It’s back-to-school season which means it’s time for kids’ clothes shopping. While everyone’s situation and budget varies, I’ve found a system that allows us to get clothes that my kids love, function well, and look cute for almost free. Read on for tips on how to swing your back-to-school or seasonal clothing budget to get the best clothes for pennies on the dollar– or even FREE!
The first time I walked into Gymboree, I was a naive newly-pregnant mama-to-be with thoughts of daily adorable matching outfits dancing in my head. Then I flipped over a price tag and “POOF!”, the dream was shattered. DUDE, $38.00 for a pair of newborn jeans the baby would outgrow in 3 months? No thanks. But the clothes were so darn CUTE. And those pants? So little and tiny and just adorable. Sigh. What was a girl to do?
As you may know, more than just my baby fashion dreams were shattered the day my daughter was born. Clothes became the least of our worries. However it did leave me with many late nights online and a need to stretch my budget so I figured out a way to get my daughter’s adorable baby clothes for practically free. The trend continued as my son was born and as they grew into toddler and youth clothing, and now I have a “system” that allows me to get the best kids clothes for pennies on the dollar. Here’s how I get a high-end look for FREE or practically free!
1. Know what kids clothing you NEED.
This is THE most important tip because you don’t want to waste money buying too much of one thing. Each season I start out with a checklist of what we need– how many pants, shirts, pajamas special occasion items, shoes, etc. I’ll share a customizable printable checklist on Thursday and link to it here so you can find it again. Use it with the printable in the next step to create the ultimate shopping list so you don’t overbuy!
Having the number of dresses we “need” on a list stops me from buying too many. Most of the time.
2. Know what kids clothing you HAVE.
Since I often shop a season ahead, I need a clothing inventory to keep things straight. Plus, my kids are (usually) slow growers and sometimes I’ll get an extra season (or three, YIKES) out of clothing and need to remember what still fits. This printable clothing inventory comes with me everywhere and ensures I don’t overbuy or purchase too much of one thing.
Action Item: Print out the clothing inventory and carry it with you while shopping!
3. Know your kids’ clothing STYLE/ FAVORITE BRANDS/ NEEDS.
Perhaps it’s selfish (okay, I KNOW it’s selfish) but I enjoy having my kids in clothes that look good on them. They don’t need to look like kiddie models or wear outlandish things, but I try to mix practical/functional clothing with a little bit of style. And YES, you can still do this for almost FREE! (keep reading, hope I haven’t lost you yet).
As I always preach, know your style. Or more importantly, know your CHILD’S style. I learned pretty quickly that putting light purple clothing on my daughter made her look really pale and under-the-weather and the color brown makes my son’s features blend in and look drab, so I avoid those colors. Teal for my daughter and orange for my son though, and POW, their personality shines through! My daughter HATES cardigans and skirts, so I avoid buying those because I’ll be in for a wrestling match if I try to put them on her (oh, the humanity). As much as I cringe, my son loves Thomas the Train so I try to find ‘trendier’ style Thomas shirts and he loves them so it’s win-win, sort of.
Bright blue = KAPOW!
My son loves that his shirt matches his train. Really.
Also, know what brands fit your lifestyle. I look for four things: style, fit, durability, and resale value. Here’s which brands we love:
- GAP Kids has trendy clothes that I adore, plus they wear well and have a great resale value
- Gymboree can’t be beat in terms of durability and resale value, plus it fits my kids well
- Carters pajamas are our favorites, second only to Gymboree, because they last awhile
- CrewCuts (J. Crew) is expensive but gorgeous, so I try to get one or two pieces there each season (on sale of course)
- Cherokee is a trendier lower-priced brand that always seems to look good on my kids– great for playwear
- If I can snag a Lilly Pulitzer dress at a consignment sale I will, but I’ve learned not to buy other pieces because one drop of chocolate ice cream on a white Lilly shirt and it’s worthless. 🙁
- Shoes: my mom always insisted on getting the BEST shoes we could because they’re so important, and I’ll still do that to this day. For summer the kids really only wear Keens and my daughter has a pair of Sanuk flip-flops. In winter they need a pair of “fancy” sneakers for school, casual sneakers for play, a dresser pair of shoes for special occasions, and snow boots. As much as I love shoes, I try to stay within these parameters and buy the BEST we can!
Tip: try to buy within one or two color schemes per season so that no matter what brands you buy you can mix and match. Or buy mostly neutral bottoms (jeans, grey, black, navy) so they don’t clash with bolder tops.
Make a list of brands that match your style, fit & durability needs and you’ll have a shopping list of dream brands to focus on!
4. Know the best SOURCES that fit your kids’ clothing budget and style.
Okay, so here’s what you probably landed on this page to read: my top-secret way to get almost FREE clothing from top brands! You’ll want to get the BEST clothing for the SMALLEST cost, and here’s now. Then once you’ve read my tricks for buying name brand clothes on the cheap, see #5 for how to get your money BACK!
—–> Tip: Don’t spend much money buying too far ahead in case your kids go through a growth spurt and grow themselves right out of that size and season. TRUST. This just happened with my daughter, but at least I have new-with-tags name brand 4T clothing that I bought for next to nothing to resell and make my money back.
—–> Tip: Sign up for emails from your favorite retailers to scope out the BEST sales. I usually wait until they have a %age off clearance AND free shipping, you can get amazing prices on clothing delivered right to your door! Favorite brands for this are GAP, Gymboree, and Olly Shoes.
WAIT– before you buy ANYTHING online, be sure to check Ebates and possibly get a percentage back. This site offers money back for most online purchases. REALLY.
Gymboree: Here’s how I leverage Gymboree—
- I always use a coupon, whether it’s a 20% off coupon or Gymbucks (can’t use both at the same time). Then I stack that with a sale.
- What are Gymbucks? They’re $25 off of a $50 purchase coupon that you earn by buying $50 worth of clothing during the earning period. During earning periods, I’ll head straight to the sale rack and scan what’s available. If the sales are great and I can get some deals with a coupon, I’ll go ahead and spend the $50 to earn a Gymbuck. I usually get about 15-20 pieces of clothing for that $50, making the price point about $2 or $3 each! Find deals online by signing up for Gymboree emails and then pouncing when the sales get REALLY good. Try to get free shipping too– search for coupons codes and see if you can find one for shipping or buy clothes on sale during a free shipping period!
- When Gymbucks spending time comes around, I treat it like a 50% off coupon. I’ll either use it to get 50% off already reduced clothing or “splurge” on one of their new line of clothing and get the piece at least 50% off (though even the new lines are usually 20% off, so, BONUS!)
GAP Kids: My favorite brand for STYLE. A few times a year they have a bonkers sale: 40% off already reduced clearance prices PLUS free shipping and I pounce.
Kohls: One-stop-shop for inexpensive and cute kids clothing. First of all, most things are usually 40% off. Then use the 20% off coupons they put out every few weeks (read THIS to find out how to get the elusive 30% off Kohls coupon). Do your shopping during a Kohls Cash earning time and you’re practically stealing from the store. But legally.
Crew Cuts: Yeah, I love Crew Cuts but it’s pricey. I find it at our local J. Crew Factory Store. I’ll usually buy one or two things when they’re on sale and use the occasional J. Crew coupon they put out.
Other High-End Brands (Lilly Pulitzer, Janie and Jack, Hanna Andersson): I haven’t found a way to get these items for the price point I’d like in retail stores, so I routinely snag these brands at consignment sales (see below). The one exception is that Hanna Andersson usually has a big year-end sale so that’s where I got my daughter’s jacket for just a few dollars last year!
Holiday Clothing: Gymboree usually has a 16.99 sale each year when EVERYTHING in the store is $16.99 and under. While they may feel like that’s a lot to spend, I’ll often get a dressy jacket and holiday dress at that price, use a 20% off coupon, and resell them for $15 when they’re outgrown. Not too shabby! I found Abby’s Christmas dress at GAP for $8 after the holidays last year, and people still comment about it– it was my all time favorite!
Jackets: It gets COLD here, so I splurge here and get great quality jackets. I usually buy them from L.L. Bean when they run their $10 gift card promotion, though last year I snagged a Hanna Andersson jacket for my daughter during their year-end sale that will resell quickly. Rain jackets I always buy at consignment sales, often scoring Hatley or other high-end brands for just a few dollars. And because they’re a great brand, they’ll resell for the same price too. 😉
Consignment Sales: Since I get my new clothes so inexpensively, I don’t need to buy tons at consignment sales but I do looooove them. I try to buy only the BEST of the BEST at consignment sales. That’s usually where I’ll get gently used jeans and top brands like Polo, Lilly, Hatley, Crewcuts, etc. I always make sure there’s no fading or wear and that the price is right. Top brands have top resale value, baby!! Here’s the best tips for shopping consignment sales like a ROCKSTAR.
Thrift Stores: Quite frankly, prices at my local thrift store are usually higher than what I pay for new clothes retail. However, sometimes I’ll find a few scores in higher-end areas or if there’s a Salvation Army that gets the new-with-tags castoffs from Target. Thrift stores are also a good place to find play clothes and jeans, but I’m REALLY picky about them knowing I can usually get those types of things for less using the tips above!
Yard Sales/Online Yard Sales: This is a good place to get clothing but can be really hit or miss depending on the age of the kids who are getting rid of the clothes. Scout them out in advance on Craig’s List so you don’t waste your time. It’s been awhile since I found clothes at a yard sale because I don’t have the time anymore!
Gifts: Gifts are great but usually taper off after the baby years. I always accept gifts with grace because they’re a blessing when trying to keep your budget on track. For example, this Easter dress from my mother-in-law– not our usual style, but so stinking cute!
Hand-Me-Downs: I love hand-me-downs. I’ll never forget when one of my best friends sent about 40 pounds of baby boy clothes when my son was born and I didn’t have to buy a thing for him for about a year and a half! Plus when I see my kids in various friends’ clothing it reminds me of them and their kids whom I miss dearly. Sweetness!!
5. Know how to smartly resell and GET YOUR KIDS’ CLOTHING BUDGET BACK:
So now you’ve defined what you need, your style, and snagged your kids’ clothing for the LOWEST price possible. Here’s how to get most (if not ALL) of that money back by reselling smart!
- Consignment sales: here’s what I’ve found: I can resell Gymboree clothing at consignment sales for the same price that I bought it for in the store! That doesn’t mean I can pay full price and then resell it that way. But if my price point is about $3-$4 per piece, then I can usually charge $5 for it at a consignment sale and get my money back (because the sale owner takes a percentage). I try not to get greedy– I won’t charge $5 for a plain shirt. But I WILL charge $5 for jeans or dressier tops/pants that I scored on the cheap, and I break even! Also because I’m super picky when buying at consignment sales, I’ll often snag a high-end item (Lily Pulitzer dress, Hatley rainjacket) and after we’ve used it turn right around and resell it for the same amount. Honest!! Check out this post for how to make BIG BUCKS selling at consignment sales.
- Yard Sales: again, I’ve snagged my clothing so inexpensively that when I resell it at a yard sale it’s at cost (or even higher, since I don’t have to pay a percentage like at consignment sales!) The trick here is I sell most of it for $2 each– organized by gender and size. That’s what I bought most of my consignment/ thrift store/ super Gymboree sale clothing for anyways. I’ll price the nicer items higher (ie, jeans, dresses, and jackets) and place those on a rack. Tons more tips on how to have a WILDLY successful yard sale here— chock full of must-read tips if you’re reselling this way.
- eBay: I’ll be honest, I haven’t resold clothing this way yet. The reason is I simply don’t have time to take photos, list, answer questions, pack, and ship each item. That being said, I’ve included it because I do plan to sell my daughter’s new-with-tags 4T summer clothing that she didn’t wear as a lot next spring. Since I bought it on sale I know I can get a great price by reselling it all in one lot to another busy parent who wants a one-stop-shop. She gets brand new clothes and I’ll make back my money– BOOM.
- Hand-Me-Downs and Thrift Stores: I obviously won’t make money this way but wanted to include it because it’s important. There’s sentimental items that I don’t resell. I like to hand those down to other kiddos I love. I also hand down any hand-me-downs we received to keep the clothing karma coming. Clothing that is in still good enough condition but not the best gets donated. I throw away anything that is permanently stained or torn beyond repair.
Check out this combo. Free pajamas on the kiddo (used a gift card) and she’s wearing the Hunter boots I got on sale at Bloomies. Hey, I need to spend SOME money on clothes, might as well be mine. 😉
What’s most important of course is that your kids are comfortable and happy, and that they feel they have a say in what they wear. I think this system fulfills that need while staying on track money-wise too. Win-win!!
Did I write a long enough post for you? YIKES! I get a little bit excited about getting kids’ clothing under budget, especially with back-to-school season approaching. Thanks for sticking with me this long. I’d love to hear YOUR tips for getting clothes on the cheap or reselling without spending too much time and energy!