How to Buy Your Kid an Entire Back-To-School Wardrobe for $50 or Less

Back-to-school shopping can be a major headache, but it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, you can put together one kid's entire wardrobe for $50 if you follow these tips.

schoolAfrica Studio/ShutterstockOver 90 percent of parents say back-to-school shopping for their children stresses them out, with 75 percent seeing how much they’re spending as the major factor, according to savings and trends expert Sara Skirboll. Of course, this stands to reason, considering that back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend a total of $10.2 billion on children’s clothing this fall, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association. That breaks down to approximately $240 per family, which equals over $100 per child, assuming the average family has between two and three children. If that sounds steep to you, you’re definitely on to something. So we talked to the experts—from thrifty parents to home economists to thrift-store operators—who clued us in on these great tips for putting together a back-to-school wardrobe for your kid for just $50.

Plan ahead and stay on track

“You can easily purchase a kids’ full wardrobe for under $50,” says Latrice Clayborne, who works as a District Manager for MERS Goodwill but is also a mom and expert bargain-shopper for her kids. “Not only does Goodwill have great deals, with kids’ clothes ranging from $3 to $10,” says Clayborne, but shoppers can save even more by:
  • Planning ahead: Go through your kids’ closets, make lists and be specific.
  • Checking daily deals: Many sales can be up to 50 percent off, and sometimes, you’ll find a “fill-your-bag for $5” sort of deal (generally at thrift shops and dollar stores).
  • Taking your time: Comb through every aisle to find the lowest possible prices and any sale racks that may be hidden in the back.
  • Shopping off-season: Items are typically priced lower during the off-season. Purchasing snow boots in spring can save money in winter (just keep in mind that kids’ feet grow, so consider sizing up if you buy in advance).
  • Accessorizing: Adding accessories to a kid’s outfit can change its look entirely, which can be cheaper than buying an additional piece of clothing.

Before you head to your nearest Goodwill, check out what your consignment or thrift shop isn’t telling you.

listMonkey Business Images/ShutterstockGo shopping with grandma for the bonding…and the discount

Senior citizens get special discounts at many discount stores, says Jessi Fearon, financial coach and mom to three kids. “This is a great way for my mom and me to bond while saving our family an average of 25 percent on top of the already deep discounts.” The same is true for members of the military, says Fearon.

Check out your local church

Another great way to save on kids clothing, says financial coach, Roslyn Lash, is by going to the periodic sales sponsored by churches and other local organizations. “For example, there’s a church/school [in Winston-Salem, North Carolina] that sponsors a clothing sale twice a year; spring and fall. It’s huge, and if you go twice a year you can purchase enough clothes to last the entire year!” Many of these clothes are designer brands, and some are brand new, with tags.

Think neutral

If you buy clothing from stores in all the same palette (neutral would seem to be an easy default here), you can save money because the pieces can be easily mixed and matched, and it doesn’t look like your child is wearing the same outfit all the time, suggests Maat van Uitert, a natural living blogger. It’s particularly easy at certain stores, such as Wal-mart, which picks a palette for each season and bases their kids’ clothes around it. “It also makes getting ready in the morning super easy and fast!” he says. Along the same lines, if you build your child’s wardrobe on transitional pieces (such as long sleeve t-shirts and jeans), then it becomes an all-season wardrobe. This stretches the budget and allows for a larger selection of clothing.

Buy in bulk

“I frequently make use of bulk or lot clothing,” says mom of three, Jenny Butler, who recommends eBay, among others, where you can purchase things like “125 pieces of kids clothing for $99” and either keep it all for your own kids or split it with friends. Amazon also sells bulk clothing, such as 18 boys’ undershirts for $19. “My advice is to stick to the ads that have multiple pictures and show the quality of the items and are up-front about any defects with the clothing,” says Butler. For other sales in bulk or by lot, simply google “bulk clothing kids.”

Sell it forward

“When shopping at consignment stores, don’t forget to bring your own kids’ gently-used clothing with you. You can get credit from the store to help you offset your child’s updated wardrobe,” advises savings expert, Kendal Perez. Like Latrice Clayborne, Perez also suggests paying attention to sale days, but since all the other bargain-hunters likely know about these events, she suggest that it’s important to shop as early as possible to snatch up the best finds.

Shop ahead

“My children get their summer clothes for next year in the fall, their winter clothes for next year in the early spring before,” says Joshua Crum, a credit expert and bargain hunter for his kids. “The best clearance deals are at the change of the seasons when the stores have to rotate inventory. I have found lots of clothes dirt cheap this way. Many items for $5 and less.”

thriftgabriel12/ShutterstockYour thrifty dollars in action

As an added bonus, we asked Lisa Batra, mom of two and founder of the My Kid’s Threads online kid’s clothing consignment shop (offering up to 80 percent off of retail prices), to put together an actual back-to-school wardrobe that clocks in at under $50 based on her current My Kid’s Threads inventory.

“I’ve put together both a boy and a girl wardrobe, each in size 6,” Batra explains.

The boy’s wardrobe consists of the following six mix-and-match items:

Total = $49.88

The girl’s wardrobe consists of the following seven mix-and-match items

Total: $49.58

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.