This all started when I got a great question from a fabulous reader on Facebook:
“Well, its that time of year! Second most expensive to Christmas, what is it you ask? Back to school! Between clothes for 3 in school children, two where it actually matters what they wear (phhfft) and Jr High fees, this momma is broke! So I thought, there has to be a way to get great deals on school supplies, clothing, shoes etc! Anyone want to share any tips, coupon codes, etc? Remember, I have a teenage girl (eeeeeeeek!) Jordan Page, do you have a post on this topic?”
Pretty darn good question, right?! To help, here are 4 simple rules to help you not go broke from back-to-school shopping this year:
RULE #1: Buy early…or late.
- As soon as all the supplies go CRAZY on-sale, stock up for next year! This also works for things that aren’t uber trendy, and things that are one-size-fits-all like backpacks, accessories, and maybe even winter gear and coats. Throughout the year, stock up when the good stuff goes on clearance. See how I shop sales for ideas.
- Be patient. Just wait an extra month (ish) and the clothes are bound to go on sale as they clear things out for winter. I know this is hard for teens who want to look super fly the first few weeks of school. Maybe compromise by buying one or two new outfits (trying to use coupons and shop sales if at all possible), but otherwise wait for everything else.
- Explain to your kids that everyone only has a handful of new outfits. By the end of the first month, everyone will be back to wearing their old stuff…and then your kids will waltz into school like a boss looking hip, new, chic, and oh-so-trendy. BAM. *Enter teenage excitement*
- Buy off-season. If your child is old enough for school dances, watch for formal dresses OFF season. Sporting equipment, winter coats, and even seasonal shoes…buy them during the opposite season and it will save you a ton.
RULE #2: Have your KIDS do the shopping.
- All right all you control freaks out there (don’t worry, I’m president of the Control Freak club…) brace yourselves. The next rule is…Put your kids in charge! You heard me. The BEST way to make your life easier, teach your kids all the tools they need for adulthood, and to get them to appreciate everything they have is…give them control and let them learn for themselves.
- The best way to give them control? Give them the cash and let them shop! Allow them to buy whatever they want for their school clothes.
Here’s how to do it:
- Set a reasonable budget (see next section for more info).
- Give the cash to your child in an envelope.
- Write the things that they should focus on finding on the envelope: 2 pairs of jeans. 2 Pairs of shorts. 6 Shirts. 1 sweatshirt. 1 Jacket. 2 pairs of shoes. 1 backpack or whatever. Just give them ideas on how to spend the money. You may have to be more or less specific depending on their age.
- Drive them to a mall, go grab yourself a smoothie (or a stiff drink 😉 in the food court, and let them go at it. It might be hard to relinquish control, but I promise, it will be one of the greatest lessons they’ll ever learn.
- If your kids are too young to shop by themselves or if you haven’t taught them how to shop responsibly yet (hurry and get on that, by the way!) then go with them to the stores, but let them make the ultimate decisions. Have them make a pile of the clothes they’ve picked out, tried on, and like, and you guide them on how much to buy. By 8 years old they should be able to make most of their decisions, with some guided help from you. By 12 years old they should be 100% capable of buying 100% of their own stuff. Younger than 8, just use your discretion (next point will help).
- You might need to give younger ones a little guidance by saying things like, “ok great. You like this hoodie? Well, this is $15 which is most of the money you have left. Since you have a hoodie at home wouldn’t you want to look at the t-shirts instead since you still need 3 more of those? No? Ok, well that’s your choice.”
- Ultimately take it child-by-child based on maturity, but allow them the opportunity to take control!
- If they lose the money, buy something that doesn’t fit, buy things they don’t need, blow it all on video games, or buy things that they decide they don’t like 1 month later, TOUGH. LUCK. Just say “Oh, well, we’ll try again next year.” Don’t give in. Don’t bail them out. Don’t give them more money. Don’t return the items for them and buy better things.
- If they want/need to return something, drive them to the store, park outside, and tell them to have fun. They will NOT get hurt by this experience, and figuring it out on their own will propel them more than you can even imagine!
- If they lose the receipt and can’t return something, tell them to exchange it. Can’t exchange it? “Darn, we’ll try again next year” or “well, there’s always Christmas, maybe you’ll get money as your gift then and can use it for more school clothes.”
- This money should go toward everything except for school supplies. Paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, school fees are all separate expenses (sorry parents!). But backpacks, shoes, accessories (anything they wear on their bodies) – that cash needs to cover it!
So…how much do I spend?
- What is a reasonable budget? Yeesh, this question is tricky. Mostly because it completely depends on your financial situation, and where you live. In Utah, we basically need an entirely separate wardrobe for winter. In California, my husband bought some clothes and was able to wear them all year. For these reasons I really hate to get too specific, but I also know that’s what many of you are desperately wanting (right??). So here you go (and please remember that this is a GENERAL range):
- I would think roughly $200-$250 for a teenager,
- $100-$200 middle school,
- $75-$150 for elementary
Now, if you shop like I do then that is more than what I would typically spend, because I tend to buy things here and there throughout the year as they go on sale and fit it into my weekly budget. BUT…there are some guidelines to help, anyway 🙂
Once again, I promise putting your kids in charge is not mean or cruel in any way. My parents did this to me when I was young. I learned to talk to adults. I learned fractions. I learned to watch prices. I learned to judge quality vs price. I learned to shop sales. I learned the value of stretching my dollar. I learned how to return things. I learned how to be smart with my money. And I gained a LOT of confidence. While I’m not perfect and still have lots to learn, look where I’m at today.
Where to shop:
- Don’t be afraid to buy used! Kid to Kid, Plato’s Closet, Uptown Cheapskate, and Hut no 8 have great consignment clothes, great way to get name-brands for cheap. Most of my wardrobe and my kids’ wardrobes are from yard sales (see how to become a Yard Sale Ninja for my tricks)
- Jane.com has SO MANY fun, cheap, and cute clothing options every single day!
- Walmart. Love it or hate it, let’s call it like it is. I bought my daughter a full-sized backpack for $6. SIX DOLLARS! You can’t beat that. Their clothes, shoes, hair accessories, and school supplies are also great deals.
- Amazon – be aware, their prices may or may not be the best. But with Amazon prime their 2-day shipping is great for last-minute shopping, and you can find ANYTHING on Amazon, which is great for those who live in smaller cities with few options.
- Gymboree has crazy sales, and is an awesome place to stock up for back-to-school! Right now, you can save 40% on the entire store!
- The Children’s Place. I find great deals there. Be sure to sign up for their emails for great in-store coupons (as explained in my “top 7 sales you should never miss” post)
- NuMe does incredible sales on their hair tools! Use promo code: BF59DUO to get a flat iron and curling wand with free shipping!
- Zulily has massive sales on the biggest brands around (think Nike, Under Armor, Stride Rite).
- Old Navy – their sales can be fabulous, especially at the outlets.
- Nordstrom Rack is great for you high-end or name-brand shoppers.
RULE #3: Space it out.
- Plan ahead. Add up what you paid for school fees, equipment, extra curricular activities, etc. last year (or estimate as best you can for the coming year), divide it by 12 (months in a year), and each month set that amount aside into a bank account for your kids for the next year. I recommend auto-drafting this into your family savings, or into a separate account for your kids.
- Try not to buy everything NEW, every year. Granted, your kids will outgrow shoes and clothes, that’s understandable. But instruments, sporting equipment, certain school supplies, and even backpacks and accessories (winter coats too)…try to make things last for more than 1 year to space out your dollars a bit.
- Don’t feel like you have to buy everything. In high school my parents let us choose between a year book, a letterman’s jacket, or a class ring. They said they’d buy ONE for us, and anything else we wanted we had to buy ourselves. Suddenly that jacket wasn’t such a priority for me when it was coming from my own wallet. Same with school dances. I had to buy my own dresses and pay for my own dates, but my parents gave me money for pictures (because they wanted copies for themselves). Don’t feel like you have to buy everything…because you don’t have to!
RULE #4: Utilize resources.
Don’t reinvent the wheel! There are a BAZILLION websites, articles, blogs (..he’em…like this one…nudge…nudge…) that can help. Use them. (Sounds vaguely familiar to my “T” in my F.A.C.T’s, right? Take advantage? Interesting…)
- For example, This is a great article (and great site in general) to help you find back-to-school freebies, especially for those in a tough financial situation. She also has a great post of the best teacher freebies! She really shows lots of resources that I never knew existed. This is especially helpful for those who are in tough financial situations. Don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own. Read her blog and learn ways to help you through this tough time!
- One great resource that you should always take advantage of? COUPONS. Whether it’s for haircuts, clothes, school supplies, or even school uniforms, look for a coupon before buying anything!
- Buy used. Musical instruments, sports equipment, even text books. Buy used when at all possible. I like to check my local classifieds like craigslist.org or Ksl.com for Utah/Idaho. Yard sales are always a good option, too!
- Be creative and DIY when you can. Teacher gifts? Oh, for heaven’s sake, PLEASE don’t spend an arm and a leg! Trust me, I am 110% the biggest fan ever of teachers. But does that mean you need to run out and spend $25+ per teacher on gifts? Um, no. Get creative, thoughtful, and genuine with teacher gifts, and you will be able to come up with something incredible for very little! This article gives 25 DIY teacher gifts that are all unique, adorable, and yes, affordable.
- Lastly, utilize ME! I’m always doing live Q&A sessions. Drop your questions IN MY QUESTION BOX and I’m happy to help with specific questions! Or check out Budget Boot Camp! It’s my budgeting program that shares all my budgeting tips, and secret sauce! (Use code FCFBLOG at checkout to save 10%!)
So there you have it!
…you are doing your kids NO favors by giving them everything they want – regardless of their age. I have 5 kids under 6, and let me tell you, I am totally OK to say no to them…even if tantrums insist! Delayed gratification and patience are the two major things our new generations are lacking (my generation included), which has led to the downfall of this economy.
Your kids will not DIE if they don’t have all the hippest and greatest RIGHT NOW. They won’t be shunned at school if they don’t have 5 pairs of new shoes. They won’t have a harder time making friends if they aren’t wearing the nicest brands.
Spoiler alert: making friends is more about personality and kindness than it is about brands and style. Teach your kids to love themselves regardless of the shell they are wearing, and I promise, they WILL get farther in life and WILL be more successful than the rest. Confidence is more valuable than any brand on the market.