Marcelle and Ruby Go Shopping: A mother and daughter buy back-to-school duds that aren’t duds at all

Tricia Romano

If there’s one thing about the new school year that kids love and parents don’t, it’s shopping for clothes. As children get into their tweens and teens, fashion and trends play a bigger part in their lives. But single mom Marcelle Karp, of New York City, satisfies her child’s sense of style without breaking the bank. Marcelle and her daughter, Ruby, who blogs for and will enter sixth grade this fall, have a tried-and-true system worked out for back-to-school shopping.

“The younger you initiate your child to budget and cost, the more savvy they can become and also more considerate about what they choose,” Marcelle says. “So I have a daughter who chooses her own wardrobe because from the time she was 5, she was aware of cost and numbers.”

Here are six tips for getting the most out of your back-to-school budget:

Set a budget and include your child on the economic decisions: Ruby and Marcelle have an agreement to never pay full retail price for anything, and no single item can cost more than $20. “Ruby has been trained not to look at stuff that’s going to cost $40,” Marcelle says. “If she sees something for 21 bucks, she’ll say, ‘Hey, Mom, it’s $21. Will you consider it?’ So it becomes a negotiation.”

Figure out what you really need to buy: First, says Marcelle, go through the closet and try on last year’s clothes. “We take out everything that doesn’t fit because she’s growing like crazy,” Marcelle says. “We put everything in a pile, and that goes to the Goodwill. That really helps us decide what she has to get.”

Make a list and check it twice: Marcelle and Ruby tend to shop online due to Marcelle’s busy schedule. Ruby goes through her favorite site,, which offers trendy, fun clothing at deep discounts, to build her clothing wish list. “She overshops, and I come in and then we weed things out together,” Marcelle says. “After we do the closet review, I know in my head what she needs. And really what she needs are staples.”

Stock up on necessities: Marcelle likes to buy socks, stockings and underpants in bulk at stores such as Kmart and Target. “You can get those 10 packs of underwear for five bucks,” Marcelle says. “So you can bulk-buy your underwear for less than $10.” And Kmart can come in handy for some cool sneaks, too. “Kmart and Target sell Converse sneakers for like $14.99 for kids. It’s amazing because adult Converse cost like $40. They (also) sell super-branded sneakers like Hello Kitty for nine bucks. It’s awesome to know that you don’t have to spend that much money for the kitschiest of footwear.”

Buy with the next year (or two) in mind: Another trick Marcelle relies on is buying some clothes, such as jeans, one size too big. She says a little bagginess is OK with the tween set. However, she says, “I learned this year that the jeggings have to be form-fitting. If they are baggy, you are a loser.”

When buying trendy items, buy as many of them as you need if they are on sale: For the past year, Ruby’s favorite look has been the aforementioned jeggings. “Oh my God,” Marcelle says. “She has like six pairs of jeggings in different shades of blue. Jeggings can be $35, but if you go to, and they have a 40 percent sale, you are getting great value. You can get two for the price of one.”

But, Marcelle says, don’t veer away from buying the cool item just to save a few dollars. “My mother bought me Sasson jeans when I was a kid,” she says. “And I really felt that made a big difference in my life. In my opinion, if there’s a Sasson jean that (Ruby) wants, she’s gonna get them because she’s a kid. She only gets to be a kid once, and she doesn’t need to be a loser kid.”

Marcelle acknowledges the importance of providing children with some of the popular must-haves. Not all these items boast expensive price tags, and they can truly boost your child’s social experience.

“Succumbing to the trend is not a bad thing,” she says. “It keeps your kid at the curve where everybody else is. The reality is that trendy stuff, be it Silly Bandz or jeggings, is not a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. It’s not going to make a difference in your life as an adult. But in general, they are affordable, and it makes a difference in the kid’s life at school. And school is like a vicious, vicious place if you are not playing ball.”