Super Duper Cheap Back To School Clothes

Back To School-001

Happy Back To School!

For the first time in eleven long years, all six of my kiddos are in school—five in elementary and one in preschool!

(Please pause for Party Rock Anthem)

That means that I now have dedicated time to get back to spending some quality time over here at Thrive while my kids have a blast with their friends at school.

It also means that I had to shell out for six kids to go back to school. Thankfully, though, a little planning and creativity paid off big for us. Here’s what we did.

#1 – DIY It: The more you create, the less you spend


My girls are still on the glitter kick which means expensive, blinged out shoes for school.

Or does it?

Baby Girl headed straight for some $30 graffiti-glitter-rhinestone-rainbow numbers while I wondered toward something more in our budget … like plain $5 black canvas numbers from the boys’ section at Walmart.

Baby Girl  wasn’t excited … like at all … until we wondered over to the sewing section and I let her pick out her own bling to make her custom shoes. And to my surprise, we walked out with some fuchsia $0.57/yd. sequined trim that went on in two seconds flat with a little super glue.


Holy cow. LOVE.


Trendy. Funky. Sparkly. Blessedly less over-the-top than those $30 numbers.

Baby Girl loves them.

I love them.

Mr. Thrive loves the extra $24 we didn’t spend.


And she totally rocked that first day of preschool.

$2-3 School Spirit Shirts

I’ve already seen the PTA fliers for the school spirit shirts in the kids’ backpacks …and they’re cute …and they support school programs … but at $10-$20 each x 5 kids in school,  it’s just not happening.


Thankfully our dollar store has surprisingly nice, basic t-shirts in solid colors right now. So a plain shirt + $1 worth of vinyl = custom school spirit shirt for $3 or less. And while we were at it, we grabbed a few old, stained shirts from the kids’ closets and bleached them, too.  Completely original, yet very school-spirit-ish shirts for a bucks worth of vinyl?


We went the bleach route and simply added a vinyl design, lightly bleached around the design with a spray bottle and then peeled off the vinyl. A quick rinse with cold water and a run through the wash and the kids were set. I used my Silhouette to cut my designs, but rock what ya got! This works great with contact paper or freezer paper + scissors and/or a craft knife.  Heck, you could even make designs with painters or duct tape. Go crazy!

And since there are roughly a billion bleach shirt blog posts out there, I’ll skip the tutorial and just pass along a few tips I found in making our shirts:

Use a garbage bag


Slip a large garbage bag over a hanger and then place the shirt over top. This keeps the bleach from bleeding through to the back side and keeps everything neat.


(Shirt with vinyl design applied and ready for bleaching)

Experiment with spray bottle settings

Using a full-sized spray bottle on the SPRAY setting produced a fun, blotchy finish.


Love this one.


Go Tigers!


(Tiger image from; Collegiate Black FLF front can be downloaded free HERE)

In this CTR shirt that I made for my niece, I used that same full-size spray bottle set to STREAM and the bleach beaded up on the shirt and ran down the front. I love the look of the run-off and the slightly blurry finish from the bleach stream soaking in behind the vinyl design.


(CTR design was created using Dymaxion Script which free to download HERE)

For this last shirt, I used a small travel size spray bottle for a fine mist and ended up with this even, faded look.


This time I bleached the front and back of the shirt. The garbage bag kept the bleach from bleeding through.


(Eagle design from 123rf.comCertificate font can be downloaded for free  HERE)

Find cute designs

I made shirts using designs from three places: my kids’ school, the Silhouette store and online images.

School: I asked the secretary at my kids’ school for a digital copy of the school logo/mascot and she happily emailed me a black and white copy. I imported it into my Silhouette and started cutting. My kids were super excited to be able to cut their mascot. Plus I can use this design to make teacher gifts for the holidays and teacher appreciation. (For internet safety, I’m not posting that one, but it turned out great.)

Silhouette Store: For $1 each, their shapes are a cheap and fun way to find thousands of designs. It’s like the iTunes store for crafters. And they just added Batman shapes. Kid #4 is going to be ecstatic. 🙂


Online Graphic Websites: I purchased designs like the tiger and eagle for $1 each from I wanted to do something a little more grown up for my older kids and decided to design my own logos with their school mascots. While the Silhouette can trace and cut any digital image, I’m a stickler for honoring the copyrights of online images and only use royalty-free or paid designs that I have permission to use. There’s so many websites with free or cheap images that there’s no reason to play dirty.

Create Your Own: For all you crafty/artistic types, make your own designs! You can draw or create your image on the computer and cut it free hand from freezer paper or contact paper.

#2 – Buy Year Round

Rather than buy clothes in big, expensive spurts, I’m on the watch for clothing deals year ‘round. I grab staples like jeans and coats at garage sales, thrift stores and clearance sales as I see them. That way back to school shopping is about a few new items to update, not completely overhaul a wardrobe. Mr. Thrive laughed when I bought the kids’ new school backpacks the week after school got out for the summer, but our local store had the popular $20-$25 backpacks slashed to $9 each. Done and done. And when Kid #2 who is brutal on shoes found his favorite pair for 50% off, I bought one pair in his size and another identical one in a half size bigger. For the price of one pair, I got two and was prepared for that day a mere three months later when Kid #2 was ready for new shoes yet again.

#3 – Budgeting for clothes when you don’t have a clothing budget

Back to school shopping used to stress me out because the reality is that we didn’t have a clothing budget for our family at all. Whenever someone needed new shoes or pants, we’d eek it out of our monthly gas or food budgets. But Mr. Thrive came up with a great idea at the beginning of this year that has allowed us to budget for ongoing clothing, birthday and school expenses on our limited income. He set up a savings account for each of our kids separate from their personal savings accounts. When we did our taxes, we put $50 in each kid’s account. Then every two weeks $5 goes into each one. For us that’s $30 a paycheck and is what we can afford—your family may do more or less. It may not seem like a lot of money, but it adds up.

Now, whenever one of our kids needs clothes or field trip money, I just take it out of their account. No worrying. No stretching gas. No panic when they grow through three shoes sizes in one year and we’re already tight on grocery money. The money is there and my kids are taken care of.  So the $6 for Baby Girl’s glitter shoes came straight out of her account and not the gas tank. And $2 came out of each of my older kids’ accounts to cover their spirit shirts. And since the money is constantly being replenished, I don’t have to worry about choosing between new jeans or groceries next month because I know we’ll need both.

So what creative, free and/or cheap things do you do to help your kids get ready for back-to-school?

I’d love to hear your ideas!


See how we save on school lunches HERE.

For more clothing / refashion ideas, be sure to check out my other projects HERE.

19 thoughts on “Super Duper Cheap Back To School Clothes”

  1. These are such great tips! I really like the idea of the separate account for kids expenses. My kids are still little, but I finally have one in school (and sports) and all of that can really add up!

  2. I wish I had thought to be that creative when my ds was in school. There were times I honestly did not have $5,$10 or $20 to spend on school fundraiser shirts,etc, but I always found a way to make it work. I love your personal creations and I bet they are cuter than the cookie cutter school bought. KUDOS!!

  3. WOW. Just WOW!!!! The shoes and the shirts are AWEsome! I was just trying to figure out what to do for my Kindergartener…picture day is TOMORROW. I'm going to be doing some applique on a plain white T. Not my first choice..but it's all I have. We'll see how it goes!

    • PicturePerfectPixies,
      I save my images as .jpgs and then use the File/Import To My Library from the Silhouette program. If you don't see your image in the import box when you do that, look at the bottom of the box where it says "file type" and select "all files" from the drop down menu. Then click on the "Show Library" icon on the left, then "My Own Designs" and you should see your image ready to be traced. Good luck!

  4. I love all of your amazing resourcefulness and your willingness to share your great tricks and tips! What a fun idea!!!! I'm sure I'll be trying this little trick out soon.

  5. As usual wonderful ideas. I think the savings account for their clothes is pretty smart. I'm a big 'shop the clearance for next year's clothes' and Grandmas both LOVE to shop for my babes, thankfully, but this will be useful for when they're older and our finances are more stable.

  6. Here you are again with one of your rock what ya got posts that is so practical and helpful. Thanks Nike love it when you post. So hope you and your wonderful family are doing well. Much care to you sweet bloggy friend. 🙂

  7. OK, I'm very new to your site, love what I've seen so far. I am a Silhouette newbie – where did you learn how to import shapes to your Silhouette? I would LOVE to know how to do that…any hints?

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