While I wouldn’t call myself super frugal by any means, I do practice selective frugality. That is, I try to only spend money on things that add value to my life. When it comes to clothing, I want to make sure everyone in my family looks neat, tidy and stylish, especially now that my older son is starting middle school, but I don’t want to spend a fortune to do it.
This year, as we prepped each child’s closet for returning to school, I took stock of the ways we’ve saved on outfitting our kids over the years.
The Power of Hand-Me-Downs
Some kids, like my younger son, wear holes in almost every item of clothing they get. Others, like my older son, are very careful with their clothing and keep it looking almost new. In the latter case, why not pass those clothes on to someone who can use them?
We’ve developed a network of friends who pass on their children’s too-small clothing each year as they’re cleaning out their closets. We take everything we’re given, carefully go through it and donate what we can’t use. Many times, we’ll get like-new jackets, fleeces, shirts and pants that can make up half or more of their school wardrobe. If the clothing we’re given is too big, we’ll store it in bins marked by season and size (“Summer, Size 12,” for example, or “Winter, Size 10”). Then, at the beginning of that season, we’ll pull out the bin, go through the clothing and hang up everything our kids can use.
What if you don’t have a network like this though? Consider joining a local Buy Nothing group where members post free donations for anyone willing to pick them up. We also visit our local consignment store and stock up on the basics. While there’s not always a good selection, if we make a point to visit once a quarter or so, with an eye for the following year, we can usually find most of what we need in a few visits.
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Less Is More
It’s easy to feel like you need to have a ton of outfits for your kids, but the truth is, that can get overwhelming for you and them. We’ve learned to think weekly. We have six to eight mix-and-match outfits on hand for school — that’s just enough for slightly over a week’s worth of outfits.
Pay for Quality, Strategically
Both of my kids wear sneakers almost every day to school. They’re easy to put on, stylish and great for gym, recess and recreation in general. But, they get worn out by the middle of the year. That’s why I spend about $50-$60 buying them each a sturdy pair of sneakers, usually made by L.L.Bean. As a bonus, if the shoes break, L.L.Bean will take them back for up to a year.
Other items of clothing we’ve paid a bit more for over the years are nice lined jeans, good boots and quality snow gear (when we lived in the Northeast). We buy items intended to go from one kid to the next, so they need to be good quality. Also, we often sell or hand down these pieces when the kids have outgrown them.
Finally, I’ve bought exactly one L.L.Bean book bag for each of my boys. I bought the bags for the boys when they were in kindergarten, and they’re currently in 3rd and 6th grade. While they’re pricey, they go on sale (50 percent off) in August. They are almost indestructible and last for years, so they’re worth the buy.
Ask for Gifts
My parents often want to help with back-to-school shopping. Consequently, I save the gift cards they give us for Christmas precisely for back-to-school time, when I know that I’ll be spending more than normal on clothing. I also let Grandma buy one dressy outfit and one casual outfit, usually from TJ Maxx.
One unexpected benefit of clothing gifts is that my kids are less likely to complain about getting clothes as gifts and have become more grateful for new clothes, especially since they’re rare. I try to make a big deal about how nice they look and how grateful we are for new clothes. It helps if they get toys, too, but they have slowly learned to value their clothing more as they’ve gotten older.
The most important part of back-to-school shopping is planning ahead. I figure out the boys’ shoe, pant and shirt sizes before we go anywhere. I make sure to budget enough for clothing and shoes through the summer. I also make a list before I go shopping so I won’t be tempted to buy too much or buy clothes my kids won’t need.
If you get in the habit of planning for back-to-school time, whether it’s cultivating friends who pass on hand-me-downs, asking for clothing gifts or collecting pieces from a consignment shop, outfitting your kids feels a lot more manageable and way more affordable.
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