Clothing For Free?

by Jennifer Krausz

Clothing can be a major expense, costing about $2000 per year for the average family. But what if I told you that you could get your family's clothes for free or at least make them pay for themselves? My free clothing system has two basic parts: getting your clothes for next to nothing and reselling some of them to recoup what little you do spend.

Here are some places to get inexpensive clothing:

  1. Hand-Me-Downs - Take everything that is offered to you, and you may find that you get a lot of clothing this way. Throw out, pass on or resell what you can't use.
  2. Yard Sales - Where else can you find clothes for $1 each or less? Go to lots of sales, buy only the best stuff, and check the clothes carefully for stains and rips.
  3. Thrift Stores - Check out frequent half price sales on weekends to get the best deals.
  4. Consignment/Resale Shops - Prices are 1/4 to 1/2 of regular retail, but quality is like new. Take advantage of sale days, coupons and end-of-season clearances.
  5. Retail Stores - Buy off-season and only occasionally when you need something specific. Notice that I listed your options from least to most expensive. I start going to yard sales in April or May. By August, I usually have more than enough. The more you yard sale, the less you will spend at consignment and retail stores.

As you shop, take frequent inventory of the clothes you and other family members already have. Watch what your kids wear. If you are always looking for that one white shirt, or a clean pair of jeans, then look for those things as you shop. Buying a lot of clothes your kids won't wear still adds up, whether it's 50 cents or $15 each.

Now to the second step, which is recouping the little money you do spend. Here you will be turning your family's outgrown and unwanted clothes into cash or credit toward new clothes. I follow these steps in order to get the most possible profit from resale.

Consignment/Resale Shops - Consignment stores sell your items for you and split the profits 50-50. Stores usually keep items for six weeks. Resale shops buy your clothes on the spot. You get 40% of the selling price in cash, or 60% in store credit. While the buyer looks at your clothes, you can browse and get an idea whether you have need for enough items to take credit, or whether you want the cash. Both consignment and resale stores are selective about the clothing they take; brand names and like new or new clothing are preferred. Clothing with stains, fading, pills or rips will not be accepted.

eBay - Like new designer clothing sells very well on eBay, but regular clothes don't get many bids even at yard sale prices. Shipping costs are prohibitive. Look up similar items first and price accordingly. Unless the item is distinctive and popular, pictures are a must. Try selling the clothing in lots, grouping brand name stuff with less well known. For me, eBay has a much higher hassle factor than a resale shop.

Yard Sales - After you have tried consignment shops and eBay, you can sell what's left at a yard sale. Try to arrange clothing attractively, rather than in piles or boxes. You may make 50 cents to $1 on each item. This is a good way to liquidate clothing that didn't sell any other way. Try a $1 bag sale for the last hour to get rid of items quickly.

Tax Write-Offs - If you still have items left after that yard sale, you can donate them to a thrift shop and write off their value on your taxes. Standard write-off is $10 per grocery bag or fair market value (keep a detailed list). Get a receipt at time of donation. Keep records with your tax information in case of audit. You only recoup 10%-40% of the amount you claim, depending on your tax bracket. Also, only those who itemize their taxes will benefit from this deduction.

A few pointers to help you sell more clothes:

  • You probably have lots of clothes in your closet that you never wear. If you haven't worn them in a year, let them go! Ask your spouse and kids to do the same. You may make several hundred dollars doing this the first time.
  • At the end of each season, go through everyone's clothes as you pack them away. Pull out any you want to sell and store separately, clearly labeled. You don't want to lose track of boxes of saleable clothes, only to find them years later when they are musty and out of style.
  • Consignment and resale shops accept clothing seasonally. Spring/summer clothing is usually accepted from February to June, and fall/winter clothing from July to November.
  • At the beginning of each season listed above, go through all boxes and all suitable clothing. Spend an hour or so checking clothes for defects, ironing, and otherwise preparing them for consignment or resale. Call for an appointment, then follow any directions given. Some stores want clothing hung on hangers, some have limits on amounts, etc.

By following these steps, you can greatly reduce or even eliminate your family's clothing expense. This can be a great help during lean times or when pursuing other financial goals.

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