Focus on what they actually need
This is definitely the area where I had to make the biggest changes. I had many reasons for buying them clothes- It was a great deal, it was perfect for that child, it was too stinkin' cute... etc. Notice "my child actually needs this item" didn't make the list? Yeah. That's because that really wasn't a criteria for my clothes shopping. With the exception of my round up prior to the consignment sale, I rarely knew what clothing my children were needing for their current or upcoming season and size. It didn't really matter to me because it didn't effect what I bought for them. Now, I am still guilty of that "this dress is perfect for Delaney" or "Jameson would go nuts over this shirt" purchase every now and then, but now it is a rarity instead of the rule.
To make sure I always know what I actually need for my kids, I keep a constant inventory. For example, right now, I know that Jameson has plenty of 3T (his current size) and Delaney has plenty of 24 month (her current size) in winter clothing. They also both have plenty of t-shirts, so I know that, if they are still in this size come spring time, I will have only minimal shopping to do. I have barred myself from purchasing anything more in their current size for winter. Now, the next size up is a different story. Delaney has a few 2T shirts, and Jameson has a little in 4T play clothes. So, when I find some great clothing deals (more on that later), I can focus my energy and money on the clothing that they actually are needing.
Just like groceries, clothing needs a "buy-at" price
In my post about grocery shopping I talked about having a "buy-at" price for groceries. This is the price that you have determined to be the lowest price you can find a certain item for. When you find the item for this price, you buy as much as you need to hold you over until you think you will be able to get this item at your buy at price again. Clothing is no different, it is just a lot trickier. Because there are so many factors that change the value of an item- the size, the brand, which article of clothing it is (shirt, pants, dress)- it can be really difficult to determine a buy-at price. To remedy this, I have a "buy-at ballpark".
A "buy-at ballpark" basically means that I have a set price that I am willing to pay for things, but that there is more wiggle room when I find an item that I know is hard to find in good condition. This is going to be set differently for everyone. If you are an expert garage saler, your buy at price is probably a lot lower than mine. If you have older children, your buy at price is going to be much higher than mine. For me, I set mine based on the Little Britches Consignment Sale. Because these sales happen before the Fall/Winter season and before the Spring/Summer season, I know that, need be, I can pretty much buy their entire wardrobe from the sale. But, I would like to have a chunk done before the sale. After experiencing a few Little Britches sales, I have learned what prices I can reasonable expect to be able to get enough clothing for my kids for that size/season. Because I know this, I can restrict myself to only buying clothing when I find them at these prices. I know that my "buy-at ballpark" baseline price is $2 per item. However, I am willing to spend about $4 for a nice dress for Delaney or $3-4 for nice clothes for Jameson since these are items that either go for more at Little Britches or are hard to come by (Little boys are HARD on their clothing so it often isn't any good for resale). I am also more willing to spend a little more for brand name clothing, but more on that later...
This is probably the most obvious way to save money on kids clothing, but it is certainly the one that makes the most significant difference, so it definitely deserves mentioning. But I am not just talking about garage sales! Here are some other excellent ways to score some used kids clothing for cheap (or free!)
-Consignment sales (Manhattan's is the Little Britches Consignment sale). It is kind of like a mass garage sale for only kids clothing
-Hand me downs/swaps (get a group of friends together who have kids of similar age and do a swap. I have never done this personally but have heard about it).
Once you have a buy-at ballpark in mind you can effectively buy ahead. Buying ahead is buying clothing at the end of a season on the clearance racks to put back for the next season. For example, in the next few weeks, stores are going to start bringing in their spring merchandise which means that the winter stuff has to go. They will mark these items down to lower prices to get rid of them. By stocking up what you need for the next year you can avoid paying full price. I used to shy away from this because I didn't know what size my kids would be wearing. Now that they are in their sizes for much longer than when they were infants it is easier, but it can work with infants too! Sure, it might not be a good idea to stock up on sweaters and Christmas shirts for the next size up when you're not sure what size they will be in next December, but you can still stock up on items that transition well from one season to the next- lighter weight long sleeve shirts, jeans, light jackets, etc.
Put yourself on the selling side
There is most certainly nothing wrong with giving your clothes away to a thrift shop or a friend. In fact, I encourage it. However, another option to consider is reselling. When you resell your clothing you still get to help someone out by giving them the opportunity to buy clothing for their children at a fraction of retail while recouping some of what you paid for the clothing. And even though we are planning on more little ones in our future, I still sell the majority of their clothing. We simply don't have the space to store entire wardrobes when it is unlikely that our next child will be requiring the same season at the same size.
I have resold at garage sales and on Craigslist and, my most successful route, selling at Little Britches. A few tips to successful reselling:
-Before I mentioned that I prefer to buy brand name when possible. Overall, brand name clothing is more expensive because they have a certain name in the tag. However, part of the reason is also in the quality. Very often, though not always, brand name clothing is better quality. This translates to a better resale value not only because other moms want that name on the tag, but also because these are the clothes that can make it through several children before they start to show their wear. When you put the effort into buying brand name clothing at minimal cost, you are giving yourself an inventory to sell from that will be the most marketable and profitable.
-Take good care of your kids clothing. Kids are often DESTRUCTION on clothing. Taking the extra time now to care for clothing properly will help in the long run. Check clothing when your kiddo gets undressed and promptly treat stains. Also, attempt to wash clothing a minimal amount. No, not in a gross way. But when you find clothing on the floor, do the good old smell check to try and determine if it was actually worn. If it passes the test, don't just wash it anyway. Not only will it save the laundry detergent and water, it will prevent early wear.
-There are few things cuter than trendy clothes on a little one, but try to keep these outfits to a minimum. When buying their wardrobe, focus on buying more classic pieces like jeans and basic tees. When you buy super trendy clothing it is likely that you will have a more difficult time finding somebody interested in these items once they are no longer the current trend.
Plan for the occasional splurge
No matter how good of a shopper you are, there are going to be those items that you just can't buy for very cheap. For us, that is Easter attire for the kiddos. I put a lot of thought and time into selecting their Easter outfits, so I don't like buying them ahead. I want their outfits to be the right size and coordinate with each other so that pictures don't clash (no, I don't go matchy matchy, I just make sure that they don't look bad together). As much as I have tried, I am just not okay with settling for whatever I can find. So, I plan for this expense, and I plan carefully.
This year, for example, is going to be pretty easy. My work did a health promo last year that earned me a $100 card that is good towards certain stores including Children's Place, Old Navy, Gap, etc. I know that, between these stores, I can put together excellent outfits for them. No, I will NOT be spending the entire $100 on two outfits- that would make me cry.
Because I would like to have a good chunk of that $100 left over, I am also exercising some good shopping practices. I am waiting until I find that perfect outfit for both of them- I am letting myself be picky so that I am not tempted to get a different outfit when one I like better comes along. I am also being picky about the price. I have several outfits for each that I have my eye on. Because I am wanting to wait for a good sale, I know that it is possible that one of my favorites will sell out before I snatch it up. This is something I am totally okay with because I know that I haven't set myself on that being the outfit.
I am also going to try to make the purchase go as far as possible. I already know that their Easter outfits will likely only be worn once, possible twice. Even though we attend church regularly, I don't typically get them dressed up that much because our church is very casual. However, I can make efforts toward making parts of their outfits go further. Take their outfits last year:
Dang they were so little!!!!!
If I remember right, I spend a total of about $60 on their outfits- an amount that makes me want to throw things. But, I was able to stretch parts of this. For example, though Delaney only wore that adorable dress one or two more times after this, she got several more wears out of the sweater before it was out grown. And I actually didn't buy Jameson's pants for the occasion. He already had the khakis in his closet so I just bought the vest and shirt to match. I also don't think he wore that vest again, but he did get a few more wears out of the shirt.
That is pretty much my ridiculously long-winded explanation of my money saving techniques for kids clothing, but, as I said, I still have a lot to learn. I would love to hear any tips you guys have for saving money on kids clothing... PLEASE!!!!!!