"School days are here again," parents love to croon to their young scholars at summer's end. As a young girl, I remember trudging back to school in the sticky heat, decked out in brand-new corduroy pants, long-sleeve tops, and stiff new shoes. New school clothes represented a change in season and a new corner turned in life.

Back-to-school shopping is typically a rite of passage for parents and children. But for parents of multiple kids, trips to stores for piles of new duds can put an uncomfortable strain on the finances. At summer's end, stores usually advertise deals on kids' clothes for the new school year. But rather than compete with all the other shoppers in August and September, parents can snag even better deals by shopping smartly year-round.

Here are some ways to shop smart for your kids' school clothes.

Buy larger and save for later

For shirts and pants or shorts, shop sales and go for slightly larger sizes to be put away for the future. (Shoes are an exception, as they can be tricky to predict for future fit.) If your kids haven't shopped with you, show them your purchases to get their approval, then stash them away. Keep the clothes in their shopping bags and stow them in your closet or your kids' closet, in visible sight so you don't forget about them. When the new season arrives, voila! Your kids will be dressed for success, and the marked-down price tags will make you giddy all over again.

Shop sales in July and January

Stores regularly need to clear out their seasonal merchandise. In July you can find bargains galore on clearance shorts, T-shirts, swimsuits and sundresses. Similarly, when January rolls around stores have fantastic post-Christmas deals on coats and jackets, pants, boots and sweaters. If you don't mind fighting the crowds of gift-returning shoppers, the week after Christmas is even better. You may be strapped from your holiday purchases, but the end of December and beginning of January is an ideal time to build a cold-weather wardrobe for your kids' next school year.

Save socks and underwear purchases for Christmas

Don't bother purchasing new underclothes for back to school. If your family hangs stockings, save the necessity of purchasing your kids' socks and underwear for Christmas. They are a perfect and practical way to stuff a stocking as they take up plenty of room.

Sell what's outgrown

Second-hand shops will gladly purchase your children's gently-used, outgrown clothing. Call the thrift stores in your area to find out what they'll buy and the best times to sell. Selling the clothes your kids no longer wear provides cash to spend on new school clothes.

Shop thrift stores

You can find lots of second-hand clothing that looks great. Be particular about rips and stains, but don't overlook the amazing deals you can find in secondhand shops. Kids grow so quickly and it's silly to spend big money on pricey clothing for kids.

Have your kids pitch in

Maybe your daughter is dying for a new denim vest, but the price tag is outside your budget's limits. When your kids help buy their clothes, they'll likely appreciate them more, take better care of them and learn lessons in saving and spending.

Let your kids choose something new

Just for fun, and if your budget allows, let each of your children pick out a new shirt, backpack or something of their choice. Their individual finds will help them get into the spirit and anticipation of a new school year.

Shopping sales in the off-season and keeping an eye open for bargains year-round will help you outfit your kids for their next school year.

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