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5 Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothes

Aug 12, 2019 5 min read Jeff Bounds

Key Takeaways

  • Take inventory of your kids' clothes.
  • Sell, donate or trade anything they no longer wear.
  • Wait for fall clearances to buy name brand clothes.


For Jennifer and Steve Wright, buying back-to-school clothes in 2018 is about learning from past mistakes. Our hypothetical couple ran up credit card debt during last summer's school rush, so they've created a five-step plan to spend less this year while shopping for their elementary-aged kids.

The Wrights budgeted $240 for clothes, about a third of the total $685 they plan to shell out for back-to-school shopping. These numbers are in line with projected averages for spending from the National Retail Federation Opens in new window.

Jennifer and Steve want no part of the crowds, empty shelves, and stress of last-minute shopping. Here's how they plan to do better:

 


Step 1: Clean out the closet

The couple spends an afternoon deciding which clothes the kids can't — or won't — wear anymore. Discarded items will be sold or donated, and the inventory process helps them create a detailed shopping list for new clothes.

Their effort yields $30 after they sell old clothes to several online consignment shops. The leftovers are donated to charity, giving the Wrights a $70 tax deduction.


Step 2: Use discounts

Like his father, Steve served in the Army. He learns that retailers sometimes offer discounts to veterans and seniors. Jennifer and Steve thus turn shopping trips into family days, with both sets of grandparents coming along.

Steve uses an online list to find stores that reduce prices for former military personnel. His dad does the same, searching for discounts for the 60-plus set Opens in new window. Not to be outdone, Jennifer and her parents use online resources to find discounts at their favorite retailers.

They try to shop on days when at least one of the adults gets a discount of 20% or more.


Step 3: Pay now, not later

Steve and Jennifer pay cash for all their apparel purchases, using money they saved and set aside for this purpose. Jennifer got burned last year when she applied for a retailer's credit card. She forgot to check the interest rate — 29% — and wound up paying much more than the 10% discount given for the purchase at the register.

She wishes she had seen this study Opens in new window, which shows interest on retailers' credit cards can be twice as much than what other cards charge. For about a year, she made only the minimum $15 monthly payment on the debt until she used an online calculator to find it would take her 21 months to pay off the debt — and cost her $65.17 in interest. She paid it off from savings and vowed to read the fine print in the future.

 

Step 4: Necessities for now

Like other modern children, the Wright kids often want expensive things they've seen on social media and TV. Once school begins and the kids see what others are wearing, those desires often intensify or change completely.

The kids have a big say in how their parents spend money, something that is common among Generation Z. Jennifer and Steve make a deal with the kids — they'll consider one or two favored items, but first they'll research the item online together (thus avoiding big-ticket impulse buys) and look for ways to save. When the kids discover they can get more of what they want by simply waiting for it, they're on board with the plan. Bonus: They're more likely to take care of their belongings when they've "worked" for it.

Jennifer and Steve stick to buying only what the kids need most before school starts. That means undergarments and socks, along with a few shirts, tops and jeans.


Step 5: Shop offseason


The best deals on a given season's apparel come when stores must replace it with the next season's fashions, resulting in discounts that can reach 70% or more. Steve and Jennifer team with their parents to monitor clearance sales that can start in late August and go through October.

By shopping later in the year, Steve and Jennifer get discounts on items their children asked for after classes convened. And both kids get high quality jackets for fall — for 35% less than they'd cost six weeks earlier.

 

What you can do next

Download a list-making app and begin a detailed shopping list as you go through your kids' closets.

 

Jeff Bounds is a freelance writer in Garland, Texas. His work centers on finance, technology, and law.

 

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