Monday, August 24, 2009

Back-To-School Budget Shopping

School clothes shopping and kids’ clothing in general has been the topic of many a blog lately: Christina at A Mommy Story asked if how parents are handling the back-to-school spending, while Rachel at SmallNotebook had some great ideas for organizing kids’ clothing.

At our house, school supplies are purchased and in the backpacks, and back-to-school clothes shopping is now 99% done. Just shoes and sneakers to buy, and a coat for the Oldest once L.L. Bean comes out with their Winter catalogue. I highly recommend L.L. Bean – they will take back anything that you’re not happy with, which works well when the “never-going-to-fail zipper” comes apart on the Middle Child’s backpack.

I have a number in my head but not a set budget. Circulars are gleaned and coupons are ferreted out for school supplies. For clothes, I have final veto, having learned a long time ago that the basics will never go out of style (khakis, white shirts, more conservative preppy-style), saving you money and letting hand-me-downs not stick out like sore thumbs. But I have sons - for those of you with daughters, I don't know how you do it!

We started yesterday morning trying on clothes and came up with a basic shopping list. Very few items were needed despite recent growth spurts; the Oldest is up a size and the Middle Child jumped two whole sizes! Being a clearance rack junkie, I had a lot on hand from recent finds (long-sleeved Polo rugby shirts for $2.97 was my last score). The Oldest did need pants and dress shorts, a few long-sleeve collared dress shirts, and socks and boxers. The Middle Child was thrilled when we told him that he would not need to try any clothes on during our excursion - he’s got plenty of decent hand-me-downs, and is still of the age where he has very few opinions about what he wears.

The Oldest does care and is finally in men’s sizes, making the shopping this year somewhat different. Despite my TJ Maxx and Marshall’s finds being “labels” (Ralph Lauren, Joseph Abboud), I was informed that the only one that counted was “Sean John”. So we have come to some agreement. There is a budget. If he doesn’t like it, I will do what my father did so long ago to end my arguing with my mother over clothes shopping: he will receive an allowance and be in charge of his own choices, or he could trust my shopping skills, honed from years of Yankee frugality and bargain-basement shopping. Being a smart kid (and with prodding from his father), he told me he'd go with the latter.

We agreed that stores like American Eagle would be visited so long as it's understood I'm shopping clearance. Abercrombie & Finch, Hollister, or Ruehl are out after a recent mall stroll - if I can’t see it due to poor lighting, can’t think due to the loud music, or the sales staff can’t be bothered to smile at me because they’re too busy standing around amongst the disheveled racks, I won’t spend my money there. I’ve worked retail before; the reason you’re there is the customer and the sale, not to look bored. Oh, and I won’t money on jeans with holes in them; I can do that myself with a razor, and did the last time that was the fashion during the ‘80s to my own jeans!

The rare jewels? American Eagle - greeted when I walked in, and salespeople were busy making sure the sizes were in proper order, even on the clearance racks. Old Navy – can always find great chinos there, and again, sales people doing their jobs. The score? Filene’s Basement – three whole racks of AE goods, costing at least $10 less than what we’d just seen. A few other stops, and we were done.

The best idea of the day? When we got home, I laid all of it out on the couch. First, I called Hubby in. When I told him the amount, he almost swallowed his tongue. The youngest of eight, he made a comment that his mother wouldn’t have spent that much on ALL the back-to-school shopping for him and his siblings combined! Then the Oldest was called in, and presented with the grand total: $261.97. At first, he was impressed that we had bought: 3 “hoodies” (aka zip-front sweatshirts), 4 pair pants, 3 pair jeans, 3 pair cargo shorts, 3 long-sleeved dress shirts, 1 short-sleeve collared shirt, 7 pair boxers, and 7 pair socks.

Then I explained that that didn’t cover the rest of his shirts, t-shirts, athletic shorts, sweatpants, sneakers, shoes, belts, concert or team uniforms, or winter gear (coat, hat, boots, gloves). We wanted him to understand how lucky he is, and Hubby told him the only reason he got what he did was because I could sniff out a bargain, so he’d best take care of what he’s got. That, and he has two younger brothers who need to wear the hand-me-downs!

So, how’s your back-to-school shopping going? What have your recent shopping experiences been, good or bad? Do you have a “hidden jewel” of stores that you return to again and again? Let me know!

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