Save Big on Back to School Wardrobes

Mother and son shopping for back to school clothes

It happens every August: the sunny summer vacation days seem to have flown by, and suddenly, it's time to hit the back to school sales. Comfy shorts, swimsuits and flip-flops have been fun, but by now it's hard to resist the allure of cozy sweaters, cute new jeans and other stylish fall fashions.

But restocking your kids' school wardrobes can be an expensive proposition for even the savviest shopper. Frugal parents can ease the hit on their wallets by following a few of these smart shopping tips. Yes, you can indulge in a stylish school wardrobe without breaking the bank!

1. Take wardrobe inventory before you buy.

Step one: take stock of what is already in your kids' closets. Have them try on all the tops and bottoms, shoes and yes, even the winter coats and boots. Chances are that there are at least a few pieces that still fit and are in good, wearable condition. Make room for your new purchases by weeding out everything that is outgrown, damaged or otherwise unusable. Now:

  • Work some magic with what's already in your closet. Give your little one's school wardrobe new life by upgrading with a few new pieces and accessories. Choose versatile tops and bottoms that can be mixed and matched.
  • Fund your back to school shopping with hidden cash. Take the outgrown clothing that is still in good condition, and sell it at a yard sale. Kids' clothing is always a big seller, especially costly items like winter coats, boots and dress clothes.

2. Don't rush the seasons.

Be patient. We all know that the Fourth of July fireworks are barely over before the racks are stocked with woolen turtlenecks and corduroy jeans. But in most areas of the country, you are weeks away from ditching your warm-weather finery. Resist the urge to buy up all the new autumn styles that will ultimately move to the sale racks by the time the cool weather strikes.

3. Share the wealth.

For families with multiple children, hand-me-downs are a given. Make the most of your purchases and ensure they can be passed along by investing in quality basics (plain tees, jeans, classic shirts ) in gender-neutral colors. It's best to avoid super trendy items that will quickly become outdated. Carefully stow away the outgrown fashions by size, then organize a clothing swap with a group of other frugal parents.

4. Seek out gently used clothing.

Don't overlook used clothing at yard sales, thrift stores, and online sites. Every parent knows that children's clothing is outgrown well before it has a chance to wear out, so you are sure to find good quality, gently used items. This is especially true for big-ticket items like winter coats, shoes, and special occasion pieces. Go online to preview garage sales on sites like to locate neighborhood sales and to preview offered items—sometimes with photos. One caution: before you buy, be sure to check for stains, rips, and tears and be certain that all the zippers and buttons are intact.

5. Never, ever, ever pay full price.

Make it a priority to scope out the sales racks. Ignore the lure of the colorful, trendy (and full price) items that greet you as you enter the children's department. Wander around and you are sure to find a few racks of marked down items, usually located in the rear of the area. Added bonus: you'll be teaching your kids an important lesson in smart shopping

6. Plan ahead.

By shopping the end-of-season sales, you'll score drastic reductions on seasonal styles. Just buy up a size or two and put away for next year's wardrobe upgrade.