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back to school

BR Pirri, a personal shopper and style adviser, suggests talking to your kids about what they want before going to the mall.Laura Leyshon

This year, Canadian parents plan to spend approximately $200 per school-age child on back-to-school shopping, according to a survey released this week by BMO. For university-aged kids, that number almost triples. Compare that to the $600 budgeted for Christmas gifts and it's not surprising that shops start to air back-to-school ads in July. There's money to be made from outfitting the kids to learn.

BR Pirri, a personal shopper and style adviser at Calgary's Southcentre Mall, usually helps adults update their look, but at this time of year she keeps parents on budget even while they have to meet demands for Vans sneakers, Rich & Skinny jeans and iPhones. The mother of two offered some ideas on how to decide where to save and where to splurge.

What items do kids and parents fight about the most over value for money?

It's really around jeans, jeans and school bags. … A lot of parents ask, as a personal shopper, to try and speak with their children about where to spend their money and where it doesn't matter. The pressure of friends with $250 jeans is there and so they want to have that $250 denim. That's half the budget for what most parents spend, if not more. For boys, it tends to be high-end shoes, that high-end sneaker and the high-end hoodie.

So what do you tell the kids? 'Sorry, we can't afford it'?

We try and tell the kids to get a really nice pair of sneakers because you're in them all day. Get a nice backpack if you're in middle school. Get a really nice pair of jeans, but maybe you can compromise and get jeans at Winners that are still designer for $150 or $100. Gone are the days when the teens are wearing jeans from your basic stores.

No, the moms do that so they have money to spend on the kids' jeans.


So are jeans an area where you should say yes to your kids?

At junior and high-school age, I would spend the money on one pair of jeans, so they do fit in, and then get a knock-off brand that they don't care so much about. For boys, you might get one pair of Vans and then there are Converse knock-offs, there's a ton of Keds out there. Get one pair of jeans or shoes that fit well, that they feel good in and then do the mid- to lower-end on hoodies and blouses, their T-shirts, so they feel they've had a say in what is in their back-to-school wardrobe.

Is it a good idea to set a budget and discuss it with your kids?

Before you even set that budget, shop your closet first. Then make a list of the important items and share that with your children and tell them: "This is what we have to spend and we need to fit everything in. So why don't you have a look at the list and tell me what your No. 1 priority is on the list and we'll go from there?"

So they have to make compromises.

Yes, you don't want to get to the store and they fall in love with a $200 pair of jeans or the $200 sneakers, and you say, "Dude, we just spent most of the budget getting all this other stuff, I didn't know you wanted these." When there are surprises at the store, mom and dad are shocked because of the prices, the child gets emotional and things start to happen.

How do you deal with kids wanting brand-name items at earlier ages?

I'm a huge advocate for uniforms. Kids will always find a reason to bully another child, but if you take the designer-clothing element out of it, that's one less thing for kids to be teased about. It's becoming a big deal, seeing high-school students with Louis Vuitton handbags. It's really not necessary and the pressure that puts on parents is immense.

Okay, you've made your list of essentials and your kid says, 'Mom, my No. 1 priority is an iPhone 5. I don't care about anything else.'

I would make up a contract, based on their age and ability, and I'd get them to sign it. The conversation is: You're willing to compromise on jeans, your wardrobe, your shoes. You're willing to have all of this compromise – for the entire school year – so that you can get this iPhone. You can't come to us in three months and say you want designer jeans and you need this super-cool hoodie. The contract is teaching them that accountability: This is a very expensive tool, you need to understand there's a ton of money behind it, and that means you're sacrificing everything else.

Worth the splurge:

Kindergarten to Grade 6

Indoor shoes. Kids' feet are growing and developing and they are in gym class every day.

A down-filled winter coat with a nylon outershell so it's water repellent. Winter boots should be rated to - 20 or - 25.

Grades 6 to 9

A sturdy backpack with straps and reinforced zippers.

Mini laptops or tablets with detachable keyboards can be a splurge dollar-wise, but a save as many are available for $200 to $300 and perform as well as full-sized laptops for kids' requirements. They're also much more suitable for throwing into a backpack.

Ways to save:

Take your child to consignment shops – no one has to know that you paid half-price.

Find out about or organize clothing swaps where teens can shop each others' closets or moms can shop younger kids' closets.

Don't buy in the week immediately before school. Surveys have shown prices rise then. Wait until school is under way.