Young children grow so fast that you could find yourself shelling out hundreds of dollars on a brand new wardrobe two or three times a year for the first few years. Buying new, impulse buying (Oh! She'd look so adorable in that!), and buying bigger clothes just as your child needs them are guaranteed ways to make those wardrobes more expensive than they have to be. Fortunately, there's another way.
The used-clothing stores are the first place to start. Some items, such as most newborn play clothes, boys' dress pants and shirts and girls' dresses, get so little use that it hardly makes sense buying them new. Buying used clothes does take more effort because you have to go to the stores more to catch the spectacular deals, but the price difference is worth it. It helps to know the routine of the store. Find out when new clothes are put out and try to arrive when the shipments are fresh. For example, one chain of stores in my area refills their clothing bins at the top of every hour.
If you have both a boy and a girl in your family, plan for hand-me-downs when buying clothes for the older child. This doesn't mean you have to dress your little girl in blue all the time, but basic jeans or sweat pants in neutral colors with no fancy frills or trim will suit both genders in the toddler and preschool years. Expensive purchases in particular, such as winter coats or good quality boots, should always be chosen with both children in mind. You can add inexpensive accessories to add a distinctive touch, such as a pink hat and mitts with a black coat, or a sew-on appliqué of a boy's superhero.
Appliqués are also quite nice to dress up plain clothes without paying an expensive brand name price. A two-dollar store brand t-shirt with a two dollar Disney appliqué will still save you money and might just be the compromise you need between a child's desire for name-brand marketing and your desire to keep within a budget.
Speaking of appliqués, it's a good idea to take up sewing, at least a little bit. In addition to adding personalized touches, you can also look for clothes in need of minor repairs at the second-hand stores. Ripped seams, missing buttons, and loose hems, for example, take minutes to repair, but may get you a discount when pointed out to the staff. You could also make your own children's clothes, whether from new fabric or from those things in your closet that you can't or don't wear any more. This really isn't cost efficient if you figure the value of your time, but if you enjoy sewing as a hobby anyway, it is a way to make new clothes for practically nothing. For instance, I took a pair of good-quality pants that my husband had worn out at the knees and some scraps from my remnant bag and made dress pants and a shirt for my toddler son. Not only does this save money, but it also helps the environment by reducing waste and recycling the fabric.
You can also keep good clothes from being thrown out by organizing some other parents in a clothing exchange. One way to do this is to pass around a large box from family to family. The starting family would put any clothes that their children have outgrown or gotten tired of wearing in the box and pass it to the next family. As each family receives the box, they would add more clothes, as well as take out any clothes that their children could use. Let the box go around the circle twice so that every family has a chance at all the clothes. Any clothes left at the end could be donated to a local charity.
When you do go shopping for new clothes, never pay the original price. Either check out liquidation stores or plan ahead and take advantage of clearance sales; the best ones are usually in February and August. Fill your closet at the end of each season, taking into account how much your children may grow over the year. You can get deals from 50% to 75% if you have the patience to watch and wait as the prices fall, as well as the room to store the clothes. And, at those prices, you can find the room.
Children's clothing isn't an investment that compares with university tuition or even a mortgage payment, so they shouldn't take up an equivalent amount of your budget. You can cut down the expenses for your toddlers and preschoolers considerably with a little creativity, forward thinking, and a "new to you" mentality.
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