4 Ways to Save Money on Your Kids Clothing

In the realm of household finances, clothing is what you might call a “soft cost.” There’s no fixed expense, no monthly bill to pay, in fact in many homes it might not even rate a line item in the family budget.

Until you have children!

And once you do, the money you pay to keep them dressed seems to quietly expand until they become teenagers, when it becomes—how can I explain this adequately—a Real Expense. I have two teenagers, and I’ve seen this play out.  Along the way, my wife and I have learned various ways to rein in this ever-growing cost.

But for starters, there are three cosmic realities when it comes to children’s clothing:

    Girl with colorful stocking on tricycle 

  1. No matter how new or beautiful the clothes, kids can find a way to tear, soil, discolor, and otherwise mangle them.
  2. In the kid universe, fashions change faster than your budget can keep up, and
  3. No matter what else may or may not happen, kids will grow out of everything you buy for them in as little as a few weeks to not more than a few months.

Our best efforts to buy our kids good clothing are ultimately doomed to failure!  Unlike houses, cars and TV’s, clothing is temporary, but with kids it’s even more temporary!   This basic fact should be the guiding principal any time you need to buy clothing for your children and should serve as a fail-fail safe against over-spending.

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With that point understood, here are some strategies we use that keep a lid on this expense.

A Part Time Job—with a Clothing Retailer

Obviously a part time job can bring in extra money, and that can help with buying clothes for kids as well as with many other expenses.  But if the job is with a clothing retailer it can do a lot more!

My wife has a part time job with a major department store.  She only works one or two shifts per week, but she enjoys the work, the extra money never hurts and—she gets a 20% employee discount on anything she purchases at the store! When you have kids and the constant need for new clothes they bring, a job like this is a real advantage.

It’s not just the employee discount either.  Since she works in the store, she’s always aware of when they’ll launch a store-wide sale or coupon deal.  Combine the 20% employee discount with a 30% store-wide sale and you’re paying 50 cents on the dollar for brand new merchandise.   And yes, it’s mostly clothing for our family, and mostly for the kids.

Many large retailers look for help on a seasonal basis.  If you have some extra time and could use some extra money, take a job for the season and stock up on what you need for the kids.  Just don’t forget to work your buying sprees in with the sales.

Informal Clothing Exchange

For a lot of years we’ve had a neat arrangement going with good friends of ours.  Their oldest daughter was born within a few weeks of our son, and two years later our daughter was born within a few days of their son.  Result: our daughter got their daughter’s clothes, and their son got our son’s clothes.  Each family was paying for clothing for just one child instead of two!

Admittedly, that’s a perfect world example of a successful clothing exchange (and one we were all really glad to be a part of!) but if you use your imagination you can probably come up with a workable arrangement.

Think about people in your social circle or in your extended family who have children a little older or younger than yours and see if you can work something out.  Even if it’s only an occasional swap, the savings can be substantial.  We’re talking clothing for free here!

Thrift Stores

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”—only sometimes it isn’t even junk!  You may not find your child’s “Sunday best” here, but rest assured you’ll find just about everything else.  They’re especially good for summer clothes, when you’re mostly buying shorts and tee shirts, and they always have plenty of them at very low prices.

We’ve gotten gently-used brand name polo shirts—Nautica, Chaps, American Eagle Outfitters, you name it—for well under five dollars.  Somehow I’ve never felt as bad when my son ruins one of those than I would if we’d paid $30 to $40 at the mall.

It does take more time to shop for the right clothing at thrift stores because each item is one of a kind.  But that can be worked around by spending a few hours once or twice each month and buying as you find what you like.   Buy each child a couple of outfits at the mall, then fill out the rest of their wardrobes at thrift stores.

Goodwill has thrift stores all over the country, but there are some privately run shops that are good sources as well.

Recovering Clothing Money on the Back End

When you have kids you’ll accumulate an incredible amount of clothing over the years, so it only makes sense to try and recover some of the cost on the back end.   You’ll never get anything near full price for used clothing, but you can make at least a little bit, and that can make a difference.  Try these to recover at least some of the money you paid up front.

  • Garage sales. A couple of sales each year can generate a nice return on your children’s old clothing. Selling age-specific clothes by the box or bag can be more effective than offering individual items.  For example, a box of clothing for a three year old girl with a price of $10 for the lot may be a good deal for a family with a girl that age.
  • Ebay. For better outfits that can be sold at higher prices, Ebay can usually bring a better price.
  • Consignment stores. Excellent venue for items that are boutique quality.   The stores tend to cherry pick only items that they think will sell and then it can take a while before it actually does.   But there’s no hurry, so take a shot.
  • Charity clothing drives. You won’t make any money on these up front but they can add up at tax time.  For example, let’s say that over the course of the year, you donate 10 bags of children’s clothing assigning a value of $25 per bag.  That’s $250 in charitable deductions that you can claim on your tax return.  If you’re in the 28% tax bracket, your taxes will be reduced by $70.   Not a bad return on ten bags of clothing you weren’t using anyway!

If you purchase a lot of your children’s clothing at thrift stores you might actually find that you’re selling it for something very close to what you paid for it.  That can come close to children’s clothing for free!  A worthy goal—don’t you think?

Have you ever tried any of these? Are there other ways you’re saving money on buying clothing for your kids?

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

About kevinmercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut

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  1. Great post! I am amazed how quickly we accumulate piles of outgrown kids’ clothes, and you are right, they are quickly stained, no matter how careful the kids try to be.

    I have had a fair amount of luck selling my kids’ clothes on eBay. All of the items that don’t sell there go in our garage sale.

    • Melissa – That ebay/garage sale combination is a good mix to unload just about anything at the best price. Get the best price you can on ebay, and if it doesn’t sell there, put it out at a garage sale. Failing that, go the charity clothing drive route.

      Most of us are sitting on hundreds of dollars worth of unused clothing that we could be doing better things with!

    • For the mot part, we’ve either given clothes to friends with kids (passed the clothes on) or donated them.

      We’ve been lucky to have different friends that would give us clothes for our kids so it’s great to pass on the goodwill.

      What’s amazing is the amount of clothes you get or give that have been barely worn. This is especially true when the kids are babies. At that age a piece of clothing may only fit for a week before it’s too small.

  2. That’s what we’ve found as well. You buy a bunch of clothes for them that they wear only a few times, and sometimes not at all. We began to realize early on that buying new clothes for them at department stores or the mall was mostly a waste of money.

    Still I see a lot of parents buying their kids clothes every few months, year after year, and it seems like a major waste of money. But we’ve always been happy to be on the back end of their extravagence (at thrift stores!).

    • We have a mall by us that is made up of the clearance versions of brand-name stores: Carter’s, Children’s Place, Old Navy, etc…

      Hitting up a place like that when there’s a big sale can be well worth it!

      Ooo, another tip is to buy at the end of the season and get clothes that are bigger than the child’s current size.

      So last year in like March, we bought winter coats for two of our kids – snow shell and fleece zip-out. Each jacket cost us $5! And we bought these at the clearance/outlet store.

  3. I have a method for clothing kids close to free and it’s worked well so far.