Buying kids clothing for less

Clothing Kids Close to Free

by Penny Saver


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My kids are well dressed, nearly for free. I have tried a variety of methods and seem to have stumbled upon one that works well for me. Here's how I find kids clothing.

1. Plan ahead. Shop ahead for kids clothing.

I make a list of what each kid will need in each of the next few sizes and keep that list in my purse. Sweet Pea is currently in size 18 months, but I have nearly a full 2T wardrobe ready in the wings, which saves me from having to buy clothes at full price and gives me time to be picky about getting cute stuff on the cheap. As I shop, I note what I got, so I can see at a glance where there are gaps. I also plan each kid's wardrobe around a few colors and try to shop for pieces that will mix and match.

Here's the table I use to determine how much of each type of garment to buy. I got the amounts from a website for what foster kids need, and added to give a well rounded wardrobe consistent with our climate (California, no snow) and once-a-week laundering. Peanut is 4 years old, wearing 4T currently, so I'm working on 5T and 6T acquisition. The one I keep in my purse has space in the notes to write out the color/pattern/image on shirts so I remember what's in the closet. Here's his list:

Boy - 5 T Needed Purchased Notes

Underpants 10
Undershirts 10
Socks 10
Pajamas - light 3
Pajamas - heavy 3
Dressy outfits 2
Everyday shirts - short sleeve 10
Everyday shirts - long sleeve 10
Shorts 10
Pants 10
Sweaters/Sweatshirts 5
Light jacket 1
Heavy jacket 1
Swim suit 1
Winter hat 1
Summer hat 1
Rain coat 1
Dressy shoes 1
Sneakers 1
Sandals 1
Slippers 1

Sweet Pea has a nearly complete 2T wardrobe, so I shouldn't need much for her right away. I always put bike shorts or leggings under everyday dresses and skirts, so I list them together. Here's her list:

Girl - 2T Needed Purchased Notes

Underpants 10
Socks 10
Pajamas - light 3
Pajamas - heavy 3
Dressy outfits 2
Everyday shirts - short sleeve 6
Everyday shirts - long sleeve 6
Shorts 4
Skirts & bike shorts 2
Pants/Jeans 6
Dresses & leggings - summer 4
Dresses & leggings - winter 4
Sweaters 5
Light jacket 1
Heavy jacket 1
Swim suit 1
Winter hat 1
Summer hat 1
Rain coat 1
Dressy shoes 1
Sneakers 1
Sandals 1
Slippers 1

My kids have been consistent in sizing, so it's easy for me to determine what size they'll need. I have a hard time gauging shoe sizes ahead, though, so I tend to stick with closed-toe shoes that can go year round. Sweet Pea is a lover of "cute" clothes and already a shoe-loving girl (she doesn't get that from me) so I anticipate that we'll have more need for shoe columns as she has more of a say in things!

Generally my list gives about a week's wardrobe plus a few spares for spills or accidents. Also, I hang clothes in outfits rather than folding individually, so while we could get away with fewer pants than shirts, it is just easier for me to have equal numbers. I buy 10 pairs of the same socks per kid as well, so every sock matches every other sock. No more sock hunts! (I do this for Mr. Penny and myself as well; we actually share everyday short socks.)

Last year, I instituted the one-hanger-per-outfit rule. A top, bottom, and underwear for Peanut go on the same hanger, so he can pick out his own outfit and it matches every time. I'll maintain the single hanger option as long as they'll let me. Putting clothes away is so easy!

2. Second hand and know my brands

I don't buy kids clothing often, but when I do, I buy lots. To be specific, I buy Craigslist lots. I'll buy a lot, or group, of clothes for about $1 per piece, often cheaper, and have a nearly complete wardrobe very inexpensively. I haven't had great luck finding good quality cheap clothes at local thrift stores and garage sales; they're frequently no less expensive than clearance at regular stores, and I have a hard time finding things in really good condition that I can later resell.

I look for ads with pictures that state damage-free (no holes or stains), brand name clothes in excellent or very good used condition, and from non-smoking households. I am not a brand name shopper for myself, but I have found that some brands hold up better to being worn by multiple kids than others. No-name brands fall apart quickly, while better quality brands can go through multiple kids and washes without falling apart.

This trick seems to work best for small kids. After age 3-4, kids wear out clothes faster than they outgrow them, so fewer lots in great condition seem to be available. As Peanut is moving into big-kid sizes, I'm having a harder time finding used clothes in good condition for $1!

3. Stock up at Gymboree (really!) and other clearance sales

Now Gymboree isn't known for its cheap kids clothes, but they have really good sales and it is worth learning how to take advantage of them! I routinely save 60-75% off retail price. I try to get a variety of pieces in the same series so I can easily mix and match for a variety of outfits at the least expense.

Clearance sales in general are fantastic to keep an eye on, but have a bottom line, a dollar amount you won't exceed per item, to make it most cost effective. I will not spend more than $5 per piece for anything other than jeans ($10) or jackets ($20). I have had great luck with finding quality pieces with this limit in mind.

Target often marks down 30%, then 50%, and occasionally more. Carter's Outlet will mark down to 90% off and frequently offer coupons, but they're in-store only. Old Navy has crazy end-of-season sales smack dab in the middle of the season, and they occasionally have 50% off of already clearanced items. I've been able to stock up on new things for the kids for under $1 in the store. I could save even more next time by buying gift cards online for less.

4. Resell it!

These are all tricks to buying kids clothing inexpensively, but inexpensive is not practically free, so I'll let you in on part 2 of my kids clothes plan: I do my best to keep clothes looking good and then resell them when they're outgrown. (I buy stain remover in bulk!)

For lots that I purchase on Craigslist, I pull out the clothes I like and then rebundle what is left to sell. I resell good brands in lots on eBay, where I can get a few dollars per piece. Less great brands or basics sell at garage sales for $1 per piece. Recently, I bought a lot of 80 pieces for $30, including 7 Gymboree outfits that will be resold to recoup the entire $30; what's left is free!

When I buy clothes, I leave the tags on until the kid is ready to wear the outfit, because occasionally a piece never gets worn and the resale value is higher with tags.

And there you have it, my method for clothing kids close to free: plan and shop ahead, buy good brands used and on clearance, and resell to recoup your money.


Penny Saver is a frugal mom, who is making the most of meager means, saving her quarters to save a quarter of her income in 2010.

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