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Queen of free: Stretch your dollar, not your clothes

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There’s one thing I can count on every single year before my kids head back to school. Somehow, every pair of pants and shorts they own magically loses 2 inches during the months of June and July. Strangely enough, their shoes reduce a size, too.

At first, I contemplate hiring a repairman to check out my dryer because, surely, I have a mechanical issue causing all of this mysterious shrinking.

Then miraculously, I realize that maybe, just maybe, my girls have grown again and this means we’ll have to hit the aisles to purchase some appropriately fitting apparel to begin the new academic year.

Using these consumer smart strategies has saved us time, money and sanity each year.

Purchase basics

Brightly colored skinny jeans have been all the rage with the tween set. However, you’d do best to keep your bottom buys basic. Dark denim, black or gray will match an array of tops, no matter the day. This is especially true for items like athletic shorts and yoga pants, which will weather more workouts if they are darker in color while also matching just about anything else in your closet.

School picture attire

Each year our first-day-of-school outfit doubles as school-picture wear. Honestly, if your child still has plenty of well-fitting clothes to begin the year, this is the only true purchase you need to make. Be sure to set a budget and stay within its confines, but allow your child some choice in what he or she will sport on the first day. The clothes don’t make the man, but they may bolster some confidence, quelling first-day jitters.

Check dress code

Be sure you’re well acquainted with your school’s dress code — including any new additions for the upcoming year. There’s nothing worse than purchasing items your child won’t actually be able to wear in the classroom. From tank tops to skinny jeans to shorts of a certain length, educate yourself on what’s in and what’s out before you head to the mall.

Don’t fall into trap

Fall fashions appeal to us most during the back-to-school shopping season; however, as the starting line for each academic year creeps further and further back into the summer months, you don’t need sweaters and jeans just quite yet. In fact, your student will more than likely wear shorts and short sleeves well into September. Hold off on purchasing any longer bottoms to score a better deal later in the fall. Instead, check out the summer clearance rack and score a few bargains.

Uniform tips, tricks

If your school has a uniform policy, it doesn’t mean you have to overspend. There are several ways to save on the clothing you need. If you can, hold off to do your shopping later in the season. By November continuing through January, many school uniform companies make their biggest reductions long after the academic year has commenced. See if your school has a hand-me-down program (or start one).

Sharing outgrown durable items like uniform pants and skirts can save money and create community.

Or consider shopping a thrift or consignment store for your uniform needs. If you order uniforms online, scour the Internet for coupons and be sure to utilize a cash-back program like Shop at Home or eBates to further stretch your dollars. You also might be able to use your social media channels to see who you know might have items available for purchase or to be handed down.

Don’t forget coupons

Coupons don’t just help you score great deals at the grocery store. They can also ease your back-to-school budget.

Before you leave the house, spend a few minutes scouring the Internet for coupons at the stores you plan to frequent. Use a site like RetailMeNot or CouponSherpa to find both online and printable coupons.

I love Target’s printable, mobile, app-based Cartwheel coupons to further stretch my dollar. Don’t forget Meijer’s mPerks program, which not only saves money but also earns rewards with purchases. The money you save just might help fund a new backpack or lunchbox.

Cash in and collect

If you collect rewards points anywhere, it might be time to cash those bad boys in to sponsor your back-to-school shopping. Many reward points programs offer gift cards. Keep in mind, it takes a few weeks for your order to process and ship, so you’ll need to be patient to receive any fruits of your labor.

While you’re shopping, don’t forget to use your store rewards cards to garner more points. I’m obviously not a fan of any that are linked to credit cards; however, stores like Kohl’s, The Children’s Place, J.C. Penney and more have programs that allow you to bank rewards with each purchase, no matter your form of payment.

Pay attention to exactly how much you spend so that you can effectively budget for next year’s clothing purchases.

Speaking of budgets, don’t forget to set an amount and monitor it. Above all else, don’t freak out when it comes to back-to-school shopping. Freaking out and not having a plan will always lead to overspending.

Take a deep breath and focus on your child’s needs. You’ve got this thing, you back-to-school shopping ninja.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net.

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