Somehow, back-to-school season is upon us, and you know what that means: shopping and shopping some more. Between school supplies, dorm must-haves, and fresh outfits, getting your kids back in the classroom can put serious pressure on your budget.
That’s why we turned to Dina Sweeney, director of merchandising for Kidpik, who knows everything about school shopping season and how to save. Luckily for us, Sweeney has been around the back-to-school block many times with her two college-age kids and is full of wallet-friendly advice.
Read on for Sweeney’s top five tips for sticking to a back-to-school budget without sacrificing style.
Meet the Expert
Dina Sweeney is the director of merchandising for Kidpik, a children’s clothing subscription service that delivers trendy, ready-to-wear ensembles straight to your doorstep.
Take Inventory of What Your Kids Already Have
Before you go shopping, take inventory of what your child already owes. Extend this exercise in organization to your kids’ clothing, shoes, and school supplies, and make purchases based on what they truly need. By taking inventory, you’ll identify gaps and avoid making duplicate purchases.
Do they have a barely used backpack that could hold up for another year? How about an unopened set of markers Grandma gave them for Christmas? It’s not always necessary to buy all new supplies each back-to-school season, says Sweeney. Items like backpacks, pencil cases, scissors, and rulers can often be used year after year.
As for clothes, consider setting aside a day for a closet cleanout.
“Go through their closets, dresser drawers, and even the laundry to ensure you’re considering all wearable items,” Sweeney says. “Take note of what fits, what’s worn out, and what’s no longer in line with their style or comfort.”
Sweeney recommends turning the closet cleanout into a mini fashion show, with try-ons to determine what they’ve outgrown and what’s full of holes and mystery stains.
Keep in mind seasonality, too. If you’re shopping for the new school year in the summer, ensure your child has enough cozy clothes for the winter months, and vice versa. This will prevent mid-year, rushed purchases when the snow starts falling.
Only Buy What Your Kids Truly Love
When shopping on a budget, you’ll want to make the most of every purchase and every dollar—that means to avoid spending on a sequined sweater that you think is so cute but your daughter thinks is so not. Chances are she won’t magically change her mind and love it later.
Involve your kids in the shopping process, Sweeney says, if they’re open to it. Consider their personal style, favorite colors, and what they feel comfortable wearing.
“When they have a say in what they wear, they are more likely to use and feel great wearing those items,” Sweeney says. “On the other hand, when parents make decisions without involving their children, it can sometimes lead to purchasing items that kids don’t like or feel comfortable in, resulting in clothes sitting unworn in the closet.”
Shop For Mix ‘n’ Match Outfits
More use with fewer items—that’s Sweeney’s approach to back-to-school clothes shopping. Choosing versatile pieces that pair well with multiple items already in your kid’s wardrobe allows for a broad range of outfit combinations, maximizing the utility of each item and stretching your budget. Sweeney recommends mixing trendier items with staples like solid-colored shirts, hoodies, and denim.
“This approach maximizes the utility of each piece,” Sweeney says. “It’s a strategy that offers greater flexibility, diversity, and sustainability in your child’s wardrobe.”
Look For Back-to-School Shopping Deals
Many retailers offer promotions during this season, so keep your eagle eyes out for sales.
“Some shopping experts say to wait until the last minute for the best deals, but that’s a mistake,” Sweeney says. “We believe in shopping early and getting exactly what you need at a great price.”
Why? Sizes and styles are more likely to be sold out, so you’ll be limited in options—especially unfortunate if you have a picky kid who, say, insists on only wearing the color blue. Sales are also the time to stock up on essentials while still keeping your budget in check. Win/win.
Set a Realistic Budget
Back-to-school season isn’t the time to overextend your budget (remember, the holidays are just a couple of calendar turns away). To help you stick to a budget, Sweeney suggests creating a comprehensive list of all the items your child needs for the upcoming school year, from a new backpack for your kindergartener to a set of towels for your college-bound not-so-little one. Then, assign a realistic monetary value to each category, and stick to it as you’re shopping.
“Setting and following a budget teaches your child valuable financial lessons,” Sweeney says, “and it helps avoid impulsive purchases too.”
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