Thursday, July 12, 2012

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!


  1. I usually spend $150 on three kids. I get two new pairs of pants and two shirts each, then in October I hit the sales again and spend about the same.
    We shop Children's place use lots of coupon codes, shop old navy. I only look at clearance items, savers is a great place to find things too. You could have a swamp meet night at church where everyone brings 20+ items they want to get rid of. Everything is a quarter at the end of the night the things you brought are gone and now you have new treasures.

    1. Wow! You are amazing, Andrea. My daughter is growing like a weed, and none of her jeans fit her. Thanks for the October tip! I will keep that in mind.

  2. I always do really well at Kohls. Shop sale and clearance when I have a 30% off coupon. I just spent $90 for 4 pants, 4 dresses, 8 shirts!

    1. Hi Valerie,

      I like Kohls clearance too! But we had a blast hitting the thrift stores this time. Just spent $64.00 on 21 items! Had to pdate the post.

    2. Valerie,
      My kids are all grown but I used to shop the thrift stores all the time to keep the five of them clothed in up-to-date style for the things I didn't sew for them. We always bought new shoes (two were born with foot problems - so very expensive) and new underwear.
      Now, I shop only sales and thrift stores for myself as a teacher - for what I don't make - so it works for adults too. I've even challenged myself to doing Christmas for the 26 people in the family with nothing but thrift store and at least 50% off sales. They never knew (and some would have been upset if they did) and were delighted with their gifts. It does take a lot of time to do this, so it won't happen this year (as a complete thing) but I do at least some each year - it's fun and financially rewarding!.


  3. Great job! I appreciated your comment about pride getting in the way if we won't shop at thrift stores. It's a great reminder. Plus, getting practically new kids' jeans for $1 is a goodie too. lol! Every bit I save on school clothes, supplies, rebates & coupons goes into our college savings account. They'll thank me later! :)

  4. Valerie I have read your blog for awhile now and always learn something from you. But what you wrote about thrifting for school clothes just wouldn't leave my mind. "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." I have always had no problem digging around DI for that certain Corelle pattern from the 1960's and getting crazy excited about finding a brand new Cocomotion for $3.00... but I've always mentally drawn the line at shopping for clothes. I didn't really ever analyze that until I read your blog post and I realized that it was pride. After processing it, I actually got down on my knees and asked for forgiveness.

    Here's the thing... my kiddos wear through their jeans so quickly that I don't know why it has never crossed my mind!

    So I took my 7 and 8 year old's to two different DI's (Provo and American Fork) and we were so excited to find 15 pairs of jeans and 13 long sleeve tops and sweater. All were in perfect condition, no warn knees or stains anywhere. Gymboree, Limited Too, Children's Place. Brilliant!

    Thank you so much for your inspired efforts. I'm sure you put so much time and love into your blog. We all appreciate it!

    1. Wow! So happy you were successful. You brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for your kind remarks.

  5. Oh I should also mention that those 15 pairs of jeans and 13 long sleeve shirts and sweaters cost me a whopping $97.00. Amazing!

  6. It’s lovely giving information about this. I really consider all the things which you mention in the blog. It’ really helpful for me. These days, a vast range of clothes are available for small children everywhere, around the globe. The parents of many kids, like to provide their child, with several clothes for various purposes. Even children have their own choice and they prefer wearing different types of clothes.

  7. Justice adds to the clearance dept. on Wed. and Thurs!! Print off an additional disc. and maximize your value!! I get my coupons for there at! Just bought a bag ...Reg. retail was 30 in clearance for 40% off + my 40% off coupon...payed less than 10.50 for it!! Woot Woot!!


Thanks for your comments and suggestions!