Tons of families are shopping for back-to-school outfits for girls and boys, and everyone wants to know, “How can I save money on back-to-school clothes?”
Most money-saving advice I’ve read online tells me the best way to save money is to “inventory my kids’ closets, scale back or buy nothing,” and however sound that advice may be, I find it generally unhelpful.
Read on for my best advice on how to actually save on clothing this year, and check out all the best back-to-school deals. It won’t save you quite as much as “buying nothing,” but it’ll help.
1. Always aim for a minimum of 40% savings.
Regardless of where I shop, I always aim to pay at least 40% less than retail price. I’ve found very few retailers where 40% savings is hard to come by.
2. Shop on Tuesdays and Fridays for the best prices on back-to-school clothes.
It pays to know the markdown schedule at the retailers you frequent.
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect new advertised sales to launch Friday to target weekend traffic. Clearance markdowns most frequently occur beginning Tuesday when foot traffic is low and staff have more time to spare.
- JCPenney rolls out new sales on the first and third Friday of every month.
- Kohl’s holds special Power Hours some Fridays between 3:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. Saturday.
- Macy’s marks down clearance items early in the week. I find the best selections on Tuesday.
- Old Navy marks “price cuts” on Thursday afternoon, so I shop Friday morning. Clearance markdowns happen on Monday night, so I also shop Tuesday.
- Target clearance markdowns happen in Kids on Monday and Women’s on Tuesday, Shoes on Thursday, and Accessories on Friday.
- TJMaxx new shipments arrive daily, but new inventory comes out to the floor on Tuesday.
3. Download the Krazy Coupon Lady app and set deal alerts for back to school.
After you download the KCL app, you’ll be prompted to turn on deal alerts and choose which you’d like to see. Select the category “Back to School” so you’ll be notified every time we post a great back-to-school deal!
4. Learn the secret price tag codes.
Every store has a different tag coding system. Learning the system at the stores you love might be as easy as asking an employee.
These coding systems can provide valuable information to help you make informed buying decisions, especially when the tag tells you whether the item will ever be marked down again. Here are some examples:
- Gap prices ending in $0.97 are final markdowns, referred to as “price kills.”
- Old Navy clearance ends in a 7 or 9. Usually prices ending in $0.47 are final markdowns.
- TJMaxx yellow price tags indicate final markdowns.
- Kohl’s uses a square in the upper-right corner of their LCD price tag to indicate the item has reached the lowest price of the season.
5. Stack coupons online and in stores.
I think most people feel like they’re working the system (in a bad way) if they attempt to use multiple coupons on one order. But retailers spell out their policies, and most of them expressly allow multiple coupons per order.
And while you can sometimes stack coupons in the stores, it’s even easier (and less intimidating) to do online! Check it:
- Old Navy allows up to four coupons per order! Just look at the screen grab above where I stacked a 25% off $75.00 coupon code with a 20% off coupon code and a gift card!
- Gap allows up to five coupons per order. Not all coupon codes stack. Usually a percent-off discount will stack with a dollar-off discount.
- JCPenney allows up to three coupons per order. Stack a 20% off with a $10.00 off plus redeem a $10.00 reward on a $100.00 purchase.
- Kohl’s allows up to four coupons per purchase – up to one sitewide coupon (ex: 10% off entire purchase), with a free ship code, and up to four department-specific coupons (ex: 20% off beauty or $10.00 off $30.00 housewares).
6. Save an additional 8-12% when you pay with discounted gift cards.
I don’t bother buying the gift cards in advance. I use the Raise.com or Gift Card Granny app, and I do my shopping online or in the store. Once I know what I want to spend on back-to-school outfits, only then do I look for a gift card in the correct amount, buy it, and redeem it within minutes.
So, if I have $76.00 in American Eagle merchandise I want to buy, I browse Raise and find a $75.00 gift card selling for $64.00 — an instant $11.00 in savings for me.
7. And get cash back on top of that.
Because sales, coupons and discounted gift cards aren’t enough, I also shop through a cash-back portal like Ebates or MyPoints and get additional cash back on every purchase. If you’re not already using cash-back sites, you can get $10.00 for joining and making your first purchase through MyPoints and another $10.00 for Ebates!
8. Think outside the box when it comes to where you shop.
Sometimes all you have to do to save some money is break out of the mold and shop somewhere unexpected. Here are some sites that I use to find great back-to-school deals.
- 6pm is the deal-oriented little sister of Zappos.com. The same name-brand merchandise like The North Face, Nike and New Balance sells for half the price at 6pm. I especially like 6pm for outerwear, athletic apparel and shoes. See all 6pm deals.
- Schoola sells gently used clothes at savings up to 80%. Think of Schoola like eBay, but without the auction. And you can use coupon codes. Stack the 20% off coupon you’ll get for joining with 50% off your first order. And, super saver shipping is free.
- FabKids is a monthly clothing subscription company selling apparel in kids sizes 2-14. Each month, you can select a head-to-toe outfit for $29.95. That’s pretty cheap, but new members get their first outfit for only $9.95! There’s no commitment to continue, and cancelling is easy.
9. Never pay for shipping.
Paying for shipping is a total buzzkill. And, frankly, I never do it. If I can’t find a free shipping code or spend the minimum (most frequently, $50.00), I utilize other ways to get free shipping such as free in-store pickup or free shipping on orders placed in a store. I’ve actually used the latter as a way to ship wedding gifts out of state for free.
- JCPenney ships orders over $50.00 to any location or JCPenney store for free.
- Old Navy allows you to place an order ($25.00 minimum) in store and ship it anywhere in the country for free.
- Kohl’s will ship any item to any US location when you order from a kiosk in the store.
- Macy’s ships select items to stores for free and gives shoppers a 15-20% off coupon to use on their next purchase when they pick up the order.
10. Use apps to find additional savings.
There are some great apps out there for saving money on back-to-school outfits, even when you’re shopping in store. Here are a few favorites:
- Cartwheel in the Target app features percent-off “coupons” you can find by browsing categories or scanning a price tag in the store. Select the offer, load it to your Cartwheel, then apply all discounts at the register with the scan of one barcode on your smartphone.
- Ibotta app is good for more than just groceries! You’ll also find cash-back offers like $5.00 back on a $25.00 purchase at Kohl’s or $5.00 off $40.00 at Old Navy. Just open the app and sort offers by “clothing.” Then, snap a photo of your receipt, and Ibotta will credit you the cash in less than 24 hours.
- Krazy Coupon Lady app is incredible for browsing the hottest sales. Find dozens of new back-to-school deals every day, many with savings up to 80%. Select your favorite retailers such as Amazon, Target or Kohl’s, and browse hand-curated deals that combine hot sale prices with high-value discount coupons to bring you steep savings with little to no effort.
11. Get coupons via text or email.
Nearly every big-name retailer is focusing their sales efforts on their email lists and app.
To get you to share your email and phone number, many companies will send you a coupon, which you can then use on back-to-school outfits. Here are just a few:
- H&M: Save 25% on one item when you sign up for their newsletter.
- Gap: Sign up for Gap Emails for a 25% off coupon. Avoid junk mail by creating a dummy email account just for newsletter signups. Or, get a temporary email address at 10minutemail.com.
- Kohl’s: Get 15% off your next order when you sign up for Kohl’s emails.
- Old Navy: Sign up for Old Navy emails and receive a 20% off coupon.
- Macy’s: Save 25% when download their app and place your first order through the app.
12. Look for extra discounts on clearance prices.
The holy grail of sales (and the best time to stock up for the upcoming season) is during a clearance liquidation sale. These are sales where clearance prices are further reduced in order to remove inventory, often near the end of a season.
Gap frequently has an additional 25% off clearance price. Old Navy is often 30% off. But, the holy grail is an additional 40% off already-reduced prices. That’s when I do the bulk of my shopping.
13. Participate in loyalty programs to save on back-to-school clothes.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever thrown away a $10.00 off JCPenney coupon you received in the mail, or declined the Kohl’s Cash handed to you with your receipt. I think we’ve all had moments when we were dismissive of savings because of perceived hassle. Well, I’m here to shame you into changing your ways. Here are four of the best free loyalty programs around:
- Kohl’s Cash earning periods represent an additional 20% savings on top of whatever sales and coupons you’re using. Receive $10.00 Kohl’s Cash for every $50.00 spent.
- JCP Rewards can earn you a $10.00 reward every 200 points earned with My JCPenney Rewards. Every $2.00 spent earns you one point.
- Macy’s Star Rewards include benefits like a special offers, a birthday surprise and the ability to earn Macy’s Money on Star Money Days.
- Old Navy Super Cash earning periods can earn you $10.00 for $25.00 to $49.99 spent, $20.00 for $50.00 to $74.99 spent or $30.00 for $75.00 or over spent. Super Cash is redeemable when you spend over $25.00.
14. Price match competitor prices.
It can be so difficult to keep track of who price matches and who doesn’t that most customers never take advantage of stores with a price-match guarantee. But, price matching is becoming increasingly competitive, and it’s time to start paying attention.
- JCPenney will price match local competitors in store or online, including Amazon prices. (They do not price match third-party sellers on Amazon.)
- Kohl’s price matches any national retailer that has a brick-and-mortar store (ex: Best Buy, Lowe’s, Walmart). Kohl’s won’t price match with wholesale clubs or online-only retailers.
- Target price matches local competitors and Amazon.com, Babiesrus.com, BedBathBeyond.com, Bestbuy.com, Buybuybaby.com, Costco.com, CVS.com, Diapers.com, DicksSportingGoods.com, Gamestop.com, JCPenney.com, Kmart.com, Kohls.com, Macys.com, Newegg.com, Officedepot.com, Petco.com, Petsmart.com, Ulta.com. Walgreens.com, Walmart.com and Wayfair.com.
- Walmart.com (not Walmart stores) will match Academy.com, Autozone.com, Basspro.com, Bedbathandbeyond.com, Bestbuy.com, Cabelas.com, Chewy.com, Dickssportinggoods.com, Dollargeneral.com, Familydollar.com, Homedepot.com, Jcpenny.com, Kmart.com, Kohls.com, Lowes.com, Michaels.com, Officedepot.com, Oreillyauto.com, Pepboys.com, Petco.com, Petsmart.com, Sears.com, SportsAuthority.com, Staples.com, Target.com and Walgreens.com.
15. Skip the store credit card unless it’s debit.
Many of the best store credit cards on the market give you 5% back on your purchases, and that would excite me if it weren’t for the average 8% I save by purchasing discounted gift cards.
Even the best store credit cards on the market don’t tempt me:
- JCPenney credit card requires you to spend $1,000.00 or more on two unique shopping days in order to reach the highest platinum level. While the cardholder coupons are great, the credit card savings aren’t.
- Old Navy credit card gives you a $5.00 reward for every $100.00 spent and some extra coupons. Pass.
- Gap credit card gives you $5.00 for every $100.00 spent. The best perk comes to those who spend $800.00 in a calendar year and reach silver status, which gets you free shipping, without minimums.
- TJMaxx TJX Rewards card earns 5 points for every $1.00 spent at TJMaxx, Marshalls, Homegoods and Sierra Trading Post, or 5% back. That’s 3% less than I can save with gift cards.
- Kohl’s credit card is all about the coupons. Cardholders get exclusive coupons 12-18 times per year. These coupons range from 15-30% and can usually be stacked with other savings. If you frequent Kohl’s, this one is actually tempting, because you can do a partial payment with gift card and the remainder with credit card.
- Macy’s credit card members get Macy’s Star Passes delivered 3-12 times per year. Star passes or Star Rewards are coupons, usually worth $20.00 off $50.00 purchase, $15.00 off $40.00 purchase, or $10.00 off $30.00 purchase.
- Target REDcard debit card saves members 5% on every Target purchase all year long. Because it’s debit and because discounted gift cards for Target are hard to find, the REDcard is my favorite store card, hands down.
16. Request price adjustments to save even more after your purchase.
Most retailers offer a one-time price adjustment if the price of the item you purchased drops within one to two weeks after you purchase it. Show original receipt to a cashier within the designated time period, and receive your partial refund in the form of original payment or store credit.
Link your email account with Paribus and let the Paribus team track your purchases and request price adjustments automatically on your behalf.
- Macy’s offers price adjustments up to 14 days after purchase.
- Old Navy offers price adjustments for 14 days after purchase.
- Gap offers price adjustments for 7 days after purchase.
- JCPenney offers price adjustments for 7 days after purchase.
- Kohl’s offers price adjustments for 14 days after purchase.
- Target offers price adjustments for 14 days after purchase.
Paribus compensates us when you sign up for Paribus using the links we provided.
17. Shop on tax-free weekends.
Many states have a tax-free weekend for back-to-school shopping. Check out our list of all the states that have a tax free back-to-school shopping weekend.
Items available for tax-free purchase differ by state but can include back-to-school clothes, shoes and supplies.
Make sure to check out: