Tips on clothes shopping with your tween or teen

Back-to-school shopping with your tween or teen can be fun and educational if you start with a plan.

By Marian Wilde

The secret to successful back-to-school shopping is planning. Before you grab your checkbook and jump into the car, set aside some time to:

Take inventory.

Start by weeding out all the clothes that are too small, worn-out or simply not appreciated any longer. Toss the ones that have outlived their usefulness and donate the rest to charity. Now you have an uncluttered view of the gaps in your child's wardrobe.

Make a list.

You must have a plan of attack. With a list in hand you can group your shopping needs by type of store and accomplish your tasks more efficiently. You'll also be less likely to buy items that you don't need or won't use.

Establish a budget.

This will give your teen a clear understanding of what you can buy (and hopefully forestall any pleading and whining). With financial ground rules in place, you'll be able to teach money-management skills and how to "shop smart." If there's an expensive item that she simply must have, arrange for her to pay for the extra expense from her allowance or with her own earnings.

Check the sales and special promotions.

In addition to storewide sales, you can save money in many states by shopping on state-declared "tax-free" days, when state sales taxes are lifted during back-to-school season.

Find out about your school's dress code.

Most schools have dress codes to discourage clothes that are too skimpy or sexual, or that suggest gang membership. Girls might need to avoid spaghetti straps, tank tops and low-cut jeans. Boys should know whether "sagging" trousers and certain colors or brand names associated with gangs are forbidden.

Remember that you don't have to do it all before school starts.

Spreading your shopping out over the first few weeks of the school year is smart. It gives your student time to check out what his peers are wearing and to make any necessary wardrobe adjustments during later shopping trips. And it gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the sales.

Be aware of marketing strategies aimed at kids.

Teens, and most recently "tweens" (children ages 9 to 12), represent a lucrative market for retailers and advertisers. They've become the target of a steadily increasing barrage of messages telling them what clothes and what looks are cool. As a parent, don't remove yourself from the equation. Talk to your child about how the media influences what we want and think we need.