As most seasoned parents know quite well, waiting until the weekend before school starts to do your children’s back-to-school shopping is pretty much the same as waiting until December 24 to do your Christmas shopping.

The stores are beyond chaotic, shoppers are grumpy, parking is limited and — worst of all — the shelves are almost empty.

If you have been through this scenario before and are determined to avoid it again at all costs, or if this is your first year to go school shopping for your young child, here is some great news: with a combination of online shopping, pre-preparation and organization, getting your kiddos ready for school will not be a stressful experience. Here’s how to get started.

Do a Pre-Shopping Assessment

Before you start any back-to-school shopping, take some time to figure out what you already have on hand for your kids, this includes both clothing and supplies. For instance, you might enjoy buying your kids new outfits and that is totally fine, but ask them to try on some of their favorite duds from last year to see if they still fit; you might find that they won’t need new hoodies or jeans, at least not quite yet. The same is true for supplies: you might have stocked up on mechanical pencils, highlighters and glue during a great office supply sale in the spring and can cross these items off your lists.

Online Shopping Is Your Friend

The more school supplies and clothing you order online, the less you will have to drive around in the summer heat and fight crowds at the mall and big-box stores. And, you can start right away with your online shopping and get your kids’ needed items in plenty of time. For instance, most kids enjoy picking out new shoes for school; instead of trying them on in the stores, you can print out a foot measuring guide online to be sure you know their sizes and then shop for new kicks online with your kids.

Check School Website for Checklists

While you will probably be given a supply list at Meet the Teacher night, this event is usually held a couple of days prior to the start of school. To get ahead of the shopping game, check each school’s website for this information; many will have basic supply lists for each grade. 

If you are unable to get this information, you can still shop for items that you know your children will need and then, if necessary, do a quick shopping trip for any specific items that are requested. For example, as Jump Start notes, your young students will need pencils, pens, notebooks, lined paper, backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, glue sticks and other supplies, so there is no reason to wait until the last minute to buy them. Then, if your son’s first-grade teacher specifies that he will need a blue folder for his artwork, you can get that after Meet the Teacher night.

Chaos? Not This Year!

It is reassuring to know that you do not have to wait until the last minute and fight the crowds to get your children clothing, shoes and other needed school supplies. By starting with an at-home “shopping trip” and clothing check, buying as much online as you can and then stocking up on essentials now, you can happily avoid grouchy groups of frantic shoppers and limited stock.