Moving to the D.C. area after my twins were born, we transformed from a family of three living comfortably, to a family of five struggling to make ends meet on one income. I had to get creative with our family budget, and one of the biggest line items to tackle was clothing. Four years later, I finally have a handle on it. Shopping for clothes for my three kids has been fine tuned into a system that keeps us humming along season by season. How?
- I get the best quality I can within my budget.
- I take good care of what we have (and teach my children to do the same).
- I resell my kids' clothing in good condition to recoup my costs.
Buy Quality Clothes — For Less
You can save on sturdy kids' clothing — I get great longevity from Lands' End and Gymboree — by only shopping sales and clearance. In her article about the best time to buy almost everything, April mentioned which days are best to shop the clothing stores, but knowing the seasonal clearance schedule is helpful as well. For example, I send my kids to their first month of school in shorts and wait for the jeans/pants/leggings to go on sale in late September and October. Winter coats are on clearance in February; be ready to shop ahead for next year.
You can shop online, but do it wisely. I never shop online without coupon codes, and I always shop through a cashback site like Ebates. Shopping online gives me a larger selection of clearance items than local stores. Additionally, shopping online helps me stick to my list and budget, whereas in a store I am tempted to make impulse buys. Finally, most online retailers allow you to return clothing to the store for free if they don't work out.
Another way to save is with used clothing, especially in the early years (infant to age four). Considering the amount of wear, tear, and washing these clothes go through, you're better off saving the “good” clothes for church, holidays, and photo opportunities and dressing little ones in used clothing for everyday wear. Whether purchased at yard sales, thrift stores or consignment sales, look for those high-quality brands, the ones that hold their shape and color for years. (J.D. has shared his 18 tips for thrift-store shopping.) I've also found new-with-tag clothes at yard sales. The ultimate way to save? Get kids' clothing for free through Freecycle or handed down from family and friends (don't be shy about asking!).
Take Care of What You've Got
When you take care of the clothes you have, you stretch your dollars by giving items a longer life and better value. I've taught my children to care for their clothes by returning to the old-fashioned notion of “playclothes”. My son has learned to come home from school and change from his khaki pants (bought on sale with a coupon, of course) into sweats or other playclothes. These clothes are for running around outside, getting muddy, doing art projects, and the rest of childhood life. We all wear jeans at least twice before washing, and I tackle stains early so they don't set in. If long-sleeved tees become stained or too worn, they become undershirts for layering.
Resell Clothing When You're Done With It
I choose my best-quality items to resell at my multiples club's consignment sale or eBay, sell some at yard sales, and donate or Freecycle the rest. By doing so, I not only recoup some of my initial cost, I also avoid the expense of storage space and keep my kids' closets clutter-free. The only clothing I keep from my son are those I've bought with my twin girls in mind — raincoats, pajamas and other unisex items in neutral colors like red and blue (which my girls prefer to pink, anyway). I even resell my children's shoes, though that phase is almost over; older children's shoes get worn out before they're outgrown.
While I'm sure I'll have to adjust my system a bit as my kids reach the tween years, adding their opinions and peer pressure to the mix, I've set the groundwork for reasonable clothing expenses. My 6-year-old knows we have a budget set aside for clothing and we discuss why a Pokemon T-shirt costs more than a plain one. Already, I see him making choices with his allowance that come from our discussions about wants vs. needs.