It’s the sort of thing that sounds fun—until you actually do it. In reality, back-to-school shopping has a way of sucking energy from you each time you retrieve your credit card. A good game plan can help you save money and make the experience enjoyable for you and your kids.

Monica Ricci, a professional organizer based in Atlanta, says that families who are organized at home will be more successful at the mall. “The organizing rules are the same with any new stuff you bring home, whether it’s back-to-school season or not,” she says.

General Shopping Tips

  • Plan for more than one shopping trip. A one-day marathon will leave you and your children exhausted and disappointed.

  • Conduct an inventory to see what you already have, tossing items that are broken or unusable. Donate clothes that are still in good condition but don’t fit well or just don’t get worn anymore.

  • Reach deep into drawers, baskets, and other storage spots to find any school supplies that might be hiding. Parents often end up buying doubles.

  • Consult with your kids. What style of clothes and shoes are they interested in?

  • Make a list of things your kids need vs. things they want. Note which stores will be most likely to have the best prices.

  • Determine a realistic budget. Tell your children they’ll be getting needed items first.

  • Start early. The weekend before school starts, stores will be packed and inventory will be picked over.

Technology

  • Seek guidance from your school about what your child needs and what is allowed. Some schools may require that each child bring a calculator to math class, for example, or have certain software installed on a home computer.

  • If your child is ready for a cell phone, research your options for calling plans and phones. When choosing a plan, consider whether your child will be text-messaging. Decline games, daily jokes, and other frivolous features.

  • Most students don’t need their own laptops. But if your family has several school-age children, it may be hard for everyone to get their work done on a single computer. Consider everyone’s routine when determining whether you need an additional machine—if one child is a night owl and another is an early riser, you might be able to get by with just one. If you need a second computer, consider placing both of them in the family room for easy monitoring.

Clothes

  • Consult your school for the official dress code. Some schools allow shorts, for example; others do not. If your school has a uniform, make sure you cover everything, including shoes.

  • Older children can be given a budget and allowed to make decisions about quality over quantity. Does your daughter want to wear a different outfit every day, or does she want the pricey jeans?

  • Look for durability in clothes that get worn all the time, like a jacket and everyday shoes. If your older daughter wants a trendy top, go cheap. It may be relegated quickly to the back of the closet.

  • Look for clothes that can be worn for several seasons. Embrace the concept of layering.

Gear

  • A good backpack is one of the most important purchases you’ll make. Children today carry heavy loads. Check with the school to find out whether rolling bags are allowed and whether there are other regulations.

  • When it comes to school supplies, don’t be tempted to buy anything until you get a list from your school or your child’s teacher. Follow it.

  • School supplies are cheap and fun. It’s easy to overbuy. Try not to buy a lot of extra supplies that aren’t on the list. They create clutter at home and at school.

  • If you have more than one child, see whether some items can be shared, such as printer paper and art supplies.

Putting It Together

Avoid system failure. If you don’t have a system for controlling clutter at home, set up one as part of your back-to-school agenda.

Get your papers straight. Prepare for the flurry of papers that the start of a new school year brings. Ricci recommends a system for handling papers called FAITH: items to file, action items, in-process items that need ongoing attention, items to toss, and items to hand off to another family member. “Create a spot for each category to live, so when your paper comes into the house, you can sort it quickly...and avoid the mountain of paper most families struggle with,” Ricci explains.

Give kids some space. Give each child a place to store school supplies and gear. Designate a spot for shared supplies.

Clean out the closets. With your kids’ help, organize closets and drawers so they can find everything themselves. “Teach your kids the benefits of sticking to a system of ‘get it out, put it back’ consistently,” Ricci says. “They’ll always know where to find their things when they need them.”

Follow up. Start a list where your kids can write down items they need that didn’t get purchased. Wait until everyone knows what items they’re missing and pick them up in one swoop.

Celebrate! You want your children to feel excited and optimistic heading into a new school year.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.