You can find Elise posting regularly about all things motherhood-related on The Joyful Mother Project.
Flashback to School Shopping in the 1990s…
I remember loving back-to-school shopping. The time when my mom’s wallet became a little looser, and I could pad my wardrobe with new duds that made me feel fresh for the coming school year. After the purchases were made, I wasn’t allowed to wear them until the first day of school, so they sat untouched until summer vacation was over, except for the times that I took them out to agonize over what would be the outfit for the first day back.
That was then.
THIS is 2017. And now I am the mom. And I am the one with four darling girls, and the one being expected to loosen the pocket strings. It doesn’t feel so great on this end, does it?
But I’m here to share with you that back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to break the bank, and your kids can still go to school looking on-trend and feeling awesome. I would have to have a secret up my sleeves as a mom of four girls, right?
So here it is. My biggest back-to-school-shopping trick is…
Now, before you roll your eyes and exit out of this article to head to the nearest Justice or H&M, hear me out and I’ll give you 5 big reasons why second-hand stores are my go-to for back-to-school shopping, and why my kids actually prefer it over the pricey clothing stores. And then I’ll give you 5 tips to make your second-hand shopping experience go smoothly.
Well, duh. I couldn’t write an article about second-hand shopping and not mention the savings. But seriously, you will save a ton of money. For example, at Kid-to-Kid (my favorite used clothing store for kids’ clothes) an average pair of jeans is from $6.99 – $9.99. T-shirts go from $2.99 to $4.99. Sweaters go from about $4.99 to $7.99. And dresses go from about $6.99 to $12.99. Occasionally the prices will go higher, but the pricing all depends upon the brand. The more expensive/trendy the brand, the more you’ll spend. But $12.99 for a fancy dress (I’m talking those kind you buy at the fancy boutiques)…that’s a downright steal.
Last year, I took my oldest three daughters shopping at Kid-to-Kid for their back-to-school clothes shopping. (Kid to Kids are located all over Utah, though I have to say that I have been to many of their franchises, and the Layton store is the one I keep going back to. They have the best selection by a mile.) I think I furnished the majority of their new wardrobes for around $180. That included multiple pairs of jeans, leggings, shirts (long and short sleeved), sweaters, and a few pairs of shoes – for three girls. Compare that to a similar shopping trip at the mall!
Another one of my favorite places to second-hand shop is called Plato’s Closet. This is another chain that is found throughout Utah. While Kid-to-Kid furnishes clothing for kids up through size 14, Plato’s Closet has clothing from sizes XS on up. Perfect for your teenager (aaand maybe you’ll get yourself something for back-to-school too, wink wink.)
This is probably one of the biggest reasons I keep shopping second-hand year after year, after the price. As I have four daughters with differing taste and personalities, I can find clothing that everyone likes from the same store. I have a daughter who likes everything girly and chic, and another daughter who prefers to dress comfortable and as ungirly as possible. Frills and sparkles for the one? Check. Simple, comfortable neutrals for the other? Check.
Last year, I thought my oldest might appreciate it if I took her out shopping, just she and I, at a first-hand clothing store. I thought it might make her feel grown-up and special, and maybe be a little bonding experience. Guess what? She hated it. “Everything looks the same,” she said, over and over. And finally, “Can we just go to Kid-to-Kid?” So we did.
THE NAME BRANDS
Oh, yes. You’ll find plenty. Are you a brand snob? It’s okay, I’m a little bit of one too. Don’t let my second-hand-shopper status fool you. I swoon when I see H&M or Zara on a little piece of kids’ clothing. And you bet I hunt those babies down when I shop. But guess what??? I get them all in one store, and I pay a fraction of the price.
Also, be assured that most second-hand stores carefully filter through the clothes that are brought to them. They don’t just hang them on the rack straight from the overstuffed Glad bag that they’re brought in. They are sifted through, and only the best are chosen. Many second-hand stores actually pay for used clothing and they only buy the very best. I have found more clothing items than I can count from the name brands I love that are in mint condition.
NON- NAME BRANDS AND SPECIALTY ITEMS
Sometimes when I’m second-hand shopping, I find clothing items that are truly one-of-a-kind. Beyond any label, and something that I could never find in a chain store. Boutique items, handmade dresses, and beautiful clothing that came from who-knows-where?? With second-hand shopping, you can go beyond labels and name-brands to create looks that are truly unique and special. Second-hand clothing shopping turns into a treasure hunt.
We recently had family pictures, and almost everything you see worn by my girls here was from a thrift store.
You’ll even be able to find items for kids that wear uniforms to school. I’ve seen a big upsurge the last few years in uniform clothing.
I have also bought several blessing dresses and baptism dresses there. Those special dresses are only worn once or twice, and are usually in brand-new condition, and again…the savings.
A baptismal dress currently hanging in the back of a closet waiting to be worn later this year.
LESS STRESS ABOUT WEAR AND TEAR
I know I have less to complain about holes in knees of jeans than do the moms of boys out there, but it’s still a problem here, too. (But seriously, let’s talk about how fast kids blow through the knees of a new pair of jeans!) Not much gets me seething more than holes in the knees of a brand-new pair of jeans, or a stain down the front of a brand-new shirt. Okay, even with second-hand clothing, I still seethe a little (cute clothes are cute clothes), but at least I can replace the offending item for a price point that doesn’t hurt as much.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Okay, moving on to the tips and tricks. What do you need to know to make your second-hand, back-to-school shopping trip go a little smoother?
SHOP EARLY AND YEAR-ROUND
If you only remember one tip, I think this one is pretty valuable. Start early. By that, I mean don’t wait until the month before school starts to start shopping, because trust me, everyone else will be shopping then too, and second-hand stores can’t order more inventory when they are running low. They don’t get shipments in to restock every week. Mid July is a great time to start. I went into Layton’s Kid-to-Kid last week and talked to the manager and she told me that over the next few weeks, they will be having some huge sales to clear space for the back-to-school clothes that will go up in about 3 weeks.
Assess kids’ winter wardrobes for snow boots and winter coats, and shop early for those things too. Don’t wait until the weather gets nippy to start shopping, and you’ll have a great selection to choose from.
I have a few items that I always keep my eyes open for. They are special things that I find only once in a while, but I’m sure to find them if I keep looking. I always keep a lookout for good-quality, stylish boots for my girls (because buying several pairs of cute winter boots can kill a momma’s budget in one swipe). While I’m mentioning shoes, let’s be real. I’m always on the lookout for all types shoes for my girls. (Sandals, tennis shoes, Converse sneakers, church shoes, etc. I envy boy-moms who only have to buy two or three pairs of shoes a year.) Second-hand shoes that are in great shape are a little harder to find (especially as kids get older), but not impossible if you look year-round. I also look year-round for nice dresses for church, especially for the older girls.
Just got this dress at Kid to Kid this last week. Score!
SHOP BIGGER SIZES
Keep in mind that when you are buying used clothing, they have already been washed and dried multiple times. I have found that often this means that clothing fits like the size under it. So shop a size bigger than you usually would in the department stores. A lot of this will differ by brand, too. For example, Disney clothing always fits small, so if you’re looking for something Disney, I would recommend shopping two sizes up.
SHOP SECOND-HAND FIRST, THEN FILL IN THE GAPS WITH NEW
There have been years past where I have shopped for essentials at Target or Old Navy first and then stopped by our favorite used-clothing stores to fill in the gaps. Without exception, I have always ended up returning a lot of those items after second-hand shopping, and finding everything they need and more. I would definitely suggest only hitting up the new stores after seeing what you can find at the second-hand stores, first. You won’t regret it.
USE PUNCH CARDS AND SAVE THE DISCOUNTS FOR THE BIG PURCHASES
Most second-hand stores that I shop at have loyalty programs, or punch cards. For every 10 dollars you spend, you get a punch or point. When you reach a certain number, you get a discount to use when you choose to use it. I have a full punch card in my wallet for 20% off that I’ve been saving just for back-to-school shopping. That takes out a good-sized chunk when you’re restocking wardrobes. I usually hang onto those discounts to use for back-to-school-shopping or for when the weather turns again in Spring.
KNOW THE RETURN POLICIES
Knowing the return policies will go far in making your second-hand shopping experience go smoothly, and to avoid unnecessary surprises. For example, Kid-to-Kid’s policy is that they take returns within 7 days, but only for in-store credit. I shop there all the time, so that doesn’t bother me. And it’s awesome because sometimes you forget the money is there, so when you go back, it’s like finding money in the couch cushions. Just yesterday, I went in to buy a couple things, and I had enough money in my account from returns to cover my purchases. Free clothes! (It’s not, but it feels like it.) With Kid-to-Kid, you also have to return items to the franchise that you bought them from.
Plato’s Closet’s return policy is my favorite, because they give you a full refund within 7 days. So if your teenager find stuff they like better elsewhere, or if they change their mind, you get all of your money back.
Back-to-School shopping can knock the wind out of any well-intentioned mom on a budget. Take a huge bite out of that clothing bill this year by second-hand shopping, and find your kids some cute clothes, to boot! You might even decide to start shopping there for yourself, when you see how stylish you can look on a smaller budget!
Check out more helpful posts like this one: