If there’s one thing you know for sure about your kids, it’s that they will grow out of their clothes. When they’re little, it feels like you’re constantly re-arranging their drawers because things don’t fit anymore. When they get a little older, you switch clothes out every year or so; or maybe you switch them out with the seasons. All those clothing purchases can add up if you’re not careful. But with some strategic shopping, you can stay on budget with your growing kids.
As with many things frugal, the key is to plan ahead.
Right now is the season for snagging great deals on new clothes for next year. I’ve been doing it for years. This year, I didn’t need anything for Little Stapler because he still hasn’t grown into the clothes I bought him last year. I did, however, need to pick up a few things for Baby Stapler. Most of his clothes will be hand-me-downs from his big bro and an older cousin, but I needed to supplement a few items because a lot of Little Stapler’s clothes were hand-me-downs from a different cousin, and I returned them.
We keep our clothing budget low by staying organized, knowing our price points, and jumping in on a sale once the clothes hit those price points. Here’s how:
Take Inventory of Current Clothes
Understand how many outfits you want to have on hand, and count how many you have for the upcoming season and the season after that. The number of items you want is specific to your laundry habits and how frequently your child changes clothes in a day. Do you like to have separate clothes for play and going places? Are there no bibs big enough to catch all of your little one’s spills? Do you have a drooler? There are so many factors, particular to each family. I’m comfortable with 10 sets of clothes, because it gives me a little over a week to wash and fold laundry.
Pair the tops and bottoms together to see whether you have tops with no matching bottoms and vice versa. Take note of the colors you will need in order to match them. For example, one year I had a lot of navy shorts and a lot of navy shirts — but none of them could be worn together. So, I made sure to get shirts and shorts that coordinated well with navy. I have also found, in particular with summer clothes that have patterns, that I need to buy shirts and shorts together or else I may never find a coordinating piece.
Take note of specialty clothing that you’re missing over the next two seasons. In the winter, you know you will need snowpants, a warm jacket, boots, hats and gloves, and maybe long underwear. In the summer, you know you will need a few bathing suits, summer shoes (flip flops or water shoes or sandals), rash guards (if you roll that way), and sunhats. You will probably want a few special outfits for annual events like holidays or family photos; or upcoming events like weddings and family get-togethers.
These items are generally more expensive and harder to find at consignment sales and on clearance. After one year where we started the winter without snowpants, I learned to look for them two seasons in advance. Boots and sandals are hard to buy in advance, but if the price is low enough you might want to take the chance. Little Stapler currently has the next two seasons of winter jackets and snowpants in his closet — each one bought for less than $12.
Winter Specialty Items:
- Halloween costume
- Hats, gloves, boots
- Winter jacket, snowpants
- Thanksgiving outfit
- Christmas or Hannukah outfit(s)
Summer Specialty Items:
- Easter outfit
- Bathing suit, rash guard
- Sandals, flip flops
- Sunhat, sunglasses
- Fourth of July outfit?
Establish a Clothing Rotation System and Stick To It
Use boxes for outgrown clothes and clothes yet to be worn. I keep Little Stapler’s boxes in his closet because it’s clean and temperature controlled. I don’t want to store them in the basement and find spiders or mold on them when I open them up. But maybe I’m just paranoid. I use file boxes for the clothes yet to be worn, and put them high on a shelf in the closet. The “outgrown” bins are plastic and I stack them on top of each other on the floor of Little Stapler’s closet. The file boxes are extremely inexpensive – something like 40 bucks for 20, so they are great cost effective storage option.
For the clothes yet to be worn, sort them into boxes by size and season (Summer / Winter). Some brands run large or small, so if you know you have some of those you might want to see how what you have compares to the rest of the clothes in the box. For example, if you have a few shirts that run small, you should put them in the box for the size below. Otherwise, you will open the next-size-up box and find that your child has already outgrown those shirts.
Keep a box in your child’s room for outgrown clothes. Little Stapler gets dressed in his room, and when I put something on him and discover it’s too small, I toss it in the “outgrown clothes” bin while it’s still clean. Otherwise, if I toss it in the dirty laundry bin, I won’t remember that he’s outgrown it when I’m folding and putting away clean laundry. I’ll absentmindedly put it away in his drawer and then the cycle will repeat again. Nip that in the bud and just toss it right into the “outgrown” bin.
Establish your Price Point
A price point is what you’re willing to pay for each piece of clothing. Everyone’s price point is different, depending on tastes and finances. You may want to reverse-engineer your price point by establishing a budget for the season, subtracting the cost of specialty items, and dividing the rest by the number of outfits you want to have on hand. Or you might establish your price point by looking at the brands and styles you like and understanding what the best price is for that line of clothing. To figure out your seasonal clothing budget, multiply that number by the number of outfits you want and add the cost of the specialty items.
Your price point should vary with how far in advance you’re buying the clothes and the typical price of an item. For example, my price point for tops and bottoms is $5 and under for the upcoming season and $3 and under for two seasons ahead. For specialty items, my price goes up depending on the item. You already know my price point is $12 to stock up on winter jackets and snowpants. But for rash guards, my price point is $8 for this season and $5 for next season.
Go Shopping at Strategic Times and in Specific Locations
Now you’re ready to go. When you shop, stick to your price point and your inventory list. Once you’re a veteran consignment and clearance shopper, it will be easy to pass up items outside of your price point because you know you have another chance (or two or three) to get it. With your list, you’ll be able to say “no” to items that won’t match anything in your little one’s current wardrobe because you know it will never get worn — unless you spend more money to find something that coordinates.
1. In the Spring and Fall, go to semi-annual consignment sales. Be armed with your list of “needs” and anticipate what sizes you will need not just for the upcoming season, but for the season after that. Keep your price point in mind and remind yourself that you will have a second chance to get these items within your price point and brand new. So, there’s no need to “splurge” on the used items. Nevertheless, keep your eye out for special outfits you want for the upcoming season — consignment sales are the best places to find them, and they’re usually only worn once (especially dresses).
Unless I’m shopping for a stroller or furniture, I make a bee-line for the specialty clothes rack. Snowpants, winter jackets, rash guards, swim trunks, and sunhats aren’t plentiful at these sales and they’re the first to go. For a Fall sale, I go straight to the Halloween section to get the best choice of costumes (I ask Little Stapler what he wants to dress as before I go to the sale).
2. In July/August and December/January, shop your favorite retailers’ online clearance section during a sale. This is your chance to buy a specialty item you still need for that season and the clothes you need for the next year. Infant sizes can be iffy because you never know for sure what size your child will be, but if you keep your price point low, you won’t regret the purchase — you can always sell it later at a consignment sale or give it to a new baby if it would fit the season and you haven’t taken off the tags. Just like when you’re shopping at consignment sales, keep your inventory and price point in mind.
When you go to the online clearance section, use any of the filters available to show only the sizes you need and sort the items by price — Lowest to Highest — to find the best deals.
Don’t forget to shop through ebates for cashback, and apply any available coupon codes for free shipping and further discounts.
You may have some specialty items that you couldn’t find on consignment or clearance (rash guards and snowpants have been my white whales). For those items, you are going to be shocked when you see how much they cost full price! Check out stores like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and Ross to see if you can still get them at a discount. Also, there are online children’s consignment stores like ThredUp that you could check out. For ThredUp, you could clean out your closet (or your child’s), get a credit for the clothing you sent in, and use it to buy what you need. Otherwise, use your typical discount shopping tactics, like leveraging store rewards programs, coupon codes, and ebates.
UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to include this great Printable Kids’ Clothing Inventory created by Carrie over at Making Lemonade. What a handy tool!
That’s my system for adapting a growing child’s needs to a frugal budget. Do you have any tips that I missed?