School clothes shopping worth singing about

August 11, 2011|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

Getting dressed is different for my kids as they grow up than it was for me.

Sure, they pull their shirts over their heads just like I did. But I'm talking about the kinds of clothes and the quantities of them.

I went to a private school and wore a uniform five days a week. My mom's approach to clothing the rest of the time was sensible — a couple dressy outfits for church and special occasions, a casual outfit or two, and a few sets of play clothes.

I didn't get a lot, so acquisitions generated a lot of excitement. I'll never forget the hours of entertainment garnered from the spankin' new blue suede Mary Janes I got before school started one year. My mom was an Elvis fan, so my siblings and I would amuse her, and probably much more so, ourselves, by grumble-singing, "You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes."

As an adult, I purport to live simply. But in truth, my children have nearly always had more clothing than they've needed. First, I have a generous mother-in-law. She lives in another state and loves fashion and shopping. The "little something," as she calls it, that she gives my children when we get together takes care of dressy stuff and some casual, too.

Pair that with gracious friends and family who pass on awesome hand-me-downs, and the kids' drawers have been pretty well stuffed with more options then I'd dreamed of as a child. Some summers, I've actually been a little bewildered by the number of sundresses hanging in my daughter's closet.

As kids grow older, though, clothing becomes more complicated. Fit becomes more of an issue. Style preferences come into play. Fewer people are bigger than they are, so the flow of hand-me-downs slows.

 As the school year approaches, I'm committed to providing what they need without raising the family debt ceiling. Here's my plan of attack.

  Help kids go through their clothes for a realistic gauge of what they need and don't need. Even just a few "new" clothes that were buried at the back of the closet means less money spent on stuff from stores.

 Pull out clearance items I bought and set aside last year for this year. It's one of my favorite ways to dress them nicely at a fraction of the cost.

 Shop tax-free. Maryland will waive its 6 percent sales tax from Sunday, Aug. 14, to Saturday, Aug. 20. School supplies priced less than $20 and clothes and shoes less than $100 qualify.

Watch for amazing deals. A favorite mall retailer is running a clearance sale with khakis, jeans, dress and casual shirts — normally priced on average between $50 and $65 — marked down to $5 or $6. This past week, my husband shopped there with a 30 percent off coupon, and opened a credit card — which he's already written a check to pay off — for an additional 15 percent discount. He bought 19 items for himself and two of my sons for $88.50. Original cost would have been in the ballpark of $1,000.

Now, I'm no longer a little girl in blue suede shoes, but that is something to sing about.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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