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How to Find the Best Back-to-School Bargains

Scope sales and styles with your kid before you hit the stores.
Scope sales and styles with your kid before you hit the stores.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

We can't really blame the back-to-school bank drain on the classes themselves. Sure, the fees for academic and athletic supplies sting, but the real pain is, ahem, of a much more fashionable nature. If the cost to clothe your child is reaching sky-high proportions (we know ours is), it's time to take control of back-to-school spending. Here's how to get ahead of the game.

First, get off the designer track. Instead of heading to trendy (and pricey) teen stores, shop for designer brands at overstock stores like TJ Maxx or Marshall's. You can score the same trendy names for about half the price, sometimes less. You can browse discount designer racks online, too, at O.co, RueLaLa.com, HauteLook.com or BlueFly.com.

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If you'd really like to slash your budget, stalk local resale shops. Plato's Closet, for example, has gently used name-brand clothes and accessories at deep discounts. Teens -- who rarely seem to wear the same ensemble more than once -- turn in their clothes at the store for cash or store credit, and other teens can then buy the gently used items. The key to great finds is frequenting the store on a regular basis. You'll develop an eye for price, get to know their inventory and when you see a real steal, you'll be able to snap it up.

Finding stylish back-to-school clothes at yard sales can be hit-and-miss. However, you can increase your odds of finding trendy kids' clothes by targeting upscale neighborhoods with young families. Read Craigslist.com or the classified ads in your local newspaper and map out the sales. In addition, save some cash for annual or semi-annual consignment sales, like Just Between Friends. These large-scale, two- or three-day events feature clothing and other items for a variety of ages, from baby to teenager.

Alternatively, you could host a swap party and exchange clothing with other attendees. The key is to extend the invitations strategically. Be sure to invite people who have children the same age (or a bit older) than yours, and who tend to wear the brand names you prefer. If you are hosting a swap party for your teen, invite other teenagers with similar styles and sizes. A swap party can work for any number of needs, from school uniforms to homecoming dresses.

Want to save even more money? On the next page, we'll share more tips to make you a back-to-school bargain master.

It takes effort to find back-to-school deals, but we stay motivated with one recurrent thought: The more we save in sending our kids to school, the more able we'll be to reward ourselves during those first blissful child-free schooldays -- assuming those savings don't go straight to groceries, or to more new clothes when the kids manage to outgrow their outfits before school even starts.

With thoughts of leisurely meetings at overpriced coffee shops dancing in our heads, we hit the online bargain trail. The first step? Get social. Whether shopping for clothes or school supplies, tapping into social media campaigns can score great deals. Sign up for email newsletters from brands or retailers that sell the items you need, and "like" these brands on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for special deals. At some stores, you can sign up to earn store rewards each time you shop. Check brand and store Web sites for e-coupons you can use online and in-store coupons you can print at home, pull up on your smart phone or access with your membership card. Watch for clearance sales, and if you order online, pair these bargains with free shipping offers. Some retailers, like Wal-Mart, will offer to ship your order to the store of your choice for free pick-up so you can save on shipping costs.

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You can get bargains if you spend strategically, too. Target, for example, sometimes offers $5 gift cards with the purchase of certain items, such as laundry detergent. Since you have to buy detergent anyway to wash all those clothes, stock up. Then save the gift cards until the things your child needs go on sale.

If your state offers a sales tax holiday, take advantage of it. Often, these tax-free days occur in the summer, just in time for back-to-school shopping. The Federation of Tax Administrators has compiled a state-by-state list of tax-free days.

However, even the best bargain isn't such a steal if your child refuses to use or wear it. If you have a persnickety consumer on your hands, take him or her shopping with you. You can identify the sale items and then let your child choose from those options. If you'd really like to get a head start on school, you can compare prices together -- a practical and relatable use for mathematics! See, your child really can apply math to everyday life.

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Sources

  • Atterberry, Wendy. "My Two Cents: How to Host a Kick-Ass Clothing Swap." April 7, 2010. (July 8, 2011) TheFrisky.com. http://www.thefrisky.com/post/246-my-two-cents-how-to-host-a-kick-ass-clothing-swap/
  • Hsieh, Emily. "How to Shop a Garage Sale Like a Pro." (July 8, 2011) Shine.Yahoo.com. http://shine.yahoo.com/event/haven/how-to-shop-a-garage-sale-like-a-pro-2179716
  • Federation of Tax Administrators. "2011 State Sales Tax Holidays." (July 10, 2011) TaxAdmin.org. http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/sales_holiday.html
  • Ice, Danielle. "Frugal Tip: How to Save 90 percent on Kids Clothes." March 12, 2009. (July 8, 2011) HomeEverAfter.com. http://www.homeeverafter.com/frugal-tip-how-to-save-90-on-kids-clothes/
  • Parenting. "25+ Back-to-School Bargain Buys." (July 10, 2011) Parenting.com. http://www.parenting.com/gallery/25-back-to-school-bargain-buys?pnid=109909
  • Plato's Closet. "How It Works." (July 8, 2011) http://www.platoscloset.com/how-it-works
  • Social Media Marketing. "Social Media Helping You Find Bargains." Dec. 13, 2009. (July 10, 2011) http://www.socialmediamarketing.com/blog/social-media-helping-you-find-bargains
  • White, Jaquetta. "Louisiana's Two-Day Sales Tax Holiday in August Turns into a Big Deal." July 10, 2011. Nola.com. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2011/07/louisianas_two-day_sales_tax_h.html

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