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A back-to-school clothes checklist to keep you from blowing that budget

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

The only back-to-school clothes kids really need (so you don't overspend)

It's that time again! Back-to-school shopping can be a fun bonding activity for some parents and their kids, and for others, well, we're starting to feel like it's the ninth circle of hell. If you're dreading hitting Target or the department store with your kiddos to beef up their wardrobes for the upcoming year, we don't blame you.

More: 15 life skills every kid should know before they leave for college

We do suggest that you bookmark, print and pin our back-to-school shopping "cheat sheet" on Pinterest to keep things as fun as possible and avoid wasting an entire afternoon at the mall:

The only back-to-school clothes kids really need (so you don't overspend)
Image: Karen Cox/SheKnows

Dress code clothes

Check your school's dress code before heading out to do your back-to-school shopping. Whether it’s a uniform or a structured code, your school's clothing requirements need to be met or your child may be sent home. Make sure you know the rules before shopping. Many kids' clothing stores and discount stores stock their shelves for back-to-school with clothing that meets local schools' requirements.


Check your kids' socks and underwear drawer and get rid of any raggedy, hole-y or otherwise worn out items. Your kids should have at least 10 to 14 pairs of socks (white, black and other colors) and at least 10 to 14 pairs of underwear. Girls may also want a few pairs of tights or thin leggings to layer as the weather grows cold.

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Casual clothes

Remember that part of the school day includes jumping, running and climbing on playground equipment. Make sure the clothing you purchase for your kids is appropriate for all that active play. If your school allows, purchase comfortable and breathable athletic-style shorts.

Keep in mind that school clothes need to be comfortable but also withstand a little wear and tear. Aside from active play, the clothes are likely to come in contact with a messy art project from time to time.

To save yourself from doing laundry mid-week, your child should have a fresh outfit to wear every day of the school week, plus one or two extras just in case. Check out this breakdown:

  • Shirts: 8-10
  • Pants: 7 (go for a variety of jeans, khakis, leggings and one dressy pair)
  • Sweatshirts/sweaters: 3 (once again, variety is key — mix it up with pull-overs or hoodies and one nice sweater for special events)
  • Long-sleeve shirts: 5 (add at least one dressy top into this mix for school concerts or presentations)


Comfortable shoes are also important for getting your child through a long day of class, play time, PE and walking/biking to and from school. Make sure your child has a good pair of sneakers, a breathable and comfortable pair of sandals (if you happen to live in a place where the weather stays warmer into the fall), as well as a nice pair of dress shoes for school programs. We recommend buying two pairs of sneakers, if you can — one to use for play and after-school activities, and one to use for the school day. Kids need to burn off steam after school, and you don't want them doing it in their school shoes!

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Depending on your climate, the right outerwear is a must on your child's back-to-school shopping list. In some colder climates, schools won't even let kids on the playground during the winter if they don't have the right coat and cold weather gear, like a scarf and gloves.

Warmer and rainier climates may do well with a light jacket or raincoat instead. While you're at it, it's always a great idea to grab a few extra pairs of PJs along with the school stuff. Silly PJs are always a fun treat for kids and should keep you covered for bedtime until the end of the year.

Our back-to-school checklist is also printable to make your shopping trip that much easier:

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

The only back-to-school clothes kids really need (so you don't overspend)
Image: People Images/Getty Images

Originally published July 2012. Updated July 2016.

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