Wow, school is starting for many Tucson kids in just over two weeks.
Hard to believe in what feels like the dead of summer, but back-to-school shopping time is already here.
Parents will spend an average of $246 on back-to-school clothes for their kids this year, a study by the National Retail Federation predicts.
It also says parents are still mindful of their spending and that 73 percent of families making less than $50,000 per year will shop at discount stores, while 19.5 percent plan on shopping at thrift stores.
I'm still fairly new to this ritual of buying school clothes, since my son, Noah, is just going into the first grade.
But I thought I'd share what I've learned so far, as well as tips from other moms on how to maximize your back-to-school budget, regardless of how much you can spend.
In Tucson, it's still summer when the kids go back to school, and it stays fairly hot until October, sometimes November.
Summer clothes will be going on sale to make way for the "fall" season.
Take advantage of this. That's what Tucson mother JoAnne Pope does.
"My son wears shorts until cold weather sets in for good - around November or so," Pope said. "Shop the clearance sales for shorts, and wait until October or November sales to buy the long pants."
Patience is the key for another Tucson mom, Jennifer Gates. Her two kids are going into kindergarten and second grade. "All of their clothes are from clearance racks or on sale."
One tip from a few moms is don't stop school shopping. Ever.
Keeping your eyes open and shopping off-season is a great way to save. I've often found winter shirts for around $3 at Target during the summer months. I'll get them a little big, so they'll fit Noah in the coming winter.
"For school supplies, I watch the sales and stock up the whole year," Gates said. "Because Staples and Office Max always have penny sales."
On that same note, Pope said to make sure and grab more than one, if you find something on sale for a great price. She keeps her supplies in a banker's box until they are ready to be used. "That saves money because I don't have to re-purchase supplies that my son lost in his room, or that I put in a 'safe place,' " she said.
Pope also said to shop for supplies again after school starts and supplies go on clearance. "It's the perfect time to stock up on binders, pencils, pens, erasers, paper, etc., that your child will use throughout the school year."
Another recommendation from Pope is to do advance back-to-school shopping on Black Friday in November. "Sure, it takes place halfway through the (school) year, but it's a good time to stock up on shoes, clothes, outerwear and small things like ear buds," she said.
Shopping early worked for my friend Ellen Staab, a teacher and a mother of two. She hit Old Navy's sale for kids' school uniforms and scored 30 percent off of everything a couple weeks ago.
But for others, like Kristen Penny, a Tucson mother of four, waiting a couple weeks into the school year to do the big shopping trip saves her money.
"It used to be that my boys and I would buy all of their back-to-school clothes before school started," Penny said. "But then school would start and they would see new styles they now desperately wanted."
Now, the Penny kids get one new school outfit during a sale in summer, along with one new pair of shoes. A few weeks after school starts, when the stores are having sales again, they compile a big list and hit the stores.
"That way my boys have a really good idea of what they would like and need to buy, instead of wasting money on styles and supplies that seemed appealing during the summer, but not so great once school starts," Penny said.
Rachael Blackketter, a Tucson mother of four, said she does not buy a whole suite of back-to-school clothes for each kid. Instead, she buys as needed. And, she shops at thrift stores, like Savers or the Goodwill.
"I know how much stuff costs new, and I know if it's a good deal," Blackketter said. "I will always come out ahead thrifting versus Target or Kohl's."
Having a list when thrifting is key for Blackketter. She says she always has a list of what the kids need, rather than setting a specific budget. "If I score a ganga and get one kid's shoes for $3, that doesn't mean I'm going to buy an extra pair or more tees."
Blackketter always tries thrift stores first, and if she doesn't find what she needs, she'll make rounds at department stores.
"Sometimes department store sales just can't be beat," she said. "But, I feel so much better about reducing and reusing clothing."
You can get your kids gently used items for low prices at a consignment sale.
Just Between Friends is holding its back-to-school event July 25-27 at the Tucson Convention Center Ballroom, 260 S. Church Ave.
The three-day event will have more than 30,000 items for infants all the way up to junior sizes for girls and boys. Shawna Wilfret, co-owner of the Tucson franchise, said the event is organized like a department store, by size and gender. And all clothes are on hangers.
You'll find clothing, backpacks and accessories in all brands for a third of the retail price.
"This is a great way to save money and get a lot for your kids," Wilfret said.
For more information, see nwtucson.jbfsale.com .
Host a clothing swap. Create a Facebook event to spread the word and invite friends with kids in a wide range of ages. Everyone brings outgrown clothes to swap, suggests Laura Perry, marketing specialist for Livingonthecheap.com.
Blackketter said her family swaps clothes with friends and her 8-year-old daughter loves it. "She loves it when a friend passes something down and she gets to wear their stuff."
Big name stores
Don't automatically think you can't shop at the big stores. First off, many of them have huge sales. Dillard's, for example, often has 40 percent or more off the clearance prices.
"Just because the original price is high, it doesn't mean you can't find a good deal" at popular stores like Children's Place, Gymboree or Kohl's, Perry said.
Sign up for email lists to get advance notice of sales. Follow stores on Facebook or Twitter.
Look for discount codes online. Go to Retailmenot.com - it has discount codes for online shopping and printable coupons for popular stores.
Take advantage of store cash. For example, Kohl's is giving $10 Kohl's cash for every $50 spent today.
And, don't forget price-adjustment policies. Many stores will refund you the difference on items you've purchased at regular price if they go on sale within a certain time period.
"Sometimes department store sales just can't be beat. But, I feel so much better about reducing and reusing clothing."
Rachael Blackketter, mother of four
More Tips FROM LOCAL MOMS
• When shopping at thrift stores, watch for "sticker color of the day" sales. Many offer discounts if an item has a certain color of sticker. "There are times we will pass on something because it isn't the right color tag and not 50 percent off," said Rachael Blackketter, a mother of four.
• Get the kids involved. JoAnne Pope said now that her son is old enough, they set a budget together, and he gets to help decide how to spend it. "The older he gets, the more say he has in it. He'll comb clearance sales and thrift stores like Savers for some stuff so he'll have more money for fancy backpacks or other items he really wants. It cuts way back on fits and teaches money management skills."
• If there's a particular brand your kids like, see if there's an outlet store with lower prices.
• Reuse and repurpose supplies. If you have supplies left over from last year, reuse them rather than buying new, suggests Laura Perry. Same goes for backpacks and lunchboxes.
• Don't go crazy on supplies until you get a list from your child's teacher.
"Centsible Mom" Angela Pittenger shares tips, news and ideas on how Tucsonans can stretch their budgets. Send your questions and suggestions to her at email@example.com or 573-4137.