By Mae Anderson, AP Retail Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — School-approved uniforms can be pricey, but there are ways around paying an arm and a leg for polo shirts and khaki slacks while still following the rules.
Here are four tips for saving big as kids head back to the more than 15% of American public and private schools where student must wear uniforms:
1. SECONDHAND. Some schools require parents shop at specific uniform stores, but others are flexible. And Laureen Miles Brunelli, a Baltimore mom who outfits her two daughters and son in uniforms each year, said thrift stores near the school often have what parents need.
"The best way to find a deal for uniforms is to think outside the one path the school shows you," said Brunelli, who writes a guide at About.com for mothers who work at home.
Also try eBay, local exchange Web sites like Craigslist and other discount sites.
2. TALK IT UP. Brunelli says talking to other parents is key because they can clue you in on deals they find — and they may be willing to hand down their kids' uniforms.
"After your child grows out of them, they have no use to you, so most people are happy to pass them along," she said.
This strategy may work better for girls than boys, however. Brunelli's daughters, ages 12 and 8, often wear their jumpers and skirts for more than one school year, while her 10-year-old son wears through his uniforms: "His get tossed at the end of the year."
3. SHOP AROUND. If the uniforms you need are not very specialized, try shopping online or in person at regular stores, even discounters. Both Target Corp. stores and Gap Inc.'s Old Navy stores offer basic pieces at low prices. Mark Breitbard, executive vice president of merchandising and design at Old Navy, said demand for its uniform pieces has been rising, and it is responding with greater selection.
"We are taking the uniform more seriously every year," he said. "We've seen more schools requiring uniforms."
Old Navy offers two or more polo shirts for $7.50 apiece and jumpers for $15. Some retailers offer greater variety in sizes and styles of uniforms online than they do in stores.
4. EXCHANGE. If your school or after-school group doesn't have a uniform exchange program — which can simultaneously serve as a fundraiser and save parents money — consider starting one. Parents typically donate uniforms their kids can't use anymore and shop in a closet or a community member's basement for the next ones they need.
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