Back-to-school clothes shopping is like a mash-up of precise engineering and creative art.

Back-to-school clothes shopping is like a mash-up of precise engineering and creative art.

You have a budget to maintain and practicality to consider. But even at a young age, our clothing is how we present ourselves to the world, and I love kids who embrace that from an early age.

Here are my recommendations for keeping your stress low and your return on investment high while still allowing space for style:

Take inventory first. Go through your child's closet and have him or her try on clothing. If it doesn't fit and it's still in good shape, take it to Once Upon a Child or Plato's Closet and resell it for cash, or organize a clothes swap among your other mom friends.

Create a game plan. Know what you need, and where you're getting it. Find coupons online before you go (printable-coupons.blogspot.com is my favorite site; individual companies' Facebook pages are also good to try).

Go generic on bottoms. And by "generic" I mean with both color (keep it neutral) and brand (nobody knows whether the jeans are from Abercrombie or Target). You can get a ton of mileage out of jeans, khakis and, for girls, black leggings or black maxi skirts.

Go big on tops. And by "big" I mean make a statement. If your kid loves a certain team or band or label or color or whatever, let him or her show it here. And if you break the bank on just one piece, make it a hoodie; it's used for three seasons a year, inside and out, and is the one piece your kid will probably be seen in more than anything.

Splurge on shoes. With shoes, you generally get what you pay for, so spending a bit more means they'll last longer - and be better for your child's feet. One pair of comfy shoes and one pair of dressier shoes should be all they need. Or, if your budget allows for just one pair, you can get a lot of mileage out of Sperry Top-Siders.

Be patient. Your children will likely not need jeans, sweaters, jackets or anything else warm until at least October. Don't pay full price for it now; by the time they need to wear it, it will all be deeply discounted.

Happy shopping!

-Kristy Eckert is the editor of Capital Style.