Last week I gave Laila a back-to-school budget of $150 and vowed not to exceed it.
That’s harder than it sounds. Shiny, pretty back-to-school things are everywhere. A few increments of $20 or $30 and you’ve blown the budget on stuff that’s probably not going to fit in six months to a year.
I realized right away I’d have to think and buy differently this go-round with my daughter’s wardrobe upgrade.
Here’s what I forced myself to do to stay on track.
Before you read on, a disclaimer: my daughter is 4. These tips might not work for older kids, or maybe they will. Let me know!
1. Cycle through the existing wardrobe. It sounds obvious, but this tedious task is so easy to avoid. I found 12-18-month pajamas in Laila’s jammie basket. She’s 4, ppl! We stowed her ill-fitting duds away to get a clearer picture of what we have to work with, wardrobe-wise.
2. Do the laundry, right down to the mismatched sock basket in the back of the closet. Those socks. Those socks! My least-favorite domestic task on earth is matching teensy weensy socks. Seriously...where do they go? The picture of what you already have to work with will become even clearer! So she doesn’t need 50 new pairs of socks, only six or so. Aha! Now that we’re on a roll, I might just go ahead and gather up all the misplaced accessories and put them in one place.
3. Back-to-school shoes, back-to-school backpack, back-to-school everything. It’s a little out of control. To combat it, just pause ask yourself a few q’s when contemplating a purchase. “Is it really necessary, or have I fallen victim to clever marketing and/or impulsive behaviors? Am I buying this for my daughter to look and feel together or because I want to look like the richest, baddest mutha!@#$ in the preK parking lot?” I like to pretend I could care less about keeping up with “other moms.” Then I think back and remember the time I signed up for the most important preschool party item — cupcakes — and proceeded to buy the most extravagant cupcakes I could find. Take that, moms! HAHAHAHAHAHA. Guilty. Anyway, regarding wardrobe, Laila’s school is diverse by design in every way. Supplies are communal and everyone wears the same type of uniform. I like that.
Laila has two great pairs of nice sneakers — a purple pair of Stride Rites and some pink sparkle-toe Sketchers. Her Dora backback from last year? Yeah, that’ll work.
3. Now that the basics are covered it’s time to shop. Start with the cheapest place first.
Goodwill! Laila’s new school requires a uniform of khaki, navy, light blue and white items. I scored three Land’s End skirts in my daughter’s size that look nearly new for $1.99 each! Those are something like $30 a pop retail! We had a mighty fine time at Goodwill. I got her an Old Navy cable-knit cardigan with sparkly buttons, the skirts and five tops for the her uniform. Beyond that, we picked up Old Navy dark denim tot skinny jeans, a pink Adidas track suit, and skirts and dresses in fall colors. What’s up with this Goodwill? Everything was brand-name and in excellent condition. Me n Laila left feeling like we were on top of the world. There may or may not have been a parking lot dance. Like, yeah, I’m so good you can put “Never Pay Retail” on my tombstone. WOO!
With the thrifty, cheapest-place-first way I approached back-to-school shopping, even the clothes at Target seemed outrageously expensive. Dare I say I lost my spending appetite?
4. Give yourself time. Did I mention scouring thrift stores for deals takes time? Last-minute shopping only encourages impulsive, panic-stricken behavior. You don’t have to buy everything in one trip.
5. OK, now go to Wal-mart. We got all of Laila’s classroom school supplies and a few more perfectly fine school uniform pieces of the Wal-mart “George” brand, and we only spent $60 there!
6. Here’s a big, obvious part of saving that is often overlooked: don’t buy. I actually left my wallet at home and did a recon mission. It gave me more time to think about whether or not the item is something Laila really needed.
7. Avoid the traps. Good God I love Nordstrom Rack. That’s why we skipped it. I didn’t even go to Old Navy. Their marketing campaign is just too…makes-me-want-to-buy-50-jumpers-ish.
Laila has everything she needs to start at her new “big girl” school. All told, for all school supplies, a uniform wardrobe and fun, eclectic tot clothes and some basics, I spent about $125.
Also, she doesn’t do it for the ‘thanks,’ but auntie Carrie sent us a gift card, which was incredibly sweet. Thanks to all of our family members who do so much for us with kind words and actions.
We’ve gone on strict financial lockdown to afford our sitter. It’s a move that’s roughly 2.5x more expensive than using day care. Nanny is here for us to keep Eli healthy and mom and pops sane.
A financial diet is good for us. I find it empowering. It may just seem like silly stuff, clothes and the like, but the pairing down reflects the way we try extra hard to focus on what matters and cut out all the extraneous life junk that piles on, weighing you down. This philosophy is yet another example of how Eli has enriched our lives.
Laila will be off for her new school hair ‘do before the first bell rings. Wish mommy luck. Happy shopping!
Do you have any other tips? Let me know! Leave a comment below or send a note.