Recent data from the National Retail Federation show that college shoppers spend about $46 billion a year on apparel, supplies, dorm furnishings and more.
On average, U.S. students and their parents dole out $837 on college purchases. The biggest collective chunk of that money, $232, went toward clothing, shoes and collegiate gear.
During your college years, you should think more like a budgetnista, instead of a fashionista, when it comes to buying clothing and making wardrobe choices.
Unfortunately, some students act like college is a four-year fashion show.
For lots of teenagers going into college as freshmen — and even for many sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students too — back-to-school shopping is a time to load up on designer clothes and the latest trendy fashions. In the eyes of these students, if an article of clothing doesn’t have a well-known and pricey label attached to it, it’s simply not worth wearing.
Even those students who aren’t into brand-name labels nonetheless want to walk around campus wearing their school colors or clothing with college names and insignias. Unfortunately, school merchandise can also be ridiculously expensive.
That’s why clothing is one of the unanticipated expenses of higher education that I warn parents about in College Secrets – one of many hidden college costs that can do damage to a family’s budget.
But someone has to be an adult when it comes to picking clothing and setting limits on wardrobe purchases.
Emphasize Price and Quality Over Brand Labels
If students won’t do it, it’s the job of responsible parents to rein in their children and emphasize price and quality over brand names and an obsession with the season’s latest and supposedly greatest styles.
According to Capital One’s 13th Annual Back-to-School Shopping Survey, nearly half of all parents surveyed (47%) consider price to be the most important factor when making a back-to-school purchase followed by quality (36%).
But for teens, only 22% of those surveyed consider price a top priority, and even fewer teens (10%) see quality as their biggest concern.
Among teenagers, nearly half of those surveyed (46%) said style and appearance top their priority list when making a back-to-school purchase. One in five teens (19%) say brand names are the most important factor to consider when making purchases. (As this infographic shows, clearly there’s a big disconnect between teens and parents when it comes to style vs. price.)
As adults, we all know that fashions and styles can come and go.
So help your 18-year-old understand that price really does matter, and that if they’re wearing a pair of jeans or a sweater from last season — or even, heaven forbid, a year or two ago — that’s perfectly fine.
The Value of Comparison-Shopping
Also remember the importance of comparison-shopping for clothes and other school merchandise.
Sites like Dealnews.com are good for alerting you to sales, promotions, coupons, rebates and other ways to save money during the back-to-school season.
A bit of other advice to parents: Whether you’re shopping in stores or online, let your children know that you value discounts and getting a good deal. One way you can do that is by comparison shopping together — and letting your son or daughter join the hunt for the best deal.
It’s not only more fun when you make bargain-hunting a family affair, you’re also imparting two important financial lessons: that saving money is important, and that high prices don’t always equal the best or most desirable merchandise.
Learn to Say “No” Sometimes
Don’t feel compelled to buy everything your son or daughter asks for or even claims to need during the back-to-school season. The reality is that some purchases can wait — especially things that your kids simply want and don’t really need.
Get comfortable saying “No” to those extra items and non-essential goods that may be discounted later, during the holiday season a few months down the road.
The purpose of pulling back on some spending isn’t to be a Scrooge. It’s to help teach your children about wants versus needs. Teaching them to wait to get some items will help them curb impulse spending and learn to practice delayed gratification.
These are skills that will aid your children not just during back-to-school season, and while they’re college students, but over the course of their lifetime.