Back to school: How to save money on clothes

Back to school sales are already starting to crop up at may retailers, even though it's the middle of summer. Here's how to make the most of this year's back to school sales. 

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
A customer looks at clothing at a Gap store in Palo Alto, August 2009. It's the middle of summer, but back to school clothing sales are already starting to crop up.

Summer vacation may still be in full-swing, but many retailers are already rolling out the first back-to-school sales of the season. Everyone knows that gearing up for a new school year means buying copious amounts of paper and pencils, but the best part about going back is the chance to re-stock a student's wardrobe! (Preferably with items that don't require an iron.) Whether you're a parent or a student, we're here to help you find the best sales on back-to-school clothes.

Typically most of these discounts pop up in August, but last year back-to-school clothing sales began in mid-July and kept appearing until the second week of September. We analyzed the data from last year's sales at teen and college-age apparel stores during this time-span, and we've broken down the results below so you can know what to look forward to with this year's sales.

The Early Bird Gets the Jeans on Sale

The back-to-school staple that will find its way into just about everyone's shopping cart is a few good pairs of jeans. Itching to get your hands on some new denim? You're in luck! Our research revealed that the best time to pick up a pair of jeans on sale is right now. From mid-July to mid-August last year, we saw sales that took up to 80% off Lucky Brand, up to 70% off Lee, and an extra 30% to 40% off Levi's jeans on multiple occasions. After the mid-August mark, discounts dropped off sharply and the sales were spaced much wider apart, so be sure to take advantage of those earlier sales.

Summer Clearance Sales, Hot New Wardrobe

While back-to-school clothing sales include a plethora of fall-friendly styles, they also push steep discounts on summer apparel that retailers are eager to get rid of before the change of season. This often translates into a deal hunter's favorite situation: extra discounts on clearance merchandise! And as every deal-savvy fashionista knows, summer apparel can actually be worn year-round, if you choose the right items and accessorize properly, so it's a great opportunity to save on new clothes for your kids.

Our data indicates that August and early September is the perfect time to make a killing on clearance duds. Last summer, we saw multiple instances where Abercrombie & Fitch took an extra 50% off its clearance apparel, and American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale both cut an extra 30% to 40% off clearance items during this period.

Be Smart About Sitewide Coupons

Of course, you can't solely stock a fall wardrobe with apparel from last season. In the coming weeks, we're also going to see back-to-school sales on new styles for autumn and winter. In all the excitement, it's easy to forget that many of these retailers will have coupons that stack with ongoing sales. In fact, stores like Gap,Old Navy, and Banana Republic always have some kind of sitewide percent-off coupon. Therefore, it pays to search around for a discount code before buying, or to patiently wait for a promo to pop up, so that you can maximize your savings. Last year, we saw coupons with discounts ranging from 10% to 30% off sitewide at these Gap Inc. stores, but keep in mind that such discounts will only last for a few days at most; if you see a big sitewide coupon that stacks with an ongoing sale, be ready to jump on it! Likewise, if a stacking coupon makes you yawn, you can probably afford to wait for a better deal.

Getting your student back to school in style is easy if you know what to look out for and when to shop. Who knows? If you follow the tips above, you might have enough money left over for boring things like books, notebook paper, pens, and pencils. Of course, you should still shop wisely for those things too. Check out our back-to-school sales page and never miss a deal on anything student-related!

Marcy Bonebright is a staff writer for, where this article first appeared. 

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