Disclosure: I received a complimentary gift card from The Mills at Jersey Gardens in exchange for my attendance at the event and coverage of my purchases. All opinions are my authentic and my own.
Last week I attended a back-to-school shopping event hosted by The Mills at Jersey Gardens, and featured a round-table luncheon with consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch and fashion & lifestyle blogger Corine Ingrassia, aka ComplicatedMama. It was fun for me to see some of my digital mom friends in person again while I tackled some of the must-haves on my shopping list.
The Mills is New Jersey’s largest outlet and retail value center, and it’s also one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions. It’s conveniently located off the Jersey Turnpike in Elizabeth, near the Newark Airport and not a far hop over from NYC. It’s a deal-seaker’s paradise and a major threat to those who are easily distracted by fashion, accessories, home goods and gadgets (cough cough). Which leads me to the first aspect of the back-to-school shopping experience: money-saving tips.
Andrea Woroch is nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert dedicated to helping Americans learn how to live on less. As a regular news commentator, Andrea been featured on NBC’s Today Show, Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN and quoted in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Forbes.com and many more.
When shopping for school, Andrea recommends:
- List and plan: Always have a plan when you’re going to any mall or outlet. Create a list of items that you’d like to purchase and survey your child’s closet to make sure you don’t double up items. For your convenience, The Mills has their own app, and you can access the store directory ahead of time.
- Research deals in advance: If you’re someone who tracks sales and clips coupons, then apply the same practice to your mall shopping. The Mills has a Deals page that shows the best places to shop.
- Hold out for holidays: With holiday weekends coming up like Labor Day, you can expect deals as big as 70% off. (editor’s note: You might want to wait for the holidays that occur after the year begins, once your children see what’s trending at school)
- Coupons: Check outlet center’s websites for deals or sign-up for their reward program for exclusive offers. You can also use the app Coupon Sherpa for additional coupons.
- Play with cash: The best way to avoid overspending and prevent impulse shopping is to leave your plastic behind! When you bring cash, you’re more likely to focus on what you need rather than act on impulse.
- Buy off-season: Even though it seems like outlets have the best deals, you can get even bigger savings when you buy at the end of the season.
- Review the return policy: Every store is different with regards to their return policy. Some restrict the window of return to 30 or 60 days.
Additional thoughts: When my daughter was going into 1st grade, her whole style seemed to change. I couldn’t buy clothes for her anymore without getting her pre-approval. It took away the fun of surprising her, but it also saved me money in the long run to have her very specific input. And like Andrea said in #1, I go into each school season with a specific hit list of items we NEED to begin the year with.
Next up were hot trends with Corine Ingrassia, aka ComplicatedMama. Corine is a top fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogger whose no-fuss fashion, beauty and lifestyle advice has been featured by a variety of outlets, such as: CBS-NY, NewBeauty Magazine, New York Family Magazine, NJ.com, as well as in the Harper Collins book “The Digital Mom Handbook.”
Corine and I have girls the same age and with similar styles (similar mom-style too!) and I always love to see what is trending in her house. Some of Corine’s back-to-school style tips are:
- Plan to Layer: Think- cardigans with swing dresses, hoodies peeking through denim or leather jackets, crop tops over chambray button downs. Layering is a great way to stretch some of your kids’ summer styles through other seasons. (editor’s note: Check out my Spring shopping tips that apply the same idea of stretching seasonal clothing)
- Choose quality over quantity: Look for sales on the items that you know will last for the long haul
- Know your kid’s personal style: Similar to what I mentioned above, talking to your kid about their personal style will ultimately save you money when you buy them something they will wear. (editor’s note: I ask my girls for a TV character whose style they really like as a guide for my shopping. For the 2nd year in a row, my eldest has picked Disney’s Ally Dawson (Laura Marano) from Austin & Ally as her style icon. She also likes Lindy Watson from I Didn’t Do It.)
As for Fall trends, there are 5 to consider:
- Mix & Match: Let your kid express his/herself and pick their own color/print combinations. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- The Jogger Pant: I personally love this trend, and there are some cute colors and prints for kids. It’s the dressy sweatpant that can be worn with a hoodie or a glittery blouse. My favorites are chambray and floral shown below. (left to right: p.s. by Aeropostale, Ellen DeGeneres for GapKids, and Abercrombie Kids)
- The 90’s are back: florals, flannel, light denim, ripped jeans, moto/chunky ankle boots (see below for some top picks)
- Pops of Neon: I hope neon never goes out of style. I like how neon carries the summer into the fall and then adds some color and “sun” in the cold winter months.
- Textures & Prints: Animal print, geometric patterns, boho-meets-southwest (see below for some top picks)
- Slip-ons: My favorite shoe for fall is the glitter slip-on, so I am all over this trend (I also wore my BOBs from Skechers slip-ons for this shopping event). Other hot trends are shoes with laces that have been knotted at the end so they can slip on and off easily. I’m totally guilty of not untying my laces when I take my shoes off, so this makes a lot of sense to me!
Two stores at The Mills where you can find many of the above listed trends for girls are Forever21 and Saks Off 5th. I always stock up on some neutral essentials and trendy pieces from Forever21 Kids, but if you want some designer brands at majorly discounted prices, hit up Saks! Below are some of my favorite picks the reflect the big trends for fall.
Forever21 Kids (Click here to shop)
Saks Off 5th (Click here to shop)
My #FoundatSimon Haul
While I could have easily spent hours and hours at the mall, I only had an hour to shop before I had to get back home to pick up the girls from camp. I was almost finished with back to school shopping anyway, but still had a few things that I needed: raincoats for the girls, casual sneakers for my eldest, and some mix-and-match separates for my eldest. Surprisingly, raincoats presented the biggest challenge (for in-store shopping). I was surprised by the lack of selection in most stores. They were either character-themed (Hello Kitty, Frozen, Lady Bug) or had colors neither of my girls wanted. I didn’t want to just order something online before I tried the outlets. I knew I had my work cut-out for me, especially in a short time-frame. Keeping Andrea’s tips in mind to stick to a list and only use cash (or in our case, the complimentary Simon gift card), I pulled out the Mills at Jersey Gardens coupon book and mall directory and planned my route.
Purchase #1: Something for me: My very first purchase was actually for me, but only because there was no kids section in the store! I thought I would treat myself to something for all this hard work getting the girls ready for school. I have a weakness for shoes, but usually talk myself out of the purchase. As part of the mall tour, we made a stop at Century21. Right there in the shoe department, practically calling my name, was this pair of fringe ankle boots by Indigo Road. I had been craving a pair of fringe anything once I saw it was back in fashion. And you know what they say about cravings: if you can’t get it out of your head, you’re better off indulging and moving on instead of obsessing over it. This purchase served a dual purpose too: my girls weren’t really buying the whole fringe trend, so I thought if they saw me wearing it, they would warm up to it. Sure enough, as soon as I took the boots out the box, they had major shoe envy. Happy Mom, Happy Kids… right?
Back to my list….
My first destination was Kidstown (above), which we learned had everything and anything you would need. And it did, but just not the raincoat colors that my girls requested. I took a brief detour away from the raincoat hunt for some quick and easy shopping at Forever21 Kids.
I always have to buy the most for my oldest (and I’m sure everyone with at least one child goes through this), so I just wanted to get her a few long-sleeved tops and a skirt that she could wear with anything. Below are my finds. Can you tell she likes navy?
As I booked it out of Forever21, I saw that I only had about 40 minutes left to find the raincoats and sneakers. My next stop was at Burlington Coat Factory. Despite it’s name, there were only winter coats for kids. And I’m glad I was keeping to my list, because I could have easily gotten distracted by the rows and rows of clothing for the whole family. By now, I only had 20 minutes and still needed to get back to the food court to get my stuff. On the way there, I spotted Nautica and had to give it a try. Surely they would at least have something in my eldest daughter’s colors: blue or green. And there it was! A navy raincoat. Cha-Ching! Shop the coat below (far right), and check out 3 other outwear options for girls from Nautica. And then watch the video below (saved from Periscope– follow at @AFancyGirlMust) to see her modeling all the features that make this the perfect raincoat.
By the time I was finished at Nautica and retrieved my very generous swag, it was time to head home. Since we had the gift cards, which were also Visa cards, I knew I could finish up my shopping online. While I would have preferred to do it all in person to see the clothing up close, I was running out of time and wanted to have my shopping done before school started.
The last 2 items that I needed were a raincoat for my middle daughter and casual sneakers for my eldest.
Purchase #4: I got the raincoat from Oshkosh- an always reliable source- in a floral print that’s very on-trend this season. From joggers to shoes, you’ll see a lot of the big, bold floral on a dark background (which is reminiscent of collections by D&G and other high-end fashion houses). Grab it here.
Purchase #5: And I found these great Heather grey sneakers at OldNavy. We did black sneakers last year, which I just felt was too dark. I didn’t want to do white either, but thankfully grey was available. It’s the new white anyway. Shop them here.
I don’t think this will be my last time at The Mills. With the number of outlet stores and extra discounts in one place, this is an ideal destination for holiday shopping.
Do you have any shopping tips to share to get you through this season? What are your kids wearing this fall? And have you treated yourself? Share below!