Shirt tales: How to find clothes for your kids

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.

Inexpensive clothes

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?

More about...Clothing

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Nick
Nick
6 years ago

Excellent Strategy. I do exactly the same. Finding free clothes is the key if you want to save money as a large family. Previously I was spending hundreds of dollars per month on clothing, when I realized I was throwing our future away I stopped and put a similar procedure in place. Great article.

SAHMama
SAHMama
6 years ago

I have only had luck getting hand-me-downs for my son, and that’s intermittent. The thrift stores here have gone up in price too. So have some of the church rummage sales. Last spring I went to one and found a grocery bag of baby clothes for my infant. They were going to charge a total of $80! I was so shocked and in disbelief that I just walked out. I don’t care what mission is going to benefit; I couldn’t afford it and I said as much. I shop clearance sales- got my 7 year old two new pairs of… Read more »

Marsha
Marsha
6 years ago

It sounds as if you’ve done really well figuring out how to get clothes for your kids. The only thing I would suggest is that you give garage sales a look-see more often, especially if there’s a neighborhood sale in an area with lots of kids. It’s more hit or miss, but you might hit the mother lode and get a complete season’s wardrobe for a few dollars. If you’ve got the storage space, buy a year or two ahead if you can get the clothes free or for very little money. Some things won’t get used, but overall, you’ll… Read more »

J
J
6 years ago

You’re speaking my language! I have a 3.5 year old and a a 1.5 year old. The majority of their clothes are either gifts (some of their aunts tend to buy them clothes for birthdays/Christmas, which is appreciated since they have so many toys already) or come from Savers thrift store, local mom’s club consignment sales, or if I must buy new, I stalk the clearance sections of Target, Old Navy or The Children’s Place for rock-bottom markdowns. My proudest purchase this year is like-new L.L. Bean snow boots for my 1.5 year old – $3.99 at Savers!

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

We have always shared clothes among friends. We have given one family so many of my son’s clothes that they have given us $100 gift cards for clothing stores for his birthday, knowing that once he grow out of them they will be handed down. Since the grow so fast and often out of clothes before the are end of lived it’s important no to shop at expensive stores like the GAP.

Lisa
Lisa
6 years ago

Since my boys were little, I’ve shopped the clearance racks after the season, and bought for the coming year. Most often, I’ve been able to save gift cards from birthdays, Christmas, etc.. for this, so there is very little out of my pocket. Sometimes, I’ve even been able to pair this with a store rewards program (like Gymbucks at Gymboree), and earn $$ for a purchase at a future date.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
6 years ago

I resell my children’s clothing, which means I can cloth my kids for free (as well as get free toys, furniture, etc). I buy name brand clothes that I know people will want to buy, but I buy them either really cheap, piling up coupons on top of clearance prices, etc. I also shop at our local bi-annual community used kids consignment. If your community does not have this, YOU should look into starting this. The people who started ours make enough money in 2 weeks that they could quit their jobs in the nursing field because they make more… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

I love the idea you shared. Just out of curiosity: is this in a more rural area or a densely populated one? Thanks!

Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
6 years ago

Kids go through clothes so fast, I don’t understand why people buy high priced clothing for them. To me, it’s a complete waste of money. We’re lucky in that all of the siblings are having kids at around the same time, so we are just swapping clothes between each other.

Meredith
Meredith
6 years ago

If you have Freecycle in your area it is a good resource for getting free clothes. You can post what you need and then arrange with whoever answers you to pick it up. Same goes for whatever you want to get rid of. I have gotten rid of (and received) some great clothes, as when our kids outgrow stuff, we want to get it out of the house! I also second the super sales at Target and Old Navy. The latter has been very good to me, I have gotten shirts for $1-2 and pants for $5 for my kids.… Read more »

SAHMama
SAHMama
6 years ago
Reply to  Meredith

I had to quit Freecycle after a member stole a package from my porch and stalked my house for several days. I reported the theft but local police and the Freecycle group declined to do anything about it.

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

Making clothes for kids seems like it would be more time and effort than it’s worth- unless of course it’s a hobby you enjoy and would practice anyway. I like your point about letting people know you’re open to freebies. It seems so obvious, of course you’d want to be offered the option of getting something for free, but people don’t always think to offer. “Coming out” as “the cheap one” among my friends has been pretty amazing for me- they always ask me if I want something before throwing away or donating it. I’ve gotten some amazing jewelry, clothes,… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
6 years ago

Great tips — I’ve done almost all of these, and it really helps.

I also shop end-of-season sales for my kids for the next year. I picked up shorts and shirts for my daughter in November at JC Penny for 97 cents each. She’s not wearing them yet, but she will be this summer.

Sam
Sam
6 years ago

I don’t have kids, but I will add in consignment shops in wealthy areas have great deals on dress clothes/name brand clothes for kids. I’m in Palm Beach Co. and my neighbor with 4 kids, does the majority of her shopping at consignment shops. Her girls are middle school/high school age and they want the name brands, well it is great to find them at consignment shop prices, some still have the tags on them or a party dress will have been worn once.

sue
sue
6 years ago

Another tip is to sigh up for emails from your local thrift shops. This way you know about sales in advance. I live in the country and since I have to drive a bit to shop I just head to the area with the lowest prices. The Goodwill stores west of me charge over twice as much as those located east of me. Of course I always shop in that direction! This weekend they have all clothing half price, that makes womes pants $2 and tops $1.65!

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
6 years ago

I think it’s important to double up when shopping at stores. For example at Saver’s if you donate a “grocery bag size” of items they give you a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase or more so i use that or save it for my next shopping trips. Also they have days where the entire store is 50% those are the days to stock up. But when i’m looking for something more specific or i dont find any clothing that i like i shop new like you. I look at clearance first then to the regular racks. This i… Read more »

Elissa @ 20s Finances
Elissa @ 20s Finances
6 years ago

I save so much money going to any of these places before finally going to Target or Old Navy or something – saves so much! Great tips.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
6 years ago

I don’t buy clothes for my daughter, who is two, because *everyone else I know constantly buys them for her*. She has more clothes than she can wear. I don’t even know where most of them came from. Maybe one day she’ll grow out of that, she’ll be bigger and people will focus their attention on whoever is littlest. I don’t know. For now my clothing bill for her is nearly $0.

MissB
MissB
6 years ago

I think the strategies presented are great, and I certainly clothed my kids cheaply when they were young. It works particularly well for kids, as they grow quickly and their clothes become too small before they wear out. I gave up thrift shopping when the kids moved into middle school. About the only thing I save on is jeans, and that’s because my two teen boys are a year apart. By the time the second kid has worn the jeans, they are usually pretty much done, though I can donate a few here and there. I’m also very much not… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
6 years ago

We have a wonderful deal with our friends who happen to have a boy and girl that are younger/older than ours so we exchange our daughter’s hand-me downs to get hand me downs for our 2 boys. So that is how we get some free clothes. Of course, I sometimes have to supplement so I go to a consignment shop called once upon a child to get those. As for my daughter, I usually hit the clearance racks for off season items that are too big and save them for next year. Most times they are the same price as… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
6 years ago

I looked and our clothing expenses are 900-1500 per year for a family of 4 the past 3 years. We ended up replenishing many things that needed to be replaced. We do hit the resale shops, but for things like shoes and socks, bathing suits and underwear, have to buy new. Often for coats as well, because it is a timing and size issue (can’t find what we want used, and they need one!). When they were young we spent much less, 300-400 a year, because they were receiving hand me downs, but those have dried up. The main plan… Read more »

Yvonne
Yvonne
6 years ago

Love all of your recommendations! Wanted to share the Kid Vantage Program from Sears with you, specifically for boys. The program states if a child out wears there clothing purchased from Sears on the kid vantage program before they outgrow it, they will replace it for free. Anything you buy from the clearance racks are included. At the beginning of the school year buying 2 pairs of jeans at a discount can stretch throughout the school year. We have had countless items including a coat with a broken zipper replaced. Make sure you enroll in the program and tell the… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Yvonne

I hadn’t heard of that program before, so thanks for sharing. I will have to check it out.

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

I agree with all the suggestions made in the article and comments, but I would add, there are a very few limited times when it is worth it to pay full price. Specifically, shoes: growing feet need decent shoes. This is one area where you do not want to use hand-me-downs unless they’re for shoes that will be worn very infrequently, such as snow boots if you live in an area where it snows maybe once or twice per winter, or special party shoes where there’ll be a lot of sitting. If your child will wear them more than twice… Read more »

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

I’m stuck on “didn’t like the clothes and wouldn’t wear them”. If I had refused to wear something as a kid, I would have a gotten a boot up my backside. If you want to be the Fashion Police, move out and earn your own wardrobe.

MissB
MissB
6 years ago
Reply to  Marie

Like the OP, I don’t see the point of buying clothes they won’t wear. As I said above, I have teens and they have their own styles. I just don’t see forcing my kids to wear clothes they hate because I obtained the clothes free/cheaply. It isn’t a hill I’ve decided to die on, much like hair styles (thus the budget to accommodate this). I had little choice in clothing when I was a kid. I remember going into middle school with exactly one pair of jeans (which my aunt had sewn for me over the previous summer). Middle school… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Marie

My parents would have done the same thing: We bought it, you wear it. Since we adopted the kids, I was buying clothes based on what I thought they would like before we met them. Like MissB, which clothes they chose to wear (or not) was not a battle I wasn’t willing to fight. It has been very challenging as it is. Now that I know their preferences more, I can easily shop for the things I know they like. For instance, most of the pictures and videos we had of our daughter showed her in skirts and dresses, so… Read more »

Clelie
Clelie
6 years ago

Just wanted to add one more resource to the mix. Gear swaps! Basically, inside themed garage sales. In my area they are hosted by community centers and local schools.
I’ve done really well picking things up for my 6 and unders there.
If no one is organizing this in your area I think this kind of event can be pulled off pretty easily and can be a bit of a fundraiser too.

Marie @ 4HWD
Marie @ 4HWD
6 years ago

I have a 6-year-old daughter and I’m happy that she’s not picky when it comes to her clothes. I prefer to buy comfortable clothes rather than branded one.

Skint in the City
Skint in the City
6 years ago

Here’s what I do:
Buy secondhand clothes via thrift stores or sales.
Ask for clothes instead of presents from grandparents. This covers the nicer party clothes etc and sometimes shoes. (I don’t ever buy secondhand shoes).
Pass clothes down from first child to second.
Then pass them on to friends.
Receive bigger clothes from other friends – there’s just no point in you and all your friends duplicating spends on new kids clothes.

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

Now that I have three girls going through the same set of clothes, I am wishing I was better at stain removal and I am appreciating clothes that were better made. High end clothes are more expensive at the store, but they do seem to hold up a little better. But with the way I launder my clothes, I am hesitant to shop for new clothes. The majority of my clothes are craigslist finds (I try to find large lots) or garage sale clothes. Thrift stores are so expensive! I have been having trouble finding shoes for my kids that… Read more »

ayumi
ayumi
6 years ago

thredup.com will send you a bag that you can fill up with gently used ‘brand name’ baby/kid’s/women’s clothing. Send the bag back, and then wait for them to tally up how much money they’ll credit you with. You can spend it at their online store (full of awesome gently-used items for baby/kids/women), or you can just get the amount you made sent to your paypal account.

It was nice to get money for items that I had pretty much resigned to donating since consignment is not any guarantee of making money from those clothes.

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

As others mentioned, also keep clothes for future sizes (and past sizes if your family is not done growing yet). I buy nice clothes whenever I find them and tuck them in their bin. It requires a lot of storage space, but with some creativity it works… and it’s wonderful and inexpensive when we pull out the next size and only have one or two things needed!

Sefa @ TheEconoMs
Sefa @ TheEconoMs
6 years ago

Great post. I agree that free is best, and like you, I have developed quite a reputation for gleefully accepting hand-me-downs. I have also noticed that the thrift store items are getting more expensive. However, I sometimes find that the quality of some thrift store clothes FAR EXCEEDS the quality of most new items you can buy these days. It is a shame that kids’ clothes are no longer made to last regardless of the brand! Quality should figure into the equation, I think.

Kids clothing
Kids clothing
6 years ago

Kids clothing is the most interesting and exciting part of being a parent. When one needs cloths for kids, the choice of store depends on so many factors. The top one is Quality cloths in affordable price.

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