Back to School Clothes — Why?

by Katy on July 5, 2009 · 22 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post from last Summer. Enjoy!


Is the stress of back-to-school clothes shopping getting to you?

I ask this one question:

Do you buy all your clothes for the year in one fell swoop?

No, of course not. You buy your clothes one piece at a time when you come across something you like.

So why should kids get a whole bunch of brand-new clothes for the first day of school deadline?

It makes no sense.

Americans are expected to spend an average of $231.80 per child for back-to-school clothing and accessories for the 2008 school year. With many spending much, much more.

I buy clothes for my 11 and 13-year-old sons all year long. That way I’m able to pick up great deals at the thrift shops, when I come across them. (I am part of The Compact, and only buy used.) If I were to try and put together an complete wardrobe of clothes at one time, it would be impossible.

Because I’m constantly keeping an eye out for their clothes, I’m able to be very picky and choose only like-new, high quality stuff. For pennies on the dollar.

I don’t think having sons changes the issue, if anything it makes it more difficult. Used boy clothes are often beat to death, plus my 13-year-old has cultivated a very distinct style. (Rocker dude.)

So don’t let Madison Avenue convince you that it’s necessary to blow hundreds of dollars on back-to-school clothes.

Buy all year ’round and you’ll be better off.

Want to add your two cents on the back-to-school clothing issue? Add it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanine July 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Lucky you.

My girls are required to wear uniforms, and while that should make shopping easier, the very specific specifications make it danged near impossible.

Three button polos instead of four, navy blue, and not “dark” navy blue. No jumpers or capris…no skirts for the oldest, no black jackets, etc.

It’s awful. I voted for uniforms, but had I known such pickiness would ensue, I would have totally voted the other way.


Jen July 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Well, when I was growing up, we lived three hours from the nearest city with decent clothing selection. We did buy some from catalogues, but all three kids were hard to fit in various ways (and of course, some things like shoes are very hard to buy without trying on.) So we did have good reason to do all the school shopping in one fell swoop (also very few options with used clothing back then–no thrifts, and yard sales very limited). These days…I agree that there’s not much reason. I do think it’s nice to have one new outfit for the first day, to help make it feel special, but since it’s not like the beginning of school comes as a surprise one can easily purchase something over the summer and just put it aside until school starts.


HeatherS July 5, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I shop all year long also for my son. He is especially hard to fit because he needs pants that are both slim and have adjustable waist (very skinny boy!). I shop several sizes ahead so when he needs a new size, I just have to “shop” in my stash of pants. I buy like new pants at yard sales and thrift shops and never spend more than $2 a pair (most of the time I can get them for 99 cents). I shop this way for shirts also but they are easier to find than the pants so I only look for shirts when we really need them.

As far as school clothes go, the only thing we buy for back to school is new tennis shoes (he goes through several pair each school year due to wear more than outgrowing). I’ve not had any luck finding used shoes so I shop clearance sales for these.


Jill July 5, 2009 at 4:11 pm

I was in a big box store today, looking for special socks for my son’s camping trip, and I saw clerks setting up the displays for back to school materials. WHY? Why are the pens and pencils from last year not good enough anymore? The message we send to our children is that material things have very, very limited lives. Yes, some do, that is true. But others do not. Back to school rituals need more ties to the earth and the rhythms of what’s going on in August and September, and less commercialism. Our kids get enough as the year goes on.


PamKenn July 5, 2009 at 5:55 pm

My kids are grown but I usually outfitted them from thrift stores and other folks over abundant hand me downs. For a long time they didn’t mind at all and didn’t really see the difference. But somewhere around thirteen my son decided, given the choice, he would rather have one pair of fairly expensive pair of pants rather than four from the thrift shop. We compromised and kept to a budget. I have to say that at 32 he is frugal and very non-materialistic. He has a limited wardrobe and when a staple, a sweater or a pair of chinos, wears out he replaces it. My older daughter on the other hand never outgrew the thrift stores and the Salvation Army is still a favorite place to shop! It is good to remember that if we decide certain rituals like back to school shopping are really just there to give us reason to spend needlessly, we need to be creative and make new, meaningful rituals for our families. Keep up the good work!


Kristen@The Frugal Girl July 5, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I was homeschooled growing up and my kids are homeschooled too, so I’ve never experienced this back-to-school shopping thing, aside from textbook purchasing.

I buy most of our schoolbooks used, though. Yay for!

My kids wear 95% hand me downs year round, with the other 5% filled in with clearance and Goodwill clothes. Works for me and my budget, and since I get SO many hand-me-downs, I can be very picky about what I keep. This way my kids can look stylish on the cheap.


Alison July 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm

This is slightly off-topic (perhaps Katy will blog about school supplies soon too?), but I thought it was worth sharing: a magazine I recently read offered tips for saving on back-to-school shopping and one ingenious tip is to have kids go on a scavenger hunt throughout the house for supplies, e.g. pens/pencils especially.


mama July 5, 2009 at 9:04 pm

About uniforms– Even if the rules seem picky, I would get the closest thing available. If the school whines then tell them the truth– it costs too much, so you had to buy second hand. Schools should understand that or else pay for the uniforms themselves. I would not bow to the pressure to buy outrageous things just to please some teacher.


mama July 5, 2009 at 9:05 pm

About uniforms– Even if the rules seem picky, I would just get the closest thing available. If the school whines then tell them the truth– it costs too much, so you had to buy second hand. Schools should understand that or else pay for the uniforms themselves. I would not bow to the pressure to buy outrageous things just to please some administrator. Navy blue, dark blue, three buttons or four buttons. What is really the difference?


Sandy July 5, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Oh, man. I have been saving things I find on clearance for months in larger sizes because he’s growing like a weed. I have a few good fall outfits now. When I was young, that whole scavenger hunt for pens and pencils, that was normal, as was recycling binders, rulers, calculators etc. We usually got new paper and shoes. That’s probably what my son will get too 🙂 (This is his first year, so I may splurge a tiny bit…)


lindainkansas July 6, 2009 at 7:58 am

My comment is from the viewpoint of both parent/elementary school teacher (25 years). Parents, you should just forget the back-to-school frenzy.
1. There are some excellent suggestions here about clothing your child–buy clothes when needed, and when prices are best. One new outfit for starting school IF that’s important to your child…otherwise send your student every day in clothes that are clean, comfortable, and that fit the weather for the day.
2. The suggestions here about scavenger-hunting and reusing supplies are great. Don’t hesitate to
visit with admin. and encourage teachers to get together with each other and streamline or standardize the student supply lists they give you–there is no reason two 1st grade teachers in the same school should require radically different materials. Parents, DO follow the list–if a second grade supply list asks for a wide-lined 30 page spiral notebook–get that. Don’t send a narrow-ruled one–very few 2nd graders can write legibly that small, and every time your child’s teacher tries to teach them about numbering a page, your child’s page will come out very different from every one else’s–leading at the very least to a waste of time, as teacher scurries around to help one or two children who have pages with 30 narrow instead of 22 wide lines, while another child dissolves into tears because he can’t write numbers in those narrow lines)–if it sounds like I’ve been there, I have. Parents, don’t waste your money on those glitzy pencils–very few of them sharpen very well at all because of various odd coatings on the painted part. They just shred and break terribly–what a waste. These are tools- your child doesn’t need a glitzy pencil any more than your mechanic down at the service station needs a glitzy wrench. Help your child to focus on the work and the product he/she is creating with that pencil, not on the pencil’s cool sports logo, or glittery pinkness.
3. The best supply suggestion I have is for parents to hit the school supply clearance aisle in about late September. Guess what–your student will need about 3-4 replacements of everything which is really consumable (pencils, crayons, markers, etc.) on the original supply list through the course of the year.
4.Lastly, if things are good for your family financially, when you hit those clearance sales, get an extra set of everything and donate it to the teacher, so she can help out some child whose family is really struggling…because many of those you see cruising the school supplies clearance will be teachers, paying ourselves for some extra supplies to help kids who have next to nothing.


Kristie-ND July 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I homeschool my children(well, my daughter graduated this year 🙂 ) so this is not an issue for me. We purchase clothing as it is needed for the most part.

What I do is wait until school actually starts here(August) and then I raid Target and Walmart and get alllllllll the sharpies and every other office/school supply I might want for up to 75% off. I buy extra sets and donate them in the various drop bins.

The last year my daughter was in public school was 5th grade(she will be 18 this month). At the start of the school year, we bought all the required items on the supply list. In Nov, we got orders to a new base(in the same state) and had to spend 50.00 extra, plus pay a sports and Spanish fee, classes she did not take since the school year had already started, to purchase all the things that we already had, but were of a different brand.

Glad to be done with that, becuase I think that can cost more than wardrobe shopping.

On a bit of a side note. As everyone shops for their own kids upcoming clothing needs, remember to donate your outgrown snowshoes(if applicable), winter coats, gloves, scarves and hats! We have a program in this state where you drop off coats and other winter gear in good condition and they get dry cleaned and given to families in need.


Sierra July 6, 2009 at 9:40 pm

My daughter is starting kindergarten this year. I haven’t bought any clothes for her yet. Like, ever in her lifetime. Everything has been gifts and hand-me-downs.

But I’ve started to wonder if with the advent of school I’ll need to be a little pickier about her wardrobe. I may have to step up my consumption and start buying some used things for her now and again to keep her in sufficient warm clothes for all the outdoor play her school will be doing.


Non Consumer Girl July 7, 2009 at 1:49 pm

When my daughter started school we bought everythin new for the summer uniforms. It cost almost $300. About 10 weeks later, we had to purchase the whole set of winter uniforms, as after the school holidays, this was when they changed to wearing.the winter uniform. This was also about $300. It was a huge cost to bear in such a short space of time.

Now we have become wiser in my Buy Nothing New Year.At my daughter’s school, there is a great second hand uniform shop. It is open a few hours each week. I have a 10 min look every few weeks, and purchase the next size up for my daughter. So I can purchase a pre-loved winter tunic for $12 instead of $55, and summer uniform dress for $10 instead of $55. Some of the uniforms in the shop are way past there prime, but with the ones I have purchased are in very good condition.
I can’t tell the difference between her uniforms now!


CentsInTheCity July 8, 2009 at 8:56 am

My mother is not quite the girly girl that I am, nor does she enjoy shopping. She used to give me $50 a season, which really didn’t go very far, but you learn how to shop on a budget. When I started working at age 15, I pretty much took care of all of my own clothing from then on out.


Tonya July 9, 2009 at 10:38 am

I too shop all year long. We have a wonderful Goodwill nearby, and between that and hand-me-downs, we are able to get about 85% of what we need for our kids’ wardrobes.

I do buy new tennies, long-underwear (too icky used), and for my tween daughter, one cute hoodie that she typically wears almost every day as a layer in our chilly climate.


sarah July 15, 2009 at 11:22 pm

im only 13 yrs old…im totally into fashion…
i already asked my mom about my back to school clothes….i asked her for 3 pants and 3 shirts and 2 jackets..or sumthing use for fall..she disagreed…
coz she said i bought lots of clothes during the summer…but the clothes i bought during summer…was totally not the fall fashion..:(


Olivia_FL July 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I am going to be 13 in a couple weeks, so no, I’m not an adult whois savings-wise. Duing the entire summer I buy my “back to school clothes”. I think waiting until there’s 2 or 3 weeks left before school to start shopping is ridiculous since. EVERYONE else is doing the same thing, so there’s nothing left! I normally don’t ask my mom to pay for my clothes. Except on the rare occasion I find some that are kinda expensive but they fit very well (like the ones I just bought). I (my mom an I) usually spend about $250 total for a few pairs of jeans, 4/5 shirts, and a pair of shoes. Not that bad 🙂
We go to a consignment store (used/some new clothing store) called Plato’s Closet. They sell only name brand (Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale) They have some really great finds.
I’m a purse person, so I needed a new bag. All of my old ones have been destroyed enough to be put into retirement, so I bought a new tote bag there.
Abercrombie tote from Plato’s Closet= $14
Abercrombie tote from Abercrombie & Fitch= $50-$150

See the difference. The only problem is, if you’re a fat girl (like me), they don’t have a lot of selection for you. They have some good jeans though.
Hope I helped someone in their back to school shopping 🙂


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