First and foremost, when you’re shopping for back to school supplies, make sure you know what you have. Go through your kids’ rooms and take inventory of their clothing and any supplies they might have laying around. Clean out old backpacks and school bags. Take stock of supplies in your home office, in your kitchen drawers, in the hall closet. This way, you won’t continue to buy a protractor every year when you have a forgotten pile of them tucked away somewhere in your house.
Once you have a list of what you already have, you’ll be more focused on what you need. Using your inventory list, create a new list of items your kids absolutely need for the upcoming school year. Make copies of your finalized need list and give them to everyone in your family. If you and your family are tech-savvy, consider creating a shared google doc, or something of the like, so that you and your children can edit it together. This way, there should be no confusion on what’s been purchased and what you still need to buy.
Start buying early and plan your time
Planning ahead is really the best way to save money on back to school shopping. If you start looking at supplies and prices early, you’ll be better equipped to recognize and take advantage of the best sale prices.
Also, if you make a plan ahead of time, deciding which stores you and your kids will need to visit to get their supplies, you can track those stores easily by subscribing to their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. Often, stores will post reminders of sales or even surprise offers to their subscribers. Following these stores early and often will help you get the most for your money.
Another benefit to starting your shopping early is the option of shopping online. Many times, you can find great deals shopping on Amazon, Overstock, even eBay or Craigslist. And, some stores offer online specific sales with better deals than you can find in store. So, don’t wait until the last week of summer to scramble and get your kids their supplies! Give yourself time to browse the internet too, and leave plenty of time for the great deals you find to be shipped to you.
Shop Tax Free Weekend and End of Summer Sales (but beware…)
Shopping on tax free weekend and during end of summer sales can be great ways to save money on back to school supplies. Parents should absolutely be aware of when tax free shopping occurs, and they should keep track of when their (and their kids’) favorite stores hold their end of summer sales.
However, it’s also a good idea to be critical of these seemingly fabulous sales. I worked at Old Navy throughout my high school and college years, so I have firsthand knowledge of some of the sneakier sides to summer sales. For example, sometimes stores will mark their prices up to full value during tax-free weekends, and other stores will actually run better sales before and after the big advertised “summer sale.” So be wary of the sales you see, and take the extra time to determine whether you’re getting the best deal. Don’t be fooled by the “tax-free” excitement of saving 7% on a shirt that costs $25 when it will be 50% off during next week’s less advertised sale.
Avoid unnecessaries and compromise with your kids
Fancy pencil pouches? Your kid has a backpack… that’s a pencil pouch right there. Cute, trendy, or graphic covered binders that cost 4x the amount of a regular, plain, binder? Who needs it? Chances are, your kid is going to either stuff some papers in there to keep for later, draw on it with markers or pens, or never take it out of his/her locker. Cutting down on the unnecessary items your kid wants but doesn’t need is a surefire way to save money.
But, if your son really wants the expensive backpack with a built in organizer, a hard-case pocket for his laptop, and a cool design on the front, compromise with him. If your daughter will not stop asking for the Vera Wang lunch bag she saw online the other day, compromise with her. Strike up a deal that they have to pay the difference between the backpack or lunch bag you want to buy for them and the one they want. They could cover this difference using saved up holiday money, allowance money, or by doing extra chores.
Be wary of teacher required lists
This last tip is a little variable, but here’s a secret from someone who’s taught high school for the past 5 years: Take our “required” school supply lists with a grain of salt. Again, this is the experience of just one teacher, but honestly, sometimes we don’t even know what our students will need for the entire year. My best advice is to buy the basics: pens, pencils, paper. Your child will always need something to write with and something to write on, but hold off on any excess- colored pencils, glue sticks, a binder for each class, rulers, etc.- until you know exactly what they’ll be using on a day-to-day basis
“Teen tested. Mom and dad approved.”
Buying clothing for your teenager, or approving their purchases, is all about compromise. It is important to strike a balance between how you want your teen to dress and how your teen wants to dress. We’ve rounded up a list of clothing brands that accomplish just that. They offer clothes that are stylish, age appropriate, and affordable.
- H&M: A massive Swedish fast fashion brand, H&M is a step above Forever 21 (a highly similar brand). It offers runway-inspired clothing at affordable prices. It also has regular high fashion collaborations, most recently with Balmain.
- Forever 21: Perhaps a slight cut-below H&M in terms of quality, Forever 21 is beloved by many a mother and teen alike because it offers trendy fashions at highly affordable prices. Visit twice in the same week, and you’re still likely to find something new on the second go-around.
- American Eagle: This brand has been a go-to for teens for quite some time. It has a nice selection of highly wearable looks and quality-made basics.
- Madewell: One of my personal favorites, Madewell is well-suited to the teen who likes to dress like she’s “13 going on 30.” It can be a bit on the pricier side, but regularly has sales. They also have an amazing selection of fun-yet-mature clothes.
- Urban Outfitters: Long synonymous with “hipster,” Urban Outfitters offers trendy apparel of a different vintage (quite literally) than H&M or Forever 21. In addition to a wide assortment of clothes, Urban also sells décor, accessories, and footwear.
- Free People: Much like Urban Outfitters, Free People appeals to the teenager who wants to rock more of a bohemian, free-flowing look. While its prices do tend to run rather high, a savvy shopper can typically find items that have been substantially marked down at stores like Neiman Marcus Last Call and Nordstrom Rack.
- J.Crew: Much like Madewell, J.Crew appeals to the teen who likes to rock a more sophisticated and mature style. J.Crew has a wide variety of staples that you will want to keep in your wardrobe for years to come.
- Nike: Athletic wear is no longer only for the gym. On any given day, at least half of the students in my classes are decked out in some sort of athletic wear (and something tells me they didn’t all just come from the gym). Nike is the largest apparel retailer in the United States, constantly producing new, brightly-colored fashions.
- Topshop: Topshop is all about quantity (and it does so without sacrificing quality). It has a wide selection of hip, of-the-moment clothes. Like H&M, it also frequently does collaborations with famous figures, such as Kate Moss, and other stores, such as Nordstrom.
- Brandy Melville: I first learned of Brandy Melville when my younger sister diverted a family vacation to visit one of its stores (yes, apparently their clothes are that cool). Brandy Melville is known for offering “one size fits all” fashions that cater to a simple and carefree look. Its staples include crop tops, cut-off denim shorts, and loose-fitting tops. It is an Italian company, so their retail locations are a bit hard to come by in the United States, but ordering online is always an option. And with only one size to choose from, why not?
Tips for Parents from a Self Proclaimed Stylish College Student
Whether you’re shopping for the classy Southern belle or the modern boy, here are some tips and tricks to keep your kids looking stylish on a budget.
1. Ask In-Store for Promotional/Seasonal Items
Sometimes it’s best to plan ahead and shop for the outdated clearance racks! As the seasons change, look to buy for items that are out of season. They may not be worn for some time, but they will be in your kids closet when they ask for more money to buy clothes the next year!
2. Factory Stores
For the non-shopper savvy parents out there, factory stores are a blessing from up above. Factory stores are essentially all of the excess clothes that they produced that never make it to the retail stores. Most people think that the quality isn’t as good, but the clothes are usually 50% off, and are the same quality as if you were to buy them in a regular retail store.
3. Sign Up for Email Newsletters
They might be annoying and email you every single day on what new styles they have on sale, but you can usually set the emails to be sent once or twice a week/month. The sales that they offer are usually not available in stores.
4. Thrift Stores
Thrift stores might be the most interesting stores to shop in because you never know what you’re going to find. One of my friends found a Harlem Globetrotters jumpsuit. Another one of my friends found multiple Polo shirts that looked brand new, while others just found really hip and unique shirts. Visit your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or community thrift store. One of them is bound to have some appealing options.
5. Discount Codes
Most online stores have a little box available for promotional codes during checkout. Visit Google and type in: (Name of the Store) coupon code.
6. Shop Online. It’s the 21st Century.
Online shopping is one of the best ways to shop in my opinion. You can do it from the comfort of your couch with a cup of joe in your hands. If you aren’t already shopping online, it will become the best thing since sliced bread to you once you give it a chance. Going shopping with the kids isn’t ideal when you have a 13-year-old middle school kid who doesn’t want anything to do with shopping, and an 8-year-old kid who bounces off the walls in big crowds.