How to spend less on (reasonably) well dressed kids

My son was pretty easy to shop for, though we didn’t receive much clothing for him from our baby showers and first holidays/birthday. If we are all being honest here, boys just aren’t as much fun to shop for as little girls. We didn’t have any friends or family nearby with older boys to offer hand-me-downs, but as I have come to learn it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because clothing just doesn’t survive little boys. (Note to self… genius million dollar business idea: boys’ Teflon clothing!)

Our biggest issue with Bryan is that he grows like kudzu. I have, on more than one occasion, exchanged clothing for him because he outgrew it before I even had a chance to remove the tags. And I’m not talking, ‘I bought too much for him anyway and that is why there were still things with tags on them’. I’m talking, ‘By the time I actually got around to ordering new clothing for him and by the time it was actually delivered he had grown yet another size.’

When we found out that we were expecting a little girl, I had a mini anxiety attack. I could see myself drowning in a closet of shoes, pink, glitter and hair bows. This was a world I wasn’t accustomed to: girlie things. I never had to worry about what Bryan wore, as long as he had on pants, shirt, shoes & underwear (not in that order), we were good to go. Well, it didn’t take me long to get on the girlie bandwagon. Annie is 18 months now and I just bought her first hairbows, primarily because her bangs were getting in her eyes, but I do love an adorably dressed baby girl.

However, also love not being in debt. I suppose you could say my priorities are #1) clothed children (or, in other words, clothing has been provided for them… whether or not they choose to wear it depends on the day), #2) sticking to the budget, #3) looking like cute little children models in picture frame photos. Here are MY tips for how to keep your kids clothed, within budget, and maybe even matching.

Disclaimer: If you cannot stomach to dress you children in secondhand clothing, you should probably stop reading. We can still be friends, but we maybe shouldn’t discuss this topic. And I’m happy to take all your hand-me-downs, um’kay thanks!

Tip #1: Ask for hand-me-downs

I am against doing anything illegal or immoral but when it comes to taking care of my kids needs that is about the only line I will draw. Since sharing with friends is neither illegal or immoral it’s my favorite way to clothe children. Chances are, someone you know has a… ahem, shopping problem, or grandparents who spoil their kiddos and could use some free space in their closet, attic or basement. Really, you are doing THEM a favor by taking a couple garbage bags of clothing off their hands. We have a couple close friends with little girls who have kept Annie well dressed since birth.

Tips for hand-me-downs:

  • Asks friends who give you clothing to label the items they want back w/ their last name or initial. They can use those cute little stickers daycare make you put on everything, or just sharpie the tag. This will make it easier to be the friend they KEEP sharing their kids’ clothes with. Don’t be the friend who doesn’t return the things you borrowed. That means no more free clothes for you!
  • Find out what they want you to do with the items when you are finished. Most will be happy for you to pay it forward and pass it along to another friend or to donate to your local charity-run thrift store.
  • If you plan to sell gently used clothing when you are finished, just clarify with your friend BEFORE they catch you selling the things they gave you on your Mommy Group. By the time clothing is outgrown, it’s going to be difficult to remember exactly what you bought yourself and what you were given. I am a fan of trying to selling off bundles of clothing when we have outgrown them, but I’d feel awful if a friend recognized some of their hand-offs listed for sale and took offense. One of my friends is very clear- keep it, give it, donate it, sell it, toss it… just as long as it don’t come back into her home!

Tip #2: Thrift

I am a big fan of thrifting. We have an awesome thrift store called Community Aid that I have had a lot of luck with for both kids. I have found name brand and even ‘new with tag’ items there, and bonus- Wednesday is 50% off Family Day! I mean, really… $1.99 for a new Gymboree sleep & play… on half price day… that’s something to feel good about! I didn’t even care that it was ‘technically’ a Christmas sleeper, we wore it in July. Christmas in July!


One thing to point out, thrift stores are not the same as consignment stores. A thrift store is typically run by a non-profit and often gives back in some way to your local community. They run on donations, so thrifting does require a lot of digging through racks; not everything is a gem. Try to NOT take the kids if you can. Treat it like a mommy-vacation. Not quite as luxurious as strolling Target w/ a Starbucks, but it’s better for your budget.

I like to sell items to consignment stores, but am not as much of a fan of shopping at them. When it comes to secondhand, I am more of a $1.99 Jumping Bean shirt than a $4.99 Children’s Place shirt kinda mom. In my opinion, my local consignment stores are more concerned with name brand than quality; they would rather have more heavily warn Baby Gap than like-new Jumping Bean. I don’t feel that flow, but that’s just me. Our best local children’s consignment will give sellers 30% more in store credit than cash and that can help stretch your dollars. If your store doesn’t advertise that, it’s worth asking when you sell items!

Tip #3: Skip Outlet Stores

Say what?! I know, right- isn’t ‘shop at outlet stores’ suppose to be #1 on any money-saving tips post?? I am here to say, no! Now, I don’t live close enough to an outlet store to shop them frequently or hit up their best annual sales, but in my experience the regular sale prices at outlet stores are not great. You can totally find great deals there, but please don’t walk into an Outlet Store thinking that everything you find will be at rock-bottom prices because of the word ‘outlet’ in the name. That is not the case. I have found that Carter’s, for example, is better priced a Kohl’s when you pair a good sale with a 30% off promotion.

Speaking of Kohl’s, here is a tip in regards to Kohl’s Cash-

Kohl’s changed their policies a couple years back and now, if you return an item purchased on the order that earned your Kohl’s cash, you could either lose your Kohl’s Cash or, if you already redeemed it, your refund will be decreased by the amount of the Kohl’s Cash you redeemed. (Did that make sense??)

This really changed the way in which I think about Kohl’s Cash. Often deal sites will show the final ‘price’ of a deal minus the Cash that you earned. For example: Toy Sale $50 (reg. price $100) – $10 Kohl’s Cash earned = $40. I discourage you from thinking about it this way, because you will still pay $50 out-of-pocket. I have too often been in a situation like this where I bought the $50 item, used the $10 Kohl’s Cash… not necessarily on something I needed or wanted, but mainly just because I had it… and then ended up returning the $50 item, for which I only received a $40 refund because I already redeemed the Kohl’s Cash. Think about the Kohl’s Cash as a bonus… and not a discount on the original order. Buy the $50 item if $50 is a good price you are willing to pay for it, and think of the $10 as a bonus. And then make certain you are going to keep the original item(s) ordered before redeeming your Kohl’s Cash. This is especially important for clothing. Okay, I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Tip #4: Be (cautiously) brand loyal

Typically when it comes to money-saving deals, you need to be flexible when it comes to brands. If Colgate toothpaste is free at CVS this week, are you going to pass it up for Crest?? (If you are my husband, yes.) BUT here is now being brand loyal can save you:

From about 2-4 years old, my son was sort of difficult to fit for pants. I discovered that Old Navy jeans fit him pretty well in both waist & length…. but $17-$23 for a pair of jeans for a toddler, come on!! So, I checked Community Aid first. Looking for just 1 brand actually saved me time because I could flip a little more quickly through the rack. I also checked-on Thred-Up and got a cheap pair with their free $10 sign-up credit. (FYI- that link is my referral link.. Thank you!) Then, I kept a close eye on online prices. I signed-up for emails to hear about deals & discounts and when prices hit $10 or less I stocked-up on the next size. Sure, I could have bought other brands for probably less out-of-pocket, but I probably would have wasted money on at least a couple pairs that ended up not being worn much because they didn’t hit well. Instead, I only bought about 6 pairs of jeans and 2-3 pairs of sweats in each size and did laundry weekly.

The Old Navy jeans did also sell for a little more after he had outgrown them. I will usually spend a bit more for jeans because they tend to hold up better than khakis or sweatpants. Now, if you have a couple kids the same gender who were born in relatively the same season, it might benefit you to invest in a better quality brand of clothing that will hopefully hold up as you pass them down the line.

Tip #5: Think cross-seasonally

Did I just make-up another word?? This is my most favorite tip for saving on kids clothing!

Let’s say (and I know this is being optimistic) that the average toddler grows 1 size each year. If this is true, you will need Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer in each size. For tops, that means short sleeve AND long sleeve shirts… unless you can buy ONE shirt that is both short & long sleeve!


Enter the Mock-Layered Long Sleeve Graphic Tee! Buy these up in the Fall/Winter, wear… enjoy… try not to destroy. In the Spring, cut off the mock-sleeve and now you have a short sleeve tee, perfect for another 3-6 months of wear.

I like to use all the sleeve ends I cut off in my laundry room. They are perfect for wiping down all of the lint/dust that accumulates on the outside of my washer/dryer and then giving the bane of my existence my front-load washing machine a good wipe down along that seal that gets really, really nasty & smelly. You know what I’m talking about!

Tip #6: Keep a sick clothes bin

The sick clothes bin is a bin/drawer/bag of older, stained or ill-fitting clothing that you wouldn’t normally let your children leave the house in… but are perfect for those times in childhood when you know something bad is going to happen. Like during an illness, or finger-painting, or spaghetti night. I didn’t think of this when Bryan was a baby/toddler, but because I didn’t I had a nice supply of badly stained onesies and other clothing to use for Annie’s sick bin. If you don’t have older siblings, you can use hand-me-downs or the cheapest clothes you can find at thrift stores or yardsales. The convenient thing about a sick bin is these are items you can toss without worry or care… at 3am… when you know the mess just isn’t worth it!

Tip #7: Refresh old clothing with fabric dye


A white onesie is a blank slate. So are white or lightly colored shirts… pants… dresses… socks. You get the drift. When I was pregnant with Annie, I was able to turn some of Bryan’s white baby clothes into bright, colorful new pieces for Annie’s wardrobe. I had hoped that the dye would cover up more of the staining, but that wasn’t always the case. Obviously, darker dye will be more forgiving. You can get a variety of colors of Rit Dye for less than $3 a bottle at Walmart and experiment. I wouldn’t suggest dying anything expensive or important to you without experience, but if you have some older items that you don’t mind if they end up in the sick bin, then play around. Even clothing with graphics could turn out really cool! Tie-dye anyone??

Tip #8: Don’t buy your children white clothing!

This contradicts Tip #7, but now that I have two children worth of experience under my belt I can say with confidence that there are only 2 things you should buy for kids in white: onesies & socks. But maybe not even socks. White onesies are nice to have, great for layering and cheap. If you are expecting (and especially if you aren’t finding out the baby’s sex), add a pack or two of white onesies in each size NB-24 months to your registry.

Nothing you buy in white will stay white, not even socks. I will still buy Annie clothes with white designs on them, but when it comes to my son the rule is absolutely no white. It’s pointless. I might as well lay it in a mud puddle, run over it with my Mommy Bus (minivan) and throw it right into the sick bin.

Do you have any more tips for me? I would love some tips for older children, as I have a suspicion that mine will continue to age. 


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