Cute red and white striped little girl's dress hanging against rustic white wall

So, I have a bit of a secret to share.  My family has been spending the last six months living off of the clothes we already had.  I know crazy.  Of course, after I started this challenge, I stumbled upon the Thankful Thread Challenge by Raising Simple.   It’s an online challenge where you clean out all of the excess threads in your closets.  The goal is to create more space in your home as well as your head and heart.

I didn’t exactly go through the official Thankful Thread Challenge (I just found there’s been a movement for what I’ve been doing a few days ago), but I’ve been pursuing its goals to save money on clothes.  This I am proud of.

The result after six months of not purchasing any new clothing, though, was a need to replace many of the pieces the kids grew out of.  It’s amazing how fast they grow.  What was more amazing was how expensive clothes suddenly seemed six months later.  I think the prices doubled during the hiatus I took from buying clothes.  Is this even possible?

As I stood there perusing the clearance rack (since that’s what I decided was affordable at the moment) at our local mall, it hit me.  I couldn’t remember the last time I was even at the mall or any retail clothing shop.  What was I doing here now?  I must have forgotten for a brief moment all of the things I’d learned over the last seven years of parenting about how to save money on clothes for kids.  I wasn’t following any of my secrets.

The truth is, I hate the mall and avoid the place altogether.  So stepping into a retail shop at the mall to get my family’s clothes was so unusual that the prices caught me by surprise.  In the end, I walked right out.  I have lots of other ways to purchase clothes for my family that save money, I’d just forgotten what they were.

And these ways save me money on clothes yearly.  They are also a lot more efficient than going shopping.

I used to be that mom that bought new everything.  My kids weren’t going to wear hand me downs or clearance rack items.  I bought the expensive snow boots when we were in the mountains because they were best.  Let’s not mention we didn’t live in a snowy climate and we only got a dusting that year.

I also splurged on all the winter gear “saving” us hundreds of dollars.  Except I just discovered that my favorite winter coat for kids is made by Lands End and I found one at our local consignment sale practically new for $10.

In recent years, I realized that purchasing high end kids clothing was just a waste of money.  Most kids clothes on the consignment and hand me down market are just gently used.  They are the clothes most parents never got to.  So, you can get amazing bargains, save money on clothes and use those savings to fund the things we really want to do (like travel to snowy climates in the winter).

Buying clothes came to a screeching halt.  I was not going to waste money on kids’ clothes any more.  Since announcing this many years ago, I’ve become quite savvy in sourcing my kids’ clothing at a bargain.  We do purchase clothes for them and we love the clothes that we buy.  But, using these tips to save money on clothes has resulted in hundreds of dollars in savings.  We also were able to reduce our monthly clothing budget to put more money into other desires.

Knitted pink baby booties close up with the text overlay "Secrets on how to save money on clothes for kids"

Just in case you are still stuck in the never ending cycle of shopping at the mall and other consumer outlets for your kids clothing needs, there are other ways.  Here are my secrets to saving bundles on kids’ clothes every year.

Consignment stores

I am blessed to live in an area that prides itself on being frugal.  We have some lovely local kids’ consignment shops that I adore.  My favorite part is that by shopping there I am supporting a local business as well as my wallet.

I use consignment store shopping mostly for our fancy events (I found Little Bug’s flower girl dress there for $8!).  Little Bug is also starting to get into accessorizing her outfits.  Hats, specialty shoes (such as cowboy boots), scarves and other fun adornments are coming into her wardrobe.  Although I am not always keen to purchase these for her brand new, I am happy to let her spend her allowance at the consignment store on these items.

Before shopping, check to see when their sales days are.  I usually hit them by accident, but figuring out when certain types of clothes will be on sale can help.  If you go at the end of the season and stock up on clothes for the following year, you can usually hit a pretty good mark down.  I did this last year looking for a lighter spring jacket.  I ended up with a couple fleece ones for fall at a fraction of the price.

Just remember that the inventory in consignment shops turns over quickly.  I am always amazed at the bags and bags of clothes they are adding to the system each day.  Most of the items don’t stay in the store for more than a couple of days.  Be sure you go ready to buy in case you find something you love.

When you are on the hunt for specific clothes, make it a point to check back often.  You will be surprised how quickly the new options appear.

Seasonal consignment sales

It was last spring that I discovered the joys of a good seasonal consignment sale.  I was in search of an Easter dress and everyone kept telling me that our huge local consignment sale was coming up.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was so excited to check it out.

It was a heaven for consigners.  I found an entire summer wardrobe, gently used and new toys to give for their upcoming birthdays and other amazing things.  My experience was so positive that I decided to become a consignor this past fall and clean out a bunch of our kids’ clothes and toys.  I just love this efficient way of recycling kids stuff.

Although these sales are great and they try their best at quality control, my biggest warning is always to check the item before you buy.  All sales are final and I definitely have run into a couple problems after paying decent money for something (such as unexpected stains and missing pieces).

I worked in check in this last sale and witnessed some of the items that consigners were trying to get through the door.  Some people will do anything to make money.  So, check before you purchase.

Also, check when the discount day is.  I had little hopes for this day, but dragged everyone in the early morning hours anyway.  The kids found a cool toy that they could afford with their allowances and I got a dress for Little Bug for Christmas.  All at half off the original consignment sale prices.  It is like a savings heaven.

Don’t just go by size

When I was a newer mom, I had a theory that if an item said a certain size number then that meant that my child should be in that number at that age.  That was until I realized that my almost 5 year old was comfortably wearing 3T and I hadn’t purchased new clothes for almost 2 seasons.

All kids grow at different rates and those numbers are just a guide.  If your older child still fits in a smaller size, enjoy it as long as it lasts.  There’s no reason to purchase new clothing.  We are just banishing those 3Ts now, many years after I would have thought.

If you have kids around the same age, you might even find that they can share a wardrobe.  At least the older one might fit into the younger one’s clothes.  Let him – for as long as possible.  It’s a lot more cost efficient than buying two wardrobes.

Pretty girls' dresses hanging on a rack with the text overlay "How to save money when buying clothes for your kids"

Hand me downs

I remember getting hand me downs as a child.  It was awful and embarrassing.  All of the clothes seemed ragged and dated.  As an only child, I felt that my parents had the duty to purchase me brand new clothes from the store.  Why did I have to wear these things that someone else wore?  I know bad attitude, but I was just a kid.

Now that I am a mom, I realize that hand me downs can mean the difference between our next vacation or staying home.  They are a wonderful cost effective source of clothing.  We’ve been blessed over the years to have friends provide us with a steady stream of hand me downs for our youngest until he turned 5.

Truth is that hand me downs is all about how you sell it.  My mom would explain that I was wearing hand me downs whether I liked it or not.  And I should be grateful.

I’ve approached things a bit differently.  I just tell my kids to enjoy some new clothes.  They don’t care where they come from yet.  Some of our favorite clothes – shark slippers, Disney World Tigger sweatshirt and superhero shirts – came from the hand me downs pile.  I just let Little M know who wore it first.  He thought that was so cool.  Little Bug actually got jealous.

When receiving hand me downs, be gracious and don’t worry about what you are getting.  If you don’t need them, you can pass them on to someone else later.  But in the moment, it’s important to show your gratitude.

Sort through the clothing and pick out the things you like and need.  Don’t feel obligated to keep everything.  No one needs that many clothes (coming from someone who is a constant clothing collector).  If you choose not to keep some of them, figure out a new home.  You could bring them to a local non-profit, give the extras to another friend or sell them at a yard sale.  Whatever you do with them, just make sure you get them to someone in need and don’t let them go to the land fill.

Buy clearance in advance

This is a classic trick I learned last season when Little Bug started a love affair with fleece pants.  She seriously adored these pants.  Knowing how retail works, I knew that they wouldn’t be there next season.  (Funny thing is that I popped into the shop the other day and what did I find, the same fleece pants.  It turns out everyone loved them too and they decided to keep them around a bit longer.)

When I went over to the outlet during clearance time in January, what did I find?  Mounds of fleece pants at extremely discounted prices.  So, I bought a bunch in next year’s expected size.

My plan turned out perfectly.  When the weather got cold, I took out the pants and we were set.  No shopping at regular prices needed.  No annoying trips to the mall.  The best part was that the new pants fit.

So, if you see a bulging clearance rack when you are out, look for items in the next size or two up.  You can stock up on next year’s goods at rock bottom prices.  Just remember where you put them when you get home.

Know your budget

Going shopping for your kids can be fun sometimes, especially when they are little and the clothes are so cute.  I have a tendency to over buy, though, probably because anything in miniature is hard to resist.

Before you head out the door, know your budget.  How much money do you really have to spend on this season’s clothing?  Your kids’ clothing shouldn’t break the bank.  If you find that it’s getting beyond your budget, then look for other ways to take of this need.

I always choose the clothing that we have to purchase first.  The things that we can’t do without.  Then, I look for the fun stuff if I find them in my search.  For example, Little Bug had a wonderful pair of cowboy boots that she loved.  She wore them two seasons and I knew I would cry the day she outgrew them.  I promised her I would find a new pair – which I did at a ridiculous price.  I refused to buy them.

We’ve been searching for a new pair ever since.  And I am fine with that.  She didn’t have any for the last two seasons since we couldn’t find the right ones.  They are not a necessity like sneakers.  They’re just a nice accessory that makes her outfits look awesome.  One of these days we will come across the right pair.  This process has definitely made our search more fun.

Inventory list

Along with knowing how much money you can spend is having a handy list of what you actually need.  I usually have an idea in the back of my mind about who needs what before going shopping.  Once I get there, I’m completely overwhelmed by all of the cuteness.  Suddenly, I have a stack of clothes that have nothing to do with the actual needs of my children.

Over the years, I have started a list.  It’s a running clothing list that I keep on Evernote marking when they have grown out of things.  Each season we lay out which items still fit.  We also make notes about the activities that we’ll be doing that season.  For example, summer creek jumping is one of our favorite things to do.  The kids need water shoes to participate, so these usually make our summer clothing list.

I also started making notes about what we have in our drawers and closets.  Do we have enough shirts, shorts, pants, dressy clothes for church?  This list helps me sort out the things I should buy and what I probably could skip.  It means that we don’t end up with two bath robes or a ridiculous number of swim suits.

Make large purchases a gift

I recently spoke with a friend about their daughter’s Christmas list.  I have been increasingly interested in what kids’ put on their lists as they get older.  Her daughter had a list of more expensive clothing items on hers.  This was the little girl who always led the wonderful dress up sessions when the kids’ were little.

Her parents’ stick closely to their clothing budget and refuse to buy items that aren’t on the list.  So, she asks for them for holidays and birthdays.  What a great gift idea.

Clothing is such a funny thing to me.  On the surface it is a need and we teach kids that at school.  The things that you actually need to wear for survival make it a need.

You need a good pair of shoes.  Maybe a pair of boots for bad weather.  Do you need a pair of designer TOMs slip ons or Uggs?  Probably not.

Those desires turn clothing needs into a want.  It’s important to point this out to your child.  If we’re not careful, their clothing “needs” will go out of their budget when they are on their own.  Discuss the differences between clothing needs and wants.  And if your child has amazing fashion sense and wants something specific like that, then I recommend making them gifts.  This will point out the difference quite clearly.

Host a clothing swap

If you love to entertain and save money on clothes, here is one party idea that few of the neighborhood moms will turn down.  Host a neighborhood clothing swap. Everyone brings a couple of clothing pieces to swap. Put all of the clothes out on the table or hanging racks.  Then, moms can go “shopping”.  You can find lots more details for hosting your own kids’ clothing swap here.

Clothing swaps are not just reserved for kids.  Moms and dads can host a clothing swap to save money on new clothes too.  It’s a perfect way to get some new items for your wardrobe and get together for a party at the same time.

Final Thoughts…

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