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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