Back-to-School Shopping with Tweens: A Primer


I went back-to-school shopping with my tween and lived to tell the tale. So, I thought I’d share my pointers with you. Please tell me your own tips in the comments. I have 3 more tweens on the way!

  1. Trust me when I say you need to make this experience fun for yourself because you are never going to have any money to buy anything for you ever again. So wear a skirt that’s older than 75% of your children and carry your purse with the frayed straps, and BE HAPPY ABOUT IT. Coffee helps. So does making sure your hair and makeup are on point because you are going to walk by SO MANY mirrors.
  2. Shop around for bargains, but don’t let your tween know that’s what you are doing because all they want is to buy exactly what their friends have only maybe slightly better so their friends will be just a titch jealous like they are right now and price is no object. This makes total sense because tweens don’t have jobs and have no idea how the household economy works. Even though it’s actually really simple. You make the money, and they literally eat it.
  3. Don’t stress about them wanting to buy exactly what their friends have. That’s a developmental thing. The whole task of junior high, really, is to figure out who they are and where they belong, and part of that process is trying to be just like their friends. And you thought middle school was about algebra. As if!
  4. Stop for a snack. No, really. I like to make this snack a treat for both of us (skinny latte for me and a pancreas crushing amount of sugar in frappe and pastry form for the tween, but you do you) because after about 3 stores, we were both really crabby.

    Starbucks drive thru FOR THE WIN. Also, note that I did not take my own hair and makeup advice. Oops.
  5. Make a list ahead of time and share this list with your tween. I mean, YES, print out the actual school supplies your tween needs and take that list to the office supply store. But also, be sure to talk with your tween about what you are going to buy on this trip. How many pairs of shoes? What kind of gym clothes? Does the first-day-of-school outfit need to include a hat? These are good conversations to have before you leave on your expedition and the I-Wants, Gimmees, and But-She-Has-Ones set in.
  6. Survey last year’s stuff and cross those items off the list before you leave the house. For example, my kid’s backpack is not the exact one he wants anymore, but it is from Lands Ends and apparently indestructible, so he’s going to carry it forever. Check. (Also it literally has his name embroidered on it—or his initials anyway—so he cannot pass it down to any of his siblings. Rookie mom-of-four mistake).
  7. I was joking before about household budgets. It is absolutely a good idea to talk to your tween about money and how much of it you can spend on each item. I had a limit on what I wanted to pay for shoes that are going to live in a gym locker, for example, and my tween was able to find shoes he totally loved in his mean mom’s price range by reading signs and tags, something he doesn’t usually do.
  8. Realize that it is not your job to have an actual opinion on the things your tween wants to buy. It is your job to say nice things and swipe your card at the register. You may be able to intuit from the tone of your tween’s voice that they are not looking for you to praise the exact item you are holding up. Maybe they want you to talk favorably about the thing they were holding a second ago or the thing next to the thing they’re currently holding. You’ll figure it out. At least by the eighth store.
  9. Take a second out of your financial hemorrhage to appreciate your tween. How poised they are. How smart. How conversational. How earnest. How fleeting.
  10. Quit while you are ahead. I have like 3 things I still need to buy for my tween, but after 4 hours, we were both DONE and ready to go home and eat our feelings, even the triumphant ones.
Who knew he shared my deep, abiding love for office supplies?
Sarah Jedd
Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 4 children nine years old and younger, three boys and an oh-look-you-finally-got-your girl (why does everyone say that?). In her spare time (ha! as if!) she is writing a memoir, and she blogs at Sarah and her husband and their kids and world’s laziest dog live in Verona.


  1. Hi Sarah,

    I absolutely love these back to school shopping tips! It’s a hectic time of year for all of us and this year I will make sure to prepare.

    Thanks for the great post,


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