When I was growing up, my family didn't have cash to throw around. My clothes were cute and functional, not branded with flashy names. And in sixth grade, the holy grail was out of my reach — a sweatshirt from Limited Too. Yeah, yeah. I knew that confidence should come from within, that going Limited-less would build character or whatever parents say. But geez, I really wanted that sweatshirt.
One day, my mom bought me a sweater monstrosity on deep clearance. It was the color and shape of a French's mustard bottle, but it said what mattered across the chest — LIMITED. I wore it constantly, feeling on par with my peers.
A little coolness goes a long way toward the mental health of your youngster. And while thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army can offer great finds, you can broaden your shopping scope a bit, even if you have only a few dollars to spare. We assembled these nonhumiliating looks at popular stores, spending no more than $8 per item.
• The pink Cherokee cardigan came from Target, $3.24. The T-shirt is a genuine Abercrombie & Fitch, $6. It's from Plato's Closet, a store that sells used name-brand clothes. It's in good shape because Plato's Closet is extremely picky.
• The Levi's jeans are from Marshalls, $7, regularly $35.
• Accessories are one of the cheapest ways to make a girl feel trendy. This chunky necklace was $1.50 at Plato's Closet. And the cute tote bag was in the $1 bin at Target. It says "Young, fabulous, and broke." Might as well embrace it.
• Boys T-shirts are as utilitarian as it gets. There's none of the darting and structural complexity of girl patterns, so finding a good deal isn't hard. This shirt was $1.98 at Target. Stock up. If you find something basic, buy it in a bigger size for next year.
• The jeans were $6.99 at Old Navy. They're a modern cut with an adjustable waistband, so if Junior puts away too many Pop Tarts, they'll still expand and last through the year.
Put blinders on and go straight to the clearance racks in the back of stores. They are gold mines. Retailers need to clear out old stock to make room, so they want you to buy this stuff.
If you're looking toward the holidays with dread, buy one piece a week and stash it away. The beautiful thing about living in Florida is that we can wear deep discount summer styles all year.
Involve the kids
There's nothing worse than Mom or Dad thrusting something tragic upon an unsuspecting child. Bring the kids on shopping trips, but help them avoid devolving into cries of greed by making it a game. Example: Susie and Johnny each get $15. Whoever finds the most for their money gets to ride in the front seat, eat an entire carton of Edy's, shave the dog, whatever. Coupons and sales are fair game. Encourage them to prepare an arsenal of clippings before the big day.
Discount shopping is also a great chance for kids to learn math. Start by teaching the basics — half off and 10 percent off. I barely passed geometry, but I can calculate a discount in my sleep.