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How Much the Average Family Pays for Back to School Clothes and 9 Ways You Can Spend Smarter and Save

By July 14, 2021September 20th, 2022No Comments

It’s back-to-school season, already. Retailers are stocking (or getting ready to stock) the shelves with new fall fashions. Gone are the days of Zoom learning where your kids could hop into the classroom in unbrushed teeth and underpants. Kids are heading back to the classroom, and are also suffering from the same sweatpant-fatigue that’s gripped the rest of the nation. 

Parents must not only deal with spending money for school supplies this time of year, but also the cool new clothes kids are clamoring for. According to The Street, the average household spends over $500 per child on back to school supplies, with clothing and shoes accounting for $285 of that spend. 

The struggle is real when it comes to your kids’ school clothes. There are plenty of ways you can save money on their supplies. Teachers and school staff often divvy out extra notebooks, binders, pens, and paper. Plenty of nonprofits organize backpack drives, getting donations of backpacks fully loaded with supplies for students of all grade levels.

But no one is giving out free logo hoodies and name brand jeans and tops. Which means clothing for back-to-school shopping  is going to take a big chunk out of your wallet. 

And even though my children are 3 and 1, my son and my daughter are always growing and it’s always new-clothes season at home. 

Here are 8 ways you can spend smarter and save on back to school clothes. 

1. Does It Spark Enough Joy? 

Do an inventory of your kid’s current wardrobe. Go through every closet and every drawer. 

What still fits and what doesn’t. While there’s no need to Marie Kondo everything (there’s only so much joy a pair of tighty whities can spark), there’s no point in hanging onto clothes your kids won’t wear. Obviously some dressy clothes like suits and ties are a must-keep, even if your kids hate them. But if your kid won’t wear that “ugly” sweatshirt, it needs a new home.

And this does not mean your kid needs a replacement sweatshirt. If they got along without wearing their fifth sweatshirt, for reasons of ugliness, then they’re doing just fine with only four sweatshirts. 

Clearing out what you don’t need makes it easier to take inventory. As you go through all of their apparel, it should become clear what your kids need. Do their socks and holes have underwear? Are their elastic waistbands stretched out? Do the shirts pass the belly button test? (They can raise their arms and the bottom hem still hits their hips.) 

And even if your kid doesn’t have a uniform, it’s worth re-checking the school’s dress code policy. It can change drastically from year to year. Some schools are strict, and no one wants their kid sent home for a dress code violation. Length of shirt, the cut of tops, holes in jeans, visible logos (or signs of status), length or shoe sole color can all be issues. Some schools even ban (girls’) shirts that do not come up to the bottom of the neck. 

2. What’s Your Budget? 

Agree upon a budget in advance with your child. Just because the average household spends $284 to outfit their kid doesn’t mean you have to. Your budget may be more, or even significantly less. 

You may even ask older children to contribute a portion of their allowance or part-time job earnings to their new back-to-school wardrobe. 

Plan for contingencies, as in on the spot begging once you get to Aeropostale or Kohl’s or other store you hit up. While a 12-year-old can rationally agree to a $150 budget at home, things can shift quickly once you reach the store and your child spots something that everyone will be wearing. 

If your child wants to go over-budget, by say an extra $50, where will these funds come from? Can these funds be earned with 10 hours of yard work or 7 hours of babysitting the neighbors’ kids? Talking about these Plan B’s and C’s in advance will make the shopping trip go smoother. 

3. Encourage the One Outfit Approach 

I’m not suggesting that your child only needs one outfit for the entire school year. Here, I’m suggesting you talk to your child about getting one outfit for the first day of school. Then they can get an idea of looks that the trends are, at risk of acquiring a  wardrobe too basic. 

Of course, you should advocate for your child being an individual. But let’s be realistic. Regardless of how much your child plans and style scouts in advance, a lot of teens and tweens come home from the first day of school lamenting “gaps” in their wardrobe. 

Suggest one outfit for the first day of school, and then you can hit up their favorite stores and websites later. 

4. Build A Capsule Wardrobe 

I used to think that capsule wardrobes were just for minimalist men and women who wanted wardrobes of 10-12 garments only. All interchangeable, expensive, high-end pieces that looked like they were built for Northern California living.

A capsule wardrobe is a wardrobe that is a more limited, thoughtful selection of garments  (usually 10-12) that you can use to create any different outfits that can suit any occasion. For a kid’s capsule wardrobe, there’s the added benefit of much less laundry to deal with (more loads but far fewer garments overall). And you can have duplicates or triplicates on certain staples, like chambray shorts or black leggings.

In a capsule wardrobe, all the items complement one another. They are all from the same color palette. Mixing and matching is easy; any top would go with any bottom and vice versa. The pieces are more classic in cut and style. You don’t have to worry about whether or not things match, but in a capsule, everything should “go”. 

Primary or is a common brand that parents turn to for building capsule wardrobes. Their motto is “Every color for every kid” and “Anything goes because everything goes.” Get any 4 tops with any 4 bottoms and you can get over a dozen outfit combos out of it – more if you layer in a cardigan, vest, or other wardrobe staples you already have. You can also build capsules with a different brand or combining other brands – as long as it’s the same color family.

Fewer items you’ll be more selective about what you have in your kid’s wardrobe. You’ll look for apparel items that are high quality and long-lasting, saving you money in the long-run. As you move from season to season, you won’t need to replace everything, just update items your child has worn out or seasonal pieces like shorts. 

5. Shop Thrift Shops and Consignment Stores

Luckily, secondhand is trendy. For younger children, I love Once Upon A Child. You can find coveted name-brand jeans for well under $10, and loads of other current styles. Prices there are about 25% of what you’d pay for on-sale brand new items. 

Buffalo Exchange, Goodwill, and Plato’s Closet are also good thrift stores to hit up. If you go on the weekend, go early on Saturday morning before the best items are picked through. 

There are a number of online consignment sites like Poshmark and Kidizen. While you can find some deals, truthfully I find these sites on the spendy side. Many of the sellers are shopping consignment stores and looking for coveted items they can sell for a mark-up. 

6. Check Out Online Deals Sites 

Shein, Romwe, and PatPat are three eCommerce sites where you can get fantastic deals on kids clothing. Clothing there is cheap. You can find items for as low as $2 and most garments are around $10 to $12 or less. 

Some shoppers have expressed skepticism about quality or sourcing. These are online only retailers. Products are sold directly to consumers, not through a third-party retailer that is inserting a markup. Some of the fabric can be sparse or thin. 

But I’ve personally bought some thicker, jersey knit or cotton knit pieces for my kids from Shein. I’ve found that for many kids clothes, the quality is great – in line with what I would expect from GAP or H&M. Look at the material composition and close-up pictures. While all of the photos are nicely staged, you can look for thinner fabrics or extra large stitches. I tend to avoid rayon and polyester, because those materials (especially when lightweight) easily become crumpled and wrinkly.

7. Get Cash Back for Shopping Online

You can earn cash back from your online purchases for kids’ clothing and other items. There are so many cashback shopping apps and sites these days: Tada, Swagbucks, MyPoints, Upromise, Rakuten, and Honey are just a small handful. 

Retailers pay shopping portals for sending customers (web traffic). When you make a purchase, the shopping portal gets a commission. Then that shopping site shares a portion of it with you in the form of gift cards or cash back rebates. 

I use 16 of them from time to time, in the form of various apps on my iPhone and  favorite sites I visit.  I make the most regular use of InboxDollars, Swagbucks, Rakuten, and Upromise. The cashback amounts fluctuate a lot. Today, InboxDollars may be the cheapest for a store, tomorrow it might be Swagbucks. I’ve seen cashback for Macy’s as low as 2% and as high as 20%. It’s good to compare. If you have browser extensions, you can see the comparisons right on site. 

Right now, Swagbucks has a free $10 gift card bonus for new members who sign up for free and make a purchase of $25 or more at one of their 7,000+ featured stores (where you can also earn cash back and find coupons and promo codes), including Aeropostale, Uniqlo, SHEIN, Kohl’s, and Old Navy.  

8. Hit Up BST Groups and Garage Sale Groups on Facebook 

BST (Buy Sell Trade) Groups and Garage Sale Groups on Facebook are a treasure trove of used kids clothing for cheap. Most of it is pre-loved and in good condition, but you can find plenty of brand new items too. 

The prices can vary wildly. There is a lot of cheap, pre-loved clothing but plenty of expensive used clothing too. 

  • High end brands with cult followings (like Lulu + Roo or Childhoods Clothing) are still quite spendy – used garments often sell for only a few dollars less than what it would cost you brand new. 
  • Local BST groups are cheaper than national ones. 
  • You don’t see a lot of Carter’s clothing in these groups because Carter’s is everywhere. Super common, it doesn’t hold resale value well. 
  • BST groups are a great place to find cheap clothing from mall brands like GAP, Old Navy, and Gymboree. You can find these brands cheaper in BST groups than you would at any outlet store or any Once Upon A Child. 

9. Ask Your Network 

Let your friends and family know that you’re on the hunt for back-to-school clothes for your kids in such-and-such a size and that you’ll gladly take any outgrown wears that they’re itching to get rid of. 

In every batch of hand-me-downs I’ve got for my kids, there are pieces you’re not crazy about and pieces you really love. (i.e. A gently worn reversible Patagonia winter coat, score!) 

While you can probably safely pass on the items you pass on to other friends or family, it doesn’t hurt to ask upfront. Ask the gifter, “If there are items that don’t work for us, what would you like me to do with them?” They may ask for them back (rare) or to donate them. They’ll likely say, “Do what you want. I don’t care. Sell them.” But before you list them for a quarter at your yard sale, it’s good to have the gifter’s blessing in advance. Otherwise, I know I’d feel a bit awkward if my brown bag of hand-me-downs ended up on the card table at someone’s garage sale. 

Bottom Line on Saving Money on Clothes for Back to School

Whatever your style or strategy when it comes to shopping for back to school clothes, make sure that you (and your child) stick to the budget. And after you inventory your kid’s existing wardrobe and reach out to friends or family with hand-me-downs to shed, you may find that you don’t need to buy anything at all.

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