Clothing Your Kids Without Losing Your Shirt

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jar of money on concrete by grassy lawn, with text overlay: Frugal Fridays.

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One of my back to school highlights as a child was going “back to school” shopping. Granted this was in the 80’s before the internet allowed all sorts of information and online shopping. And I was not frugal unless I wanted to me.

In fact, having grown up in a suburb of Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from Hollywood, I drooled over the Guess jeans and the Swatch watches that I never owned. And, I’ve lived to tell about.

Thankfully, my boys aren’t into too many “status” items, except maybe video game stuff and those they pay for themselves. But, what if I have a daughter like I was?

Heaven help me!

But, seriously, what’s a mom to do when a kid wants expensive clothing that simply isn’t in the budget?

Here are some ideas I’ve thought of, and I hope you’ll add some in the comments.

1. Shop clearance.

I do this all the time, brand name or not. My personal favorite is Target, but I know that even more upscale stores offer clearance sections. Recently, I found next year’s swim trunks for the boys as low as $2.48. I bought four suits for the price of one at full price.

Make it a regular habit to browse the stores your child likes and find classic pieces (read: those that will last the year, fashion-wise) at low prices.

2. Browse thrift stores and garage sales.

My friend Jen has unbelievable skills when it comes to finding treasures second hand. She is, indeed, a frugal fashionista. I know from her experience that there is a wealth of gently-used clothes waiting just for the taking.

3. Keep up with online deals.

There is no shortage of deals to be had if you follow what’s cheap online.

  • Sign up for Swagbucks and buy clothes for free on Amazon.
  • Make online purchases via Ebates or ShopatHome and get cash back on internet orders.

4. Make your kids buy their own.

Seriously, people, just because our kids want something, doesn’t mean they have a God-given right to have it given to them. As parents, we have a responsibility to clothe our children with clean, decent clothing. But, nowhere in the parenting contract does it say that you have to buy them the latest and greatest, especially if you don’t have the funds.

Kids who are old enough to have specific clothing desires are old enough to earn money to make those purchases themselves. And if they have to hand over their own hard earned cash, they may be more likely to see the wisdom of frugality.

What do YOU do to save money?

Share your favorite money-saving ideas today. Leave a link to a post that shares some frugal wisdom. (Please no giveaways or deals posts. Teach us how to fish!)


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  1. My two oldest(12&14 girls) get $100 a piece to spend how they want and also have the opportunity to get cash for their birthdays, chores and babysitting their younger sibs and neighbors. The are frugal and shop for sales. I don’t include gym shoes, underwear, bras, or socks in the $100. However, a reasonable amount for gym shoes for a teen for me is $40 at Kohls and this year my daughter wants a $90 pair from the mall. I will give her the $40 and she will use her babysitting money to pay the rest. We live in a very affluent area and my kids don’t look at of place. They aren’t the best dressed but they look good. Sometimes I really score at garage sales and thrift stores and I just go ahead and add this to their wardrobe at my cost. They love to buy shoes and watch for clearance and buy knock offs. I only contribute to their gym shoes, snow boots and a pair of good sandals each year (they get $100 for summer clothes and a few new xmas items too). The younger two only get new underwear, socks, and shoes. I go used until they care and fit gets harder and a bit past that πŸ™‚

  2. Now that I’m staying at home (and having to really watch my pennies) I’m really getting into thrift shopping. I’ve had terrific luck in the past 2 weeks getting nice tops for myself. The most I paid for a top at a thrift store lately was $3, and it was SO worth it! πŸ™‚

  3. I just discovered and have ordered my first box — if the clothes in it are truly as described, I’ll be a big fan. In a nutshell, it’s a kids’ clothing swap. List boxes of clothes your kids have outgrown; get boxes of clothes from other families.

    Also, Carol, as a girl who wore a backbrace for scoliosis, you are doing the BEST possible thing for your daughter. Also — FYI, my dad’s an orthopaedic surgeon, and recently told me about a study that showed wearing the brace for 12 hours/day is JUST AS EFFECTIVE as wearing it for 23+ hours/day. So if your daughter is interested, she could sleep in it/wear it in the evening, and NOT wear it to school. Please feel free to email me for more info.

  4. Haha!! Preach it sister. I too agree that our kids don’t need everything they want. Can you say “entitlement issues”?
    We just so happened to print off 2 of the Target coupons for $3 off jeans and last week the jeans my daughter wanted went from $20 to $15, then we used our coupon. Brand new jeans for $12. She was happy and so was my check book.
    She does have a pretty tight budget. She is finally to the point where she really wants to spend more on clothes, so yesterday she spent the afternoon applying for jobs.
    This weekend she is organizing a clothing swap with all her friends.

  5. I love garage sales! Last weekend I found Gymboree, Janie and Jack, Neiman Marcus, etc. infant girl clothes for 50 cents each that were in excellent condition. I would also recommend trying kid resale stores like KidtoKid and Once Upon a Child. You can find name brand items very inexpensive.

  6. Great tips! I also love consignment sales–I love the fact that you can sell some clothes there too, so it’s really no money out of pocket!

  7. we always buy back to school as well but we do like you and try to save all we can by creating a budget giving each thier share of the money (equal amount) letting them do their shopping with thier list if they get it all and have more money thats great run out of money thats on them as well.

  8. Oops…so sorry. I did have a giveaway in with my frugal family fun today – please feel free to remove me from the linky list. Apologies!

  9. I use several strategies to shop frugally for kids’ clothes. I always check out the clearance sections at Kohl’s for clothes, underwear, and shoes. I only buy if clearance is at 80 to 90%. For the shoes, my target price is $5 to $7. I also keep a running list in my purse of shoe sizes that I need. I generally buy new shoes, but I will buy used cleats, snow boots and puddle jumpers. I use the same price strategy for clearance sales at other stores.

    I also shop at thrift stores and Goodwill, keeping in mind prices. Our Goodwill has a half price clothing sale several times a year, plus other seasonal sales.

    For my daughter, I made friends with a neighbor whose daughter is a little older. She always bought her daughter clothes at Gymboree. When she has her August garage sale, I go and buy lots of stuff for pennies on the dollar.

    Since I have four boys and one girl, we do a lot of hand me downs. I also use some of the boys’ clothes that are gender-neutral for my daughter, combining them with thrifted clothes just for her.

    And finally, my kids wear a uniform to school. Instead of paying $35 for a pair of pants, I lucked out and found a local thrift shop that sells the same uniform pants for only $1. I have an inventory of sizes which I consult every time I go to the shop. I’ve saved hundreds on the majority of our uniform needs!

  10. I’m going to be the oddball here, but this fits in with last week’s Frugal Friday which discussed what we choose to spend our money on. My 13yo daughter has scoliosis and has worn a back brace for the past 3 years. I spend what would be considered a ridiculous amount of money on her clothes because it’s tough to find things that she feels comfortable in (both physically and emotionally, if you know what I mean).

    When we find something cute, comfortable, flattering with the brace, not low-rise, not low cut, well-made (because the brace tends to poke little holes into thin cheaply-made clothes) that my daughter feels pretty and happy in, I take a deep breath and pay whatever it costs–and usually buy several! Yes, I look for sales, free shipping, clearance, etc and I scrimp in lots of other areas, but as long as my daughter wears a brace, I will choose to spend more for her clothes.

    1. @Carol, Amen! Good for you. That is exactly what we’re talking about — both last week and this week. In your daughter’s instance, it’s not about the latest and greatest. But, it’s meeting her clothing needs. And “needs” change dependent on the kid.

      — coming from another girl with scoliosis. πŸ˜‰

  11. Oh…I also forgot to add to check the free section on your local craigslist. I check ours everyday. Today there are 2 people with bags of kids clothes for free.

  12. I love to shop clearance sales off season as well. I have been doing this my entire life since as a child we never had any money. My mom still shops this way even though now she can afford to buy whatever she wants. My favorite is clearance at Marshall’s. I love Marshall’s! I also like the goodwill in a nearby (10 min) affluent city. It is clean, well organized and they have great sales. Every season they have a $0.99 sale on all kids clothes. I got 4 pairs of jeans for my son that were name brand and barely worn for $3.96! Another day they were having a sale on women’s tops and I got 12 shirts for summer for less than $30.

    I suggest for people to sign up for their local freecycle group. There are always lots of clothes, both kids and adult, going around on there, and you can’t beat free!

    We also trade clothes with our friends and the hand me downs get passed around our group of friends between all of our kids. Works great!

    My mom has always had “Santa” give us socks and underwear in our stockings. It’s a tradition in our family and we always know they will be coming!

  13. My son is only 2 so shopping ahead off clearance has worked for us so far since he doesn’t really have an opinion yet. I’ve also had good luck steering the relatives towards buying him shoes and socks or winter coats for Christmas instead of a bunch of toys (although somehow he still gets about a million toys too).

    When my brothers and I were in school Mom would give us a budget of $100 each to spend as we saw fit. That had to cover all clothes and supplies. I would clearance shop and get a lot of un-cool but varied stuff, and my brother would get a really expensive pair of sneakers and one pair of brand name pants. My other brother was quite a bit younger but he seemed to get 5 shirts all of the same style, maybe different colors for about $1 each somewhere and 2 pairs of jeansut then he would always have the best school supplies. So, in our own ways we all learned to budget and were happy with what we got.

  14. The Salvation Army store in my areas have Family Day on Wednesdays, and all clothing is half-price (except the most recent tag color – they use a different colored price tag each week, so if they are putting out clothing with pink price tags that week, those clothes are full price). The prices at these stores are already really, really low (Old Navy shirts for $.99; Children’s Place jeans for $1.99) so I can usually find shirts for fifty cents and pants for a dollar.

    I shop all year round – I usually only find two or three things each time I go, but I hit these sales 2 or 3x a month.

    I have an idea of what I’m looking for. I know that TCP jeans fit my skinny son really well, so I look for them. I also know that, for some reason, TCP long sleeve shirt sleeves are never long enough so I don’t buy them. A bargain isn’t a bargain if it never gets used because it didn’t fit.

    I keep a list in my purse of things I have, so we don’t end up with 4 navy blue t-shirts.

    1. @Michelle Z., There are two areas where I don’t skimp, and I usually buy new: underwear and sneakers. Underwear because…well…I wouldn’t buy used underwear for myself, so I don’t make the boys wear it, either. Sneakers I buy new, and I buy brand name just because I’ve found that the cheaper ones don’t hold up (my boys wear their sneakers pretty much every day) and cheaper shoes start to smell really bad after awhile, even though they are worn with socks.

      I can, however, always find decent used dress shoes.

  15. Find the more affluent section of town and keep a eye out for yard sales in that area.Yes,those people do have yard sales and the find’s there are awesome. My son’s and nieces have worn the high end (ie:expensive) clothes for year’s because of yard sales in our town’s “nob hill” area. I have also bought a lot of thing’s brand new,still in the box,that these people have gotten as present’s and never got around to returning to the store.

  16. My husband and I also shop the stores that get name brand stuff sent to them, like Marhsalls, Gabriel Bros, Ross, etc. We can get our son lots of name brand clothes and shoes at a fraction of the price. A lot of times we can get the big names for less than buying them at yard sales.

  17. I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters (so 6 of us) and we were each given $100 to spend how we wanted. My oldest brother would always get a shirt and a pair of pants, that’s it, just so he was in “style”. My other brothers and sisters would shop some of the clearance and outlet malls for good deals and would get a few outfits. I was the goodwill shopper since I can remember. I would get so much clothes for not a lot of money. Since we lived in a community where people would get rid of clothes without even wearing them, tags still on name brands, I would never look out of place compared to my siblings.

    Now undergarments and shoes were not part of $100 budget and we would always get clothes for Christmas to add to our wardrobe.

    For my boys I still shop garage sales (they are 2, 10 months and newborn) and last season clearance, plus with a large family they get clothes for holidays. I intend to employ the $100 limit (although with inflation I may make it $150 to $200 a kid) and they just need to learn how to make it work. I think it is a skill that has stuck with me since I was young.

  18. I LOVE clearance!

    Your point on letting kids buy their own is right on! They don’t need that $100 pair of sneakers. If they want them that bad then they can save up and purchase the “needed” items on their own.

    My son also buys his own video games. He’s learning that he can save up for awhile to get the new DS game or go buy a $5 toy. His choice.

  19. My son is now 12, and whatever ‘mom’ finds isn’t cool. No way. So we had a discussion and he now gets $60 / month for everything. I dictate that if he ‘needs’ socks, they get purchased first. Now I’m not constantly being asked for $4 for this or that, lunch money because he’s tired of pb sandwiches, or the ‘have to have the $60 pair of high top shoes’. Last time we picked up shoes he was a lot more agreeable to look at the $16 pair! While this may not work for everyone, he was already receiving $10 a week (and I was prepared to go up to maybe $70 or $80 a month but he didn’t ask – the $60 was his idea).

  20. I have a question about buying clearance for next season. I tried this for my daughter twice. She has been in the 50th percentile for height and weight since birth. But it seems to me her growth spurts happen off-season. So I’ve done great on clearance shorts ($1.48 a pair) at target, but they are either too big or too small when that season rolls around.

    Does anyone else have trouble doing this? Am I doing it wrong? I always assumed that I just get the next size up.

    1. @Amanda, For example, at the end of summer last year I bought her shorts in a size 5 at $1.48. She was wearing 4/4T last summer. All summer we’ve tried the size 5 shorts and they have been too big.

      They just started fitting this week. School starts on Tuesday. She’ll end up wearing them twice. So while $1.48 was a steal, in the end she didn’t really need it. But since she is now in 5’s I don’t know if I should buy 5s for next summer or 6s. See my dilemna?

      1. @Amanda, Do your daughter’s growth spurts occur at somewhat predictable times? For example, after the first couple of years, I’ve learned that my daughter tends to have a growth spurt in January (about six months after her birthday) — so I know to stock up on winter pajamas in the next size up at after-Christmas sales. (Except for that baby year. When she outgrew *everything* in the coldest week of the year. In Minnesota.) So, if your daughter’s growth spurts seem to be regularly timed around the end of summer, maybe you would be better off stocking up on size 5s for next year’s summer clothes.

        1. @TopazTook, Thanks for the suggestion. Now that I think about it the growth spurt does happen around her birthday which is in the summertime and another one in March. Appreciate the feedback.

  21. I have kids aged 7-17, and agree that they can be taught frugality. Shopping second hand, sewing, mending what they have, and shopping sales are all helpful skills. Making an occasional mistake is, too.

    Great post!

    Thanks for providing the linky.

    Annie Kate

  22. I just wrote a post about this. I do encourage finding a theme to build a wardrobe around so that you don’t just end up with a bunch of cheap clothing that doesn’t coordinate.

  23. There was this pair of black boots that I wanted SOOOO badly in 9th grade. Usually my mom bought my clothes, but those boots she deemed a luxury item and refused to purchase. I coughed up my babysitting money and got the fancy black boots. I wore them every day that fall and winter, so I guess I got my money’s worth!? They obviously made quite an impression because I can still remember them 23 years later, which goodness knows I couldn’t say about any other item of clothing I owed. So, yes, I definitely agree with you that kids can be “made” to spring for their own luxury clothing items!

  24. I always buy clothes when they are on clearance. Even online stuff! The Children’s Place and Gymboree just had great clearance sales on their kids’ clothes for $4 to $6. I try buying a size larger so that my kids can where them next year, because usually clearance items mean end of the season for their clothes. I just bought several tank tops, shorts and swimming trunks that will be great for next summer!

    Thanks for hosting! I look forward to it every week!

  25. Great post. I never EVER pay full price for clothes either! My friends “mock” me because I shop the clearance rack AND use coupons!

    Also, in 2009, I made a New Years resolution not to spend any money on clothes for the entire year. I did ask for store gift cards for Christmas/Birthdays but I made it an entire year with out spending any of my own money on clothes.

  26. One tip I have is to limit how many clothes your children may own. For a mother of sons, this may seem silly. My little guy never asks for any clothing items. However, his 4 sisters (I’m not counting sister #5 who is only 2) LOVE new clothes. (And they get that honestly, I’m afraid.) Once my girls have enough clothes for a season, I tell them they may not purchase more (even with their own money.) I encourage them not to even look. If they find something they just must have, they must part with something else. Of course if it’s their birthday or shopping for a special event, I allow them. Also, “enough” is actually way more than enough!

    My girls are 15, 13, 11, 8 and 2. The older three girls are learning to be frugal shoppers and stylish ones too! I give them a clothing allowance and allow them to shop for deals. They are learning first hand that it pays to wait for sales and shop off-season.

  27. Shop now for next year- I always buy end of the season clearance for next year. Ask your friends for hand-me-downs. I get lots of nice clothes from others.