August 8, 2008

Shopping for School Clothes Takes Smarts

By Susan Martin

I'm looking at a skirt hanging in my daughter's closet that she has worn two, maybe three times. She didn't pick out this skirt; I did.

I'm also looking at some brown knit cropped pants that have been washed so many times, they have gone from the color of dark chocolate to milk chocolate.

She would sleep in those pants if she could. In fact, I think she has. And, yes, she fell in love with these pants the moment she saw them in the store.

Those pants don't owe me a dime.

As the back-to-school season approaches, do you think I have learned a lesson here?

With wallets tight and supplies to be bought, parents have to shop smart.

Local mom and professional organizer Linda Groat, whose children are 13, 9 and 4, recently shared this piece of advice with me: Less is more in the closet. Fewer clothes mean fewer choices, so school mornings are less hectic.

She's a firm believer in sticking with the basics -- three or four pairs of the jeans her daughter loves, five shirts in the same style but different colors for her son. Make things easy to mix-and- match, buy less, save more.

She also is no stranger to resale stores. And hand-me-downs are nothing to be frowned upon.

It's the ultimate in recycling.

I've come across some other tips to share on saving money while shopping.

I love this one: Stick with one or two of your child's favorite colors and add some neutrals. These days, our 9-year-old is drawn to the brown-and-aqua color combination, something I never would pick out for myself. Or her. Now I know.

Hope these ideas help as well:

Arm yourself with coupons, recommends ShopSmart, a Consumer Reports publication that landed on my desk.

For the longest time I never had a coupon with me when I needed one. Sad-eyed, I would look at the sales associate and sweetly beg, "Don't you have an extra one around here somewhere, pleeeeaze?"

Those days are gone. Now I carry them with me.

ShopSmart recommends checking for coupons or online coupon codes on Web sites such as Or Google the names of retailers and the words "coupon code" to find sites. Get your name on the e-mail (or mailing) lists of your favorite stores for advance notice of sales and coupons. When shopping online, always make sure shipping costs don't wipe out any savings, the editors warn.

Another tip from ShopSmart: Have your kids try on things. This may seem obvious, but parents do not always do that.

And it's not just for size and style approval. An innocent- looking shirt may end up being scratchy around the neck. It will sit in the closet or drawer.

Take advantage of summer clearance sales. I recently picked up a pair of gym-style shorts with a little sparkly applique on the left leg for less than $3. Our daughter can wear them for phys ed class this year. I also picked up a tank top on clearance -- and it's brown! -- that she can use as a layering piece.

Interestingly, I found it on a sales rack at the back of the store. A very similar shade of brown was at the front of the store as I walked in -- at full retail.

That tells you something.

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