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Back-to-School Clothes: 5 Tips for Shopping on a Budget

Kids all over the country are getting ready for school. The ritual of a new school year is much the same as when we were young. But the way they search for back-to-school clothes has definitely changed. Mention the words "Sears catalog” to your sons or daughters, and they’ll likely mumble a confused ‘huh?’ and go back to something more pressing on their iPhone or tablet. 

Our kids couldn’t possibly understand waiting at the mailbox for anything either. When the mailman brought the September issue of Seventeen in August, it was like Christmas in July. Yes, September came in August, when the amount of wool that graced the pages of magazines was in complete opposition to the amount of red bursting out of the thermometer outside. No matter. There were tons of looks to imagine wearing during a cooler season, looking cooler yet. We seem to remember lots of sweaters and turtlenecks in brown, rust or evergreen paired with plaid skirts and pigtail braids. Come September, the outfits in the magazine were practically committed to memory; pages dog-eared; friends consulted. Then, the challenge of convincing mom to buy something almost as fabulous for back-to-school, or surely dying from embarrassment just looking at the “much more practical” items she had in mind: Do “Osh Kosh” or “Wrangler” ring a bell, anyone? Those were the days!

But now, you’ve graduated to the mom role. Sure, you want your kids to look like they’ve walked out of the pages of a magazine (or an iPad, as it were). But the price tag that goes along with a back-to-school wardrobe can seem as challenging as a course in organic chemistry. Here are some ways to make sure you don’t break the bank on the way back to school:

Take Inventory: Clothes from last year haven’t been contemplated for a season or so. That makes going through the closet almost like buying something new. You and your child might be surprised what you find there. You’re likely to come across an item or two that was too big last year, or that still has tags on it from an end-of-winter sale. Plus, basics never go out of style, so you may already be covered in the t-shirt, underwear or sock department. Just make sure to inspect everything, so that you know that it still fits and is in good condition.

Shop Strategically: Many states offer a tax-free time during the back-to-school season, so be sure to look up when it is and take advantage of the savings. Also, remember that you don’t have to buy all your child’s clothing before school starts. You can wait for clothing to go on sale, and for your child to have time to get a better sense of what’s “in” at school or to figure out how he or she would like to express his or her own personal style this school year.

Be Prepared: Arm yourself with both a budget and a list of items you need to purchase before heading out the door. If you give your child clear expectations about what you’re going to buy and how much you plan to spend, you’re less likely to get into an argument about the financial ground rules. And, a good piece of advice, leave a bit of the budget open for your child to “splurge” on an item or two. Your child will be more likely to feel ownership in the process and come home with clothes that really reflect his or her personal taste.

Try Some Good Will: Thrift shops are an excellent place to save money on kid’s clothing, and offer an opportunity for children to experiment with their individual style. They're also a great place to learn the value of a dollar and getting more bang for your buck. But, if your kids complain that second hand means last year’s styles that aren’t trendy enough, have them purchase basics at the thrift shop and remind them that the less that they spend on basics, the more they will have for new pieces with the requisite wow-factor.

Buyer Beware: Kids are gullible to the marketing ploys of advertising. It’s never too early to have a lesson about the difference between what we really need to be our unique selves and what the media tells us we need to be cool like everyone else.

Lots of Love: Dont’ forget to tell your kids how amazing you think they are -- with or without that new outfit -- before sending them off to school on the first day. Not only will they look too cool for school in their fancy new duds, but they’ll be wrapped up tight in your love. What better way to start the new school year?

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