7 smart ways to save on back-to-school clothing

Back to School Clothes on a Budget

Clothing is one of the biggest expenses parents have to prepare for as they send their kids back to school come fall. Along with stocking up on the basics (think: socks), parents also have to manage their kids' likes and dislikes, the current fashion rules and the ever-rising cost of name-brand clothing when trying to budget for their kids' needs and wants

Here are some doable tips for saving money on school-year threads that will make everyone enjoy the back-to-school shopping experience.

1. Assess Your Child's Current Clothing Inventory

What still fits? What doesn't? What's acceptable to wear from both a condition and fashion standpoint? Scour your child's closet and talk with her about what items should stay or go. Sell or give away items your child no longer wants, and make a list of what can be re-used this year. When you shop, build around the items you already have.

READ MORE: 10 Ways to Save on Your Wardrobe

2. Set a Budget Before You Shop

Before you leave for the mall, decide what you can comfortably afford to spend on back-to-school clothing and make sure your child has a clear understanding of that number. Make a commitment to yourself that you won't deviate from the budget without good reason, no matter how much pleading occurs at the mall. Setting a clear budget beforehand will reduce your stress level and help your child learn to shop within boundaries, making choices that best suit his needs and wants.

3. Work With Your Child to Make a List

It's important to work together with your child to determine what items are needed for school, and what items are wanted. Sit down with your child and make a list that covers his needs and wants. Be sure your child understands that needs are prioritized when it comes to shopping and sticking within the set budget.

READ MORE: 11 Expenses Destroying Your Budget

4. Let Your Child Have Some Freedom in How the Money Is Spent

If your kid wants a $200 pair of tennis shoes and your clothing budget is $400, consider letting her have her way. Sometimes those "gotta have" items can make or break a kid's fragile self-esteem during school years. If you do choose to let your child have a big-ticket clothing item, be sure she understands that "need" items have to come first, and that she'll likely have to find cheaper options at thrift stores to get the other clothing items on the list. Agree before the big purchase that you'll work together to find other affordable clothing options so that you can stay within the preset budget.

5. Go With Your Child to the Stores

Oftentimes, older kids like to do their back-to-school shopping with friends, but unless your teen has a really keen eye for shopping wisely, go with her on the school-shopping excursion. Having a second voice along – preferably that of a parent – will do wonders to help your child to determine how she can get the most out of the money available to spend.

6. Hit Thrift Stores First

Shopping at thrift stores can drastically reduce what you spend on back-to-school clothing. Go to thrift stores in more affluent areas of town to score the biggest collection of name-brand clothing. Thrift stores often boast used clothing selections that are in good shape, as well as new items (with the tags still on), but for a fraction of the original retail price.

Bonus hint: Thrift stores often have specials on certain items during the week when prices are slashed even further. Check out your thrift store's website to take advantage of sales on needed back-to-school items.

READ MORE: 10 Money-Saving Websites to Check Before Shopping

7. Make Back-to-School Shopping a Happy Experience

It's important to ensure the back-to-school shopping experience is a happy one. Do what you can to incorporate joy into what is often a stressful occasion. Here are some tips for bringing a little "happy" into your shopping excursion.

Be an advisor instead of a dictator to avoid strife. Give wise advice and gentle opinions instead of orders when it comes to helping your child pick out clothing.

Try not to criticize fashion choices. Be sure your child's choices fall within family guidelines regarding clothing apparel, but don't necessarily reject an item simply because you don't care for it.

Add in another fun but frugal activity to the shopping experience. Stop for an inexpensive lunch or treat. Buy an inexpensive extra item for your child "just because."

Back-to-school shopping – especially with teens – has the potential to be a hair-raising experience that can put a serious dent into a family budget. With a little advanced planning, however, parents and kids can have a fun day out that won't break the bank.

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