Can you believe it’s already back-to-school season again? It feels like the school year just ended!
Shopping for back-to-school clothes is a tradition in many families. For us, it usually includes some new socks and underwear. When my kids left for overnight summer camp, I didn’t label their underwear with their names because it was all a bit too small and worn out. If it gets lost, I won’t be too sad! I wonder if other moms are making their kids run around in ratty underwear until the sales start. Is it just me?
I thought I’d share some of the tips that we use to keep back-to-school clothes shopping within our budget.
- Check your closets first. Before doing any back to school shopping, take a good inventory of what you already have. What still fits from last year? Maybe all the shirts are fine but all the pants are too short. Are there any hand-me-downs that would be a good fit for this year?
- Make a list. Before buying anything, make a list of what you need and focus on purchasing only what is really necessary. Also, think about what outfits can be made with what you have. Do you need any additional items to make something work? Sometimes the addition of a layering piece like a tank makes something you already have more useful. Or do you need a plain shirt to coordinate with a flowered skirt? If you don’t get one, the flowered skirt will just sit in the closet all year, and a plain shirt would be less expensive than buying an entirely new outfit.
- Shop resale stores. Before hitting the retail stores, try resale shops to find good deals on clothes. For used clothes, shopping as early as you can is best. By late August or early September, the selections tend to get picked over.
- Shop fall consignment sales. Look for information in your area about fall children’s consignment sales. If you live near a city, there’s probably one nearby. Consignment sales are like a giant multi-person garage sale. They’re usually huge and well-organized. They’re a great place to buy clothes and also a great place to sell your old clothes. Fall sale dates usually range from August through September so now is a good time to look for information.
- Shop Craigslist or Facebook local garage sale sites. Other parents are also cleaning out their closets and are eager to make a little extra cash for their own back-to-school shopping. You may be able to score a “lot” (collection) of clothing for a cheap price. Be cautious not to buy a whole pile of things that you don’t need though. Buying 20 things for $20 is not a great deal if you’re only going to use one shirt from the whole bunch. I don’t use this method very often anymore for that reason. I am usually looking for specific things and don’t want to buy a whole pile.
- Be strategic about buying new versus used clothes. It can be hard to find everything you need used, so try to focus on the things that make most sense to buy used. I recommend trying to never buy certain things new including rarely worn items and very durable things. This would include things like formal wear, dress shoes, rain boots, rain coats, and jeans (except for 6-year-old boys – good luck finding used jeans without holes at that age!). I also almost never buy pajamas new (unless I find a great clearance sale), because I’m not very particular about what my kids wear to bed. If it fits and they like it, it’s good enough for me! Personally, I usually choose to buy some daily-use items new because they are more likely to survive if they start out new. This includes coats and sneakers. Also, I find that these things are in such high demand on the used market, that if you do find a high-quality used coat or pair of sneakers, they will cost almost the same as new. I’m also cautious about buying t-shirts used because resale shop prices can be almost as much as the new prices. I’m always on the lookout for a surprise deal on something used though!
- Take advantage of sales tax holidays. Many states have a sales tax holiday. You can check this list to see if there’s one in your state and check the dates for this year. Keep in mind that when it lists the maximum cost, that means per item. For example, Ohio’s rule says maximum cost for clothing is $75, but that means per item of clothing. You can buy twenty $5 t-shirts for $100 and not pay any sales tax. You just can’t buy a $100 leather jacket or a $200 formal dress without sales tax. Also keep in mind that sales tax holidays work at resale shops too! That’s a great way to combine the savings!
- Watch for yearly back to school deals. There are certain things that go on sale every year at back to school time. Socks and underwear are the most common clothing deals, and it’s often the cheapest prices of the year on those items. I try to only buy socks and underwear at this time of the year, even if it means buying the next size a little earlier than we needed (and sometimes stashing them in the back of the closet for a while). Look out for the number of pairs of socks or underwear in the package. You’ll often see underwear in different-sized packages at different stores. Walmart might have a 10-pack for the same price as the 9-pack at Target.
- Don’t do all the shopping at once. While there are some good deals this time of year, there’s no reason to buy everything you need all at once. I’m always a little perplexed at people buying sweaters and sweatshirts in July. It’s going to be a while before your child needs those things and there are probably going to be better opportunities to get them like Christmas sales (or those September consignment sales!). In most areas of the country, school starts while there are still temperatures in the 80’s, so the kids start the year wearing shorts and sandals anyway.
Those are my best back-to-school clothes shopping tips! How have you found ways to save on back-to-school clothing? Share your tips in the comments below!