Back-to-school bargain$

It’s possible to get a whole wardrobe for less than $100


Kati Pedersen


Back-to-school shopping can be a nightmare, with or without your kids. There’s the whining, the crowded stores, the prices. How about turning it into a game? That’s what my 8-year-old sister, Sofie, and I did. We set out on a hunt for Chicago Parent to find the latest back-to-school fashions and buy as much as we could with $100.

Our mission was to see how much we could get for the money, including shoes, jeans, sweaters, shirts, even hair accessories.

This challenge might be very different if I were shopping for my brother and not my sister, considering there are many more choices for girls when it comes to clothing. Boys wouldn’t shop for accessories. They are more into the basics. But I didn’t have to worry about that.

A big obstacle? Finding the deals. Most stores don’t want you to know they have good deals. So here’s a hint: Start from the back of the store and work your way forward. The expensive items are always in the front window.

Go shopping in the morning, because the stuff hasn’t been looked over by everyone else. The earlier you get started the better, and chances are the stores probably will be less crowded.

What we did

We chose to head to Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall in Gurnee, Il., just north of Six Flags Great America. It’s a little bit of a drive, but it’s an outlet mall, so the prices are phenomenal.

I knew we could find some grand bargains in The Children’s Place right off the bat. That store has “Monster Sales” at the end of each season. The bulk of our budget ($56.46) was spent at The Children’s Place. With that money, we bought a pair of pants, a sweat shirt, two skirts and three shirts.

We even decided to go back for a second look. It ended up being a good decision, because we found gym shoes that matched the outfits we had picked out earlier.

Sofie loves The Children’s Place because of all the vibrant colors. It’s really easy to find clothes that match, especially for those youngsters who have their own opinion about what looks best.

The Gap can be expensive, but not if you shop at the outlet. Gap is where we spent the next big chunk of our budget—by “big” I mean $18.39—for another shirt, two sweaters and three pairs of socks.

Don’t forget: Clothes will always get marked down,  at some point, so if it’s something your child wants just wait a couple of weeks. If it’s still there, I guarantee it will be marked down, no matter what store it’s from. Of course, if it is something that your child really has to have, you better get it. Because there is no guarantee it will be there when you return.

The next stop was H&M, which is a big store that has something for everyone. It’s like a department store that even has clothes for babies. We spent $8.80 on a long-sleeve shirt and another flowered skirt. We found the deals in H&M so fast that there was time left over for my mom and me to search through the women’s section for our own bargains.

Next, we went to Jockey and found some cute underwear for $2.97.

At Old Navy (not the outlet store), we found the piece de resistance, a very soft poncho that matched every shirt we had already bought. It cost us only $8.99.

I was a little disappointed with Old Navy because I usually find a lot more deals. This poncho was the only thing that jumped out at us.

Then at Target we found the finishing touches: a pair of white tights and some pony-tail holders for a combined total of $3.98.

By the end of the day we had spent $99.59, without tax, and a lot of time. Between going to different stories, lunch, snack breaks and bathroom stops, we spent six hours shopping.

You pay the price of time for good bargains. But we had a lot of fun and it was a good bonding experience for my little sister and me.

Even though we were supposed to be shopping for Sofie, we managed to find a few extras.

We got a couple pairs of pants for my brother at Abercrombie, although he didn’t want to come with us to the mall, we still found something for him. My mom stopped at her favorite store, Liz Claiborne Outlet, and even my Grandma shopped for herself at CJ Banks.

Some stores that my little sister and I have common tastes for are H&M and Old Navy. I managed to get a bikini at H&M for $3.90 a piece.

At Old Navy I bought a purple jean skirt, almost identical in style to one that my sister found at The Children’s Place.

Shopping is fun. And now with these helpful hints, you are ready to embark on your own shopping journey.


Kati Pedersen, 15, of Oak Park, is the big sister to two sisters and one brother. When she is not shopping, she spends time as an artist and a soccer player. She is a soon-to-be sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

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