When we doubled our family size, we more than doubled the amount of laundry. And let's not even talk about the increases in stains and holes. Or the back-to-back phone calls from my son's principal: “Hey, Mrs. Aberle, your son was playing in the snow without snow pants. He is soaked. Can you bring in a dry pair of pants for him?” And the next day: “The button on his pants fell off and he needs another pair.”
Because our kids are so hard on clothing, every time I evaluate my kids' closets, I'm glad we haven't spent lots of money to clothe them. Unfortunately, the items I did spend more money on were the items they lost, like the stocking hat I bought from L.L. Bean (stupid, stupid, Lisa!) that disappeared. Or they didn't like the clothes and wouldn't wear them.
1. Free. Free clothes are my first choice, for obvious reasons and there are a surprising number of places to find free kids' clothes. Finding free secondhand clothes for my kids, especially my daughter, has been easy. I have one friend with a daughter who is slightly older than my daughter. She is only too happy to pass her daughter's clothes on to us, for which we're really grateful. And I have other friends who periodically call and ask whether I need more clothes.
To get the word out that you're open to free clothes, you may need to have a reputation for liking free stuff, like I do. But if you don't, ask your friends what they do with their children's old clothes. I have always offered to pay my friends, but they refuse because they like having somewhere to send the clothes. And I totally understand, because I feel that same. Even though we have only had the kids for eight months, they have clothes they've outgrown or didn't like in the first place. I posted on Facebook to let people know I had clothes to give away and quickly had a place to go with my son's clothes, though I am still waiting on someone for my daughter's clothes. (Size 5/6, anyone?) If I can't find anyone to take them for free, I may donate them. (Since I didn't pay anything for them, I feel strange selling them.)
I also volunteer at a place that provides free, donated clothing items to people in the community. In exchange for my time, they've allowed me to search through the bins to find jeans for my son.
One thing about free clothes, I have had a much easier time finding clothes for my daughter and I think it's probably because boys' clothes — at least in the case of my kids — fare much worse. My son's clothes attract grass stains, holes, and stains like a magnet.
A children's consignment store in another town does something else with their leftover clothing, which is amazing for my family. One of my friend's mothers has arrangements with this store to pick up the leftover clothing that didn't sell. She brings it home, washes it all, and organizes it by size and gender. Then, approximately two times per year, she calls up many local parents and invites them over to pick out some free clothes for their kids. Last time, I found snow boots for my daughter as well as other items of clothing.
Although I have never gone, a nearby town also has a biannual clothing swap. In exchange for bringing in clothes you no longer need, you can “go shopping for clothes” other people have contributed. Some clothing swaps do charge a small amount, but some are free.
2. Almost free. If I can't find clothes for free, my next choice is to visit our local consignment shop's “leftover store.” This store is filled with things that either didn't sell in the consignment shop or they weren't good enough for consignment in the first place (maybe missing a tag or had a small stain or something). These items are 99 cents most days, although they have a fill-the-bag-for-99 cents event periodically. My latest bargain is that I found snow pants for each child for 99 cents.
Places like Goodwill have access to salvage brokers that individual stores do not. It may be worth asking your local consignment or small thrift store what they do with the clothes they don't sell to see if they would be willing to donate them to you or a group.
Going to yard sales would also be an inexpensive option. This is one of those things I think I should do, but I don't like to do — so I don't. However, as long as I knew that certain homes would have clothing that would fit my kids and I didn't have to go to too many houses, I could probably do that.
3. Not new, but not free either. I also have gone to thrift stores, like Goodwill and others. Is it just me, or does it seem like these stores are more expensive than they used to be?
Consignment stores are expensive, in my opinion, for my kids who play rough in their clothes. I have purchased items of clothing there, but it's my second-to-last choice.
4. New. My last choice is to buy clothes new. And when I do, I buy clothes as cheaply as possible, because it doesn't seem like quality clothing repels holes more than cheaper clothing…at least not for my kids.
Making the clothes last (and cutting down on laundry)
I am sure other parents do this, but to preserve their “good” clothing, my kids change into play clothes when they get home from school or a friend's house.
One of the biggest adjustments (ah, but only one of the many adjustments – haha!) as new parents was how much laundry two kids could create. They used their shirts for napkins, ran outside in their socks, and prefer messy activities. To combat the mountains of laundry, they wear their good clothes again if they aren't dirty (which is almost never). They also wear their play clothes more than once, even if they're dirty. By this point, I no longer feel shocked by the piles of laundry, though I don't like it any more now than I did before.
What are your tips to clothe your kids?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).