How to save while shopping for children’s clothes

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?

  1. I get the best quality I can within my budget.
  2. I take good care of what we have (and teach my children to do the same).
  3. I resell my kids' clothing in good condition to recoup my costs.

Buy Quality Clothes — For Less
Antonio and Diego Playing in the Mud. Photo by J.D. Roth

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.

More about...Clothing

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Dustin | Engaged Marriage
Dustin | Engaged Marriage
10 years ago

Thanks for this! As a Dad to two little ones and another coming along in July, I can certainly attest to the expense that kids’ clothes can represent.

I’m looking forward to watching our third (and likely final) baby grow because we can then start reselling and otherwise doing away with the insane amount of clothes we have stored in our basement!

jammer(six)
jammer(six)
10 years ago

Great tips. We also used to shop Gymboree for quality stuff that lasted forever — but only when their clearance was on clearance!

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Yay! I’ve been hoping for more kid-friendly guest posts! Though I am SO not a Gymboree mom. I am an avid acceptor of hand-me-downs and gifts though. We’ll see what happens when he hits 5 and maybe isn’t as fun for the grandparents to shop for.

Mike
Mike
10 years ago

We have 2 little ones, a 3 yr old boy and a 1 yr old girl. Clothes have been an issue since the get go. We had decided to not find out with either kid what the sex was. While that was a lot of fun, it made planning a nightmare. We are planning on having a couple more kids, so I guess we are covered going forward. But we do try to buy the best clothing that we can durability-wise. For holidays and things, we do tend to splurge on a piece to make the outfit really nice, but… Read more »

KC
KC
10 years ago

The idea of play clothes works for adults, too. I rarely wear my work clothes (or even casual, going “out on the town” clothes) around the house. I immediately change clothes when I come in and put on something along the line of sweats/athletic clothing. They wear well and I dont’ have to worry about getting a stain on my dry clean only clothes or a pick on a nice sweater I like wearing when I go out.

Matt Haughey
Matt Haughey
10 years ago

My town has a great consignment store. It’s a big step above a thrift store and WAY below market price for clothing. Since most kids don’t wear out $30 Gap jeans in the 6 months they fit into them, we buy tons and tons of stuff at the consignment shop, all of it top quality stuff for generally 50-80% off retail price.

It’s absolutely fantastic for 0-5 year olds and the clothing they need as they grow.

elena
elena
10 years ago

I work in a large department store in the children’s department and wanted to offer a few tips for rock bottom prices. Seriously, now that we accept coupons on designers you can find really nice clothing for less than thrift store’s best deal if you know how to look. 1. Ask what the best deals are that day. Find a person who knows, not necessarily the person at the counter. I do the markdowns and set the sales full time and I love to to hook people up with a deal. 2. Learn the markdown schedule for the store and… Read more »

Vyviane
Vyviane
10 years ago

I am very lucky to live in Atlanta. We have plenty of thrift stores to choose from. I try to buy only high end clothes at the thrift stores on half price day. I pay $2 a piece of clothing or less and then consign them when I am done with them. As my son gets older he is wearing out his clothes more so I am not making as much but the first year of his life not counting medical bills we came out with $500 more then we started with because we bought all of his stuff dirt… Read more »

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

This article left out the number 1 point – don’t overbuy.

Girl’s clothes in particular are so cute, it’s easy to end up with way more than you need!

Jane
Jane
10 years ago

What is a “Gymboree Mom”? I like buying clothes for my son that last, which is why I shop at Gymboree on clearance. Hands down they are the clothing that have held up the best. I also find that I do as well on clearance at retail stores than I do at thrift stores. But free is always the best, and we’re lucky to have family who buys us clothing or friends who give us their hand-me-downs. And Kate is absolutely right. Don’t overbuy. Kids really don’t need that many outfits, especially when they are little. I just do laundry… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
10 years ago

I shop at TheChildrensPlace.com and always go to retailmenot.com or momsview.com for coupons at that store when shopping online. I find that their jeans have adjustable waists and last as long as any name brand. They also have brick & mortar stores as well but I find that the stores don’t have a big selection of clearance items. The online stores have tons more clothing at clearance (we’re talking $4 for a long sleeve cute boy top or girl top and $9 or less for jeans). Plus, their shipping is a flat $5. With online coupons,it makes the deals even… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
10 years ago

Great post. As the father of a rapidly-growing 14-month old, I have been amazed to see how quickly kids go through clothes!

I am really excited about the launch of ThredUp Kids, an internet-based Netflix for clothes-type thing. Looks quite promising as a way to refresh the kids wardrobes as they grow. Check it out at http://kids.thredup.com/

Jacci
Jacci
10 years ago

Also, if you can swing it, have a boy first and then a girl. She can get away with wearing a blue dinosaur shirt, he cannot pull off pink flowers 😉 Really though, my daughter is 2 years younger than my oldest son and I only bought her one winter “girl” coat when she was about one year old. The next year, I was sorting through my sons clothes to give away and almost gave up an LL bean winter coat (we live in San Antonio and do need warm jackets, they just don’t get worn out–ever). Luckily smart thinking… Read more »

Sierra Black
Sierra Black
10 years ago

There’s a lot of really good advice here. The only thing I’d add is consider not buying. I’ve bought only a handful of garments for my kids in the nearly six years I’ve been dressing them. We get almost everything we need from a network of friends who pass hand-me-downs around. With both kids, we were given all the clothing, furniture and gear we could use (and some we couldn’t). We took good care of it, and passed it on the new babies when our kids had outgrown it. Obviously not everyone has access to this kind of social support,… Read more »

STL Mom
STL Mom
10 years ago

Last year someone asked my daughter why she wore black snowpants, and she said that girls with little brothers wear black snowpants. This made me laugh because I had never told her that – she just figured it out.
I’m conflicted between buying cheap, and buying high quality that you can pass down or sell. Ideally you can get both, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Leanne
Leanne
10 years ago

Like Lisa said, I definitely find retailmenot.com a great place to find bargains. Even if you’re planning to pick up your order at a local store (save on shipping!) you can often swing a good deal. JD, thanks for including this post. It’s nice to see some advice out there on ways to save with kids–so much of which exists, but so much of which you don’t discover until *after* you have a child. I’m a fan of collecting clothes from friends who have kids a bit older. We haven’t had to spend much at all on clothes thanks to… Read more »

sandycheeks
sandycheeks
10 years ago

One thing to keep in mind about consignment is that after multiple resales, some of the stuff shrinks and is no longer true to size.

Also, I’m not sure if this is regional but I can get an outfit for far less money at Target than at my local consignment stores. Given that my kids will outgrow it in a few months anyway, durability isn’t a big factor.

Rachael
Rachael
10 years ago

We live in a densely populated suburban area that has an overwhelming abundance of garage sales from April through September. We’ve gotten most of our two-year-old daughter’s clothes (many of them name brand) and toys from garage sales, and I generally pay between 25 cents and $1 per clothing item. We can stay within a 15-minute radius of our home and find more than enough. We look for garage sale ads on craigslist and often just follow the signs posted on the main streets. Once our daughter is older I’m sure we won’t be able to get everything at garage… Read more »

Jane
Jane
10 years ago

“One thing to keep in mind about consignment is that after multiple resales, some of the stuff shrinks and is no longer true to size.” That is so true! Some people might find this labor intensive, but I hang dry most of my son’s clothes that have the possibility of shrinking (esp. Carter’s infant clothes). This is especially true of the onesies when they are little. You buy a 12 month onesie, wash it and dry it, and all of the sudden it is a 6 month onesie! I’ve managed to keep him in those for much longer by not… Read more »

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

Great advice! Just a quick question – what’s a good tip to get out stains that have already set? Sometimes, I can’t change my daughter’s clothes immediately.

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

As a slight tangent to the content here, fans of thrift and consignment stores for children’s products should make themselves familiar with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. If fully enacted it could essentially eliminate your ability to buy used items for your kids. Essentially in an aim to improve safety standards for products for children in reaction to the hazards from toys imported from China, this legislation was created with very vague wording and could have major implications for thrift, consignment and re-use. Under the way it’s currently written, any item sold for children needs to be tested for… Read more »

Kathy B
Kathy B
10 years ago

I was lucky with my son, my sister had 2 boys and gave me 2 big boxes of clothing, which I proceeded to give to a friend after he out grew the clothes. I also went to our local thrift store and found good quality clothing.

HollyP
HollyP
10 years ago

My girls are now entering the tweens, when they have sized out of most children’s consignment shops and when they are starting to have strong opinions on what they wear.

We shop clearance at Target, where the clothes are good for 1-2 seasons. For another year I can get away with hitting the Children’s Place outlet, which has outstanding values. I’m also starting to try restyling some handmedowns from child #1 to meet the style preferences of #2. I am also working on teaching the kids about budgeting… if you buy x we can’t afford y too.

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
10 years ago

One day I watched a man buy clothing for his kids at our local Value Village. He said he had 4 kids all under the age of 8. He filled 2 gargabe bags sized bags with clothing. About half the stuff was brand new, still with the original store sticker on it. The total – $124. He even joked that he would be back in 6 weeks when the kids outgrew the clothes.

Donna
Donna
10 years ago

We used to get hand me downs from my husband’s cousin’s daughter who is a year older but now we hand down (or is it up) to her because my daughter is now 4″ taller than her and quite a bit bigger since the cousin is the tiniest thing. Also, my husband works for a major retailer and we go on special extra discount nights where we get the employee discount, the extra discount and if we are really lucky the clearance will be an extra % off. We also try to buy clothes that are just a little big… Read more »

Chris at yardsalequeen.com
Chris at yardsalequeen.com
10 years ago

When you buy pre-owned, the items has already been washed and dried several times so no surprises when you wash and it dry it yourself. That is another benefit over buying new.

The article mentioned a little about buying things like coats for next year, but I buy all my son’s clothes ahead of time. He’s 9 now, but I think he has clothes that will fit him well into his late teens. haha.

It will be easy to pick my kid out from the crowd, he’ll be the only one wearing a “Vote for Pedro” t-shirt.

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

A couple things I learned raising my twins, now 11 years old: 1) Forget about buying “quality”—-they will grow out of it long before it has a chance to wear out. Or they might dislike it and refuse to wear it. Think of the clothes as disposable. My exception is outerwear–parkas, snow pants, boots, and gloves (I live in frosty Minnesota and you need to buy very high quality so the kids will keep warm enough). I get those at Lands end. 2) Don’t take hand-me-downs from anybody. Don’t get me wrong–I purchased lots of used baby clothes at thrift… Read more »

Gina
Gina
10 years ago

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone. I agree with the sentiment of “not buying.” That’s my MO, so we have a lot less clothes and a lot less laundry than most families, but many parents out there are still learning how to apply frugality to clothing as they hopefully have to grocery shopping. Kathy and Karen–I’m a big “collector” of clothes from friends and family, but you’re right–sometimes the clothes are worse than those you find at yard/consignment sales. I was able to live off hand-me-downs for the first two years of the twins’ lives, but now the used… Read more »

Renae
Renae
10 years ago

I was a loyal Sears fan when my 3 boys were very young. Sears’ KidAdvantage Program allows you to return any clothes that they have worn out, provided they haven’t grown out of them. I bought quality clothing- Levi’s, Nike, etc., and usually 2 months later returned them for the same size as the boys are hard on shoes and pants.
My friends thought I was cheap for not shopping at Nordstroms, but this worked well for my family.

Peggy
Peggy
10 years ago

I second Kate at number 21’s comments about CPSIA, which is not being fully enforced right now. Technically, selling (or even “distributing”) any children’s clothing, new or used, without meeting the stringent testing requirements outlined in the law is already illegal. The Consumer Product Safety Commission claims that it is not going to go out and police every thrift store and yard sale, but I’m sure that they will eventually. That said, I have been stocking up on children’s shoes while I can still find them in the thrift stores, and I have learned how to sew soft-soled shoes (there… Read more »

Molly On Money
Molly On Money
10 years ago

When my kids were young it was easy. I bought the clothes and made all the decisions. As they got older, more independent and opinionated we started to argue over clothing. A year ago I instituted a budget for the kids clothing. In an envelope with each kids name I put their clothing allowance every month. They could spend it or save it. They are responsible for buying all their cloths including underwear, socks and shoes. This has been a freeing experience for me because now when we walk into a store and they say, ‘Can I get this?’ I… Read more »

Mattie Portera
Mattie Portera
9 years ago

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Fruit cake kids
Fruit cake kids
9 years ago

I only either buy pre-loved or on-sale clothing for my son. The monthly clothing allowance envelope is a great idea – I’ll be using that one when he starts choosing his own gear.

I’m currently selling kids clothing (newborn-10yrs) I’ve collected together, some from charity shops (yes they’ve been washed!) I love it because not only am I giving to charity, but I find it’s good fun too.

Have a look if you’re interested 🙂
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fruit-Cake-Kids/129703133749075

kiran
kiran
6 years ago

Donna you are really lucky of getting discount cards. i wish that i could.

Mignone Smith
Mignone Smith
6 years ago

From the tips for off-season shopping to searching for sales and clearance items, this article is a great help for parents!

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