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Back to school shopping tips

I’m starting to get the back to school itch. It’s not as bright in the mornings. I have gotten three pieces of mail from my kids’ school this week. I am nagging my daughters to finish their summer reading and work. Yes, school must be right around the corner.

I have lived and learned when it comes to back to school shopping. I have fallen into the trap (more than once) of overspending on my kids’ clothes and materials for the new school year and definitely gotten carried away. Not this year. I am embarking on back to school shopping armed and ready – here are some guidelines I am going to follow so I can try and save money and not buy anything my kids don’t need:

Step 1  – Organize on the home front.

This means I’ll go through the kids’ clothes, see what fits, what’ s trashed, and what can be kept, passed on to siblings or friends or given to charity. This going through drawers process will take all of an hour or two and is extremely therapeutic. After I’ve gone through the drawers I catch myself opening them again just to admire my work. I have problems – I know.

I’ll also go through hand-me-downs I’ve been hoarding and see what can be worn by my kids now. On the topic of hand-me-downs – these are a life saver, especially when it comes to coats (fleeces, winter coats and rain jackets) and winter boots. My son has only worn boots and parkas that have been hand-me-downs from a friend of mine that were passed on to HER from a family I don’t even know. My son has asked who John McCarthy is (the name on his winter gear) and I don’t even know. Thank you McCarthy family. Good quality gear can last forever. Be sure to take advantage of hand-me-downs and pass your stuff on as well.

Step 2 – Make a plan of attack.

This means figuring out what stores I’ll hit – I’ll check out ads to see if there are any sales going on and hit websites as well. Also, I’ll see if there is anything specific required for school – for example, my kids’ school requires them to leave gym shoes at school so I always ask around first to see if anyone has any hand-me-downs and if not, decide on the cheapest place to get them as these are back up shoes.

Step 3 – Hold off on winter gear if possible.

It is tempting to go crazy and buy all the cute corduroys, winter hats, boots and sweaters that are flooding television commercials right now. But honestly, a lot of summer stuff and last spring’s clothing can carry me through until November. At that point, most of the winter clothing will be on sale and I’ll get longer use through the season as my kids hopefully won’t outgrow too many items. 

Step 4: Go shopping armed with a list – and your kids if necessary.

This is one area where I’ve really lived and learned. I have bought so many pants, shirts, etc. for my daughter that have never seen the light of day. Yet a ratty tshirt with fake jewels has been worn until it’s in tatters. I have a hard time predicting what my daughters will wear (my son is not a problem at this point – love boys) so I first make a list of exactly what they need, after going through their drawers – for the girls usually this means 3 pairs of pants, 5 tops, 2 sweaters, 1 skirt and 1 dress, school shoes and sneakers.

I try to choose items that all go together so the girls can pretty much grab anything from their drawers and it will match. Next, I make them try everything on and ask at least three times – are you sure you are going to wear this? Also, I’ll resist temptation to get the cute kitty tshirt – this is a stick to the list shopping day.

 Step 5: Buy one season ahead.

This is also a great time to take advantage of end of summer sales and buy one size ahead for next year. I can save up to 70% by doing this. It takes a lot of discipline, but definitely worth it. Wish me luck!

How do you save money during back to school shopping?

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Rachael Ray