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Five Great Ways to Save Money on Kid Clothes

Updated on July 31, 2013


August means back to school shopping. When you're bombarded with ads about the latest styles, you can get overwhelmed. You don't want to spend a lot of money, but Hannah and Diego are outgrowing their school clothes. What can you do?

The Best Place on Earth to Find Clothes

Your most important resource in getting clothes together for the new school year is in your own house. Before you make that first trip to Target, or Justice, or even Macy's, set a day aside and make it a try-on party. My daughter and I put on some tunes and we fashion show it up twicce a year, making what could be a boring chore into something to plan eagerly.

Aside from the music, you can whip up some fashion-day snacks like a blended ice lemonade smoothie, or a not-daiquiri (ice, ginger ale, and some fruit blended smooth), and your kids' favorite finger foods. Then dump out the clothes one drawer at a time, sorting what fits, what's never going to be worn, and what could be revamped. Put different pieces together you don't normally see out at the same time. My daughter found new life for an old, plain top in the back of her drawer when she noticed how great it looked with another blouse over it.

When you've gone through everyone's drawers and closets, check out inter-family swaps. I've got old tees I don't wear that my daughter has just discovered are cool vintage. She has tops and jeans she's outgrown that are just the right style to hand over to her little brother. The kids even have some clothes they were given that are way too big for them, but I can wear around the house to freshen up my own wardrobe. Anything that's wearable but not the right style, set aside in a big To Do pile. Remember that every item of wearable clothing you find in your own house can save you anywhere from a dollar to twenty or even thirty dollars. And the music's good, too.

Your Kid's New Look, With Old Look Flair

After the try-on fashion day, our drawers are leaner, and the To Do pile is huge. Now what? There's the old standard: dropping a bag off at Goodwill. Our local charity groups even schedule regular visits to the neighborhood, asking for donations to be left on the porch. These are both great ways of giving back, and of helping to reduce the clutter in your house of clothes that no longer fit. For clothes that do fit, sometimes all you need is a little imagination.

A lot of clothes that my kids have are plain t-shirts we bought for gym class, or were souvenirs of some vacation. Friends and relatives go to the beach, or visit a landmark, and send along a shirt. When those find their way into the "never worn" pile, we set aside a bunch of them for art projects. Light-colored tees are great for tie-dye. Plus, it's a simple way to turn yet another pink shirt into something a little less girly. (My daughter hates pink with a purple passion. My son doesn't care, but does prefer rainbows.)

Other fun clothing art projects include fabric paints and permanent inks, adding a personal flair to a tired old pair of jeans. We have old tees and tops with pony beads knotted at the fringed bottoms, for a retro cool. Some clothes just don't fit but are too personal to donate or give away. A stitch here, and that's a new t-shirt for an old teddy bear.

Revamping old clothes makes for a perfect summer day craft project. Most revamps can be done with art materials you have around the house, or an inexpensive dye kit. Since you're not buying new clothes, you're not losing out in case of errors, and those errors can make for quirky fashion fun. The best part is that your kids get to wear their own creations and show off their own individual cool.

What Goes Around Comes Around

If you're at all like me, sometimes you have a hard time networking. I'm much happier talking to someone on the other end of a computer screen than I am face to face. When frugal blogs tell you to work your network to trade clothes, or set up a neighborhood swap, you may do as I do, and hide your face in terror just at the thought. If so, this may help.

As much as parents hate to admit it, our biggest social outlets are work and kids. The good news is that this put us into contact with plenty of other parents who are going through much the same things we are, often around the same time. When your child has a sport, or a club, you start to notice who has other kids, and who might like a bag of gently-used clothes your kids outgrew. Younger kids in families with opposite-gender sibs don't have the same advantages in hand-me-downs from their older siblings like their would in families with multiple girls or boys. As you make offers ("We've got some clothes Bryce just outgrew that he barely wore once, would Charlie like them?") other parents will get the same idea. Informal clothing swaps are fantastic, not only for finding clothes that are new to you, but also for building networks without the pressure of Building a Network.

The more confident parents can put up a sign on the neighborhood mailbox, or make some quick flyers on the printer, to set up a weekend clothing swap on their front lawn. Advertize it as "Bring a Shirt, Take a Shirt" and donate the clothes that are left over. It's a great way to have a yard sale without worrying about haggling over prices.

Be Thrifty

Thrift shops are trendy again, both with the vintage hipsters and the Macklemore fans. This is both good news and bad news. It's bad news because a lot of other families who might otherwise have skipped the secondhand store are now willing to fight over that hot "distressed" top. It's good news because anything that leads to more focus on thrift and consignment shops leads to faster turnover of goods, and more money for the causes they support.

A note: When you make a trip to a thrift store, do check out the background for the place you're supporting. Many thrift shops serve as direct or indirect charities, so if you're bothered by what your money will be doing once you've handed it over (ex: pay their employees poorly, or promote policies you dislike) then you may want to drive to the next one.

There are big differences between various second-hand shops. Know which one you're visiting before you go. Places like Goodwill carry very inexpensive items, while consignment shops may cost you almost as much as buying new. Another factor to consider is where the donations are originating. One of our local thrift shops gets regular donations from Target, with off-season clothes that are cheaper and easier for the store to donate than return to the warehouse for storage. We've found amazing deals on clothes with the tags still attached. Different shops will have different standards for quality. Some will only put out the most select of their donations, and auction the rest. Others sell absolutely anything they can get. A ten cent shirt isn't a bargain if it falls apart before you get home.

Consignment shops are better for high-quality items without the high price. For example, I went into a local second-hand shop with a friend who complained about the prices. "I can get a shirt like this at Walmart for the same price," she said. When I looked at the shirt, I recognized it as a very pricy brand we came across in a hand-me-down swap once, and I explained, to her shock, that the shirt went for thirty dollars new. Bargains are about knowing the worth of an item. Most of our baby and toddler clothes were from a local consignment shop dedicated to kid stuff, and those clothes lasted more washes than the cheap onesies we got in the six-packs.

Yard sales are the thrift store that comes to you, or at least your neighborhood. The same rules of shopping apply: know what you're looking for, know how much you're willing to spend, focus on the quality of what you're buying. If you're not happy about the item, walk away or ask for a discount. The closer you are to the end of the sale, the better odds you have of getting a yes, and a better bargain.


Your last stop should be the sales rack at the store. Many clothing stores will raise their prices slightly before a "sale," or will mark clothes as having a special price that they did last week, too. Pay attention to the prices of items you want. Scan coupons, take advantage of tax-free weekends, and combine discounts when you can. I'll often use my credit card points for a gift card to the store, and combine that with a 5% or 10% off coupon from the retailer.

Another place to check out regularly is the clearance rack. Your first-choice items may not be there, but you never know what items you'll find that you didn't know were a good choice. My daughter's style is a little weird, and a little quirky, so if she finds a purple-and-orange top marked off 75%, it might be just the thing to go with the jeans we used fabric paint on last week.

Your Own Plan

Maybe you like swapping bags of clothes on Freecycle. Maybe buying a one size lot on eBay is more your style. Everyone has their own money-saving ideas, and you can always mix and match. Swap clothes with neighbors and have the kids on the block do a big decorating party. Sell a pile of toddler pajamas, and use the money to go on a sensible spree at Goodwill. Maybe you're good at using your bargain-hunting saavy to find deals at yard sales and flip them for money at a consignment shop. Share your ideas!


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