Back to School Clothes Shopping on a Budget

Here are some timely tips for finding great back-to-school clothing buys without killing your budget or making your kids cry. 

Start by making the list of what’s absolutely needed.  There’s a difference between “want” and “need” and this little lesson is great for parents, grandparents and kids. 

Take Inventory
First, I dig through drawers and closets to take inventory, remove items that are too worn or they have outgrown.  What’s left is our starting point.

Make a List
Next, I make a list and divide it into “now” and “later” columns.  I know both of my school-age children need pants and shorts.  The little guy needs a few shirts as well.  One is fine on a jacket, the other could use one although it isn’t needed on day 1.  I also know that during the course of the semester my daughter will likely need a black skirt and white blouse.  I don’t need it for the first day of school either so will add these to my “later” list.

On the “now” list I have pants/jeans, shorts and little boy’s shirts.  I don’t need a slew of them but along with what already fits, enough to make it through the week.  My daughter is in need of a pair of casual (not tennis shoes) shoes so that goes on the list.

What isn’t needed “now” is listed under “later” and as I’m shopping I can take advantage of great finds if it’s within my budget.

Set a Budget
If you have a set dollar amount – super!  You are ahead of the game.   For two kids heading back to school I’ve given myself a budget of $125 cash for everything – yes, everything. 

I was able to leap a little ahead of the game because I received a $65 gift certificate last month that I spent on 3 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of jeans and a shirt.  My $125 is in addition to this.  Amazon has some great deals as they carry clothes from a number of retailers including Target and The Children’s Palace.


Make a Shopping Plan
This sounds silly, doesn’t it?  I recall doing my school shopping with my mom and wanting various outfits and items.  I also recall the stressed look on her face.  While I’m not trying to cheat my kids out of the experience, I’m also looking to save money (time, gas, clothes) and get what is needed.  For that reason alone, I’m doing most of my shopping online these days.

Gently Used
I love Craigslist.  End of story.  Here is one of the ads I listed for free in the Wanted > Kids & Babies category:

I am in need of gently used size 8 girls clothing. If your daughter has outgrown her’s and you were looking for a good home, please let me know. Ideally I’d like a bag of clothes – pants, shorts, skirts or dresses, shirts, sweaters/pullovers for a fixed price ($x for the whole bag)

I placed a similar ad for boy’s clothing and within hours had a number of offers to buy bags of clothing for anywhere from $5-$30.  I’m in communication with two that sound promising and for less than $30 I should be able to get everything I need for my son.

eBay is another avenue to take for both gently used and new clothing in “lots”.  My husband jokes that this is the new “off the back of the truck” service.  I don’t question, I simply bid.  Yesterday I was successful in two auctions and for a total of $39.88 my daughter now has 9 pair of gently used (but new to her) pants including 2 pair of Levi’s and 2 skirts.  That’s more than enough and still leaves $85.12 in the budget for shoes and items for my son and shoes for my daughter. 

Don’t Forget the Shoes

Shop for Shoes up to 75% off at
I’m a big believer that growing feet need support.  For that reason alone, I always go for new shoes unless I can find a new pair on Craiglist or eBay. 

However, more and more I’m finding that you can’t beat, especially on Saturday’s when you can save up to 75% on your order.  Free shipping, free returns, great customer service, great selection and super prices. 

Budget Breakfasts for Kids

We all know that kids who start the day off with breakfast do better in school, eat healthier overall and are more likely to participate in physical activities.  None of us want to send our wee ones off to school on an empty stomach.  Cereal prices are skyrocketing and the frozen food breakfast goods are sharing the same sticker shock. 

Our kids love frozen toaster waffles and pancakes, but at $3.00+ a box and three children, the costs quickly add up.  

The solution?  Make your own batch of toaster-ready pancakes and store in the refrigerator.    Our favorite is Bisquick at $2.69 for the 32oz. box on sale.  At Costco, you can buy the larger box for much less cost per ounce.  Be sure and get the mix that requires eggs and milk as they tend to store better.

Simply follow the instructions on the box being sure to make the pancakes no larger than what will fit in the toaster slot.  Take the ‘cakes off the griddle and place in a large casserole dish.  Let the batch of pancakes cool before covering with plastic wrap and storing in the refrigerator.   Otherwise the “sweat” will make the ‘cakes soggy.

When breakfast time rolls around just pop the pancakes in the toaster for a quick, easy and budget-wise breakfast.   Top with syrup, butter or the healthier alternative – applesauce.