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17 Back to School Clothes Shopping Tips to Save Money on Kids

By Casey Slide

girl back to school clothesIt’s that time again. It’s time to get your kids ready to go back to school by purchasing paper, pencils, and crayons. School supplies can cost a fortune; unfortunately, back to school clothes shopping costs even more.

Your 13-year-old son shot up 2 inches during the summer, and your 8-year-old daughter’s clothes look like rags. You know that ultimately the future of any clothes you buy this season will meet the same fate.

Here are some helpful tips to help you save money on back to school clothes this year:

Before You Shop

1. 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.

Tip: If your kids haven’t worn some of their clothes in over a year, get rid of those items. To know which clothes they haven’t worn in a year, at the beginning of the school year, put all the hangers on the rack backwards. If a hanger is still backwards by the time the next school year rolls around, you’ll know they haven’t worn the item in a year.

2. Do a Wardrobe Update
Just because some of your kids’ clothes don’t get worn doesn’t mean that they are unwearable. Consider sewing patches on jeans or using cool iron-on decals on shirts to give them new life. Tie-dye can also transform old, boring hats, shirts, and scarves into hip and exciting fashion statements. If a pair of pants seems too short but still fits around the waist, consider cutting off the ends to make them into Capri pants or shorts.

3. Make Your Own Clothes
If you can add embellishments to clothing, you may want to try your hand at making clothing. You may find that sewing clothes is a fun and fulfilling hobby. Get your kids involved, and have some fun creating new fashions they can wear to school.

4. 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 shop to sell or use as trade items.

In fact, I recently traded in my old work attire because I am now a stay-at-home mom and no longer need it. I earned enough money to buy some more casual clothing instead.

5. Do a Clothing Swap
This is a great way to save money. If you have friends who have children, see if you can pick through their old clothes, and ask if they want to take a look at your kids’ old clothes as well. I have done this several times with my toddler’s clothing over the past year with a couple of my friends who also have toddlers.

Ideally, everyone involved in the swap sets aside boxes according to size and age, and puts their best hand-me-downs into the boxes. As younger children in the group grow up, they have a constant influx of gently used clothes in their sizes.

6. Have a Budget
Before you go shopping for back to school clothes, determine how much money you have to spend. Make sure to include shoes and accessories in your budget. To help you stick to your budget, only bring cash when you shop (i.e. envelope budgeting system). This helps you to stay within your budget, and helps you teach your kids about money management.

7. Donate Old Clothes
If you find yourself reluctant to get rid of old clothes, remember that somewhere, someone might gratefully use the clothing that’s just sitting in the closets in your home. Donate old clothes in gently used condition to Goodwill or to another charitable organization, so that someone else can enjoy your clothing.

kids clothing shop

Save Money While Shopping

8. 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.

Go shopping throughout the year, during off-peak times. For example, buy winter clothing in April, and buy summer clothing in September. Stores usually clear out their inventory during April and September to make room for the upcoming season.

9. Shop Used Clothing Stores
Check out thrift stores, garage sales, Goodwill, Craigslist, and used clothing stores for kids. You might be surprised at how many new, or gently used, items you can find in thrift stores. Get your teenagers interested in shopping for used clothing. Tell them that they won’t have to worry about showing up on the first day of school wearing the same outfit as one of their classmates. Not cool.

Tip: Closely examine clothes in thrift stores for stains, rips, and general wear and tear. Resale shops and consignment stores typically examine clothing before placing the items on sale racks, so expect to find clothes in better condition at these shops. On the other hand, thrift stores do not have quite as rigorous a process for examining clothes before they put them out for sale, so carefully check every item before you buy.

10. Look on eBay
I’ve found that it’s very easy to search for items of clothing on eBay. For example, if you need a skirt, you can search for skirts by style and length on eBay. The new search function makes it easier for me to find what I want when I shop on eBay. Many of the items listed on eBay are new or gently worn. If you don’t want to buy used clothing, you can further narrow your search to only view new items.

11. Combine Sales and Coupons
Everybody loves a good sale, and using coupons during a sale gives you more for your money. I have a Macy’s credit card, and they often offer extra discounts for cardholders, and send me coupons in the mail. If I know I have an upcoming purchase to make, I time my purchase so that I can use a coupon when they have a sale. When I combine my coupons with sale prices, I know I’ve paid the rock-bottom price for the item I am buying. Other stores offer similar deals.

Tip: 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.

12. Only 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. Parents must show their children that their value does not come from clothes, and encourage their kids to just shop for more than just brand name clothing.

As a compromise, parents could allow their kids to buy one splurge item. Encourage kids to think carefully about their splurge items, so they really get the best value for what they purchase.

13. Overstock Stores
If you want to buy brand name clothing for your children, check out overstock stores, such as Marshalls, Ross, and TJ Maxx. These stores have amazing deals on great clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack, Off Fifth, and similar off-price divisions of popular department stores also have a wide selection of clothing, accessories, and shoes culled from their upscale sister stores. Once you start shopping at overstock stores, it’s hard to pay full price ever again.

14. Ask for Gifts
My birthday is in September, right at the start of the school year. As a result, I often got back to school clothing for birthday gifts from my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It never bothered me, because I always received toys as well, and the gifts saved my parents a lot of money.

When family members ask you what to buy your kids for their birthdays, encourage them to buy back to school clothing, or department store gift cards. If your child’s birthday falls during a different time of year, relatives can buy them gift cards, or buy clothing for the next school year.

15. 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.

16. Online Coupons
Sign up for group buying daily deals sites like Groupon and Gilt Groupe to snatch up deep savings on clothes and accessories for your children. Gilt Groupe offers discounts on designer clothing, a big plus if you have teenagers.

17. Seek Out Sales Racks
Boutiques and department stores always place clearance items in the back of the stores, far away from impulse buyers. Train your kids to head directly to the back of a store to begin searching the sales racks, before spreading out into the rest of the store. Your kids might find exactly what they want, marked down by 75%, on one of these racks.

Final Word

Don’t shell out a bunch of money for back to school clothing for your kids. Ultimately, you do have control over how much you spend. Truly evaluate your needs vs. wants, let your dollar 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, and they’ll never want to pay full price for anything again.

What’s your favorite tip for back to school clothes shopping that works for you and your family?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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  • http://www.donnafreedman.com Donna Freedman

    Very comprehensive list!
    I’d also suggest cash-back shopping sites like Mr. Rebates and Ebates. You’ll still be shopping at places you might visit in-person (Ross, Target, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, et al.) but you’ll be given online coupons and/or free shipping plus a cash rebate. Additionally, these online retailers have clearance sections — if you know your child’s size you can really clean up, especially if you’re getting cash back and maybe free shipping.
    This isn’t easy if you’re shopping for older kids, who often want to choose their own stuff, but you can at least get older-kid basics such as jeans, slacks, T-shirts, etc.
    If you have the wherewithal to buy a little extra, buy a size up for next spring and summer during those summer clearance sales online.

    • Casey Slide

      Great additions, Donna! Thanks for contributing!

  • Casey Slide

    Oh yes, excellent point! Thanks!

  • Paula at AffordAnything.org

    My favorite is suggestion #13 — the overstock stores. I grew up shopping in these stores, and it’s hard — as an adult — to transition to shopping anywhere else. Why would I go to a full-price store, when I know that these stores have a great selection of designer, nicely-tailored, well-made clothes for much cheaper prices? … When I go to the mall, I’m shocked by the prices.

  • R at StaplerConfessions.com

    I have been able to get great, new clothing by buying the next size up at the end of the season. When my son was younger, I would find great deals at semi-annual consignment sales, but as he’s getting bigger and bigger, the pickings get slimmer and slimmer.

  • Mike

    With the back to school fiasco, you really have to consider spending all the things needed for school. The practical way of doing it is to really expense within your budget, do go over budget because you will have a hard time in the end. Only buy what is needed and avoid any giving your kids things they less needed. Go on sale when buying clothes, or have a garage sale to keep away your things and to be able to buy new ones. Being practical needs good planning.

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