When we were really broke, this was the time of year I dreaded most, even more than Christmas. See, I loved school as a kid and as a former teacher, I still get excited at the prospect of new clothes, supplies and backpacks to start every September. Since moving to this town, my kids have always worn uniforms and I’ve quickly learned it’s harder to fake uniforms than it is regular clothes. I can stretch regular wardrobes into new seasons with a few accessories, but a school uniform is what it is and there is no faking a short hem.
I have gotten creative and this year, ironically when there is a bit more money, it seems I’ve honed my craft so much that I have saved even more than usual. Here are a few tips to help you save some on back to school shopping, whether you’re broke or not!
- Alternatives to Uniforms: Most stores have figured out there is profit in uniforms so check other places before you go with what your school suggests. I got all my kids’ khaki pants, shorts and skorts at Old Navy for a fraction of the Lands’ End price. That said, I also went to Sears and found some Lands End clearance racks where I scored a few new uniform skorts and a pair of shoes for The Girl for $11.66. There is no rule that uniforms be “seasonal” so last year’s styles are perfect for this cost-cutting mom.
- Shop Consignment: There is no shame in this and now it’s even Eco-Chic. See if your school has a used uniform sale and if your kids don’t wear uniforms, go to the ritziest part of town and hit their second hand shops. Trust me, we have gotten more brand-name clothes and shoes that still have tags on it for $5 than you can shake a stick at. For younger kids, they don’t know enough to care that they clothes aren’t brand new and for older kids, sell them on the responsible citizen angle or tell them they’re cool for their independent style. Either way, before you buy new check out “vintage”. You’ll thank me for it.
- Join Clubs: I got free shipping with my Lands End preferred member number. I also get emails with special discounts because I signed up under their preferred school program. I got 20% shoes because I joined the Famous Footwear club. I got $5.46 toward my Sears order because I joined their Kidvantage club. If you can get past all the cards you’ll accumulate, joining these store clubs is totally worth it. Just set up a separate email account if you don’t want their deals coming to your work inbox!
- Coupons: Check mailers this time of year. There are stores all through the mall that have 10-50% off coupons or deals like buy $50 save $25. If anyone you know sells Kids Stuff deal books or Entertainment coupon books, buy them. You’ll make back the money you spend on kids’ clothes alone.
- Watch sales and shop timely: Right now you may not be thinking of school or you may already have started. But if you can from a time and paycheck perspective, watch for early season sales. Yesterday I got four pairs of $50+ kids’ shoes for $88 total. The shoe store had buy one get one half off plus I used some aforementioned club points and walked out of there with more than 60% off my total purchase. You can bet I had a spring in my step. So watch for sales on clothes, shoes, and supplies. They happen and sometimes they are huge!
- Be patient: While it pays to shop for some things early, you don’t have to have everything on day one of school and often prices drop after that magical first day. Trust me, as a former teacher if the kids don’t start with every single item on their supply list or an entirely new wardrobe, they won’t suffer too much. The teacher may hate you because the first few days are for putting names on things, but the older your kids are the more they can handle that themselves. So if you need eight notebooks, you can probably buy a couple to start and save the bulk for day three of school. Same goes for clothes. They don’t need everything day one. Buy them one or two outfits to get them through the first week and then shop a little later into the school year. After all, for most of the country they can get away with their summer clothes for at least a few weeks. Don’t get caught up in the frantic race to have it all day one. Be smart. Be patient and everyone ends up happier.
It takes some strategic planning and budgeting. But it is worth it for everyone in the end.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.