Shopping sprees may be a thing of the past for adults, but as long as kids keep growing, back to school clothes shopping will be a must. Here’s the insider scoop on scoring a great kids’ back to school wardrobe without breaking the bank.

  1. Take inventory. Before you spend a dime, spend an afternoon going through your child’s fall clothing. Save everything that fits, set aside clothes that are too small, and make a list of what she has and what she needs. Sticking to your list will cut down on impulse and unnecessary purchases.
  2. Educate yourself. There’s no point buying things your teen won’t wear or the school won’t allow, so familiarize yourself with the school dress code and look through a clothing catalog together for ideas. Mary Rose Bilello, Youth Fashion Expert for Burlington Coat Factory, says, “an updated and modern bohemian look that replaces the bell bottoms and earthy looks from years past with destroyed skinny denim, folk-inspired fringe vests, shaggy faux fur and hobo fringe bags and shoes,” will be hot this fall.
  3. Start clipping. You’re almost ready to start shopping, but first, look for online coupons and specials. If you combine an online promotional code with a free shipping offer, it may pay to stay home.
  4. Cash for clothes. If your child has any outgrown clothing in good condition (no rips or stains, reasonably fashionable), gather it and head to your nearest consignment shop. “Parents can get cash on the spot for clothes that their kids grow out of, as well as buy gently used clothes at a fraction of the original price,” says Lauren Henderson, a representative for the consignment chain Once Upon A Child.
  5. Stock up on staples. One thing you’ll want to buy new are basics like socks and underwear. There’s no point paying top dollar for items that barely show, so hit Walmart or Target to stock up.
  6. Outlets and overstocks. If you’ve barely made a dent in your shopping list, the drive to an outlet might be worth your while. “The merchandise at outlets in generally first quality and the savings range from 25% to 65%,” says Michele Rothstein, Senior Vice-President of Marketing for Chelsea Premium Outlets. Outlets stock everything from overstocks to last year’s leftovers at a discount.
  7. Visit a discount store. In this economy, off-price retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Kohls are able to obtain in season, name-brand merchandise full-price retailers haven’t been able to move.
  8. Search for sales. Finally, your last resort: the full-price retailer. Even high-end clothing companies hold sales, and it may be worth coughing up a bit extra for durable backpacks, shoes, and other clothing you expect to last a long time. “Parents should look for quality items that will last the whole school year and not just a semester,” says Michele Casper, spokesperson for Lands' End.
  9. Be ready for returns. Don’t shop in haste, and keep your receipts until the clothes are actually worn. “Kids are normally influenced by their peers, so I’d suggest shopping for a few basics before school starts and then making a second trip to the store after a couple of weeks of being in school,” says Stacy De Fino, a representative for TJ Maxx and Marshalls. “Since kids like to dress like their friends they can see what everyone is wearing and purchase items during the second trip – that way there’s less of a chance of having clothes hanging in the back of the closet unworn.”