Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Strategic Plan for your Back to School Shopping

Microsoft Clip Art MP900448522

Doesn't it seem like yesterday that you were planning schedules for vacations and summer camps. Then like, WHAM, the retail stores want you to start your Back to School shopping.  

Before you give in and head for the stores, below are some tips to help you plan out your back to school shopping strategy.

Print the Dress Code.

Locate and/or print out the school's uniform dress code or uniform policy. Then read it so it is fresh in your mind.  If you plan to do most of your shopping in person, put it in your purse for handy reference.  If you plan to shop online, then keep it handy near your computer.

Set a Budget.

According to Statistics Brain, the average annual cost to parents for school uniforms is $249.  You probably have a good idea what you spent last year on back to school clothes, so you likely have a ballpark figure in mind to budget for this year. Currently 23% of US schools have a uniform requirement or uniform dress code. If you child attends a school that requires specific uniforms from a specific vendor, you obviously have little flexibility in your shopping choices.   However, many schools are allowing more flexibility in the uniform dress code which allows for more flexibility in shopping and ways to save money on school clothes.

Make a List.

You know your kids, and you know how they prefer to dress.  If you school allows some flexibility in the dress code, make a list of items you'll need that fit your child's preferences. For example, my daughter won't wear jumpers. So while they remain a popular and easy choice for many of her classmates, they aren't on my shopping list.

You won't need five articles of each type of clothing item.  If your budget allows, you should instead plan for a week's wardrobe for each of the seasons appropriate for your climate.  Shorts and short sleeve shirts can be worn in both the fall and again in the spring.  A winter wardrobe should include a sweater to pair over the short sleeve shirts or include long sleeve shirts, pants or tights for under skirts and jumpers.

Does your child change into gym clothes for Phys Ed or do they wear PE friendly clothing on PE days?

Once you figure out what types of items your child really needs, then add shoes, accessories and other basics.  Accessories might include new socks and underwear and ties and belts.  Girls might also need new tights and hairbands.

Search your Kids Closet First.

I tend to buy uniform favorites when they are on clearance in the next size up in order to stock up for the next school year. But it doesn't save any money, if you forget about them until after your child has already outgrown them. If you're taking periodic inventory of what you already own, then you can take advantage of seasonal sales. Dig in the dresser and in the closet to see if there are some items that you forgot you bought on clearance last year.

You should also look through items from last school year to see if they still have some life left in them. Maybe you can let out the pant hem or sew up a small hole on a seam to extend the life of some items. If you identify some possibilities, have your child try them on to see if they still fit correctly.  If you find any keepers, then cross them off your shopping list.  Launder them and get them ready for wear.

Donate Used Items

Find out if your school has a uniform exchange program.  If so, launder and donate any items that your child has outgrown.  If not, donate them to a reputable charity that accepts clothing.  Be wary of some collection bins that currently have a negative rating by charity watch dog groups. Instead search for a local charity or review organizations by searching Charity Navigator or

Find Local Uniform Exchange Programs

If your school has a uniform exchange program, find out if they have an upcoming swap.  It may be a free or inexpensive way to to cross some items off your shopping list. You'd have no problem letting your younger child wear hand me downs from an older sibling, right?  I think of these swaps as an extended family. I've personally purchased (for a dollar!) a few quality items from our school's program.  And I know that I have donated items to it that were worn only a few times. Although most folks who have donated the items have laundered them, they may have been sitting in a box for a while.  Launder any items you get from a swap in your own preferred detergents.

Comparison Shop

Now hopefully, your shopping list may be paired down at least by a few items.  The next step for a savvy shopper is to do a bit of research on quality and pricing.  Be sure to check out the Uniform Mom series on Best Bets.  You can also read online reviews on the retailers web site, Amazon or elsewhere. Make note of prices for the items on your list.  Then as you begin to receive sale notices, you'll recognize the better deals to jump on.

Final Preparations

Before you head out the door, a few final steps of planning can take the headache out of the experience and can lead to extra savings.

Find out if your state has a tax free holiday.  If so, you may want to take advantage of the extra savings. However, if you do, you'll need to pack your patience and be prepared to face some of the busiest shopping days of the season.

Browse the weekend newspaper circular or search the web for printable coupons for stores you're likely to visit.  Look for the weekly shopping guide here at Uniform Mom which give you a heads up on  promotions and coupons at major retailer's .  Not yet a subscriber, sign up here.

Also search for unused gift cards that might be left over from the holidays or birthdays. Put these with your shopping list and the copies of the school dress codes in your purse.

Shopping Day

If you're unsure what size or style will fit your child best, you may need to do some in-person shopping.  If you know what styles and brands work well for your child, you can do a great deal of your shopping online. You'll find a better selection online than in stores.  If your child could benefit from either the slim or the plus/husky fit items, you'll find more options shopping online than in-stores.

If shopping online from your list, you are more likely to have enough items that are over the threshold of the retailer to take advantage of free shipping offers.  And before you confirm your checkout, be sure that you are aware of and comfortable with the retailers return policies just in case an item doesn't fit or isn't what you expected. I love the flexibility to make returns to the brick and mortar store. Personally, I dread the inconvenience and additional cost to return an item by mail.

If you're spending the day or the weekend out shopping with one or more children, be sure to stay focused. Keep your list handy to update your shopping list to cross off items you've purchased in one store before you head to the next store.  When you stay organized, you're much more likely to stay within budget and get only the items you need.


When I was growing up, we would end every major shopping outing with a "fashion show" when we returned home.  My sister and I would unpack all the new clothes form the shopping bags and try on each item again modeling them for our Father to show off our purchases from the day.  Our Mom would proclaim the price of each item and remark how it was a good deal. Ah, family traditions.

Now that I'm a Mom, I realize that surviving the back to school season is, in itself, an accomplishment to be celebrated. If you get through it without blowing the budget, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

(photo credit)

No comments:

Post a Comment