Cheap Back to School Shopping
Gear up for Back to School with Cheap Kids Clothes
We recently looked into the cheap back-to-school shopping phenomenon with an eye to suggestions about where find high quality yet cheap kids clothes. This year the National Retail Federation (NRF) expects back-to-school spending on new wearables, school supplies, and electronics to hit $27 billion -- that's an average of about $635 per family with kids in grades K-12. Of that amount, about $325 will go towards shoes and clothing.
Our research found that at least on the cheap back-to-school clothes and shoes portion of your must-have list there's no need to spend a small fortune. By shopping at Walmart, for example, you can buy all the back-to-school clothes that two kids ages 7 to 10 need for slightly less than $220. We also found that certain stores offer the best value on particular types of clothing, such as JC Penney for uniforms.
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What to shop for.We checked out the wares in seven stores and filled a virtual shopping cart with the items most kids need to start the school year: girls and boys uniform tops and bottoms, shorts, jeans, T-shirts and hoodies, socks, underwear, pajamas, sneakers; boys dress pants, polo shirts, button-down shirts, undershirts, and belts; girls dresses, skirts, and fashion tops, training bras, leggings and tights, dress shoes, and accessories like belts, hair ties, and jewelry. Of course, you may not need everything on this list or you may need multiples of some items, so your kids clothes shopping list and final tally may vary from our findings.
Frugal consumers might be interested in some strategic shopping advice from Jene Luciani, a style correspondent with NBC. She recommends investing in good footwear for your kids while spending less on other clothing. And, she points out, choosing items you can mix, match, and layer yields the best bang for your buck.
Where to shop.Our comparison shopping expedition took us to Walmart, Target, Kmart, Sears, Old Navy, JC Penney, and Kohl's. We found the cheapest kids clothes at Walmart, where the shopping cart total hit $218.36, and the most expensive at Kohl's, where the bill came to $705.13 These totals exclude sales tax, coupons, promotions, and discounts.
When coupons, promotions, and sales are factored in, however, Kohl's looks much more affordable. This retailer seems to offer the most sales and promotions, as well as a consistent volley of coupons. Kohl's card holders receive mailed coupons on a regular basis and if none are available they can scratch off coupons at the register for additional discounts.
If you prefer to do all your cheap back-to-school shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, Sears is the best one-stop shop. Although it falls in the middle of the price pack at $546.40, Sears is the only store with everything on our list as well as some necessary items that weren't, such as boots and coats, which most stores don't carry until later in the fall.
When to shop.Back-to-school shopping peaks in the second half of July and the first part of August, which coincides with the largest selection of kids clothes. (Keep an eye out for sales and coupons.) If your list of needed items is general rather than specific, Luciani recommends waiting until the end of the back-to-school shopping season when selection is smaller but prices are lower. She also advises against shopping little by little throughout the year. "Sometimes you end up overspending, or getting more than you need or items in wrong sizes, etc. and risk ‘forgetting' what you even bought," Luciani explains.
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How to shop.As every parent knows, it's hard to keep spending under control when you have the kids in tow. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Shop with a budget in hand and stick to it. Luciani is OK with letting a child have one "splurge" item they've been clamoring for -- if you can afford it -- as long as you make the rest of the spending decisions. Two other tactics for cheap back-to-school shopping include recycling clothes from older children to younger siblings/cousins/friends and scouring second-hand stores and discount retailers like TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
A word on quality.Even bargain hunters want quality kids clothes. Here, our research found that Kohl's scored high points across the board with shoppers while Old Navy's polo shirts and jeans passed extensive durability testing conducted by Good Housekeeping. To make your own quality assessment of kids clothes, Luciani says to look for garments that are 100 percent cotton or made from non-synthetic blends.
Additional tips.Other useful results from our foray into the world of cheap back-to-school kids clothes:
- Kohl's has the best return policy of the seven stores we visited.
- The best selection and lowest prices on pajamas and underwear is at Walmart.
- Pants and dresses are available in the widest variety and with the highest perceived quality at Kohl's and Walmart.
- Old Navy has the most stylish options, the lowest prices, and the best quality in outerwear and tops.
- Target boasts the largest selection of low-priced shoes for different occasions.
- The best place to buy back-to-school uniforms is JC Penney, where the selection is impressive and prices are fair.