"My daughters go right for the jeans racks but forget that they need stuff to wear with the jeans," says Michelle, mom of three girls. "There's nothing worse than three topless girls whining that they have nothing to wear on the first school morning."
Don't just randomly hit the stores at the mall. Browse through sales flyers, go through the kids' closets and figure out what you need. Make a list, figure out which stores you'll visit and stick to your plan (and budget!).
When deciding what to buy, remember (and remind the kids) that every top needs a bottom. Put outfits together instead of stocking up on a bunch of pants or shirts. For example: Point out jeans that would look great with a bunch of shirts he already has. Call attention to those cropped sweats that will look cute with a t-shirt for gym class or with a hoodie for everyday wear.
Remember, most retail stores are at least one season ahead, which means they're marketing fall and winter clothes when you're school shopping. Your kids won't need heavy sweaters and sweatshirts those first couple of months, so don't hurry to the stores to pay full price for them.
The clothes your children need for the first weeks of school are probably those that are on clearance right now, so take advantage. (In fact, if you think you can predict next year's sizes, this is a good time to get some stuff for the end of this school year and the beginning of the next.)
You may need to visit stores to determine your kids' sizes, but buying online is often a more cost-effective way to stock their wardrobe. Look for online back-to-school sales, free shipping offers and promotional student accounts.
"I look at the Macy's website with my grandchildren so I can see exactly what they want," says Jenny, grandmother of eight. "The site shows the outfits already put together, so we all get an idea of what's in style this year. Plus, if I order everything at once, I get free shipping… and I avoid the hassles of the mall parking lot."
Auction sites such as eBay can be lifesavers for kids who just have to wear certain brand names. "I am not willing to pay $50 for one sweatshirt," says Lynnsae, who has two well-dressed tween sons. "My kids like a certain look, but they grow too fast for us to spend money like that."
Instead, Lynnsae shops for gently-used clothes on eBay. "I can find a 'lot' of five hoodies on eBay for the price of one hoodie from the store," she says. "And that includes shipping costs."
On the flip side, selling your own kids' brand-name clothes is a great way to make money. "I might only make $1 for a sweatshirt at a yard sale, but I might make $10 for the same thing on eBay," Lynnsae adds.
Google "tax free holiday" to find out whether your state will remove sales tax for a few days for back-to-school shoppers. You'll be surprised just how much money you save on in-store purchases.
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