Money Saving Tips for Back-to-School Clothes Shopping

If you have school-age children, back-to-school season means big bucks. On top of books and supplies, you’ll probably spend some cash on new clothing.

We’ve rounded up three local experts to share their back-to-school savings secrets with you: Jill Cataldo, a Huntley mother of three who’s built a name for herself teaching people to slash grocery bills using coupons, and also applies her money-saving strategies to clothes shopping; Alexis Del Campo Eyler, the co-owner of Evanston children’s clothing shop Lollie and a busy mother of three; and, Andrew Schrage, a Chicago-based savings guru who works for the site

Before you make a mad dash to the department store, consider these strategies to save money without sacrificing style:

Timing is everything

  • Don’t shop for clothes right before school starts when prices are at their highest. It’s likely to be warm at the beginning of the school year, so kids can wear classroom-appropriate summer clothing for the first couple of weeks. Then hit the stores after Labor Day when most retailers have super sales.
  • Shop at the end of each season for clothes to wear next season. This strategy is perfect for staples like basic t-shirts or sweaters that aren’t likely to go out of style by the next season.
  • Give teens gift cards to their favorite stores for birthday and holidays. When back-to-school season rolls around, they can use the cards to choose their own clothing.

Work the system

  • Department stores like Macy’s frequently mail coupons for $10 off a $25 purchase. Combine these with store sales for double savings.
  • If you frequent a certain shop, consider opening a store credit card, which can get you deep discounts and special coupons.
  • Turn clutter into cash by cleaning out closets and taking gently-used clothes to trendy resale shops like Plato’s Closet, where kids can get cash or store credit for their old clothes.
  • Check websites for your favorite retailers, where you may find the same items being sold in stores at lower prices online. But, be sure to check return policies because shipping charges to return items that don’t fit can add up.
  • Look for deals on basics at stores where you wouldn’t normally think to buy clothes. For example, Cataldo says Meyer recently gave customers a coupon for Fruit of the Loom when they spent a certain amount on Kellogg’s products. She bought groceries and then stocked up on socks and underwear for her kids using the Fruit of the Loom coupons.

Choose hard-working clothes

  • Buy pieces that can be worn during all seasons. Your daughter can get extra mileage out of a summer dress by pairing it with leggings and a cardigan come autumn.
  • Instead of constantly buying new low-quality clothes, build your kids’ wardrobes with well-made pieces that will stand the test of time (and the playground!).
  • Choose mix-and-match separates so you can turn three or four pieces into 10 different outfits. One of Del Campo Eyler’s favorite brands for mixing and matching is Neige.
  • Have you ever left Target with only the items on your list? If you shop for back-to-school clothing at superstores, be aware of buying things you don’t need, which can quickly increase your bill.

Style for next to nothing

  • Make friends with the clearance rack, where Cataldo says you’ll find plenty of in-season duds because clothing items can move from the front of the store to the clearance rack in as little as three weeks.
  • One word: accessorize. You can breathe new life into old outfits with scarves, belts and other accessories.
  • Get together with a few families who have kids around the same ages as yours and do a clothing swap. Fun and free!
  • Shop thrift stores and garage sales, where you may find top-of-the-line clothing that is often barely worn.
  • Have older kids search on eBay for high-end items, where they may be sold at significant discounts.

Our readers often have our best tips. What’s yours? How do you save on your children’s back to school clothes? Hit the comment button and let us know.