If your family is like mine, your summertime bucket list may be only half complete, and early mornings and school lunches are the furthest thing from your mind. But like it or not, the beginning of a new school year is right around the corner. Here are just a few suggestions to conquer back-to-school shopping without busting your budget.
- Take inventory of your closets. If your closets are like ours, they are filled with things we wear often, and items that haven’t been touched in more than a year. Start the new school year off by clearing out the items that are too small or rarely worn by selling or passing them down. Repurpose dresses into tunic tops, and decide if shirts and pants can make it another few months. Bonus tip: if you sell items still in great shape to a local consignment store or Moxie Jean, you can earn cash or store credit to spend on whatever the kids need next.
- Set a budget and stick to it. Based on the 2014 survey data reported by the National Retail Federation, families are prepared to spend $355 for each child on back-to-school clothes and shoes. It’s essential to know exactly what you are going to purchase and how much you have available to spend. This is always challenging when kids are concerned with the latest trends (Frozen tees, anyone?), but we’re also concerned about how far we can stretch our dollars. Let your child pick out one or two special items, while you monitor the overall volume to ensure all the essentials are covered.
- Make a list, and plan before you shop. In order to remain cost conscious, you need to avoid impulse purchases. Decide how many pants, shirts, shoes, etc., that each child needs. The rule of thumb in our household is enough socks and underwear to last a week, quality outerwear (which is essential in Chicagoland, where we live!), five play/school outfits and 2 dressier outfits. Added to what’s still good from last season, it should be enough to get you through the season. Being able to mix and match items is essential as well.
- Start early and look often. At sites like Moxie Jean or even Gap.com, new merchandise and markdowns appear regularly. Your kids know which looks they love, so make it a point to visit their top five shopping sites often, and you’ll be sure to find the best deals without paying overnight shipping charges.
- Consolidate purchases to get free shipping. It’s ridiculous to buy one thing from a web site and pay $7.95 to ship that one item. Only purchase when you can get free shipping—usually when you spend at least $50.
- Buy high-quality resale. Okay, this is an area I know you can get the most for your back-to-school clothes budget. If you have Land’s End taste and a Sears budget, resale gives you the opportunity to get top brands in excellent condition for the same price that you would pay for discount brands purchased new. Look for second-hand sites that stand behind every item with a money-back guarantee.
- Be realistic about what your kids will wear. Have you ever found an adorable outfit that you just had to purchase even though part of you knew that your kid would never wear it? Yeah, me too. It’s tempting, but try to pass it up. Your budget—and your kids—will thank you.
- Sign-up and save. If stores offer sales and coupons, why not combine them both? Many websites, including Moxie Jean, offer an introductory discount for signing up for their email list. (If you sign up for a lot of retail emails, use a service like Unroll.me to keep your inbox under control.)
- Shop tax-free in some states. When every penny counts and you’re purchasing in large quantity (or an expensive computer for that matter), it’s important to know when you can shop tax-free. Here’s a great site to find out about tax-free shopping days.
- You don’t have to buy everything before Labor Day. After the shopping surge subsides and your kids are back in the classroom, look for the items you may have missed again in late September and October. You’ll likely find some great deals on clearance or with significant discounts that you otherwise wouldn’t have a month earlier.
“I want to pay full price for my kids’ clothes!” said no mom. Ever. So don’t fall into that trap. Take charge of your budget early on in the process, find some quality items that you and your kids can feel good about, embrace your inner-bargain hunter, and enjoy this experience with your children. We all know so well how fast they grow!
Sharon Schneider is co-founder and CEO of Moxie Jean, the upscale resale website that helps families find high-quality, gently used kids’ clothing from newborn to size 14. Sharon and her husband Bill (a science teacher) have three kids, ages 10, 8 and 3 and live in the Chicagoland area.
The National Retail Federation’s data suggests that Back to School shoppers will “spend an average of $231.30 on clothes, up from $230.85, and $124.46 on shoes, up from $114.39 in 2013.” Do you expect your family will spend more, about that, or less than that per child in your household? Weigh in in the comments section below.