Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to School - Shopping for $150 & First Day Traditions

Back to School 2013 with dainty revelationsThis whole "back to school" thing is a relatively new experience for me. Last September was our very first time buying a backpack and taking an obligatory first day of school picture, and that was only for a 3 year old preschool program! But you better believe I was teary-eyed and over-prepared like it was Kindergarten. It didn't matter to me that he was only going to school 2 days a week - as far as I was concerned, it might as well have been his wedding day!

This year Luke is in "official" preschool, meaning that most kids his age start at this time. We actually didn't get selected in the UPK lottery (I never thought it would happen to us in this district, but it did!), so we're sending him back to the same school he attended last year, but at the next level. The downside to this, is that we have to pay for it (A LOT!), but the positives far outweigh that. The program and his teachers are the most wonderful I have been able to find, and because it's essentially a private school experience, we don't have to pay for typical school supplies. All they ask for is an art smock! 

But of course, it's not quite that simple. 

Luke is my kid that grows like a weed. I'm talking - he goes to bed in one size, and wakes up needing another! He hits growth spurts multiple times a year, and keeping up with his wardrobe is a full time job! So heading into this school year, he is outgrowing all of his pants, shoes, and long-sleeved tops. Of course I want him to be comfortable and look nice for school, but it's hard to rebuild an entire wardrobe on our small income. Somehow, I did it - a whole wardrobe, with brand name clothing - for under $150!

Back to School Shopping

So, how'd I do it? In a nutshell? Consignment + Good Sales!

I'm very lucky in that there are three major Consignment companies that concentrate on baby, toddler and school age children that host their sales 2-3x a year within a 20 minute drive of my house. I rarely ever pass one up! If you've never been to a consignment sale, it's basically like a garage sale on steroids! The company rents a space and then invites vendors to sell their lightly used children's clothing, toys, books, furniture and more. The companies that operate around here usually have a theme for each of their sales (Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter, Back to School), and the items that they allow in the sale fit the theme. Vendors price and tag their own merchandise, and then they're given the money they made after the sale (with a portion subtracted by the consignment company). 

These sales are fantastic, because you can find A LOT of brand new and lightly used brand name clothing for VERY CHEAP! Way cheaper than you would find on resale sites, ebay, or even on clearance at the store they originated from. I usually spend about $50 per sale, and end up completing my son's wardrobe for the upcoming season. The best part is that if I shop consignment for my oldest, these cheap (but very nice!) clothes pass down through two other boys! It is such a value!

One of the biggest, most well-known, and well-regarded sales in my area is called Bella Kids. They only accept brand name clothing, and they inspect every item for quality, stains, tears, etc before they allow it to be sold. So you know you're getting good stuff! The downside is that this sale is slightly pricier than the others (like $3.00-$10 per item vs $.50-$7 per item), but when you're getting such great stuff, it's totally worth it. And how environmental? I love it!

I cleaned up for Luke at Bella kids! I spent $92 at the sale. Here's what I got:

T Shirts for the early (warmer) days:
LtoR: Gymboree, Gap, The Children's Place, TCP again

Active Pants - what kid doesn't need these?
Both from The Children's Place

Long sleeve polo/rugby shirts
LtoR: Old Navy, Gap, H&M, Osh Kosh

Lots of long sleeved shirts!
Top, LtoR: Carters, Gymboree, Gymboree
Bottom, LtoR: TCP, Arizona, Carters

A little bit dressy.
Button down is from Gymboree, sweater is Cherokee.
I love them separately, but together they look great, too!

These aren't for Luke, obviously :)
But they were part of the $92 I spent, so I'm sharing them.
These are for baby #3 - he'll be here a few days before Halloween!
LtoR: Carters, Carters, Gymboree

If you do the math, I bought 23 items (not counting the separate pieces in the baby's outfit, but also counting 2 books I purchased, not pictured) for $92, and it works out to $4 per item! How great is that?! I think I spent $10 on the stuff for the baby. So that makes my back to school total $82 so far.

Unfortunately, I didn't find any jeans at the sale. I'm admittedly picky about them - I only like certain styles and brands, even for my kids. Thankfully, the ones I love go on sale pretty often and seem to be cheap anytime I need to get new ones. They are from Crazy8, and my go-to favorite is their Carpenter style. Though I do like their Bootcut style, too. They come with adjustable waists (which we always use!), are long enough to not ride up the boys' ankles when they sit down, they look great with everything, and they're durable - which is important with boys! They were on sale for $9.09, which is about as cheap as they get! I also had a 20% off coupon. So I bought three pair, and my total after tax and shipping was $28. The picture of them isn't entirely accurate - the one pictured is for the smaller sizes that have elastic in the back. Luke's size doesn't have that.

Next up is shoes. I'm cheating a little, because we haven't actually purchased his shoes yet! But I know our budget and what Luke likes (and for shoes, it's something with characters on it that lights up when he walks), so we're planning on picking up one of these pairs on our next trip to Target:

They're both $19.99, so whichever ones we end up going with, I've added $20 to our budget!
The final pieces of our shopping to do list are an art smock, and a change of clothes. Most preschools require that you leave a full set of clothes at school so that they can change in the event that they get soaked or sloppy during a craft, or they have an accident. Luke only came home in his back up clothes once last year (when the whole class got soaked playing with the water table), but it was nice to know it was all there if he needed it. I hate having his nice clothes stuck at school all year, so my solution is to pick up some affordable Circo pieces from Target. They have great choices for active pants, t-shirts, and long sleeved shirts for sizes up to 5T and it's all only $5. Luke is in 4T right now, growing into 5T in pants, so I picked up 5T's in these:

And finally, the art smock! His teachers suggest that we send an old shirt of ours that they can just roll up the sleeves on, and what we did instead was buy a pack of boys undershirts in a size or two too big for Luke. The pack came with 5 in it last year, and we only went through 1 - so, we still have plenty left! But just to give you an example, had we needed to buy a new package this year, they're on sale at Target right now for $6.50 and you could definitely get extra use out of them!

So let's see where that leaves us!

Consignment Clothes (-the baby's things): $82
3 Pair of Crazy8 Jeans: $28
New Shoes: $20
Back Up Clothes: $15
Back to School Total: $145

Had we needed to re-buy art smocks, or a new backpack (last year's is still in perfect shape), or labels for clothes (still lots left from last year), or the typical office/art supplies teachers ask for in public schools, our total would have been much higher, of course. But I guess we certainly pay for that through the course of the year in our monthly payments!

First Day Traditions

Last year, I kind of winged it with the first day celebrations. I was a newbie, of course, so I just did what felt right! Our celebrations consisted of:

- A big happy breakfast (complete with heart-shaped toast, eggs, and a few different fruits)

- Writing I love you messages on each other's hands

- Stuffing Luke's pockets with little felt hearts (so he'd always have my love with him)

- Taking a first day of school picture

- Whisking him off for a treat at his bakery of choice after school - he chose Panera

- Giving him a small gift of fall/autumn books for a great first day

I plan to continue all of these this year, but I've been looking for other ideas around Pinterest, too. I keep hearing rumblings of a "make your own sundae" tradition the night before school, but I feel that one is best saved for the end of it all. There's also something about a candy poster? But I haven't been able to figure out exactly what that is!

This year, I added the adage tradition of making a paper chain to count down to everything exciting ever! I actually really love to decorate with pretty paper chains as garlands (call me a minimalist, or so crafty it's nerdy, I don't mind). Luke was never really big enough to help me make them before, but this year he was up to the task! He broke out his "big boy scissors", which are wonderfully cheap safety scissors from the dollar store, and helped me cut out strips in festive primary colors. Then I showed him how to loop & staple them to make a chain, and he was in awe. He asked me to help him re-count the loops at least five times before we finally hung it up on the wall in his room. And now, every morning, he rips off the next loop and says, "16 days til school!" or whatever it happens to be that day.

I'm also thinking of putting a single birthday candle into whatever he has for breakfast that morning - because, why not? My boy LOVES a celebration, particularly anything remotely resembling a birthday, so that will thrill him.

I have to iron some labels into his back up clothes and his art smock, and I've got a nice stash of those iron-in Mabel's Labels from last year to use. The ones on his backpack and such are still holding up, so that makes it a slightly easier job. Aside from that, and reorganizing his drawers and things to accommodate his new wardrobe, we're ready for school! 

How about you? Are you ready? What was your favorite school shopping deal this year? I'd LOVE to hear some of your first day traditions - we love to celebrate life around here! :)

Oh, by the way - you still have a few more days to enter the
Ultimate Back to School Bash Giveaway!


  1. I love the idea of consignment for kids since it's not only cheaper, but also healthier since more-washed clothes tend to retain less chemicals :)

    Great post!

    AJ | TheAJMinute

  2. I'm all about traditions but I don't have too many for BTS yet since my daughter is still in preschool. So far the past two years we've taken pictures, traced her hand, and go out for ice cream right after school. I've heard about measuring their height, but we already do that on birthdays AND half-birthdays, so we're pretty much covered there. I love the idea of hearts in the pockets. I was going to do a "kissing hand" with my daughter and have forgotten both years. Oh well.
    Here from SITS.