Lessons in back-to-school shopping
Try convincing your teenager that your $15 jeans -- with no rips or embroidered patches-- are just as good as the brand-name pair he wants that cost three times as much.

Chances are, you won't win that argument.

It's back-to-school shopping season, when label-conscious teens often nudge, cajole and push every button they can so their parents will spend more on new duds. As many parents know, you can hardly go on such a trip with your children these days without feeling as if your wallet and bank account have taken a licking.

Not only are name brands and logos plastered on clothing, but the market can get just as pricey for trendy shoes, backpacks and even notebooks.

The love of labels poses a dilemma for parents. On the one hand, many teens in particular face pressures to fit in, and what they wear is often part of how they measure their self-esteem. As a friend recently noted, half-jokingly, teens don't seem to care about the color of your skin, but they do notice what brand or logo you're wearing.

But on the flip side, being a walking, talking advertisement for a company's jeans, shoes or dress can get out of control.

How can parents balance this issue of helping their children "fit in" with the need to stay on budget?

Negotiate. Before heading to the mall, talk to your teen about how much you can afford to spend on school clothing and supplies. This will let your son or daughter know there are limits -- even in money-is-no-object households.

Next, create a list of what is actually needed, including requests of what your children would like.

As the adult, it's perfectly reasonable to tell them they can choose to have no new clothing, or the clothing you're willing to purchase for them.

But it doesn't have to be an either/or situation. Offer options. If your daughter, for example, has her sights set on designer jeans, give her a say in the spending choice. You might offer to pay for one pair of designer jeans, but not the three she wants. Two other options: Split the cost, or let her buy the jeans herself.

Keep a log. Some family money experts suggest keeping a log of shopping trips with your label-conscious youngster, recording the amount of time you spent shopping, what you were looking for, your estimate of the purchase price and the price you actually paid. Then talk about how much was spent on brand names versus the store brands and about how that money could have been used for other necessities.

Set priorities. If your teen has a summer job and a taste for expensive clothing, make the connection between their work duties and their purchases, said Denise Romanelli, a credit union manager in Aston, Pa. Start with a few choice questions: If you wanted to purchase a pair of designer jeans, how many hours will you have to work to pay for those jeans? Are those jeans worth eight or 10 hours of your labor?

Expand their allowance. Put your teen in charge of buying his or her own clothing. Tally up what you normally would spend on school clothing and the like and dole out a similar amount to your teen for a clothing allowance.

"Nothing teaches better than experience," said Elisabeth Donati, the author of "The Ultimate Allowance." One warning: Creating a clothing allowance will require some parental guidance.

Shop creatively. Rather than the mall, check consignment or thrift stores -- those high-fashion jeans just might be found for much less.

Leslie Linfield, executive director of the Institute for Financial Literacy in Portland, Maine, recommends another strategy: "Wait until retailers begin bringing in the next season's lines, and all of these clothes for back to school will begin to be marked down."

Back-to-school shopping tips

  • Determine what school supplies you might have at home.


  • With your child, go through closets. See what still fits.


  • Estimate the total expenses for the items on your shopping list. Consider where to trim, and set priorities on purchases.


  • Pay with cash when possible.


  • Questions, comments, column ideas? Send an e-mail to srosen(AT)kcstar.com or write to him at The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.