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Tips can ease purchase of back-to-school clothes

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Careful parents can shop wisely to prevent buying back-to-school clothes from being either a battle with their children or another round of consumer debt.

Bobbie Shaffett, a family resource management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said parents should have some back-to-school rules about spending before going shopping.

"The first step is to determine what you really need and how much that will cost," Shaffett said. "Look at what you can afford, and stay within your budget when you shop."

It is best to pay cash for items, but lay-away plans could be a way to pay for these clothes.

"If you decide to use a charge card, have a plan to pay it off within the first month to avoid interest charges," Shaffett said. "If you must leave a balance, leave no more than you can pay off within two or three months, and then discipline yourself to pay it off."

Consider spreading out school clothes purchases when possible, such as postponing the purchase of a jacket until cool weather arrives or buying one pair of shoes now and one a few months later. Take advantage of seasonal and back-to-school sales.

Clothes are many times a source of disagreement between parents and children. Patsilu Reeves, Extension family life education specialist, urged parents to remember that they and their children often will have different fashion tastes and different goals for clothes.

"The problem starts with middle school and junior high students' need to dress alike and fit in with the crowd," Reeves said. "Parents should remember that at this stage, children do not want to stand out in any way. They are embarrassed to be different, and want to avoid being teased for appearing different."

In addition to choosing clothes that help them fit in with their peers, children also like to assert some independence through their clothing.

"Parents will gain nothing by buying clothes the child never wears," Reeves said. "Parents, however, must have standards. It might help for parents to remember that their parents were not always happy with some of their clothing choices at this age."

Fashion and personal style aside, parents also must look for safety and durability in the clothes they buy. Clothes need to wear well and be practical and washable.

"Some children attract dirt like a magnet, so read the care label to make sure the garments are machine washable," Reeves said.

She offered a quick tip to help determine if an item is washable.

"If you cannot find the care tag at the neck, that should be a tip that the garment may be dry-clean only," Reeves said. "Manufacturers occasionally will hide the care labels for dry-clean only clothes in a side seam in the garment."

Children's clothes should have some growth features so parents don't have to buy several new sets within the same year. Reeves said two-piece garments give longer wear than do one-piece outfits. Pants can have cuffs, skirts can have deep hems and both can have elastic waistbands to allow growing room.

"Some parents think the trick to keeping children from out-growing clothes is to buy them too big, but this is unsafe because the child can trip," Reeves said.

The ultimate money-saver is a high quality hand-me-down. Classic styles made with good materials can last several seasons and be worn on more than one child. These are especially good for basics such as dress pants, skirts or outerwear.

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Released: July 21, 2005
Contact: Dr. Patsilu Reeves, (662) 325-3080
or Dr. Bobbie Shaffett, (662) 325-3080

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