Back-to-school clothes shopping can make many parents wish their kids wore uniforms to school. The back-to-school marketing blitz—which features everything from mechanical pencils to pencil skirts—now seems to begin directly following the Fourth of July, and the number of things your children "need" to successfully begin the new school year can make your head spin.
The good news: A little organization can help you start the bustling fall season on the right foot and keep you from blowing out your wallet.
Start by taking stock of what clothes your children already have. Spend a lazy August morning going through their closets. If you have the energy to turn it into a game of "fashion show," even better. Have them try on things that may no longer fit, and take a look at the clothes they wore to school last year to see if there are signs of excessive wear and tear.
Then pack away clothes they have outgrown for younger siblings or donate the pieces to friends, family, or your favorite charity.
Basic Shopping Lists
Once you have a basic understanding of what your kids need for the new school year, creating a loose framework of what you will buy for each child can help you stick to your budget. It is so easy to get whisked away by the beautiful ensembles shown in stores, and somehow these purchases inevitably end up in the back of the closet, largely unworn. To create a basic shopping list, consider what your kids like to wear, what is easy to put on in the morning, and what is safe and comfortable for them at school.
A basic outline for elementary school boys would be:
- Durable and comfortable long-sleeved shirts, one for each weekday
- Durable and comfortable pants, one pair for each weekday
- At least one pair of dress pants
- At least one nice, button-down shirt
A basic outline for elementary school girls would be:
- Durable and comfortable dresses, tunics, or shirts, one for each weekday
- Durable and comfortable pants or leggings, one for each weekday
- At least one formal dress
- At least one versatile cardigan for layering
For boys and girls:
- An update to socks (and tights)
- An update to underwear
- An update to pajamas
- An update to basic layering pieces like turtlenecks and long-sleeved shirts
- At least one pair of sneakers or playground shoes
- At least one pair of dress shoes for church and/or special assemblies at school
- A lightweight jacket for season transitions
- Winter-weather gear
Wait for Sales if You Can
Depending on the climate where you live, you might be able to delay your purchases to take advantage of sales. Pictures of gorgeous corduroys, sweaters, barn jackets, and boots are meant to mentally lure us out of the dog days of summer and into the crisp fall. The back-to-school marketing campaigns begin in late July or early August, but in many cases kids won't need those heavy fall clothes for months.
Patience is a virtue here. These items will go on sale in short order. If you can wait until the Columbus Day sales in mid-October, you will score these pieces for pennies on the dollar. Even holding out for after Labor Day sales is a big help to your budget.
Items That Go Fast
However, some items sell out quickly—mainly shoes and winter gear. You don't want to be on the wrong side of this buy and miss out on the shoes that your daughter "must" have or the winter jacket that all the other kids are wearing.
One favorite tradition is the Stride Rite BOGO sale that happens every August. When you purchase one pair of shoes at full price, you get a second pair at half price. This is an unmatched deal on the best national brands. The deal is so good, though, that the inventory at Stride Rite practically evaporates into thin air, with elementary school sizes disappearing first. It is worth it to be on top of that big event.
Snow jackets and pants, boots, hats, and mittens also tend to fly off the shelves (or Internet). And because they are made in very specific quantities, once they're gone, they're gone. It's good to buy before the weather changes so that you're prepared for the first snow or for a super-chilly night of trick-or-treating.
Other items that should be purchased sooner rather than later are lunchboxes and backpacks. The best selection is found before school starts.