8 Back-to-School Clothing Shopping Tips

Four stores later – 21 “new” items for $64.00!

In 2011, an American Express study said that the average American family will spend $400 for school clothes. My goal this summer is to spend $150 total for my 7-year old daughter and most of that will go to shoes. The only way for me to do this is to inventory what we have, plan carefully, and shop as much as possible at thrift stores and clearance sales. 

Every time I go thrift store shopping, I wonder why I shop anywhere else. This week my 7-year old and I went to two different Kid-to-Kid thrift stores here in Utah. I wasn’t sure she would have the patience for it, but she really wanted to look for some stylish clothes and did great. Usually I buy the basics at other stores, but my daughter really wanted to have “the cute stuff.”

At first she kept grabbing items off the rack that were faded, and I would return them to the rack which kept disappointing her. So I decided to let her pick what she liked and we built a big pile. She was happier, but I warned her that some things would go back. 

The hardest part was trying on 8 pairs of jeans in a hot dressing room. Some were too tight, too low or too short so we ended up getting none. But we will try again on another trip.

When we were both done selecting what we thought would be good for her, we talked about each item. I pointed out which ones were faded, stained, too large or too small. She was happy to get 10 “new” used things and I was happy because it only cost me $36.00; an average of $3.60 per item!

Besides saving money, another reason I like to shop at second-hand stores is because it keeps me humble. If there ever comes a time in my life when I can’t shop in a thrift store, I know I’ve let pride enter my heart. Who knows what our future financial situation will be? Or when my children become adults, what it will be like for them.

At thrift stores, we can buy higher quality brands like Gap, Gymboree, The Children’s Place, Justice, Roxy, and more. And usually higher quality means it will wash and wear better. However, Old Navy or Cherokee jeans work fine for us too. There are a few items I buy new like shoes, socks, and underwear, but of course only on sale. 

Back-to-School Shopping Plan

  1. Create a plan. Even though school may not start until September, stores put summer clothes on clearance now to make room for back-to-school items, so take advantage of these sales. And this weekend many thrift stores like Platos Closet (teens), are putting items on clearance as well. Sign up for emails from thrift stores to be notified of sales. 
  2. Wardrobe Inventory List. Make a wardrobe inventory of what your child has. Go through everything and decide what your child can still wear this fall. Give away small items and toss worn ones. I did this while my daughter was asleep, because some of the favorites had to go. Below is a spreadsheet with my wardrobe inventory. 
  3. Add needs. Ah! Needs and wants are always hard to decide. As you look at your list, decide what you need without going overboard or under-board. I’m usually guilty of going under-board, though you might not think so looking at my list. Does she need one white tee or two? Will three pairs of jeans do, or is five better because you don’t have to wash as often. I only buy one pack of socks at a time because I assume there will be some foot growth. Generations ago one pair of shoes was all each child had. 
  4. Add prices. Include the estimated retail price, sales price and thrift/clearance price to your list. These details will keep things under control. Do you really know what it costs to clothe a child? I assumed 50% off the retail for a good sales price, 80% off the retail price for a 
    stupendous  thrift/clearance price. You can look up retail prices online at your favorite stores. Use a spreadsheet to make it easy to figure out the total cost of items. But notepaper works just as well. 
  5. Prepare a budget. That should be easy since you made your list. You don’t have to buy everything before school starts. Maybe you only have a $50 budget each month. Even if you miss a store sale, thrift stores are always there. My daughter has decided to use last year’s backpack, but buy a new lunch box and water bottle. However, if she needs one in October it will probably be on clearance then.
  6. Choose a color scheme. You will save a ton of money if you do this because your clothes will coordinate. This is the first year I’ve really done this and it makes perfect sense. Check online at Gymboree for color schemes. Here are a few examples: purple, light purple, yellow; burnt orange, green, pink; pink, purple and orange; purple, pink, and aqua; light blue, navy, and khaki; navy, green, pink; or red, navy and denim. We are using pink, purple, and aqua with basics in denim and black.
  7. Find thrift stores. Do a Google search for thrift stores in your area. In a 10 mile radius I have two Deseret Industries, two Kid-to-Kid stores, one Savers, two Platos Closet (teens), and one Once Upon a Child. Your area may have The Salvation Army or The Goodwill.
  8. Window shop online. Now that you have a list, look online for items you want to buy new. But don’t actually buy. You are making a plan. I looked at Land’s End, Target, Kohl’s, Gymboree and The Children’s Place who are all having clearance sales. Save your ideas on a Pinterest board, and watch your newspaper ads for the coming sales over the next few weeks and months.

Good luck hunting for what you need!

(Update 7/13/12
We finished our shopping week! I’m so proud of it. After four trips to different thrift stores, the photo above shows 21 “new” used items. 

1 pair of jeans – $3.00
1 hoodie – $4.00
2 skirts – $3.00 ea.
2 dresses – $4.00 ea.
8 tops – $2.00
3 tops – $3.00
3 tops – $4.00
1 top – $6.00
21 Total items

I spent $64.00 or an average of $3.04 per item
Retail: $400.00 (seriously high quality items)
Savings $336 Love it!

Please leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.