Our back-to-school survival guide to shopping with kids saves you money and avoids squabbles.

By Lambeth Hochwald

Pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think about back-to-school clothes shopping with your children? If it's "Please no Lady Gaga getups" or "How can I afford that pricey brand name?" you're not alone. According to recent research, Motherboard Moms are extremely involved in shopping for clothes with their children—88 percent say they play a big role in tween clothing decisions, and 71 percent say they're involved in teens' wardrobes. But "being involved" doesn't have to mean a day of drama. Our shopping strategies will help you stay on budget and stick to your rules about inappropriate styles, while giving your growing fashionista some confidence-building freedom.

Fashion Fair Play

By age 16, 87 percent of teens are allowed to shop on their own, according to Motherboard Mom research. The success of those endeavors depends a lot on how well you prepared them when they were younger! Start with these tips.

Talk about what's tasteful—before you even hit the store. Tweens often want to emulate whatever celebrity look they find cool (Miley Cyrus may not be your role model, but she might be your daughter's). To avoid an in-store battle, sit down with your daughter before the shopping expedition and talk fashion. The goal is to expose your budding shopper to clothes that are stylish but also school- and age-appropriate. "Pair a photo of Selena Gomez with one of Lindsay Lohan," suggests Nina Sutton, a fashion expert and author of The Chic Mom's Guide to Feeling Fabulous. "Talk about which one has the more respectable look and why. You may be surprised that your tween doesn't love a certain look as much as you may have thought."

Have a firm "no" list. While dressing room freakouts are still somewhat inevitable, you might have happier shopping outings if you both know hard-and-fast rules about what's not allowed, whether it's the shape of a neckline or underwear peaking out of baggy jeans. "You'll hear some groaning, but back-to-school time is a good time to talk about your standards," Sutton says. "And they may even absorb some of what you're saying!"

Compromise and let go. Tweens are just coming into their style and have a strong sense of what they like and don't like. "As a parent, you should guide them on clothing that's appropriate for their age," says Melissa Keswin, a buyer for GILT Children, an online retailer. "But, if an item is appropriate and you just don't like the style, compromise and let it go. There are way more important things to stress about."

What's the strangest thing your child ever wore to school?

Spidey jammies? Toe socks? A teeny-tiny mini?


Motherboard Moms are all about talking with their older kids about budget so that they can set their children's spending expectations, and encourage them to pitch in if they want something above and beyond their limits.

Put (some) power in her hands. It's a small thing, but if you purchase a gift card for your tween so she can shop at her favorite retailer, you're giving her some (needed) freedom. Keep the amounts low (say $50) and explain the ground rules, i.e., she's free to spend the entire amount on one item (no comment, mom) or wait for items to go on sale when she'll get more for her money. Work with her on her budget, stressing that she should look for items that are versatile and will last throughout the year, rather than purchasing one item that's trendy. Explain that she won't be able to ask for more money to spend at this retailer. Once you've had this discussion, let it go. "She's ultimately going to buy what she wants to buy," Sutton says.

Encourage your tween to help out. Now's the perfect time to encourage your kids to take on some extra chores to pay for all the items on their back-to-school lists. Suggest that your child wash the car, mow the lawn (if he or she's old enough) and help take groceries into the house. "Even though summer is almost over, it's not too late for older kids to do some extra babysitting to pay for a new outfit or two," says Sutton.

What's the strangest thing your child ever wore to school?

Spidey jammies? Toe socks? A teeny-tiny mini?

Shop Smart

Many Motherboard Moms told us that they talk to their kids about style versus brand name. They explain to their kids that they can create the same look for less if they shop smart.

Scout out the sales. Spend time on retailers' web sites to turn up sales. And mark the tax-free weekends on your calendar! Stores may be crowded, but you won't have to pay sales tax on back-to-school clothing and other items. Consider this: Without sales tax, you might be able to snag another shirt for the money you would have spent on tax, says kids' clothing buyer Melissa Keswin.

Do a preemptive walk-through. Teens and tweens are notoriously fickle, so there's a lot of mind-changing when it comes to shopping (as if you hadn't noticed). "Tweens often get so excited about shopping that they'll jump at the opportunity for new clothes even if they don't really like them," Keswin says. To avoid buyer's remorse, Keswin says, "take her to try on several options, take notes of the ones she wants, then take her back in a week or so and she'll likely be more honest about the outfits she really likes."

Save some school shopping until after school starts. This may seem counterintuitive, but the designer flip-flops everyone is wearing the first week of school may not seem so cool two weeks later. "When it comes to trendy items, buy the bare minimum and promise your tween that you'll shop again once school starts," Sutton says. "By that point the Uggs or North Face jacket she really wants may have become a passing trend."

What's the strangest thing your child ever wore to school?

Spidey jammies? Toe socks? A teeny-tiny mini?