5 Essential Survival Tips for Back-to-School Shopping with a Teenager

I am in a dressing room at American Eagle with my son. It is a huge privilege that he has let me in. We are back-to-school shopping during tax free weekend and following the list we have created. This is a good thing because the mall is crowded and we are starting to feel overwhelmed.

As a parent, back-to-school shopping has become increasingly painful. The “cool stuff” has become super expensive. My son and I already have had a big disagreement over sneakers. Bascially, we argued over buying what’s popular vs what’s practical. He says what’s popular are white converse sneakers. I say what’s practical are black sneakers of any brand. I pointed out the many pairs of dirty white sneakers in our garage. With differing opinions, awe have not yet crossed sneakers off our list.

From the dressing room, I can hear another mother telling her teen daughter the shirt she is trying on is too short for school. “Mom, that’s the style,” the girl insists. She is right, cropped short tops are the style based on what’s on display in the store. And, the mother is right too, the shirt is way too revealing for  high school.

No one said the teenage years would be easy, but back-to-school shopping with a teen can test your will power and your endurance. It has helped this year that my son and I made a list before we left the house. This concept came only after years of roaming the mall with my older kids, spending a fortune, and realizing a few days later last year’s pants didn’t fit and we didn’t buy any new ones.


But even with a list, the day is exhausting.

Here are a few strategies for survival I put into practice with my youngest child, my third go around at back-to-school shopping with a teen.

1. Comprise

When shopping with a teen, just know you are going to have to give in on something. Teens need to feel independent. Even the most agreeable ones will have something they want that you don’t like or think they need. Look for ways to compromise.

2. Beware of back-to-school sales

I have discovered sales are deceiving, aimed directly at teens who will suddenly need two pairs of jeans when they are buy one get one half off. At the register of American Eagle, when my mouth drops from the price, the sales girl explains she has taken 25 percent off each pair for the buy one get one half off deal. Yet, each paid is close to $60. So, it’s pretty clear, this sale has enticed us to buy two pairs of overpriced jeans.

3. Buy quality

Some name brands are worth buying. They last longer. You just have to know which items are worth it.  While it may be tempting to get your teen a cheap backpack, you will regret into a few months into the school year when it rips, you need to replace it and the selection is minimal. This is one category that is worth the splurge. D

4. Don’t dare make suggestions

I learned with my teenage daughter that anything I touch and then suggest is immediately uncool. It’s okay to say you like what they have picked out, if they ask. But not liking something doesn’t mean they won’t want to buy it. Be prepared for this.

If you give your teen a budget, you become the assistant and they make the choices. But what’s a realistic budget. It is different with boys and girls. Girls need more stuff — bras, makeup, purses. News reports say this year the average budget is $507, which includes electronics, clothing and other school related items.  I am not advocating for this amount, just telling you the average.

5. Appreciate the ritual

Even as I go through this exhausting back-to-school shopping ritual with my son, I know that one day in the not too distant future, my son will become a working adult and the school year’s start will bring wistful memories of my days trudging through the mall.

As a parent there are so many emotions the back-to-school season brings. I always feel a sense of excitement and a little bit of anxiety at the beginning of a new school year. I think teens feel the same. This year, rather than feeling anxious, I am savoring the shopping ritual and making the most of the time with my son — even in a cramped dressing room.

Wishing you a great school year, and lots of luck in the mall!

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