Ashley Figueroa,14, left, is shopping for back to school clothes with her sister Bianca Figueroa,18, at Plato's Closet Wednesday July 17, 2013.

Benjie Sanders/Arizona Daily Star

When the kids are little, it's easy to just go shopping and pick up whatever you think is cute.

But as they get older, the pressure is on to wear certain styles or brands. They feel it from other kids in class and the ads they see on television.

So what do we do for the brand-conscious kids trying to either fit in or create their own personal style when money is tight?

On one hand, we want our kids to enjoy back-to-school shopping and to feel great about themselves and what they're wearing. But, at the same time, it can be expensive - really expensive.

With a good strategy, patience and understanding, we can find a happy medium and teach the kids a few things along the way.

Teach kids about value and budgeting

First and foremost, it's really important to teach our kids about value and self-worth.

What I mean is, teach them that having that brand-name backpack does not make them a better person. And, that not having certain brand names doesn't make them less of a person.

"I tried to teach my kids about value," said Tucson mom Jenni Steinberg Pagano. "Sometimes buying name brand actually does last longer, and that is OK. Getting a deal on it is even better. Go for name brands when the label shows. But teach kids that doesn't make them better if they have it."

Also, it's good to make sure they know why they want it, Steinberg Pagano said. Make sure they want it because they like it, not just because "Johnny" has it.

That being said, if there are particular brands your children like, a good way to go about purchasing them is to involve the kids in making a budget and deciding how to spend it.

"My son's sense of style favors several brands," said JoAnne Pope, another Tucson mom. "His sneakers must be Nikes. He adores Doc Marten shoes and the only jeans he'll wear are Levi's 501 button-fly straight legs, and he prefers Swiss Gear backpacks."

Pope said she involves her son, Nicholas, in setting a budget. She says she rarely has to tell him "no" because she makes it into a series of choices. "'If you want A, then you have to spend less on B and C or forgo D,'" Pope said. "Since the decision is his, there's no complaining."

Another idea is to have your child use his or her own money on something that's more expensive.

"If your child is asking for that hot pair of sneakers and it's going to push you over the budget, say you'll cover part and they can pay for the rest," suggests Trae Bodge, senior editor of and mother of one. "It lets them know the value of the dollar and how it will impact their own savings."

Splurge, then shop discount stores

If you know which one or two things are the most important to your kids, splurge on that and shop at discount or thrift stores for the rest.

At least that's what my friend Amanda Bilbo, a mother of five, does.

"I always buy the kids name-brand shoes," Bilbo said. "Shoes are what they all compare and talk about at school."

The rest of the stuff doesn't matter, she added.

"Sometimes, especially with boys, it isn't the clothes that matter," Steinberg Pagano said. "It is the toys. The fads that run through a school can be nuts."

Bilbo said she shops at discount stores like Ross, TJ Maxx or Marshall's for the rest of her kids' back-to-school wardrobe. Such stores carry name-brand items at much lower prices.

"Go outlet shopping if your kids are specific to a brand, but not necessarily a particular item," suggests Bodge. That way they get their fix for the brand without spending a lot.

SHOP Secondhand Stores; cash or trade

Thrift stores are hip these days.

In Tucson, secondhand stores including Plato's Closet and Buffalo Exchange sell all of the popular brands like Guess, Miss Me, Hollister and more for a fraction of the department store price.

Stores like this only accept the best quality clothing - no stains, rips or fading. So, it's pretty hard to tell it's secondhand just by looking at it.

"Once they're wearing it, who knows it's used?" said Connie Knecht, owner of Plato's Closet at 4140 N. Oracle Road. "Everybody takes the tags off. Nobody knows it's used, and they're getting a lot more for their money."

Plato's Closet sells gently used popular brands for 50 to 70 percent lower than they would be brand new.

It offers kids a place to purchase the nicer brand-name items at affordable prices, Knecht said.

Plato's Closet also gives kids an opportunity to get money to spend in the store or elsewhere when they bring in their gently used clothing for cash or trade.

"It's a way to make money to shop with," said Shaughn West, co-owner of a new Plato's Closet, opening at Broadway and Craycroft in September.

Use the Internet

When it comes to savings on certain items, use price comparison websites such as or to find the best price, Bodge said. has a dedicated back-to-school page with printable coupons and coupon codes for stores like Old Navy, Gap, Converse and Kohl's. It also has a mobile app so you don't have to print out coupons. is another good coupon site. It has deals for Hot Topic, Tilly's, Express and Hollister, to name a few.

Pope suggests trying Ebay. "A lot of sellers buy stuff on clearance and resell it there," she said. "You can get brand-new stuff with tags on it, if you're careful."


People assume that shopping at the dollar store is always the better deal. But when it comes to school supplies, you're better off going to Target, Walmart, Office Max or even Fry's. They've got pencils, crayons, glue sticks, folders and paper for under a dollar. I've seen prices as low as a quarter at Walmart. Make sure and stock up, because prices will go back up fairly soon.

Angela Pittenger

"Centsible Mom" Angela Pittenger shares tips, news and ideas on how Tucsonans can stretch their budgets. Send your questions and suggestions to her at or 573-4137.