Clothing Kids Without Breaking the Bank

Garage sale kids clothes

*An example of my loot from a successful morning of garage sale shopping for my son last summer*

Find the next two posts in this series here:

Part 2
Part 3

Inspired by my own recent efforts in stocking up on affordable children’s clothes for my two little ones, I thought I would share my own methods for making sure that we have all the clothes, shoes, jackets, etc. that they need, for as little cost as possible.

The larger our family grows, the more important it is for me to stay on top of this area if I want to keep from spending a fortune (and wow, what a fortune can be spent on children’s clothing if you’re not a careful, frugal shopper!). To this point, I have found it easy to clothe our two children, fast growing as they are, for around $100-150 a year total (not including gifts given by grandparents, of course). We probably actually have too many clothes for them and could buy even less, and both are usually decked out in name-brand, attractive clothing.

So how do I do it?

1) By keeping good tabs on what I already have

At least 2 or 3 times a year, you will find me sorting through what the children are currently wearing and what clothes they have coming up in the bins/storage bags of their next-size-up and next season clothing. I write a careful inventory of everything they have that will still fit for a while and every thing that they will soon grow into. Then, considering the season and the particular clothing needs for the weather, I am able to use that list as the basis for another very detailed list of exactly what I think they will need in the upcoming months.

2) By using what I’m given

Although we haven’t been given too many hand-me-downs for our daughter, we have received oodles of bags of clothing for our son. Though not all of it has been in nice condition or was clothing that I would necessarily use (no, I’m not a clothes snob, but some baby and kids clothes are just too dated, worn or out of style for even a frugalite like me!), by carefully sorting through everything I have been able to find many good items and set them aside for future use.

3) By storing my clothes carefully

I used to use Rubbermaid bins for storing kids clothes, but over time found them to be too expensive and too large to store. In recent years, I’ve switched over to the XL and XXL Ziploc bags instead. These are so much easier to store underneath a bed or a crib, or up on a high shelf in a closet.

I store clothes by gender and size. For instance, I’ll use one bag for Baby Girl 0-3 and 3-6 mths, and another for Toddler Boy Size 2T. Keeping it organized this way will serve me in the future, for our next baby (because this will be our first baby that will
already have bagfuls of clothing waiting for them!). I also use this system when I receive clothing of mixed sizes, so that it is all sorted and set aside for when my kids reach the next size up. I just pull out the bag I need, and find out exactly what clothes we already have and what we still need.

4) By shopping ahead

This is probably the biggest thing that saves me money and hassle. When I go through and do my clothing inventory, I note exactly what the kids need for the upcoming season and in what size. Then, if I am out and find clothing on a great clearance sale, or stumble upon an incredible garage sale, I can stock up and know that I am truly buying what I need.

I have done this so much in the past year, and can really see the positive effects of it. Last summer, I found several garage sales with an abundance of toddler boys clothes and a bit of girls clothes for my 4 year old. I bought a really good mix of clothing in several sizes too big for my son, including pajamas, shirts, pants, shoes, winter jacket and hat, etc. I tried to guesstimate what size he would fit in which season (up to two years ahead of his size at that time) and bought accordingly. So far, everything has been just perfect, and it is so wonderful to open up a bag and discover how many great things I already have for him.

By always staying ahead of the game, you save yourself so much money and time. I only buy when the opportunity is right, and then I try to really make the most of it. My husband is happy to let me do it by myself, because it’s such a game and a challenge for me, and I have a feeling I get a bit obsessive about it (or maybe a lot obsessive), but he is always impressed with the stash I walk away with at the end. The photo at the beginning of this post is from a garage saling day last summer, when I spent a mere $16 and walked away with everything you see on that coffee table!

Another great perk to this is that I don’t need to stress out about finding what they need at the last minute, nor do I ever have to run out and pay full price for necessary items. This winter, I have focused my attention on really stocking up on everything the kids need for not only spring and summer, but for the fall and into the beginning of winter as well. I know that life will be hectic this summer, especially with a large garden and lots of preserving, and then a new baby in August! I want to have one less thing to have to think about come September!

Next week I’ll share more about where I shop, how I plan my shopping trips and specific techniques I use!

How do you clothe your kids without breaking the bank? What techniques do you use for organizing their clothes and knowing what to buy when you find great deals?

More frugal tips to be found over at Biblical Womanhood!

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  1. Thank you for these wonderful ideas! I just went to our local thrift store yesterday and found some great things for spring and summer for my kids. I’m doing my best to plan ahead, so your idea of sorting the clothes, by size, in large bags is great! Thanks!

  2. Before my son was born I was very blessed to get a big bin of hand-me-downs from my cousin whose son is almost exactly 2 years old than mine. He has several nice, barely worn name-brand outfits for next winter ready to go, and I did not spend a dime on them.

    Thanks for the reminder about shopping ahead. I always forget about that!

  3. I love the idea of the bags! I’ll have to try that. Right now I have so much clothes for my son that doesn’t fit him (to big), I feel like I sort the same things all the time!
    I am super blessed to have a sister who works at the local Sally Ann and finds me amazing clothing for an amazing price and a friend who is done having kids and her son is a year older than mine and so I often leave visiting her with a box of clothes.
    I’m overdue with this babe and know if I have a girl I will be just as blessed with clothing from my sister and my same friend who’s daughter will be 9 months older than my newest babe and she is eager to know if it’s a girl so she can start handing down the clothes!
    But for anyone who lives in the lower mainland the sally ann often has new clothes with tags and just nice gently used clothing for VERY reasonable prices. Just ask the people that work there what day they most likely are to put the kids clothes out…they have certain days that they get stock from wal mart and such. never hurts to ask!
    PS…I also get disposable diapers from the sally ann….4.50 a bag…I have saved hundreds of dollars on diapers!

  4. I too enjoy buying ahead at the end of seasons and hope that I’m buying the correct size. It definitely feels like a game to get a great deal! I buy at consignment sales also to save some money for the upcoming season. I keep a rubbermaid tub in my kid’s closet with any upcoming clothes and sort through it every couple of months to see what we have as the weather begins to change in the slightest. For outgrown clothes, I keep what I love, keep the basics, and have sold other items so I can have some cash to pay for new seasons of clothing. Right now I’m using more rubbermaid tubs to store outgrown clothing by size/season (0-6 month spring/summer, 6-12 fall/winter). I know this will change with additional kids, but it’s what works at the moment. I’m really hoping to hit up garage sales this Spring since it seems their deals are the best if you can find nice quality items! Great post!

  5. I find church yard sales to be THE BEST on prices for kids clothes! Instead of individually pricing the items they often have “fill a bag for $x” – the x usually being between $4 and $8.

    My second favorite yard sale location is military bases. Our local base has a huge yard sale once a year (that I know of!) and the deals are really good! I got a bag of 20 pairs of socks in 12months – 2 T for $2. (And they were all brand name socks… not that I am a sock snob!!)
    Our base has people advertise the sale on craigslist, under the garage sale section and it also has signs on post. Non military people are able to get on base and take advantage of the yard sales!

  6. That is awesome. Enjoy it and clothe them like this as long as you can. My oldest is now a teenager and has gone snobby on me. So I have to shop clearance at the stores where all the other teenieboppers shop.


  7. I love garage sales too! Sometimes I really have to sort through things, but it’s definately worth the effort. I’m always working on the next season & sizes to keep ahead of schedule. Right now his clothes all fit in the dresser, so I have piles in his closet of the next sizes for now. I know when he gets older, that will change and I’ll have to store some things elsewhere… but it works well for now & I can always see at a glance what I have.

  8. I keep plastic bins(Rubbermaid type)for each size. Girls and boys clothing is separated, so looking for a new size is very simple. I usually don’t shop for sizes more than two or three years in advance, since styles change and DD is very into style.:) However, if I’m given clothing for our children…I never turn it down. Sometimes, there is very little that I would want to keep, but I don’t want to discourage the giver. It’s usually my SIL and she buys VERY expensive, good quality clothing for her children. I would never spend $200 for a little girl’s dress or coat…but she will.:)

    I keep footwear in different containers, also by size.


  9. Hi Stephanie!

    Very good tips. Especially the one about staying on top of things. I have actually bought things for my kids when they didn’t need it.

    I often buy at the end of the season for the next season. So, in January for the following Sept and Oct. I have bought clothes new for even a fraction of used at times (Sears, Please Mum will have 30-50% off the lowest ticketed price at certain times of year.)

    I do find that the older my kids get, the more expensive it gets and it also gets harder to find good used clothing. For my 8 year old son it is impossible to find used pants/jeans (what 8 year old can wear jeans and not get a hole through the knees?) I buy 2 pairs of jeans at Sears in Sept (when they are on sale, but still quite pricey), but they have the kidvantage return policy which means you can exchange them for a new pair if they break, as long as they still fit the same size. So far this school year I’ve gotten 4 pairs for the price of 2. This is not cheating, they advertise that they do this.

    One other thing I do and it’s quite fun for me :-). I buy a plain pair of pants or a skirt that aren’t really ‘in’, but are a good basic item. I then embellish them with applique or a nice cuff. I do this with pants that have gone through the knee (and are non-returnable) too. I just cut them off and make a nice cuff with a contrasting fabric, and if I’m really energetic I make a top that matches. Voila, a stylish, fun outfit made out of something broken. Love it! Here’s a pair of pants I did for my daughter a while back

    One more tip. Don’t be too matchy-matchy. It’s good when most of the t-shirts match with most of the pairs of pants and skirts and sweatshirts. It saves headache for picking out clothes in the mornings and also when one piece breaks or gets a big stain. Then you just pick a different one and it’s no big deal.

    Okay, that’s pretty wordy. I obviously have to spend quite a bit of time clothing my children frugally 🙂

  10. GoodWill had everything in the store 50% off on President’s Day and I came home with bags upon bags of clothes for our whole family. Kid’s clothes were all 60 cents to $1 and adult clothes (including tons of cute maternity stuff) cost me only $2/ piece. It was AMAZING!!!

  11. I buy clothes on ebay which can be a great deal and it is also nice to buy things second hand so that we can the things that end up in the landfills to a minimum. I also shop at thrift store occassionally. And dont forget Target clearance! I find things for $.98 pretty often!

  12. I have a 5yo DD and 2yo DS. One thing I started doing when DD was small was buying unisex items like black or navy snowpants, snow boots, mittens, etc. Also things like sweatshirts and sweatpants in grey, blue or black as well.

  13. Oh Stephanie I could have written your post. 🙂 Sounds exactly like my house. I have even started to use those ziploc bags (although it was orginally your idea from a while back). Now having two girls its nice to be able to use the things we already had, although I was a teeny, tiny bit dissapointed that I don’t get to “hunt” for as many things now that I already have what we need for the baby, LOL. (I am joking, by the way, I am SO blessed to have another girl, as much as I love hunting out deals). I buy stuff without worrying much about seasons, but then again, where I live we can wear pants all year (and often do) etc. My oldest is currently in size 3 (sometimes 4) and I have stuff stockpiled for up to size 8, since I couldn’t pass up hardly-worn clothes at a yard sale last winter for .25 cents each thing. I did spend over an hour routing through stuff but it was worth it. I mainly use garage sales for kid’s clothes. I look in the paper for ones that specifically mention kid’s things (even if they don’t mention clothes they often have them) and ones that mention clothes. I then use Value Village coupons (they have a calendar with coupons we get when they sell them in December, we are careful about which ones are deals) when we are in the city, other thrift store sales (ours often has 50% off the already low prices a few times a year at seasons’ changes), and also consignment stores (also go mainly during seasons’ changes) and I also NEVER refuse used kid’s clothes, although we hardly get any hand me downs. I figure I can always sort through them and decide what to keep. That way I never get labelled as someone who “probably wouldn’t want them”. I never have been able to find as good deals as garage sales and end-of-season thrift shop sales compared to clearance in stores new. Seriously I have I think only maybe 5 times bought something new (all underwear, a sun hat once, and our cloth diapers) in the 3 years of being a mom. It feels great and I love knowing these things get reused, too.

    I also take an inventory and then put a list with that onto my fridge and one in my wallet (in case I find something while out spontaneously like a garage sale I didn’t know about…it has happened!) That works best for me and then I update it when I do the next inventory and also as I buy things I cross it off, like a grocery list! 🙂

  14. I forgot to add that even if garage sales have individually priced things, I often ask that if I buy a lot will they do a deal (and then let them tell me what the deal is) and it works out cheaper. I do this after looking around to see if there is enough good stuff to buy a lot.

  15. The last U.S. based kids’ shoe factory is in my hometown AND they have a sale three – four times a year – I’m able to buy shoes for my girls (4, nearly 3, 1) for $5, $10, and $15 a pair. The shoes are brand new, made inthe USA, leather, poron innersoles, and sell for about $45 in retail stores.

    I’ve learned to buy shoes ahead. And since I have three girls, sometimes I buy two in a particular size if they’re the $5 shoes. This also saves me from panic on Sunday morning – you know, when their feet grow overnight.

    And I store food like most of the other people who’ve left comments. I like the tubs better than bags because we have an attic to store things in. I do like the clear tubs best. I also keep one tub of “too big clothes” (for the 4 year old); and then a tub of “too small clothes” for each of the girls in their closet. As they out grow their clothes, I just pile them in the tubs, when the tub is full it gets labeled with what age the girl was when she outgrew the clothes – mine never fit into the 3 – 6 month thing, always were 4 months old and wearing 6 – 9 month clothes, etc..

    My current problem is socks!! I have an horrible time keeping up with socks and tights. Any suggestions???

  16. Ummm. I meant that I store clothes in the attic. Not food. Sorry. You don’t want to hear my excuse!!!

  17. I love using ziplock bags as well because you can see what is in there. I find the more kids I have the better I am at knowing which clothes to keep and which ones to throw away.

    We have so many 0-2yr old clothes for girls I find myself limiting myself to what I can keep for the next child. If it doesn’t fit in this bin its out type of mentality which helps cut down on clutter too. Great advice!


  18. Clothing young children isn’t the expensive part (or shouldn’t be if people take your advice), it’s the fashionista teens that will really break the bank even when you can shop at thrift stores and find great stuff…any tips for those guys?

  19. This is one area that I am able to have fun with because children’s clothing can be so affordable.
    Our local huge biannual consignment sale is coming up in the Western Chicago suburbs and I was actually a little sad when I looked at my daughters’ clothing stores and saw that they hardly need anything for this summer. No matter — I need summer maternity clothes so I’ll have fun bargain shopping for those.
    If you do find that all your planning has left a blank spot in your kid’s wardrobe, Freecycle can be a big help — you just send out a message saying, “Anyone have a size 2T girls coat?” And someone probably does.

  20. I to have bought my kids clothes at second hand stores garage sale ect. I spend 130.00 and bought my son summer and winter clothes lots of name brand stuff. yesterday I saw this youtube video they passed a new law last summer that took effect feb 11 so now alot of thrift stores are trashing all kids clothes. because of the chemicals they used to make them lead on painted tee shirts and lead in snaps
    here’s the link

  21. My problem has been “guesstimating” what size clothes my daughter will be wearing in a future season as I’m shopping ahead. I’ve found this kids’ clothing size chart, with its info on weight and height information as it relates to sizes, to be very helpful:

  22. This was a really good post! I do a lot of things you do, although I think I’m going to have to try the plastic bags instead of bins.

    One of the main ways I get clothes for my daughters is a semiannual children’s consignment sale. The prices are a little higher than yard sales but lower than consignment shops, and the selection is excellent. I also volunteer at the sale in order to be able to shop early, and it is actually a lot of fun. It’s become my semiannual tradition; my husband knows he watches the girl on consignment sale day!

  23. I do this and have for years. It is fun to open the totes and see what new clothes we have for the next year. I like the idea of lists – because that is my downfall. I end up with too much of something and not enough of something else. And I seem to always over-buy for summer – I somehow alwyas forget that we only have 2-3 months of warmer weather here in Minnesota!

    But, I just wanted to add that I only stockpile 1-2 sizes up. Kids’ tastes change and styles change so much that unless you are only buying basics/classics – you may end up with something in a few years that the child will never wear, and neither will anyone else (in other words, you won’t be able to re-sell it and you have then lost the money you spent!). There have been occasions where I have found something absolutely incredible at an amazing price though (like a few years ago I found a Columbia winter coat that was in excellent condition for $1.00 that was 4 sizes too big for my ds at the time – but he is able to wear it now!). I may try the Ziploc bags idea – although the totes are easier to label and see what is in them easier. But, due to storage space, I need to condense!

  24. I, too, stay at least a year ahead of my kids, sometimes longer. My son (11 weeks) has up through 18 month clothes, if you can believe that. I found an entire 18-mo. wardrobe (10 pairs of pajamas and 20 outfits) for $35 on Craig’s list and I had to buy it. Had to. It’s great stuff. I shop clearance where I pay $3 for a shirt or less. I went to a “sidewalk sale” and went at the end of the day and got a whole bag of kids’ clothes for $1! I literally paid 5 cents an outfit, I figured out. I got a few pairs of sweatpants and shorts, some plain white t-shirts, and even a really nice Christmas dress for my daughter in that bunch. The dress alone probably cost $50 new and I got it for 5 cents!! Can’t beat that. I also try to buy certain items (socks, undershirts, onesies) in plain white and as cheap as possible. I don’t care if it’s stained. Then I can use it all my babies without feeling like it’s the “wrong” gender. I also sew all my own cloth diapers and I’m about to start sewing training pants and underwear (for my daughter as well as myself) which saves a lot. I sew anything I can, although I find buying clothes at garage sales and such generally cheaper than sewing, especially as quick as kids grow. 🙂

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