Back to School Shopping

August 22, 2011



Hello, Friends! I’m working with T-Mobile on a series of budget conscious posts. Today’s topic: Back to school shopping on a budget. At our house, all six kids have had a growth spurt over the last few months. Nobody’s shoes fit and lots of pants are so short they’re looking like badly cut capris. Oh dear! So putting together school wardrobes is taking up a lot of my brain space right now. Here are my five best tips to make it happen on a budget:

1) Shop your closet.
Have your kids try on everything they own. Assess what still works and what needs to be donated or discarded. Study your favorite kids catalogs and see what you can mimic. Make notes of simple fixes that can prolong the life of a favorite garment or give it a rebirth.
- The waist fits, but the legs are too short? Maybe the pants can be tapered and reborn as ankle length khakis.
- If we shrink Ralph’s old wool sweater in the wash, will it work for Olive?
- Perhaps that stain can be hidden with a well-placed appliqué/embellishment.
- That knee-length skirt is no longer hitting at the knee. Let’s shorten it and pair it with thick tights.

That’s Olive, above, shopping from her big sister’s closet.

2) Host a clothes exchange.
Invite your bargain-hunting friends and neighbors. Everyone brings the clothes they’re ready to say goodbye to. A jacket their child never took to or a dress that’s been outgrown. Remind guests to clean and press the clothes before they arrive and they’ll be more likely to find a happy new home. Set all the clothes in neat piles on a well-lit table (well-lit makes all the difference!). Trade and trade and trade some more. Keep a cardboard box handy for anything that doesn’t get claimed. You could end up with a new wardrobe for your kids — all for the price of refreshments.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask.
Put the word out to local friends (on Facebook or email or however you prefer to connect). Tell them you’ve taken a back-to-school clothes shopping challenge and if they’re cleaning out closets and donating clothes, to stop at your house first. Take in everything that comes your way, then spend an evening and go through it all. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find some keepers, and anything that doesn’t work, can continue it’s journey to Goodwill.

4) Look again.
When shopping used/donated clothing — or even your own closets, do your best to ignore size and gender labels and try to look at each item with fresh eyes. I remember a friend giving me the cutest shrunken vest that I thought was perfect for 8 year old Maude, then later realized it was made for a 4 year old boy and was supposed to be oversized. Hah!  I ripped out the size label and Maude never knew the difference. She loved that vest!

5) Bargain hunt.
There are great sources for used kids clothing. Yard sales. Consignment chains like Kid to Kid. Nationwide exchanges like thredUP. Ebay and Craigs List. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? No stress. Every major brand for kids is on sale during back-to-school season, and the best wardrobes are usually a mix of old and new.

Lastly, this doesn’t count as a tip, but it’s probably the most important: have fun! Enjoy the hunt and pretend you’re a Project Runway contestant as you experiment putting together outfits for your kids. If they’re amenable, you could even host a little family fashion show and have the kids model their back-to-school outfits. And like any modern parent, document the whole thing with a million photos and put it on your blog. : )

P.S. — Our first day of school is September 1st. How about you? Also. What are your best back-to-school-on-a-bargain tips?

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephanie August 22, 2011 at 10:29 am

My kiddos’ first day of school was last week :-( Luckily, they wear uniforms so we don’t have to worry too much about school clothes. However on “free dress days” the stress is ON! There are very few days of free dress throughout the year (like, 2) so the time and energy (and, yes, sometimes even money….you mean you can’t wear those 3 year old jeans?) spent on what to wear those days is monumental!

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2 Design Mom August 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

Oh my goodness, Stephanie! I’ve never heard of “free dress days”. I can totally imagine how my kids would plan and plan and plan for those days. Hilarious!

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3 This girl loves to Talk August 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm

all schools in australia (public to private) kids wear uniforms. A few times throughout the year we have ‘free dress days’ to wear whatever you would like. Our schools usually make it a gold coin donation ($1 or $2) for the ‘privelege’ lol to wear free dress and the money is donated to different causes – local to national campaigns. Of course it is very novel to wear free dress and it is very exciting for the children.

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4 Giulia August 22, 2011 at 10:47 am

My daughter starts JK next week and she’ll wear a uniform! Yayyy, that will make morning dressing a lot easier ;) However, I’ll have to dial back on buying some of the cute outfits out there if she only gets to wear them on the weekend…

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5 Design Mom August 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

School uniforms sounds so good!

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6 Ren Lady Of The Arts August 22, 2011 at 10:48 am

Such great advice.

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7 Design Mom August 22, 2011 at 11:04 am

Thanks, Ren!

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8 se7en August 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

You make this sound so fun!!! I just manage it really fast… I think my kids all just grew a whole 3 inches in the last two weeks… like obviously all the winter watering is having its effect!!! We never have hand me downs in our house, my kids love and adore their clothes to death… So this weekend we did the clearing out and now no-one has anything to wear… I think a little spring shopping is in order or should that be on order!!!

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9 leslie August 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

gabrielle.
big brother + little sister in our house,
so I’m loving jcrews guide on
“borrowing from my brother”
http://www.jcrew.com/girls_feature/borrowedfrommybrother.jsp
his too small cowboy boots. button downs. and blazers
will breathe new life into her tutus and sparkly tees.

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10 Design Mom August 23, 2011 at 1:10 am

Brilliant, Leslie! Love that. Thanks for the link.

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11 Dee August 22, 2011 at 11:53 am

Fun piece and I loved the photo. My daughter had the same shirt. Another suggestion: don’t hesitate to ask the mom of an only child to pass on clothes. I have just one daughter and am happy to have a younger child from our church to pass the clothes on to.

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12 Dee August 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

My tip is to buy year round. I pick up stuff I like when I see it and then pack it away until we do our seasonal clothing rotation. It’s always fun to pull things out that I’d completely forgotten about.

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13 Genevieve Gibson August 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Love this…that is what my mom and I do for my kids and we are always pleasantly surprised at what we found at the end of a season! My boy will start wearing a uniform this year at his charter school. I’m a little bummed because I really enjoy helping him style his clothes, but it will keep me from buying (like Giulia) knowing that he can only wear his other clothes after school and on weekends.

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14 Carol August 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Shop your neighborhood! I always ask around before buying things like dress shoes, cleats, music uniforms, snow gear or costume components.

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15 Meghan Beutler August 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I love your practical posts so much. Thanks for sharing from the wealth of information you’ve gained through learning from raising your family!

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16 This girl loves to Talk August 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I want to add to the clothes swap love! I just attended one with my sister (the YSA girls at church organised one for a Relief Society activity) it was heaps of fun and I walked away with several new outfits that when I got home I cleaned out all the ‘clothes I never wear’ and donated them and now I have several new outfits for spring! It was so good, cost nothing and I got practically never worn cute clothes!

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17 Jennifer August 22, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I do ALL of my shopping after the season, when I can find anything from t-shirts at $2.47 to jeans at $1.00 on clearance. (Really–that was an awesome find last season–I bought every pair they had in my son’s upcoming sizes!) Whenever I shop, I figure, “Well, they’ll be a size 10 eventually,” but I also shop carefully to make sure things are classic-looking and won’t seem dated in a year or two. My 3 kids have great (and eclectic) wardrobes, and they’re always thrilled with the “new” clothes I pull out at back-to-school time. I totalled up my clearance sale purchases that made up my 8-year-old’s wardrobe for this fall and it came to about $45 total, including t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, about 6 pairs of pants, and a pair of tennis shoes.

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18 Design Mom August 23, 2011 at 1:15 am

Wow! Way to bargain shop, Jennifer.

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19 Claire August 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm

It’s interesting and funny to me to hear about all the northern hemisphere kids planning on starting their school year soon. In Australia we’re only halfway through our third term and our school year starts in February. Most (or maybe all) of the schools here require a uniform, as ‘This Girl loves to talk’ said above. I work at a high school and instead of casual days the kids ‘get to’ wear their ‘house’ colours rather than casual clothes. Most other schools do have casual clothes days as a treat though.

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20 Design Mom August 23, 2011 at 1:16 am

So true, Claire! I’ve spent zero time in the southern hemisphere and can never quite wrap my head around the opposite seasons. : )

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21 Janelle August 22, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Great suggestions – many of which I “tried on” for the first time last week when my aunt came over and helped me go through my 5 kids’ dressers and closets. Since we home school, I wasn’t doing it for back to school, but so that my kiddos quit looking like orphans at the grocery store (we wear/use all our clothes as long as they can be). It was interesting how many gender neutral things we were able to switch around – the brown sweats my 3yo has outgrown, moved to her baby brother’s closet for next year, several gently used Tshirts from my 6yr old, became night shirts for the 3yr old for this winter.

This was also the year that I decided saving every single article of clothing to pass down needed to end – my house is too small for that much storage. So, the new rule is if it can be worn by someone else within the next year, it can stay, if not it’s gone. We threw away (and it nearly caused me heart failure) 5 bags of stained, worn, torn clothing, and donated another 6 bags of clothes in good condition. Then, we made outfits with what was left, and made a list of the items we need to finish outfits that were incomplete. My boys will look like boys – but my girls are going to be SO cute this year in their eclectic outfits!

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22 monica cano August 24, 2011 at 3:59 am

as in australia, kids in UK wear uniforms (public to private). we also have “non-uniform” days where you wear what you want and donate £1 which goes to a chosen charity.
UNIFORMS: all the kids look sharp, parents don’t worry about trends they have to keep up with, kids are all “equal”, wearing ‘street clothes’ becomes a real treat/novelty—–win win situation all around for us!

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23 monica cano August 24, 2011 at 4:05 am

UK: we start school on 6th sept (monday the 5th is teacher training).
we have 6 weeks off for the summer holidays. one week off every 6 weeks throughout the year. 2 weeks off for both xmas and easter.

my city will be changing this to 4 week summer hols, 2 weeks off every 6 weeks.

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