Back-to-School Clothes Shopping

Your money is limited and time is short. Here is my best advice to make sure back-to-school clothes shopping doesn’t send you to the poorhouse.

Set spending limits. Time to get real. How much money (not credit) do you have available for school clothes? Write it down.

Take an inventory. Sort through your kids’ clothes and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones they don’t wear due to wear and tear, or because they no longer fit. This gives you a clear idea of what you have, and what you need to buy.

Sell the old to buy the new. If you have gently used clothes in good condition, sell them and use the money towards the purchase of back-to-school clothing. You can sell on eBay or on Craigslist, at a garage sale or by taking them to a resale consignment shop to sell or use as trade items.

Assess needs. Not every child will have the same needs when it comes to school clothes. What is reasonable? Now divvy up the money you have against the children’s needs then moving on to wants until all the money has been appropriated.

Start with new shoes. There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes to get kids in the mood for the first day of school. Shoes are so satisfying, this will take the edge off the raging case of the “I wants” that your children may have picked up somewhere. And a new pair of shoes even make last seasons’ clothes perk up.

Know the dress code. It may have changed from last year, or if you’re in a new school, for sure you need to check. You don’t want to be in the unfortunate position of having to re-buy to comply with set dress standards.

Make your own clothes. This is not for everyone and I would never advocate you making your kids wear weird, homemade-looking clothes. That being said, you really may want to try your hand at making clothing. For many of us, it is a fun and fulfilling hobby. Take a class, find a seamstress who will mentor you, get your kids involved, and have some fun creating new fashions they can wear to school. Seriously.

Time your shopping. Many sales happen before school starts during August, but the real savings begin after school starts, around October. If you can put back-to-school shopping on hold, definitely wait until the fall to buy new clothes. If you feel confident about predicting your children’s growth spurts, you can also buy clothing for the following year.

Don’t buy for the whole year. It’s not wise to buy a year’s worth of clothes for a child for several reasons. First kids grow. Second styles change. And third kids, like grownups, enjoy getting new things. If you get it all now, everything will be old come January. But if you buy a couple of things now, several more at the after Christmas sales, then again in the spring, it will seem like they are getting new clothes all the time. That’s because they are.

Think … summer! What’s on sale now? Summer clothes, right? Well, load up. Many regions of the country will continue to have warm weather right through October and even later if you are in the South. Teach your kids how to layer, and they’ll be able to wear summer weights for several more months.

Shop resale. There are so many great bargains out there, including uniforms. Your Costco may have the uniforms for local schools at seriously discounted prices. Check with neighbors and parents in your community.

Call consignment shops, look for garage and tag sales while the weather is still nice. Venture onto eBay. As long as you know your brands, your sizes and your prices you can get some remarkable deals.

Teach your kids how cool it is to dress in “vintage” clothes. It’s probably best to stay away from terms like “used” or “thrift” especially with teens. Resale, consignment and vintage are better terms.

Compare boys department vs. girls. Boys clothes and shoes are often cheaper for the same thing. If your girls can wear boys t-shirts, jeans, shorts and so on and this does not cross a critical line of impropriety for you, give it a look. It can’t hurt and you will be surprised to see the price variation.

Pray for uniforms. Parents of kids who wear school uniforms sing their praises. They save money, time, hassle and thinking. What’s more the stress level at home and school goes down considerably.

Combine sales and coupons. Everybody loves a good sale, and using coupons on top of a sale gives you more for your money. For example, JCPenney online offers extra discounts if you simply click on “Find Coupons” at checkout. If you know you have an upcoming purchase to make. When you combine coupons with sale prices you know you’ve paid the rock-bottom price for the item you are buying. Other stores offer similar deals.

Thrift stores and resale shops typically have sales every week. They put certain items on sale one day, or shoppers receive a larger discount for shopping on another day. Watch for upcoming sales on kids’ clothing and sign up for email lists to get advanced notice of “secret” sales for loyal shoppers.

Allow one splurge item. Teens receive a lot of pressure from their peers to wear brand-name clothing. Some teens may think they need to shop at certain stores to feel cool, and to fit in with the other students. It’s important that kids learn that their value does not come from clothes, but to ignore this fact in our society is not a good idea, either.

As a compromise, allow your older kids to buy one splurge item. Encourage them to think carefully about it so they really get the best value for what they purchase.

Stay out of expensive stores. If you don’t go into an expensive store, you can’t buy anything there. Don’t tempt yourself or your kids to spend more money than you have budgeted for clothes. Stick to stores that are within your budget.

Ultimately, you do have control over how much you spend. Seriously valuate your needs vs. wants, make your dollars stretch, and shop wisely. Don’t spend more than you budget for your family, and remember to take control by not letting your kids dictate what you buy.

Teach your kids bargain-hunting tips like seeking out the sales racks, or buying clothes at thrift stores. Play your cards right and they’ll never want to pay full price for anything again.

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5 replies
  1. Carole says:

    When my grandchildren were in high school I would take them shopping before school started, and tell them how much they could spend. They would try to get the most they could for the money. I think it was a good learning experience for them. Their parents took care of their real needs–this was just a bonding experience. I have also noticed that it’s usually too hot on the first day of school for kids to wear anything fallish.

  2. Courtney says:

    Facebook is another great place to look. There are many buy/sell groups (and even groups where things are free), as well as marketplace (similar to Letgo and Offerup). I have sold, bought, and traded clothing and other items (I’ve also given and received items for free), and have saved a lot of money.

  3. Patricia says:

    I went to Savers, the Goodwill (the outlet where it goes by the pound) and a few thrift shops and got some bargains that even had the tags still on them. I follow Hip2Save and used coupon codes and paypal survey cash to pay very little for shoes and clothes. had 50% off their clothes a few days ago and schoola has free shipping for 2 days. It is a hit and a miss but sometimes you can find bargains.


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