Enthusiastic group of young kids in class sitting in a row at their desk raising their hands in the air to show the know the answer to a question

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.

Enthusiastic group of young kids in class sitting in a row at their desk raising their hands in the air to show the know the answer to a question

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.

Sell the old to buy the new

If you have kids clothes that are in really good condition, sell them. Take them to a resale consignment shop to sell or use as trade items. Find a consignment store near you that specializes in kidswear. Really, if you never shopped consignment, prepare to be amazed. Expect to find gently worn and brand new clothes in current styles and colors for 50 to 75 percent off new retail.

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 move 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 can 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.

MORE: How I Bought $207 in School Uniforms But Paid Only $87

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.

MORE: Back-to-School Breakfasts Kids Love

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.

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.

First published: 8-10-15; Revised & Updated 8-01-19

Question: What are your best back-to-school tips, tricks and shopping tactics? 


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5 replies
  1. Lisette
    Lisette says:

    Uniforms really reduce clothing costs. The style doesn’t change every ten minutes and the child needs a lot few clothes, three pants, half a dozen shirts and a sweater or blazer, you are done. Clothing swaps for hand me downs make it really cheap. No arguments about appropriateness or how much skin is showing. No pressure to keep up with the rich kids. I wish more schools would go to uniforms.
    The other big saver in some respects is homeschooling. The big cost there is having one parent stay home. But if you can run a home business for income, and homeschool the kids, both you and they can get by on a few sets of sweats and a couple pairs of jeans. You save big on lunches and supplies. It can make a lot of sense, if it’s feasible in your intuition.

    Reply
  2. Amissa
    Amissa says:

    As Mom of 3 mentioned, thrift stores just for kids (Google “children’s thrift stores near me”) can be well organized, tidy, clean places to buy gently used clothing. Many times I score new clothes with tags for less than half the retail price.

    There are also semi-annual consignment sales, like Just Between Friends, where you can sell your clothing in addition to shopping. I find the prices to be comparable to children’s thrift stores. I live in Dallas, so I have several area sales with which to participate, but this past spring (2015), I netted a small profit of $22 over what I spent in buying my daughter’s 2015 spring/summer wardrobe by selling her 2014 spring/summer clothing. I take whatever doesn’t sell at the consignment sale(s) to a children’s re-sale shop.

    Since I have to store one season of clothing, I keep two Rubbermaid bins, labelled “For Sale” – one “Spring/Summer” and one “Fall/Winter.” Once clothes don’t fit, they are stored in the appropriate bin until prep time. Clothing that is too worn to sell, but still useable is donated to my favorite charity.

    Reply
  3. Mom of 3
    Mom of 3 says:

    The best advice I got about kids’ clothing was to go to the local thrift stores. Most are no longer the dirty stores of memory and the prices are amazing. I am very brand and quality conscious and I don’t think anyone I know would ever guess that I get their clothes secondhand. My boys tear their jeans almost every week but when I’m only paying $5 per pair, I don’t fret so much. I can outfit all three for the semester, including snow gear and dress clothes, for under $200. I always buy new shoes, socks, pjs and underwear, however…I explain to them that the pot of money is only so big and if I get their clothes there, we have more money to do other fun things that they like. That makes sense to them.

    Reply
    • Gehugh
      Gehugh says:

      Speaking of jeans…reinforce those knees! Easy to do with some scrap denim and ‘Wonder Under’ or splurge on ready made iron on reinforcing.

      Reply
  4. Cally
    Cally says:

    I found that our 4 sons only needed new shoes (typically for gym) to start school. the shorts and t’s they’d worn during the summer were still appropriate weather-wise and since they spent the majority of the summer in their swim trunks their regular clothes hadn’t been worn out. I shopped for school clothes when the weather was changing. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of “back to school” sales!

    Reply

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