We Call Bullshit On Back-To-School Shopping

I have few memories more cherished than those of my mother taking me back-to-school shopping. I remember everything down to the smell of the warm pretzels in the mall as we’d stroll from store to store to curate my perfect school wardrobe.

This ritual, which happened the weekend before the new school year began, was almost as sacred as Christmas. We’d peruse the racks of sweaters at The Limited and stacks of jeans at JCPenney to find the best fit and coolest-looking duds.

The excursion was also somewhat necessary. Every year I grew a little taller and a little bigger. Just like with most kids, clothing that fit me at age 11 was too tight at age 12.

Of course, there was also the pressure to fit in by wearing the “right” clothes. And that idea stuck around long after I stopped growing. That’s why, long past my college years, I still feel the craving to hit the mall at the end of summer.

A powerful urge to shop

I haven’t grown an inch since my senior year of high school, and I’m approximately the same weight, but I’ve been conditioned to shop every fall. The craving comes on like a command and is so powerful that I regularly find myself trying to rationalize a new pair of jeans or several when I take my two young sons to buy their new clothes (which they actually need!).

But is it really necessary for most of us adults to buy new clothing just because the school year is beginning?

Here’s the reality: The U.S. apparel industry is a $12 billion business. And the average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet with few exceptions (e.g., pregnancy body changes), you don’t need a back-to-school wardrobe unless you’re a kid. (Ask your doctor if you don’t believe me!) And you probably don’t need new fall clothes, unless your closet burned down.

So why is it hard to shake the desire to buy stuff before the leaves turn red and gold?

We always comes back to marketing 

One big reason for back-to-school shopping is the seductive powers of the online advertisers that use technology to track your web-browsing behavior. So powerful, in fact, that the digital ad industry is expected to grow from $83 billion to $129 billion by 2021. And they create pressure to keep up with trends, even as an adult. We all know the great feeling of wearing a new outfit to the office or the bar and receiving tons of compliments.

So is it ever OK to shop for clothes for pleasure before football season kicks off? The answer is yes—within reason. If you’re OK with working three hours to generate the income that affords you a $300 handbag, that’s fine. As long as you are aware of what you’re de-prioritizing, you’ve made a conscious, clear-headed decision.

How to avoid back-to-school shopping

But if you’re struggling to say, “no” to fall shopping, you may need to do a little more work to avoid temptation and spending. Follow these three steps when the craving to splurge on apparel hits:

Question your urge – Do you think a new wardrobe will help you forget a really hard breakup? Or do you want all the parents at your kid’s elementary school to see you as a sharp dresser? Once you know why you want something, you can figure out if there are alternatives to spending money on it. Is there a secondhand store that carries items that are trendy but cost less? Is there something else you can do to look good for the PTA meeting? Like a new shade of lip gloss or a freshly-washed car?

Wait three days – With the ability to buy pretty much anything online always at your fingertips, the time between seeing something you want online and actually owning it can be pretty small. Especially if your computer has your financial information stored for easy purchasing. If you don’t already wait three days before buying to avoid impulsive purchases, give it a try.

Save for shopping trips – Everyone’s entitled to splurge once in a while. “Once in a while” is the key phrase. So if you’d like to add to your wardrobe next fall, start setting aside $25 to $50 a month now. Remember you’re reducing your monthly spend—or another secondary goal—to create this account, NOT your Pay Yourself First amount.

The key to not getting sucked into fall shopping is to break the habit of shopping by season. Now that you’re not growing, you don’t need new clothes four times a year!


The views and opinions expressed are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MindShift.money.

image credit: Bigstock/Anna Denisova

Marisa Torrieri is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer specializing in personal finance, business, healthcare and technology. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and resides in Fairfield, CT. Her work has appeared in dozens of media outlets, including LearnVest, Forbes, The Washington Post, Business Insider, TIME and Health.com.

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