Back to School: Fashion on a Budget

Making sure your little one looks good for school can be tough on your wallet especially when you’re buying new clothes every few months. Below are some ways you can get the most for your buck.

First things first

Before you get caught up in the back to school spirit, you need to take inventory of the clothes your child already has. There are bound to be things that still work. Keep things that still fit even if they’re so last season. A great summer dress can be autumn-ed up with some tights and a sweater, a turtleneck, or a scarf. A t-shirt can go with a great new jacket or on top of a flannel shirt.

If your little one is so over that shirt, find a way to refashion it. A pair of jeans can be updated by cutting them shorter, adding patches, bleaching them, or by ripping holes in them. If you’re really crafty, you can get into more advanced projects like turning a pair of jeans into a skirt or a cool book bag! Work with junior to do your re-fashions—it can be an awesome family project.

Be your own stylist

So how many pieces doth a wardrobe make? That’s arguable. Some of us have drawers and closets full of clothes. Even so, we come back to the same few basic pieces. If you’re very deliberate about the pieces you buy for junior, you’ll be able to make your budget stretch a little farther. Make your shopping list taking into account what you already have and the basics you need. Remember to keep the colors basic so you can mix and match the different pieces. To get buy-in from your kiddo, you may want to give him or her some say so in the choice. If nothing else, take into account his or her style. If he’s a t-shirt and jeans type, get him enough tees and jeans to last two weeks or so. If she’s glam, make sure to get more skirts than jeans. Don’t forget her accessories! That will help the outfits go even further. As you buy things, you may also want to go towards bigger sizes since kids are always growing. Don’t go too big because you want your little one to look good but a little bigger is okay.

Chain Stores

Chain stores like Macys, Kohls, Sears, and JC Penney have a lot of stores across the country. This means they may be able to offer bigger deals. Look out for store brands like Jumping Beans at Kohls for even better deals. Check out weekly deals on the store’s web site or in weekly circulars, which come in your Sunday paper. Better still, look out for the weekly circulars that are dropped in your neighborhood on Thursdays for Friday/Saturday door buster deals.  Sign up for email deals and search the net for printable coupons and online coupon codes. If you complete a survey about your latest JCPenney purchase, you can print out a coupon for 15% off your next purchase! Macys coupons are often printed in free newspapers like AM New York and Metro. Join Kmart/Sears Shop your way Rewards Club for points on all your purchases which can turn into discounts later!

Stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Century 21 are known for discount clothes for families. Shop often and search thoroughly for the best deals. Take note: Century 21’s stuff is a little more expensive but there are gems to be found.

Second Hand Clothes

It’s like hand-me-downs with a twist! Buying second hand is akin to recycling. Score points with Mother Earth and save money!

Check your local thrift shop frequently for good deals. For an even better deal, work out a relationship with the owner. If you bring donations frequently, you may be able to score an additional discount on your clothes or even just get them as a trade for whatever you donated. Try Domsey’s Express, 1609 Palmetto St in Ridgewood, 718-386-7661, for lightly used name brands like Old Navy and for unused staples like Hanes undershirts. There are several consignment stores in NYC that focus on children’s items. Check out On the Road Again, 65-46 Grand Ave in Maspeth, 718-417-7353. This store has a huge selection of children’s clothes.

Although flea market season is coming to an end, there are several still happening. Check local newspapers like the Queens Chronicle and Courier or even for ones happening this week. The weekly flea market at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, which runs through November, is full of deals including clothes, clothes, and more clothes.

Cyber Saving

Twenty-first century moms know that the web is full of resources for all parts of our lives. It follows that we can use it as a tool to save money in creating a wardrobe for junior.

The Freecycle Network has groups all over the world. This movement is designed to keep good things out of landfills. The way it works is that a person who wants to get rid of something posts to the group with the offer and whoever is interested responds. If you are interested in something you haven’t seen an ad for you can post about that too.  You can join several groups. You may want to join the New York City Group and the Queens County Group. In addition to lightly used clothes you may also score a queen size mattress, three boxes of old books, or a couch! The best part: it’s free. No payment, not even a swap, for things listed on Freecycle is allowed.

The well-known web site is also a great resource for saving on your kiddo’s wardrobe. There are several sections you’ll want to check out. Click through the barter section, the clothes and accessories section, and the baby and kids section under “For Sale.” What you’ll find are good deals on new or lightly used items. Look at sales in queens or anywhere in the five boroughs.

You may have used Ebay to buy back that Barbie Dream House you grew up with. Did you know that you could also use it for brand-new or used clothes? Well, you can! Use their “Buy it Now” feature or try your hand at an auction. For the best deals look for sellers who offer free shipping. They also have a Classifieds section, where you can search for things that are for sale locally.

Go clubbing

There are several mothers’ clubs in Queens. These groups are a great tool for swapping clothes. While the groups sometimes meet in person, a lot of them have a larger online presence. Check out our piece on these clubs here. As with Freecycle, moms post when they’re giving things away and when they need something.  If you see an offer you like, jump on it because everyone’s trying to save a buck! These groups are also great for sharing resources, asking advice from more experienced moms, and all sorts of other mommy things.

If you’re trying to find a group in your neighborhood, check or If you’re a mom to multiples, make sure to search that too. Start by checking this one: Mothers of Twins Club of Queens NY. If there isn’t a group for you, you should start one. It’s free. Recruit local mom’s at your own local haunts and, pretty soon, you’ll be reaping the benefits!

Clothes Swapping

Have you heard of swap meets and sort of wondered what that was all about? They’re still happening. Basically, people barter items they no longer want for items other folks no longer want. Find local swap meets by reading your local papers carefully and keep an eye out on TV, local flyers, etc. You can also join an online swap group. One example is the Five Boroughs Clothing Swap. There are almost 400 members who are interested in keeping their wardrobe current and varied by exchanging items with other members. These folks get together to swap clothes and also share information about local swaps. Hey, if you don’t like any of these ideas, get your own group together. You may want to start by swapping clothes with your girlfriends. Make a BYOO (Bring your own outfit) party of it. You can do these parties/meetings once a month or season and keep your child’s wardrobe fresh.

Remember Layaway?

Layaway is back! Many stores offer this alternative to credit cards. The way it works is that, after you pick your purchases, you lay them away at the store. You pay the total in monthly installments. You get to take the purchases home once you pay off the total. Some places offer this option for free and others charge a small fee. The benefit is that you can freeze the price at whatever it is on the day you buy your items, if they’re on sale for example. You’ll get to pay in installments without having to pay interest. Many chain stores now offer this option on site and online. Sears offers shopping online for layaway which you can then pick up at your local store. There are also web sites that offer layaway at many different stores. Use these options as you would any other payment options. E-layaway is one such web site, which works with Sears and Amazon, among others. You should also check out, which is an-internet based seller.


Remember you don’t have to buy everything at once. Of course, shop the back to school sales. But you can wait for good deals as the year goes along, too. After all, junior doesn’t need that winter coat just now. You can wait to do some portion of your back to school shopping until the season is almost over. This way you can grab up the end of season discounts!


Sandy Jimenez