Back-to-school shopping offers teaching moments with teenage shoppers

This weekend’s tax-free days marks the beginning of the back-to-school season. It’s big business in Blount County. Counting only the top five revenue-producing clothing stores in the Maryville/Alcoa area, sales amounted to over $8 million in the 2010 back-to-school season.

Obviously those millions of dollars represents thousands of families making individual decisions about clothing purchases. With the economic situation such as it is, it pays to put some thought into those decisions with teens.

Back-to-school clothing budgets are an excellent way to teach teens about making wise choices, and kids seem to get by with less extravagant items when they’re the ones footing the bill. When it’s their money, it makes it much more real.

Kelsea Gilliland, 19, has learned to be a frugal shopper and has a system she refers to as “mini-binges.”

“I buy three or four good-priced items at one time. If I buy just one thing at a time, I always feel like I want to buy more. But if I buy a lot, I feel like I have all this new stuff now, and I don’t have to buy more for a while.”

She advised checking the clearance rack first as that will ease the desire to purchase things not on sale. “Just wait until it gets to the clearance. It all gets there eventually. But you don’t have to buy it just because it’s on sale. Buy something only if you like it. Think hard before you purchase it. Make sure you have other clothes that match it. Is it really a good deal? Will you really wear it?”

Gilliland said making versatile purchases is key. “Layers are good. With cardigans you can layer with a lot of stuff. Put cute tops under it. Make sure you get lots of camisoles and that you like your camisoles,” she said.

A seasonal plan is also important, said the teen. “Have specific times when you can buy clothes. I have my summer haul, which is the beginning of summer, then my end-of-summer haul right before school starts, then more towards the middle of the semester, like fall break. At Christmas, I go shopping. Spring break, I go shopping. After that, my budget is normally used up.You just have to be very careful because there are going to be some really cute articles of clothing you’re going to want to buy because they’re so adorable and awesome.”

Kathy Harmon, mother of 15-year-old Joey, advises moms to use back-to-school shopping as a time to foster independence. “It’s no longer up to me to find out what he needs. I tell him to let me know what he needs and when he needs it.” Harmon admits that shopping for clothing with boys is not as complicated as it is with girls.

Sarah Wilson, a rising senior at William Blount, loves to shop and sees it as an opportunity to spend time with her mom. “I go with my mom. It’s always fun, getting the best deal picking out new clothes,” said Wilson. The teen says there is a great deal of pressure in choosing what to wear. “At school, your clothes can define the clique you belong to, like sporty or girly. I just like to be comfortable and look nice.”

Summer is over, and that’s sad, but students will see their friends again, and the new school year leads to new opportunities. Back-to-school shopping marks the beginning of a new chapter. As a mom, it is always a mixture of fun that is necessary and bittersweet.

Kathleen Christy is mom of three, ages 17, 19 and 22. In her free time, she enjoys learning about photography, rug hooking, graphic design and stained glass art.

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