppers plan to spend over $400 on back-to-school shopping before Labour Day.  Last year, back to school shopping costs in the United States averaged over $600 per family.  Myself, I’ve never enjoyed the pressure to acquire new clothing at the beginning of each school year.  Thankfully, I won’t be participating in the time-honoured tradition of back-to-school shopping in the coming weeks.

I’ll be foregoing back-to-school shopping entirely this year, and here’s a few ideas our family will be applying to get the most out of the back to school experience.  This strategy is designed to save us time and money, and it jives nicely with our interests in lightening our own impact on the environment.

  1. I’ll be taking inventory.  As I pack away my kids’ summer clothes, I’ll be getting out the fall/winter clothing.  We’re lucky enough to live in a climate where we can wear the same lightweight, cool weather clothing for ten months out of the years, so the kids will continue wearing the clothes they wore in the spring and summer, as seasonally appropriate.  Throw on an extra sweater or sweatshirt and substitute pants for shorts when the weather cools down, and we’re good to go.  My own clothing selection will be re-evaluated at the beginning of September as I enter a new phase of my Project 333, but I won’t be taking advantage of any seasonal sales or promotions to supplement my own wardrobe.
  2. We’ll be shopping in our closets.  My son has not grown enough in the past two months that he has outgrown enough of anything in his wardrobe to warrant a trip to the mall.  His backpack has held up well, so he’ll be using the same one again this year.  We picked up a winter jacket for my oldest last January during sale season, so we are set for the winter as well.  The only clothing purchase I can foresee making for him in the next six months is a new pair of running shoes (if he outgrows his current ones).
  3. I’ll be participating in our school supplies program.  My son’s school asks that families pay up front in September for their children’s school supplies for the duration of the school year.  We are asked to pay $25 for our child’s school supplies needs for an entire school year.  This amount seems reasonable to me, especially given that if I had to and purchase supplies for my child alone, the cost would likely run over $25.  Also, with this system, I don’t need to spend any time at all shopping for school supplies.  All things considered, I think it’s money well spent.
  4. I don’t homeschool my school-age child, and therefore, I have little need for school supplies at home.  Since my son attends public school, most of his school supplies needs will be met in his classroom.  Other than a few pencils, an eraser, some paper and a few craft supplies, we won’t need much else here at home.
  5. We’ll be brown-bagging it this year.  Well, not literally – he’ll be packing a reusable lunch sack with an assortment of tasty and nutritious food as he’s starting first grade and it will be the first time he’ll be at school over the lunch hour.  We won’t be participating in a school lunch program – it was cancelled for the semester due to low enrollment, but I hadn’t planned on participating anyway primarily because seeing as how I’m at home full-time with the kids, I will have the time to prepare his lunch the night before.
  6. We’ll be looking to buy gently used, rather than new.  Not only is a lot of money spent every year on items earmarked for returning to school, but consider too the resources required to buy all-new, all the time.  Consider re-using things you may still have from your child’s previous year, or consider checking your local thrift shop for gently used kids’ clothing before you head to the mall to shop for brand new clothes.
I’ll be staying out of stores (particularly the big box variety) and limiting my visits to online sites that sell kids clothing, so as not to be tempted to buy anything.  I know that my kids have enough, and I don’t need a back-to-school sale to tell me otherwise.  I’ll be spending the time I would have spent shopping on the playground with my kids, and enjoying the last few lazy days of summer vacation.

Are you planning on doing any back to school shopping?  Or will you be approaching things differently this year?


5 responses »

  1. Good for you Erin! I used to work in retail and back-to-school is the second largest shopping event to Christmas. It is a huge event for retailers which means marketing, marketing, marketing!!!
    I’ll be picking up any clothing I need in October.

    • Christine, I’m missing your updates! I hope your project is still going well and I trust your Squirrel is continuing to provide you with lots of source material for decluttering? 🙂 Hope you are enjoying your summer.

      • Hi Erin,
        I’m on vacation…we’re at my in-laws in Osoyoos and I’ve discovered that Squirrel’s problem is definitely genetic. Hope your summer is going well too!
        I am looking forward to continue my decluttering when I get back. My youngest starts preschool in September and I plan on having some extra time…we’ll see how that works out for me.
        Take Care!

  2. I also did not do any back-to-school shopping. We shopped the end-of-season sales last spring and bought a lot of winter clothes as 80% off and a local consignment sale that happens 3 times a year. Combined with the clothes from last year they can still wear and we were golden. Both kids are using their backpacks from last year. The only new items were a lunchbox as my son’s had completely died and a few pairs of jeans.

    • I love consignment shop sales! Buying gently used is a great alternative to buying brand new clothing for kids. I am currently on vacation in my hometown and scored some deals at the local kids consignment shop, they are having their annual $1 sale – yippee! We don’t get sales like that in the big city. 🙂

      I too like to buy ahead for my kids, but I try not to get too carried away as we don’t have a ton of room to store things. It’s nice now that my kids are at an age where they can wear clothing for a year before they wear anything out, and they are very close to being able to wear the same size (even though they are three years apart – score!)

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