When back-to-school season hits, it’s usually a mad dash to get everything we need for each kid before the first day of school. But in the midst of the crazy, I’m always looking for how to save money on back-to-school clothes, and I bet you are too!
There’s something about this time of year that makes you want to buy ALL. THE. THINGS. Maybe it’s the well-timed sales, or the excitement on your kid’s face about school shopping, or simply the dollar section of Target, decked out with mini-chalkboards and random flashcards that you just HAVE to have.
If you’re anything like me, when you let yourself get swept up in the excitement of the season, it’s easy to drop loads of money on clothes that your child might not even WEAR!
The good news is there are a few simple things you can do to cut your expenses and still give your kids a cute, stylish wardrobe.
Check Out These 9 Genius Ways to Save Money on Back-to-School Clothes:
BEFORE YOU SHOP:
1. Make a Plan
I know that in the midst of the busy back-to-school season, it’s hard to sit down and actually think about what your child NEEDS in the way of clothes, but this is honestly the single most important step to saving money.
It doesn’t take much planning and I’ve even created a simple one-page checklist to help you do it! (Grab it below.) Taking a few minutes to strategize can save you hundreds of dollars. No joke.
2. See What You Already Have
There’s a good chance that your child has a number of items already in his or her wardrobe that STILL FIT and can work for their back-to-school wardrobe as well. This is like money in the bank.
Take a few minutes to look through your child’s dresser and closet and see what’s there. Be on the lookout for…
- Things that were a little big when you got them out and probably fit great now.
- Pieces that would be good for layering, like t-shirts that can be worn with a zip-up hoodie or leggings that can be worn under a skirt, or outgrown dresses that can be worn with jeans or leggings in the fall/winter.
- Shoes that still fit and can work for fall/winter outfits OR late summer weather.
- Socks/underwear/belts/etc. that still fit
- Hand-me-downs from a sibling
Set aside everything that can potentially be used as part of a fall/winter wardrobe. Lay it out on a bed or table so you can truly see everything you have and get some perspective. It will also help you identify obvious gaps and establish color schemes for #3.
3. Consider a Capsule Wardrobe (Mix & Match Items)
I have paid top dollar for the most adorable, trendy outfit that my daughter in turn REFUSED to wear. In addition to breaking my heart, it definitely broke my budget.
But when you choose to embrace a more minimalist wardrobe for your child, you can hone in on the types of clothing they will actually wear and save yourself a ton of money (and laundry time) in the process.
Intentionally choosing colors and styles that mix and match well with the other items in your child’s closet is a great way to do exactly that!
How To Do It:
This doesn’t mean you have to force your child into a bland colored wardrobe (unless school requires a uniform of course). But you can take your child’s top 2 favorite colors and work with those to create a wardrobe color palette to work from.
For my daughter, pink and purple are her faves. So we intentionally buy items that will work with a variety of shades of pink and purple.
For example: If my daughter wants to get patterned or character tops, then I would consider choosing some solid pink jeans or solid purple leggings as part of her capsule wardrobe.
Here are some of my favorite Kid’s Capsule Wardrobe Staples:
- Dark jeans (good fit & comfy)
- Light jeans (good fit & comfy)
- Black or Gray pants
- A few solid colored t-shirts (neutrals and/or that match your child’s color palette)
- Denim jacket (Can have cute color accents)
- Army green jacket
- Gray hoodie
- Sneakers that match your child’s color palette
Then you can easily pepper in all the fun, bright colors, designs & characters your child loves for an adorable style that works with everything above!
4. Identify High-Priced Items You Need
Things like jeans, fall jackets, winter coats, and sneakers can easily blow your budget at $25-$75 a pop. The good news is that these are easy items to purchase used or on clearance in the off season! I have picked up jackets, snow suits, and adorable jeans in mint condition for literally a couple bucks secondhand.
When you know which items will cost you the most new, you can make a plan to purchase those big ticket items either gently used or start buying them in the off-season to save big bucks.
Save Money on Back-to-School Clothes
5. Buy Gently Used Items
This is my specialty. I’m always getting compliments from people on my kids’ adorable clothes and they are often shocked to find out I paid $1 or $2 for them secondhand.
Now, I know that some people are all about thrifting and see it as a hobby. But other people can’t STAND the thought of buying or wearing clothes that somebody else wore. I totally get it.
But buying secondhand is a BRILLIANT hack to keep your kids in adorable outfits for pennies on the dollar.
And I promise you don’t even have to spend hours sorting weird smelling shirts at Salvation Army to do it (unless that sounds fun to you).
In fact, you can buy BRAND NEW or very gently used name brand clothing on the secondhand market that nobody (but you) will know you didn’t purchase new.
How To Do It:
You know all those super cute clothes you’ve bought brand new that your child never even wore? Guess what?? OTHER parents have a collection of the same sort and will sell them to you for cheap. They’ll probably even be happy that SOME kid will actually wear them and they’ll even make a few dollars in the process.
So you can go ahead and let go of any mindset holding you back from jumping on the secondhand craze and go for it. There are lots of things that are great to buy used, but you can still buy your child’s underwear & socks new, and anything else that you prefer.
Here are my favorite ways to buy secondhand:
- Resale Events (Like a giant, indoor community garage sale, usually run by your city’s Early Childhood PTA. Check out your city’s website or talk to other parents to see if they offer anything like this. This is where I find THE BEST stuff for THE CHEAPEST prices!)
- Facebook Marketplace
- Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade Groups (search for nearby groups for your zip code)
- Consignment Stores (These are not the cheapest ways to buy used, so be careful. Find out when they do their 50% off sales and go then for the best deals.)
- Thrift Stores (Find out when they do 50% off clothing days!)
- Garage Sales (Look for upscale neighborhoods and find out when they do community garage sales for all kinds of name brand clothes for cheap!)
- Friends (Think of friends or acquaintances whose kids have cute clothes and are in a size or two bigger than your child. Casually ask them if they’re interested in selling any of their kids’ clothes when they outgrow them. They may give you a great deal for a lot of clothing, or even GIVE them to you. Totally worth an ask. Plus, you can compliment them on their sense of style.)
- Hand-Me-Downs (When possible, hang on to your child’s clothes that are in decent shape for your younger kids. Even if you have different genders, some items can still work. Just keep a plastic bin handy to put clothes in that your child outgrows and clearly label it for your own ease.)
6. Know a Good Sale from a Bad One
“But it’s on sale!!”
I’m all about shopping the sales. But I have definitely found, and you probably have too, that just because it’s marked down or sporting a red sticker with a % off, doesn’t mean it’s actually a deal.
So many stores strategically mark up their products so they can offer “sales” that aren’t really sales at all. Back-to-school season is a great example of that.
If you keep an eye on certain stores and brands throughout the year, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s a good sale and what isn’t. For me, I usually don’t buy unless items are on clearance and an extra % off the clearance price.
I have absolutely CLEANED UP with tons of outfits for $2-$5 a piece brand new.
7. Buy Ahead When Possible
The best time to buy back-to-school clothes on sale….is the end of the season the previous year. Obviously, it’s not always convenient to do this and we don’t always know how fast or slow our kids will grow.
But whenever possible, be watching for those January-March sales on Fall & Winter clothes or July sales on Spring & Summer items and purchase what you can for the following year. If you’re not sure what size your child will be in, buy on the larger side just in case.
Just make sure you don’t go crazy and overspend, only to have your kid skip a size. Also, remember to stick with the general color scheme and plan for your child’s wardrobe.
8. Stack Sales & Coupons
The BEST prices I ever get come when I do this.
Choose your favorite stores and subscribe to their email lists and/or rewards programs. Once you have your checklist in hand and KNOW the exact items you are looking for, you can watch for them to go on sale.
Another great way to stack is buying items for multiple kids at the same time.
Things like shoes can be harder to get great sales on. But often shoes will go on sale for buy one get one 50% off, so if you’re buying shoes for more than one kid, you can watch for a good BOGO shoe sale, add a coupon to it and get them for a significant discount!
I do this with Carters and Target and it works great. Plus, if you’re buying a certain amount, you often get additional discounts and free shipping!
If you’re only buying for one kid, consider going in with a friend!
9. Shop Tax-Free Weekend
A lot of states offer a weekend around back-to-school season where they don’t charge tax for a set amount of school supplies and clothing! If you’re willing to brave the extra crowds during this weekend (buyer beware), it’s a great option to save some additional cash. It will help if you have your list in hand so you can cut to the chase. Here’s a great list of the dates & guidelines by state from Penny Pinching Mom.
Back-to-school shopping can be quite the ordeal, but with a little planning and some genius hacks you can save a TON of money and still dress your kids in great clothes JUST in time for the first day of school. Happy Shopping!
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