Group of kids going to school together.

Back to School, Ready or Not!

Just when we’re getting used to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, compelling ads tell us it’s time to unload our wallets at back-to-school sales.

Group of kids going to school together.

Retailers expect we will buy an entire year’s worth of clothes for each child (on sale, of course) and hope we’ll do that with a credit card. They know that plastic-packing shoppers spend far more than those with cash. And you’ll know just how lucrative credit sales are for them in the end by how many clerks suggest you open a new credit line to get 15% off your first purchase.

Well, my frugal friends, there is a better way. We can change the rules. We have alternatives.

Buck the system

There is no good reason to buy an entire school year’s worth of clothes and supplies at the beginning of a new school year. Kids don’t need their whole school wardrobe the first week. New shoes and a special outfit for the first day help a child feel comfortable and confident. Buy a few things now, then supplement as the school year progresses and the kids go through their growth spurts.

Set a spending plan

Let your kids know how much cash you’ve allotted to prepare for school. Rather than saying, “That’s all we can afford,” say, “This is the amount we choose to spend now.” Then stick to your guns. When parents say nothing about spending limits, kids assume their resources are unlimited.

Think creatively

Some of the best sales are held after the back-to-school sales when all the overstock is dumped on the bargain racks in anticipation of the holidays. Then watch for big sales come January.

Match quality with the need

Because they grow so fast, it is pointlessly expensive to dress children in brand-name clothes unless you can find them at rock-bottom prices. But when it comes to items they will not outgrow, like backpacks, opt for the best quality you can afford. Cheap backpacks will wear out before the end of one year, while a name brand like Jansport or Eastpak will last for many years. Check out Jansport’s lifetime no-hassle warranty at Here is Eastpak warranty info.

If a zipper breaks on a Jansport backpack, the seam pops open, or that warranted backpack gives out for any reason, send it to the company. They really will fix or replace it. I have reports from readers whose kids took their original purchase in elementary school on to college. On several occasions, it wasn’t the same backpack (due to replacements along the way), but they made that single purchase. That’s what I call value.




Let the kids help

Loosening the purse strings and allowing the kids access to money for their school clothes and supplies might be scary, but it can be amazingly effective.

Give your mature children the money allotted for their back-to-school shopping and let them handle it within the guidelines you’ve set and your family’s values. Allow them latitude to make their own decisions without your intervention, even if that means blowing the whole amount on a single pair of jeans. A foolish decision? Yes, and one your young lady may not have to learn again, especially when she sees her little sister bought several outfits with the same amount. Accept your son’s choice to blow the wad on a trendy name-brand pair of shoes. Keep your mouth shut and allowing him to suffer or enjoy the consequences of his choice will be character building.

Discover consignment shops

These are upscale second-hand stores where customers are both buyers and sellers. Many specialize in children’s clothing; much are brand-new items with tags attached. As a general rule of thumb, expect to pay 25 to 30 percent of the new price. Some parents buy brand-name clothing for growing children because they know those items will eventually end up in a consignment shop, which is away they can recoup some of that big ticket price they paid.

Shop garage sales

You can find excellent kids’ clothing bargains at garage sales. Top-of-the-line quality can be picked up for a song, provided you’re in the right place at the right time and have a flexible spirit. The garage sale season will be fading fast, so time is of the essence.

School supplies

Check office supply stores for the best price on everything from crayons to binders and notebook paper. At this time of year, school supplies become the loss leaders at office supply stores. They’re counting on you ducking in to pick up Crayolas and walking out with a new computer with a matching desk and chair! When you find a remarkable sale, make sure you stock up for the school year. You won’t see these prices again until back to school 2024!

If you work in an office, keep your eyes open for binders hitting the trash and blank computer paper on one side that can be recycled in the classroom and at home. Check with your student’s teachers first, but many will accept homework printed on recycled office paper.



Question: As a parent, which do (or did) you prefer for your kiddos, and why:

1. School uniforms

2. School’s basic dress code

3. Free-for-all—show up wearing anything you want


Response in the comments area below, keeping in brief and on subject. Thanks!




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8 replies
  1. Lynne S says:

    Uniforms. Our School allows 3 colors of shirts, 2 of shorts, pants and skirts. Makes getting dressed a snap. And there is no fashion competition amongst the kids. Love it.

  2. Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    My daughter always wanted a school uniform to make dressing for school simple.

    We would get her a new outfit for the first day of school and usually new sneakers. We bought the cheap backpacks at first, but quickly learned that better back packs lasted. She had a new one for middle school, one for high school and one for college. We still have them all in our stash and use them regularly, especially for travel.

    • Alice says:

      Growing up in a small town with a large farming community and attending Catholic school, my father was chairman of the school board for many years. My mother, having attended school in Scotland, pushed for uniforms and was eventually successful. The financial and social benefits were amazing. By grade 8, the worst looking uniforms(faded) were on the wealthier families.

  3. Becky B says:

    My girls are grown and married but during one period we lived in an urban area that required uniforms. We all found we loved it. Saved the everyday hassle of deciding what to wear, everyone at school looked the same, so no comparisons, and made clothes shopping for school a breeze!

  4. Deb says:

    When our kids were in school, they didn’t wear uniforms. We kept to the school dress code. We lived in Florida then, and timed vacation to other states for after July 4th. The kids summer clothing would be on clearance for fall and our kids could wear them basically all year with adding a sweater as needed.

  5. Dorothy Turnquist says:

    I used to give my 4 children a set amount of money to spend on clothes for school. If they wanted to spend all of it on an expensive pair of jeans, that was their choice and usually they realized that it was a foolish decision and they would be more realistic in their purchases and got a lot more for the money.


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