Save money for back to school

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Avery Ellis-Byerly looks through the racks at Savers for the right outfit. Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff

We’re getting our Back to School issue ready for Aug. 8, but why wait for this information?:

Save on clothes

Avery Ellis-Byerly looks through the racks at Savers for the right outfit. Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff

Avery Ellis-Byerly looks through the racks at Savers for the right outfit.
Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff

Shop the thrift store. We took four kids to a Savers Thrift Store and a Goodwill of Central Texas store to shop for clothes. We got eight outfits, one necklace, a pair of shoes and one purse for $113.97, and we helped Easter Seals Central Texas and job training programs.

We thought the kids — 7-year-old Lukas Parra, 11-year-old Anika Ellis-Byerly, 13-year-old Caden Barrera and 16-year-old Avery Ellis-Byerly — would think that thrift store shopping was lame. Not true. Three of them already love shopping at thrift stores. The youngest one doesn’t usually shop at all.

Tips: Be patient. It’s not always easy to find what you’re looking for. Be ready for the hunt. Prepare for frustration, too. Sometimes they can fall in love with an outfit that doesn’t fit and there’s no “I’ll just get the next size” at the thrift store. Be careful. Inspect the clothing before purchasing to look for any stains or seam rips, missing buttons or other flaws. Know the school dress code. Those shorts might be cute, but not if your kid gets sent home because they are too short.

Shop the garage sales. Look for multifamily or community-, neighborhood- or church-based sales where you can pick up clothes by the bundle.

Shop the sales. The Aug. 7-9 weekend is tax-free weekend on clothing and school supplies. It seems like a big savings, but it’s only an 8.25 percent savings. Look for sales that are bigger than that — 20 percent, 30 percent and up. Often, after kids get back in school, clothing goes on sale, especially summer wear. With our warm climate, kids can wear shorts and T-shirts most of the year. Put off shopping until September if you don’t find good deals.

Lukas Parra and Caden Barrera push the cart through Savers and try to find some clothes.  Credit: Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman staff

Lukas Parra and Caden Barrera push the cart through Savers and try to find some clothes.
Credit: Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman staff

Don’t shop in advance. We like to think that we will pick up an outfit on clearance that is a size or two too big for kids to wear in the future. Many a kid has skipped a size all-together, and then you’ve spent money on something your kid won’t be able to wear.

Shop their closet and others’ closets. First assess what they have. They might have forgotten that fun T-shirt shoved in the back of the closet. Do they even need new clothes? If the answer is “no,” you can skip the Back to School craziness and wait until they outgrow what they have.

Remember hand-me-downs? Embrace that again. Find a friend with kids slightly older than yours. Or share clothes between your own kids. My tomboy daughter has been known to sport her brother’s T-shirts. She’s also been known to raid her parents’ closet, too.

Don’t forget as you’re going through their closets to donate their clothes or find a friend with younger kids to pass clothes to.

Save on school supplies.

Get the list, then look at what you have. Last year’s markers might still be good. They become this year’s at-home supplies or if your kids really didn’t use those markers, send them back to school for another year. Too often we get in the Back to School Fever and think we need all new. Don’t forget to shop for supplies at home, too, if you have nothing left from last year. You don’t want to have a colored pencil emergency at 9 p.m. on a school night.

Inspect the backpack and lunch box. Your kid might not need a new one. If he does, buy quality not fashionable to get the longest life out of the same backpack. Last year’s backpack also can become this year’s overnight bag, carry-on bag, or soccer gear bag.

Shop unexpected stores. You might think you need to head to Walmart or Target, but sometimes the best deals might be at the Dollar Store, CVS, Walgreens or the H-E-B. Bring your lists with you and shop around for the best deals.

Don’t shop at all. Some schools have packages you can buy with all the school supplies you need. They will be more money, but you’re saving on gas as well as your time. Your time is worth something, right?

Don’t have a list, no problem. When you get to the middle-school and high-school years, school supply shopping becomes unpredictable and something that is a mystery until the first few days of school. You don’t want to be the parent in the Back to School aisle at 8 p.m. that first week. You won’t go wrong with picking up three-ring binders, notebook paper, computer paper, pencils, pens, composition books and colored pencils. If your kid is going to be in upper-level math like Algebra and Geometry, grab a pack of graph paper, too. That’s one thing you don’t want to try to find the first week of school.

Find the free supplies. Austin Independent School district holds its Back to School Bash at 9 a.m. Aug. 15 at the Palmer Events Center. In addition to many family activities, free vaccines when you bring your shot record and free vision exams and eyeglasses, you can also get a free backpack with school supplies for each AISD student attending. There are free shuttles to and from the Palmer Event Center. Find more information at austinisd.org/bash.

Communities In Schools is also donating free supplies to students enrolled in its programs. ciscentraltexas.org.

Call your school. The staff should know if an organization has donated supplies to the school’s students or where to go to get them.

And, while this isn’t a money-saver, consider donating extra supplies when you’re out shopping. We have a list of places to donate atstatesman.com/opinion.

Save on school fees.

Plan around your budget. The second kids enter schools, they start getting letters from teachers about field trip fees, supply fees and other needs. Ask the teacher or organizer if you can space out payments. Often, they are happy to get the fees any way you can give them. They might even give you a schedule of when they need each portion of the fee based on the date of the activities.

Start saving now. Try to put aside a few extra dollars with this paycheck before the next one.

Rethink the fundraiser. Do you really need the cookie dough or the wrapping paper? Figure out what you would have bought in products you won’t use, calculate the percentage the school would have received from your order and write a check for that amount.

Ask for scholarships. If you truly can’t afford the school fees, ask the school if there are any scholarships available or angels who can help you out. Consider going to your house of worship to see if it might be able to help as well.

Involve the kids.

Let them know what your budget is for school supplies, clothing and school activities. They might be able to help you prioritize what is important to them — new clothes or joining the soccer team, for example. It might also help them avoid just mindlessly filling the shopping cart with things they don’t need.

Share your own ideas by leaving a comment.


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