The year was 1990 and I was just about to start junior high. Eighth grade was a year of utmost Store social importance, as students from the district's two middle schools merged for the first time in the labyrinthine halls of the junior high campus. Like the beginning of any school year, there was the promise of a clean slate, the urgency and eagerness of friendships old and new, and the annual opportunity to make a first impression (again). All of these social and academic possibilities hinged precariously, of course, on one key decision: the first-day-of-school outfit. My parents forked over $100 (major ca-ching to an 8th grader!) in discretionary wardrobe funds, which were spent principally on rayon Esprit shirts and a pair of docksiders at Macy's (or was it still Bamberger's?). Yes, my junior high career was a smashing success, thanks in no small part to my totally awesome Trapper Keeper and pre-teen fashion acumen (okay, and maybe some intrinsic qualities too, like smarts and personality). 

So you see, it's not my fault that at age 34 I am still tantalized with the event, the overhaul, the total sense of renewal that is "Back-to-School" shopping. I love the change of seasons; I am excited to wear socks and plaid skirts and stack heeled shoes and shirts with sleeves again! The compulsion to shop right now is the result of years of conditioning - for me, this time of year is tied to nostalgic memories of shopping/bickering at the mall with my mother. Even though the clothes and supplies and trendy doo-dads had little to do with the actual unfolding of my life, I wound up connecting school shopping with the ability to reinvent, or, in post-millennial-speak, re-brand myself.   

Combating emotional spending is no easy task. I like to remember happy times and the easiest way to time travel back is to recreate a past situation in the present. I would love nothing more than to go on a little end-of-summer shopping spree... but the fact of the matter is that I just don't have the means to do it. And thankfully, neither have I the credit cards to do it (though that part I do not miss in the least!). At the same time, it's not healthy to just wipe things out of your life due to lack of funds. Just find a way to make it work. In my case, I've taken a two-pronged approach... 

Clothes and shoes do wear out and need to be replaced and refreshed from time to time. I certainly don't forbid myself from buying these things as needed. One trick I have is to think of items in terms of prorated use. Before I buy something I try to estimate how often I will wear it for the price tag. This is how I trained myself to stop buying beautiful, impractical heels in violet and lime green. If these lovelies were, say, $50, I would imagine myself having to take $10 out of my wallet each time I wore them out. On the other hand, one of the best buys I ever made was a $200 pair of Kate Spade paisley print kitten heels. I know, this sounds like the kind of purchase that helped land me here, but that's not the case! I bought them about five years ago, they are neutral and work with just about any business casual outfit, and are supremely comfortable, classy, and a little bit funky. The proration on those shoes is probably about 25 cents per wear. Likewise, when I think of all of the money I've wasted on disposable clothes (I'm looking at you, Old Navy clearance section) I just want to cry. If I had pooled that money into buying fewer pieces of quality items that are stitched to last, I'd not only have spent the money more wisely, but would look a little more polished for it.  

As for the emotional component, I literally do go back in time. I pull out old photo albums (since my parents were big on those "first day of school" pics) and revisit some old, terrible fashions and school time memories. And it doesn't hurt to plan a trip to the mall with mom for old time's sake (only nowadays there is no $100 slush fund). Shopping with people actually helps to keep me focused and buy conservatively. When I put all of this together, I find that I don't have to deprive myself during a favorite time of year. As with most things, planning, preparation, budgeting, and a good measure of self-coaching will enable you to sensibly indulge once in a while. So as autumn approaches... be smart, dress smart, and spend smart!

 Related Posts

Change of Season Change of Clothes

My Trade Secrets for Shopping for Cheap but Chic Clothing 

Keeping Your Budget in Check as School Starts   

Stacey Pavlick

Stacey is a participant in the CareOne Debt Management Plan, soon to complete her second year on the plan. She is also a contributing writer for the My Journey Out of Debt blog and Single & Settling In blog. She is currently an operations manager for a title insurance company and moonlights as a music reviewer for She combines her passion for writing with her passion for getting out of debt to share her struggles and successes along the way. Compensated CareOne Blogger

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