By BONNIE COBLENTZ
For Starkville Daily News
Creativity and planning ahead can make buying school clothes for the coming year gentler on checking accounts, even when parents have more than one child.
A growing percentage of Mississippi young people go to public and private schools dressed in uniforms. Purchasing uniforms and other school clothes can put unprepared parents in a financial hole if they are not careful.
Experts with the Mississippi State University Extension Service offered a variety of tips on how to make back-to-school clothes shopping less stressful.
Carla Stanford, Extension child and family development area agent in Pontotoc County, said the first step is to decide how many items of clothing the child needs.
“The number of outfits varies according to social norms and the child, but I would say at least six outfits is ideal, giving the child one for each day of the week plus a spare,” Stanford said.
If a school requires a uniform, it is best to have three to four pairs of school pants, seven to nine school shirts and one pair of school shoes.
Plan ahead to have a school wardrobe for each child.
“Long-term, if younger children are coming along, save at least some of the clothes for them. You can also estimate your child’s size next year and take advantage of end-of-season sales,” Stanford said. “Short-term, shop the sales, as there are many opportunities in the summer to prepare for the school year.”
Beth Bell, Extension child and family development area agent in Tallahatchie County, said hand-me-downs, consignment stores and organized consignment sales are great ways to reduce school clothing costs. Shoppers can buy uniforms and regular clothes this way.
“If you live in an area that requires uniforms, it seems that all stores carry these items in a wide range of prices,” Bell said. “But don’t wait until the last minute, as this can cause frustration if certain sizes or colors are out of stock.”
Bell also urged shoppers to consider second-hand options in their area, including those available online and through social media.
“I often see in my Facebook news feed my friends posting that they have uniforms or clothes for sale or to give away, and others ask if anyone has something in a certain size or color,” Bell said. “Taking advantage of swap opportunities is a great way to save some money.”
Bobbie Shaffett, Extension family resource management specialist, said budgeting is the best way to handle the expense of school clothes and any regularly occurring, annual expense.
“If school clothing costs are hard to handle this year, begin planning now for next year,” Shaffett said. “Estimate how much you’ll need for school clothing and supplies, add up the total and divide by the number of paychecks you expect. Save that amount from each paycheck to have what you need for school next year.”
For those who did not save for this year’s expense, Charlestien Harris, Extension family resource management area agent in Quitman County, suggested a few ways to lessen the expense’s impact.
“Parents can buy clothes for one child one month and another child the next month,” Harris said. “If there are multiple children, parents can buy for the girls during one pay period and the boys in the next.”
If saving money is a hard discipline to follow, or for those who do not think they have excess money to put away, Harris suggested a unique savings plan.
“You can save an easy $500 a year if you cut back one soft drink a day. At $1.50 a day, you would save about $45 a month,” Harris said. “Since we often don’t buy just a drink, you could also cut out the snack and save even more.”
Eliminating a snack a day is not the only way to save money for school clothes. Parents can look at other regular expenses to see if they can make spending cuts.