How This Mom Bought All Her Kids’ Back-to-School Clothes for Less Than $40

kids running down the hall at the elementary school
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Like many parents, I use to have a bad habit of making a mad, last-minute dash for back-to-school clothes.

My procrastination often resulted in spontaneous spending for the closest ensembles I could find and an outrageous bill that left me kicking myself later on. As a single parent, I simply had to monitor my pennies a lot better than that.

My daughters are 8 and 7, and what fits them in August will definitely be too small by December, so spending hundreds of dollars on new clothes is out of the question.

Here’s how I shop secondhand strategically — and how I put together a back-to-school wardrobe for both girls for less than $40.

I Appreciate Hand-Me-Downs and Thrift Stores

Some parents turn their noses up at the idea of accepting used clothing from others because they may feel like a charity case.

However, as a solo parent, I love the concepts of “free,” “discounted” and “BOGO” (buy one, get one). I put my pride to the side for a minute and gave it a try. And when I saw how much money I was saving from thrift shopping, I was proud to call myself a cheapskate!

I Visit Different Thrift Stores

While I love Once Upon A Child, in my small town of Newport News, Virginia, there are a few other stores for children including a Boys and Girl’s Club thrift store, a few CHKD thrift stores and several Goodwills.

I try to visit these different stores at least once to get an idea of what type of items they have. A CHDK thrift store may have way more children’s items than the neighborhood Goodwill store.

Additionally, I pay attention to the sizes they carry. Do they cater to toddlers, school-aged kids or teenagers? This helps me determine which stores are most useful when shopping for my family — and which will help me save the most money.

I Focus on Thrift Stores Close to Wealthy Areas

We all want nice things, especially for our children. I’ve found thrift stores in wealthy zip codes in my area tend to have nicer items.

Wealthy folks have the money to purchase nice items and are more likely to drop their old things at the closest thrift store. Doing a quick Google search of thrift stores near wealthy neighborhoods helps me determine where to shop first.

I Follow Thrift Stores on Social Media and Sign Up for Their Newsletters

Signing up for email newsletters, and following the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds of popular children’s thrift stores like Once Upon A Child helps me take advantage of deals.

Recently, I bought all my kids back-to-school clothing at a “stuff-the-bag” sale — everything had to fit in standard shopping bags. I left with two over-stuffed bags of used, well-kept clothes for my girls:

  • 14 shirts
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 dress
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 9 pairs of pants

…all for $38.16!

Companies tend to give special coupons and deals to their most loyal followers, so email subscribers and social media fans get first dibs.

I Get Up Early to Take Advantage of Thrift Sales

And when I don’t, I regret it. When I arrived at the store for the stuff-the-bag sale at 9:15 a.m., there was already a line down the sidewalk — and the store didn’t open until 9:30!

Tons of other people want to take advantage of the same sales. Do yourself a favor and get there earlier so you can get your hands on the cutest hand-me-downs first!

I Take My Kids Shopping

While some older children may be less than enthusiastic about thrift stores, I say, don’t hide your thriftiness from your children. Take them shopping with you, and teach them to get excited about finding great deals!

My kids love to dabble in the toy and book sections, and because these items are so heavily marked down, buying them a “new” toy is not a huge money hassle for me. It could even spark a change in money habits for them that could last into adulthood.

These strategies make shopping for my children a breeze. It’s not a decision between clothes and the cable bill anymore!

Monica Leftwich is a working mom and freelance writer who loves to discuss topics like women’s health and single parenting issues. When she’s not working, she’s eating sushi, making spaghetti and meatballs for her kids, or belly dancing. Find her at