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Cheap Kids' Clothes Buying Guide

Our first foray, back in 2011, revealed that the cheapest store overall for back-to-school clothes was Walmart. In that test we were able to outfit two kids for just $218.36 (before tax).

Related Guide:
Costco or Sam's Club
As we performed spot checks in subsequent years, we noticed that kids' clothes prices at most stores deviated from 2011 levels by roughly $1 to $3 in 2013 and $2 to $5 in 2014, adding only about $10 to $15 to the final totals. As a result, the ranking and recommendations from our original shopping cart test remain the same. Despite small price variations from three years ago, Walmart is still the cheapest source for back to school clothes.

That said, Walmart, like many other stores we compared, didn't carry everything on our list in store; we had to look for some cheap kids' clothes online. A few items on our list (coats, boots, and boys' dress shoes) weren't available from every retailer in store or online -- at least at the time of our test, toward the end of July -- so we didn't include them in our totals. The only store that did carry everything you might need is Sears, which totaled $546.40 in our initial shopping cart test. The most expensive store was Kohl's, totaling $705.13. However, the test did not include sale prices or coupons, and many parents favor Kohl's for its storewide sales and exceptional coupons. We were hard-pressed to find anyone shopping at Kohl's who doesn't buy on sale or use a coupon.

The cost of clothing hasn't increased much since 2011 -- 1.8 percent in 2012 and 0.6 percent in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The New York Times reports that inflation in kids' clothing prices historically has been much lower than the inflation rate for apparel overall. JC Penney has gone through a series of price gyrations in the past couple of years, however. In 2012 the retailer hired a new CEO to help revitalize the business. As Bloomberg explains it, the chain instituted drastic price reductions and eliminated most sale events, cutting down to just 12 a year from close to 600. But by spring of 2013, the new CEO was gone and JC Penney had reverted to its earlier pricing ways. According to Time, sales, promotions, and discounts are back, accompanied by rising prices. In our kids' clothes price comparison research in 2013, JC Penney prices had fallen below those posted in 2011, but not enough to bring the company down from its perch near the top of the pricing order. (Prices in our 2014 spot check were similar, give or take $2 to $5.)

While Walmart is the clear winner on overall price, no store is truly a one-stop shop for the cheapest kids' clothes. Different stores excel in different clothing categories based on a combination of price, selection, and quality. Walmart takes the cake in underwear, pajamas, and pants, while Kohl's wins the dress clothes categories. We found that Kohl's is most often cited by shoppers for generally offering high-quality clothes that rarely fall apart prematurely. Old Navy is a clear winner in both boys' and girls' tops as well as in discount kids' outerwear -- what there was of it, anyway. Old Navy impressed our researcher with the quality of its cheap kids' clothes, which also proved durable in a test by Good Housekeeping. JC Penney is the place to shop for discount school uniforms, but Target also offers a wide selection.

Read on for more details of our findings, but keep in mind that each store's offerings, prices, sales, and coupons may differ from location to location and from our original findings.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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Filed in: Back to School, Clothes, Kids,
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