We spend a lot of money on back-to-school shopping for shoes and clothes. This year, American families plan to spend a whopping $335.38, on average buying new clothes and shoes for children heading back to school, according to a National Retail Federation survey. While it may not be possible to avoid back-to-school being something of a budget-buster, here are three reasons parents shouldn’t spend heavy on kids’ clothes.

  1. Kids grow at an astounding rate. Kids can grow at a rate that’s hard for grown-ups to fully comprehend. Children 3 to 5 years of age grow half a shoe size every four months, according to the Institute for Preventive Foot Health. During a child’s peak growth years (around age 13 for boys and age 11 for girls), boys grow an average of 3.7 inches a year, and girls grow an average of 3.3 inches, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics study. Therefore, back-to-school clothes and shoes you buy in the middle of a growth spurt may not make it to the end of the first semester, let alone the end of the year. In those cases, buying cheaper – and more cheaply made – “disposable fashion” may make a lot of sense, says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, a market research firm. “When I was buying my kid clothes, I would shop at disposable fashion retailers, because I knew she was going to outgrow it or outwear it faster than it was going to wear out on its own,” Cohen says. “Once your kids starts to stabilize in size, then you can start to invest in their wardrobe a little bit.” How to manage: Clothing swaps with siblings, relatives and family friends are one way to keep up with growing kids, says Patti Swanson, nutrition, family and consumer science adviser at the University of California in San Diego. They also help ensure someone at least gets use out of clothes that are outgrown long before they wear out.
  1. Fashion moves more quickly now than ever. These days, fashion moves at the speed of Pinterest. “Traditionally, it used to be a trend a season,” Cohen says. But slowly, retailers began adding a second trend into each season as a way to increase their chances of having a hit with consumers. Those moves coincided with production improvements that rapidly diminished the time it takes to bring a product from a designer’s desk to store shelves. Now, “there’s a trend that emerges every single month,” Cohen says, adding that some retailers, such as H&M and Zara, introduce new products on a weekly basis. All this means that clothes your youngster couldn’t wait to wear yesterday may join the junk pile faster than they did when you were a kid. “There’s a lot of peer pressure for kids to have new clothes, and then the sales and marketing of all the ‘must-have’ items for being in fashion [add to that pressure],” Swanson says. How to manage: Swanson recommends separating your budget for back-to-school clothes into two categories: basic, high-quality items kids need and more fashionable and fun items they want. Smart spenders “put most of their money into buying the basics, buying things that would be more classic, and then have part of the budget that they can spend for more fashionable items,” she says.
  1. Price doesn’t always have to do with quality and durability. Thanks to high licensing fees for popular characters and markups associated with premium brands, it’s possible to pay a lot of money for shoddily made clothes. “Price does not dictate quality,” Cohen says. “Price sometimes includes all kinds of additional marketing expenses, licensing expenses, ownership fees and transportation costs.” For example, designer jeans cost an average of $11 to make a pair, he says, but stores charge $200 or more because of other production factors. How to manage: “If you’re buying items that you want to last at least through the school year, you want to look at something that’s quality … not necessarily expensive,” Swanson says. Cohen suggests examining clothes and paying attention to the details. Does the fabric feel thick and substantial when you drape it over your hand, or does it let in light that makes it transparent? Are the seams tight and uniform, or do you see loose or broken stitches? The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has a detailed guide on what to look for when shopping for clothing. Other tips for getting the most from your back-to-school budget: Get kids involved in decision-making. Tell them what their budget is and what clothing they’ll need for the year. That will help them choose clothes that are affordable and acceptable so getting dressed every day won’t turn into a fight. “It can be a teaching opportunity,” Swanson says. Make a detailed inventory of what kids already have. Then figure out exactly what you need to fill in the gaps before you shop. Comparison shop like crazy. Be sure to leverage your smartphone to search for better deals in real time.

    By Claes Bell from Money.usnews.com