Back-to-school season means that the back-to-school consumer media machine has gone into full gear. In fact, back-to-school time is the start of what’s known as consumer season. Dealing with the expectations of back-to-school shopping isn’t even the hardest part, it’s dealing with the temptations of the sale prices and the messages of getting more for less. And that’s not even addressing the pressure that parents will get from their children to leverage back-to-school shopping for clothes, shoes and trends. So how do you combat back-to-school shopping media? Here are ten tips.
1. Make a List Early On (Very Early On)
The best way to avoid impulse purchases or purchases that are entirely driven by temptation due to price cuts or sudden back-to-school trends is to make a list and, more importantly, to stick to that list. If you’re only buying what’s on the list, then you’re the one who’s in control, not the media machine. Of course, in addition to adhering to the list, you need to make sure that the list is reasonable and not driven by consumer messaging to start with. That may be a taller order than you realize!
2. Set a Budget for Each Child
Another way to make sure that you’re in control of what you buy instead of being at the mercy of the consumer media engine is to set a budget. More importantly, set a reasonable budget. You may want to do some research first, particularly by creating your list (see above) and then structuring your budget around that list. It’s not unreasonable to leave yourself or each child some buffer for an unplanned item or two. But the more you know what you’re spending and what you’re purchasing before the consumer media blaze hits, the more you’ll keep the upper hand.
3. Prioritize Need Instead of Want
Back-to-school shopping used to be about supplies that kids (and to some degree parents) needed for the start of the school year. But then it became about making sure that each child had new, trendy and fashionable clothes to fit in for the first day of school. And by now it’s become simply another excuse for Americans to shop en masse. There’s no reason, however, that you can’t stick to the true purpose of back-to-school shopping. Ensure that your list is about items you or your children need. There’s room for “want,” but make sure it takes a second priority and fits within your budget.
4. Don’t Open Marketing Emails!
At this time of year, your inbox is going to be full of emails advertising back-to-school specials. Anywhere that you’ve ever shopped online (and some places that you haven’t) will be sending you emails with offers, specials, discounts and limited edition merchandise. The reason that marketing emails are so dangerous if you’re trying to stick to a list or budget is that the ability to create an impulse buy is so easy. In many cases, if you already have an account at the ecommerce website, you can purchase the items in the emails with just one click. You can see how that could quickly spiral out of control. What’s the best defense? Don’t open them! Or better yet, unsubscribe from them as soon as you see them.
5. Be Careful with TV and Social Media
Around back-to-school time, your social media feeds are going to be full of ads for back-to-school deals that feature the same risk of one-click shopping that your emails will. TV advertisements will also be plentiful with (read: drenched in) back-to-school sale ads and while they don’t pose the same risk for instant consumer gratification they are unquestionably effective at driving consumer behavior. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get through back-to-school season without watching TV or logging into social media. However, knowledge is power. Approach the back-to-school consumer media on both as though it is a game and you win if you simply tune it out.
6. Avoid Junk Mail
Don’t read it! Send it right to the recycling bin! Better yet, start the process of ensuring that you never get junk mail again!
7. Shop as Close to the Start of School as Possible
The less time that you leave yourself to fall prey to back-to-school sales and the consumer messaging surrounding them, the more likely you’ll be to stay in control of the process. You’ll see back-to-school sales advertised as early as July. Don’t take the bait! You’ll finish your list and spend your budget and then, unless you are made of consumer media resistant steel, you’ll find a reason to buy or spend more over the next month. Trust us, nobody is going to run out of back-to-school merchandise. Spend the summer relaxing as was intended and then tackle the back to school shopping when it’s time to actually go back-to-school.
8. Review Last Year’s Purchases
If back-to-school shopping season is a danger zone for you, then it’s always good to look to the past in order to inform the present. Go back through your credit card statement, bank statements or receipts from the last back-to-school shopping season and recreate where you had successes and where you had challenges or even failures (yes, we all fail sometimes). You’ll find that it’s always easier not to repeat mistakes when you’re aware that you’ve made them in the past.
9. Shop With Your Kids (If They’ll Let You)
In the vast majority of cases, you’re going to have more back-to-school shopping postconsumer willpower than your kids will. Rather than give them money (or even worse a credit card) and set them loose in the mall (or online), shop with them. Not only will you be able to draw lines and keep them on track, but we guarantee you that you’ll encounter plenty of teachable moments. You may even get some bonding time – that is of course if your kid will let you go shopping with them!
Pro Tip: Got a teen with a shopping habit? We have tips for talking to them about it.
10. Re-Define Back-to-School Shopping
Our best advice, however, is to entirely flip back-to-school shopping on its head and make it about helping kids get an education. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably well aware of how many teachers have to spend their own out-of-pocket money to provide school supplies to their woefully under-funded classroom. Skip the trendy clothes and new electronics and have your kids participate in using their back-to-school money to “adopt a classroom” and work with a teacher to make sure that he or she has the school supplies needed to help students be successful.
Did we miss a way to take back control from the back-to-school consumer media machine that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.
Photo Credit: Kaytee Riek via Flickr