How to Shop for School Clothes on a Budget

Parents shopping for kids school clothes

Though back-to-school shopping can be a fun way to spend time with your kids, it can also be stressful. If it feels like a daunting task to shop for school clothes while staying on budget, there are a few techniques to help you on your shopping excursion. Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t check off each item on your must-have list. If you shop wisely, you might even have some wiggle room left to splurge on an item or two.

Take Inventory before Hitting the Stores

When you’re figuring out how to shop for school clothes on a budget, take inventory of what clothes your children have that still fit and what needs to be replaced. Before you go out and buy new clothes for the kids, go through the items they already have that are in good condition. Start with the essentials like socks and undergarments. Check for holes in socks, and make a count of how many more pairs they need to buy. Next, look at pants, shorts, skirts, and dresses. You can even make this process fun for the kids by playing dress-up in the clothes they already have to see what still fits and what can be donated.

Once you know what you don’t have on hand, you can start to make a list of what your kids need clothes-wise. This can help you mentally organize just how much you need to buy and plan where to shop based on your budget.

Craft a BudgetWoman making a budget

With the list of what your kids truly need for back-to-school shopping, you can start making a budget. Of course, it’s one thing to make a budget and another to stay within it. It’s easy to get sidetracked while shopping, especially when flashy displays are showing off this season’s hottest styles. While it can be difficult to turn down the things your kids really want, there are many ways to get trendy items without the hefty price tag.

Before you can plan out the stores where you’ll shop, make sure you have a set budget in mind. Put it in a note on your phone or write it at the top of your shopping list to help remind you to stick to it. By making a budget before you create your shopping plan, you can avoid stores where you know your money won’t go as far and hit the ones sure to provide the best deals.

According to The National Retail Federation, families are spending an average of $849 on back-to-school items this year. If that’s above your budget, then creating a list of the stores that will provide the greatest discounts is in your best interest. After all, staying stylish in your back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Pick Several Stores

With a budget in hand, you can start crafting a plan for your day of shopping. Start by singling out stores where you want to shop based on your budget. While Target can be a trendy place to shop, it’s not always the most budget-friendly store to do all of your shopping. Stores like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Ross Dress For Less, Old Navy, and even Walmart offer on-trend options for your kids that won’t break the bank.

Another place you can shop for school clothes on a budget is outlet malls. Many outlet malls offer name-brand items at discounted prices. Be sure to check out possible sales ahead of time and factor in the stores that are having them when making your list of where to shop. If Nike is having a blowout sale at an outlet mall, you might be able to snag some major deals on items you won’t see at TJ Maxx. Also, sporting goods stores like Academy Sports + Outdoors often have shoes, backpacks, socks, and other apparel items like shirts, skorts, and shorts that your kids will love at a fraction of the cost.

Make a Shopping List

Now you know where you plan on shopping. To better stay on budget, you can put together a list of items you intend to buy from each store you’ve listed. This is especially helpful when you get to the store and are instantly drawn to the allure of new clothes you or your kids might not even need. If you know you’re getting socks, backpacks, and sneakers at Academy, you’ll be less inclined to browse the selection at other stores you’re visiting for other purposes.

Scout Out Sales BeforehandClothes sale

Before you embark on your day of back-to-school shopping on a budget, make sure to scope out sales at various stores. If Kohl’s is having a big sale, it might make sense to add them to your shopping list. Or maybe Target is getting rid of its summer clothes, but you live in a climate that’s generally hot year-round where those styles are feasible at any time of year.

Some stores put new clearance items out on specific days of the week. Before you begin your shopping journey, take time to see when the stores on your list might put out new markdowns. Some stores might place new clearance items out on Fridays, while others could be on Tuesdays. Each store is different, and a quick Google search to see when certain stores update their clearance items might save you big bucks in the long run.

Plan Your Shopping Day

With all your inventory and budgeting out of the way, it’s time to finally plan out your shopping adventure! You probably know shopping can be exhausting, and tempers can easily flare when you’ve been on the hunt for hours. To divide the day up so it’s fun and productive, take some time out to stop for lunch or an afternoon frozen yogurt run. That way, you can get out of shopping mode and unwind, even if it’s only for 45 minutes.

Taking a break allows your kids to refuel their growing bodies and gives you time to sit back and relax while enjoying something delicious. If your budget only allows a quick refreshment, drop into the closest fast food joint that’s up to your standards and grab a chicken sandwich or a salad wrap. Once you’ve refueled your energy tanks, you can return to the stores refreshed and with a newfound confidence in getting the job done within your budget.

Cash In on Rewards

These days, most credit cards come with cashback rewards or points you can trade for gift cards. This allows you to take advantage of previous purchases in a money-saving way. You may be able to choose how to use your rewards or points, and many credit cards offer gift cards to retail and clothing stores as a way to redeem them. See what points you can cash in on, and where you can shop with gift cards without having to spend a dime.

Speaking of gift cards, if there was ever a time to go through the ones you have lying around with miscellaneous balances, it’s when you’re shopping for school clothes on a budget. You might find that the balance of several gift cards to the same store adds up to something substantial when used together. This means you’ll be able to save money on your budget for other items or even allow you or your kids to pick out one item to splurge on that might not have been within budget otherwise.

Though back-to-school shopping can be a challenge, these tips can help teach anyone how to shop for school clothes on a budget in any easy and attainable way. After all, being fashion-forward doesn’t have to cost a lot when you know how to successfully shop on a budget.

For additional budgeting tips check out our personal budgeting methods to find out which one will work for you.