How Our Family Saved Big on Back To School (And Why It’s Not Too Late for You!)

Last month, Women & Co. challenged our family to find creative ways to save during this back to school season. As a mother of five with four kids in school (college, high school, and elementary), I’m highly motivated to save money any way I can, especially during back to school.

Women & Co.’s 2012 Back To School Spending Report – developed in partnership with – showed that clothing is the biggest expense in back to school shopping, with 91% of mothers surveyed admitting they spend more on their kids’ wardrobe than their own.

sm back to school spending report

With those statistics in mind, my two high school daughters and I decided for our Back To School Savings Challenge to see how well we could stay below the national average of $131 per child for back to school clothes.

The Budget

Each daughter was given $100 in VISA gift cards, supplied by Citi and Women & Co.

First Stop: Our Local Second-hand Store

Never underestimate what you can find in a second-hand clothing store. Prices are often fabulous, and you might be surprised by the name brands you can find there. We bought a great pair of Aeropostale jeans for just $3 (retail price $40-$55).

second hand

If your kids – especially if they are teens – are resistant to shopping at second-hand stores, try reminding them that they are likely to find something fabulous and unique, especially since they’re not shopping at all the same stores as everyone else. Or, if they are concerned about a store’s “cool factor” or finding the “right” labels to wear, search your area for higher-end used clothing stores like Plato’s Closet (a favorite of my girls), Buffalo Exchange, or something specific to your location.

Second Stop: Department Store Overstock Chain

You’ve probably seen one, you may have even shopped at one. Most cities have one or another chain store known for selling discounted department store overstock. These stores are sometimes hit-and-miss for me, but always worth checking out, which is exactly what my daughters and I did.

department store overstock

What’s helpful to remember here is that sometimes cheaper isn’t always better, especially when it comes to quality. My daughters and I were mindful to have them try on each article of clothing, look carefully for any damage or stains, and try our best to anticipate lifespan of the items.

The Haul

After just two stops, but about four hours (remember, we felt it was important to take our time and find what was just right for each girl – don’t be too tempted by cheap prices to trade quality!), my girls both did very well!

My daughter Abby was able to buy a jumper, four pair of pants, two shirts, one cardigan, a sweatshirt, a scarf, and a necklace – all for $100.
abby's clothes

My daughter Maddy was able to buy four pair of pants, five shirts, and a slightly more expensive jacket that she chose to invest in as a staple piece – again, all this for $100.
maddy's clothes

It’s Not Too Late Too Save!

My biggest piece of back to school savings encouragement is to ditch the mindset that everything must be bought by September 1. Kids aren’t going to wear everything on the first day. They can pepper some new items in with what they already own, and shopping can be spread out over time if you have to wait for more money in the budget. Also, waiting often means that you catch the better sales, which tend to happen after the pre-September 1 flurry of shopping is over.

In addition to funding my own Back To School Savings Challenge, Women & Co. also gave away $50 VISA gift cards to four lucky readers of 5 Minutes for Mom. Our winners shared their favorite back to school savings tips as their entry to the giveaway. Those tips are:

  • Consignment shops have great deals and I like to shop there on tax-free weekend and combine sales with store coupons. – Tabathia
  • We save money by getting staple items on sale at the end of the previous year. Then we shop early with the national sales to get items that are on our lists. – Beth
  • [We save] by buying off clearance racks, yard sales, and thrift stores. – Vickie
  • I save by price matching at Walmart. – Tiffany

These are all great tips that can be applied at any time. So don’t worry if school has already started – because it doesn’t mean the savings have to stop!

For more personal finance advice and education about Back To School and more, visit the Women & Co. website, where you can sign up for their weekly newsletter. You can also keep up Women & Co.’s regular finance tips through their Twitter stream at @WomenandCo.

*Disclosure: Gift cards for myself and for giveaway were provided by Citi. All opinions expressed are honest and my own.


  1. says

    My favorite place to buy clothing is Goodwill and a little place that we have called Just Between Friends. It’s a small consignment shop! When I went on a red carpet press trip to New York, my dress came from that little shop and I only paid $13 for it!!

    Your girls did a fabulous job!!

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