Back to School Wardrobes for Less

February 12th, 2013 posted by Kim Tilley

school girl Does your child’s wardrobe needs seem to break the bank? Getting kids ready to go back to school in style does not have to cost an arm and a leg. Here are some ideas for saving big money on that “back to school” wardrobe that your child just has to have:

Hit the clearances!

The end of summer is the best time to pick up warm weather clothing for dirt cheap. Here in the Midwest, the kids will generally wear summer clothes for at least the first and last 2 months of school. At Kmart, you can layaway clearance items, which can help if you are really stocking up. We now buy all of our winter clothing (that is not found at yard sales, thrift shops or other places) in February, and all of our summer items in July/August. I use this technique to fill in our wardrobe, especially with items that are harder to find, such as jeans, shoes, etc.

Yard sales & thrift stores.

Plan ahead by going to yard sales during the summer. Keep a list of your children’s sizes in your purse. It also helps to go through their clothes and make a list of what they need the most. In our area, yard sales are held through October, so if you missed them, it isn’t too late to find great deals! Even setting aside one Saturday morning a month is enough to get the kids taken care of. Subdivision sales are often easiest for busy moms to find things at. Don’t forget church rummage sales as well! // If you don’t have any time for yard sales, try the thrift shops. They tend to have more variety, though the prices are higher. Check out kids’ consignment shops as well. Keep an eye out for sales, coupons and rebates for underwear and socks. Fall is a big time for these.

Make it.

One of our frugal crafts list members makes underwear for her kids from patterned knit jersey and interlock fabrics bought on clearance or leftover from other projects. She uses Kwik Sew 2464 for the boys and Kwik Sew 2334 her husband. The kids love their “designer underwear” and the cost is a fraction of store-bought. If you can sew, use your talent to save money!

Take advantage of replacement policies.

I buy all of my children’s jeans at Sears and Kmart. Both stores will replace worn out items with new items if the child wears them out before they outgrow them. Since I have three boys who are hard on jeans, this really helps. Since we can get them replaced, the hand me downs that the next kid wears usually look much better because they are not worn out. Someone asked me if it’s ethical to get the jeans replaced before the child outgrows them so that they can be handed down. My opinion is that it is ethical. I have not take back jeans that my child has already outgrown. The fact that I have three boys (facilitating hand-me-downs) works to my advantage, but I certainly did not plan it that way! These stores offer these policies to establish a loyal customer base, and it is because of these policies that I even consider buying jeans brand new.

Stick to the basic colors.

Mix and match colors to make your child’s wardrobe go farther. This is really easy to do with younger children. I generally buy primary colors for the boys, with black and blue jeans and shorts to go with everything. Olive green and khaki are also boy favorites, and fairly neutral. With as many army shirts as my boys own, these colors, in addition to black, will take them anywhere.


As my kids get older, I am discovering that shoes can get really expensive! When they were younger, we could find nice, lightly used shoes at yard sales and thrift shops. I find it almost impossible to find used shoes in their sizes, let alone in any kind of acceptable condition. At 9 and 6, my two oldest boys become “vapor wear” after just a few months. I tried paying the extra at Sears for shoes that are covered by their replacement policy, But found that not only were the kids outwearing the shoes, they are also outgrowing them just as quickly. I have a hard time finding shoes anywhere else in my oldest son’s size. Even Super Walmart doesn’t seem to stock them in his size or width. After three months of scouring the stores, I found plenty of shoes in his size on clearance at Kmart (no, I really don’t work there). They also had my impossible-to-find size of 10 wide (call me Bigfoot!) Needless to say, I stocked up!

Older Kids

If you kids are older and close to your size, you may be able to hand down some of your clothing or let them borrow it. I have a friend who used to do this with her daughter, before her daughter outgrew here! I don’t have any daughters to do this with, but I remember how much fun I had raiding my mom’s closet for outfits.

Vintage clothing.

With the retro clothing fashions of today, your kids may take a liking to some of the older items from the 60s and 70s. Dig out those old bell bottoms and let your teen go wild! If you were still a kid during this time and have no retro clothing hanging in your closet (or burned it!), take your teen down to the thrift store.

Give older kids a budget to work with.

You may be surprised at what they come up with. And if they manage their own clothing budget, they may have a better understanding of why you are always saying, “that’s too expensive”. Let them know that whatever they buy has to last them an entire school year, and that they are stuck with their choices. This may curb their appetite for the latest neon green tube tops or super baggy pants. Then again, it may not, but they are stuck wearing it. Make them pay for extravagant things that they just “have to have”. You may have to clothe them till they’re 18, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay for the $100 pair of Nike tennis shoes or the starter jacket that you kids wants because everyone else has them. If they are over 16, they can get a part time job and spend their own money on these things. Perhaps they will think twice about buying the shoes if they realize how much effort goes into affording them. If you teen is too young to work, he or she could try earning money through chores, baby-sitting, mowing neighbor’s lawns, and shoveling snow. Kids need to learn these life lessons. You teen still may decide to go ahead and buy the expensive item, but at least he or she earned it on their own. By planning ahead and working with your children, everyone can be happy with their wardrobes without spending a ton of money. Take note of what works with your children and what doesn’t — every situation is unique. Creativity and planning are the biggest weapons you have in fighting the battle of the back to school budget! You can do it! Sign up forour weekly Frugal Mom Newsletter ! it’s free! Send any email to mailto:[email protected] orsign up on the left side of this article.

Kim Tilley (22 Posts)

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Cindy Rowe
Cindy Rowe (7 Posts)

Cindy Rowe is the owner/editor of Crazylou Creations blog. On the blog, you will find a little bit of crazy, and a whole lot of fun! As a FT working mother, she still finds time to create crafts, play around in the kitchen, plan parties and exercise. You'll find all of this and more on her blog!

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