How to Dress Your Kids for Cheap

Dressing your kids is a major perk of parenthood. I love kids clothes, and I loved them long before I had kids. They are so freakin’ cute!

However, I don’t love to spend money. $30 for a pair of jeans? Who pays that? Not me. And I like to think that my kids still look, in the words of my three-year old, “spiffy.” Below are my tips to not spending an arm and a leg to cover your children’s arms and legs.

Buy used clothing.

1. Here, in order from most popular to least popular, are the sources of second-hand clothing that I use to clothe my kids:

  • consignment sales
  • thrift stores
  •  consignment stores
  •  garage sales

Thrift store haul: 9 items, $15.

I think that the best deals can be found at garage sales,  I just can’t make the time commitment it takes to find good sales and shop every week. Consignment stores can be pricey (well, not as pricey as retail) but I find them useful when I am looking for something specific, like a blue long sleeve shirt for family pictures. Consignment sales are great because everything is already organized for you by gender and size! This is also true of thrift stores – ur,  sort of.

2. Shop two sizes ahead of what you currently need. With smaller sizes (0 month through 2T) it is fairly easy to find whatever you need whenever you need it. Small ones outgrow clothing so quickly, much of it is still in good shape. As you veer into 3T territory, at least with boys, there is less selection because they are wearing out clothing. My solution to make sure that I have what-I-want- when-I-want-it, is to shop two sizes up. My kid is a 3T.  I frequently look at 4T and 5T stuff. This allows me to be more picky about what I buy.  My kid doesn’t need those jeans right now – I have some time to find what I really want. It also allows me to avoid paying retail for something I need immediately.

3. Speaking of shopping two sizes ahead: once you hit 2T, your kid will most likely stay in one size for about a year. So shop that size for all the seasons. Pick up a year’s worth of that size and hedge your bets.

4. Keep an inventory of what you have and what you need in your wallet. If you are shopping in three sizes at once (or more, depending on the number/gender of your kids) you won’t remember if you need 4T shorts, or already have six pair. It also won’t help if you have the inventory list at home, and you decided to stop in at Goodwill.

Take All Hand-Me-Downs

Yes, ALL hand me downs. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, as my dad used to say. Say yes now, and you can sort though it later, donating what you don’t need or want. Once you establish yourself as a willing patron of handouts, they multiply.

If you have to buy new, don’t pay retail

Let’s not pretend that I am an expert here. I very rarely shop for new clothing. I think I could count all the new items of kid clothing I have bought (excluding underwear and socks) on my fingers. But, if I had to buy new, here is what I would do to minimize the trauma.

1. Use coupons. Check for coupon codes online. Sign up for coupons from Gymboree and The Children’s Place. Get annoyed when they stop sending them to you because you failed to come to their store and buy something.

2. Sale shop. Or better yet, clearance shop. I am not immune to the siren call of the Target clearance racks. I don’t usually buy anything, but sometimes they have something great, so I always look. The last time that I was in Target, the very helpful salesperson told me that I need to come on Tuesday – they mark down their kid stuff then, and the boy racks are picked over by Wednesday. I actually pinned a pin on Pinterest that says something about the Target markdown schedule – then I failed to read it. Good thing for helpful sales clerks.

3. Pick well made clothing or clothing with a guarantee. I have found The Children’s Place makes pajamas that wear well and run large. My friend Erin says that Sears guarantees their house brand kids jeans – if they wear a hole in it, they replace the same size for free. And she says they go on clearance in January for 75% off.

Take care of the clothing you have

1. Playclothes, anyone? My kids have “dress” clothes and “play” clothes. Play clothes are for the backyard and the park. If we aren’t wearing them, we change before going out.  Incidentally, playclothes are also for spaghetti eating. This was the norm when I was growing up – is everyone else still doing this? If something becomes stained or torn, it moves from one category to the other. My friend Lee Ann has her boys eat breakfast in their PJs, which is genius – spills and stains on PJs aren’t really an issue.

Playclothes. Notice the stained, patched, too short pants.

2. Speaking of stains, I try like hell to prevent them. The Oxy-Clean Max Force Pre-Treater is my friend. Every time I do laundry, I sit on the floor in front of the washer and inspect every item before it goes into the washer, stain sticking any questionable item. When the washer is done, I sit on the floor in front of the dryer and inspect every item to make sure said stain came out before putting it in the dryer. If the stain isn’t gone, I give it another couple washes before admitting defeat.

 While I am doing this, I also button all buttons and zip all zippers.  Hard edges beat up your clothes.

3. Line dry if you can. I remember reading somewhere that dryer lint is actually part of your clothing that has rubbed off. That was an “a-ha” moment for me. Line dry and avoid both heat and things like zippers beating up the fabric. I wish I could line dry more. With little ones, the logistics are harder because I can’t just wander outside to hang up laundry whenever I please. And if I bring them out with me, they want to stay out for an eternity.

4. Repair, repair, repair. Yes, I know that it is boring and repetitive. I know this because five is the record number pair of pants that I have repaired in one week. IN ONE WEEK. But do it. Do it nicely and they can still be dress clothes. Do it quickly and they can be play clothes.

Sell the clothing you no longer need

1. Find a consignment sale or consignment store.

2. Hold a garage sale.

Twice a year, I sell clothing that my youngest has outgrown at a consignment sale. Yes, it does take work to inventory and tag all your stuff, and then haul it to the sale and load it onto the sales floor. Last time I made $300. That covers a lot of kid clothing. Especially when you are buying used.

You can’t sell anything that is ripped or stained. So use freecycle to give your unsaleable items away  to someone who can use it.  For that matter, try freecycle to score some free clothing!

Sew your own

This may not be your thing, but if you read my blog at all, you may have noticed that I like to sew. A lot. It’s a hobby I would pursue even if I didn’t have kids. 

Clockwise, from top left: Kickin Back Sweats (Sewing for Boys), Dream Big T-shirt (tutorial here), Treasure Pocket Pants (Sewing for Boys), Raw-Edged Raglan Tee (Sewing for Boys).

It used to be that you could sew clothes for cheaper that you could buy them. That was back in the olden days. The clothes that I make always cost more than the used clothing that I buy. But I get unique clothing for a fraction of the cost that I would pay at a boutique type childrens’ clothing store.  Here are some ways to sew for your kids for less.

1. Buy patterns on sale. At fabric store chains, all the big pattern companies (Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick) go on sale for a buck. Wait and stock up.  If you have boys, it won’t take you long to acquire every boy pattern out there, because there are only, like, six. Which, incidentally,  is why I bought the book “Sewing for Boys”.

2. Reuse patterns. Trace them off instead of cutting. Then you can use the same pattern in larger sizes later. I have to admit though, if I got a pattern on sale for a buck, I probably would take the lazy route and just buy another of the same pattern for an additional dollar.

3. Buy fabric on sale. I never buy anything at my local fabric store chain without a 40 or 50% off coupon. Fabric.com also has some great sales.

4. Upcycle used fabric. The brown long sleeve t-shirt above? Made from a recycled t-shirt.

What are the ways that you dress your kids for not a lot of money?

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