I figured this was a great place to start in light of a recent event. Clothing a child can cost a small fortune, it can cost next to nothing or somewhere in between. It all depends on how resourceful and how particular you are! ***Warning--seriously long post!***
I know parents who are VERY particular about the clothes they put on their child. For these parents it isn't about making sure their children have clean, nice looking and presentable clothing. It is about making their children the fashion plate they would like to be or see themselves as. Their children can only wear the newest, most fashionable, perfect clothing. Anything less would not be acceptable. I'm sure some of you think I'm kidding, but I'm not. Personally, I would really have thought only those parents with huge amounts of money or celebrities who felt some kind of pressure to be perfect would put that kind of attention into what their kids wear. However, I was surprised to learn that sometimes everyday, average families feel the need to dress their children in nothing short of the best. Someone I know sent me an e-mail from a mom-to-be talking about her upcoming shower. She specifically wanted people to know not to buy clothes for their baby since she only wanted him to wear certain brands and certain looks and knew that no one else would be able to get it right. She commented on outfits that her husband had bought and had to return because she would never put their child in them. It was an eye opener for me. Obviously families with this philosophy would spend the most when it comes to kids clothing!
Then there are families or groups of friends who have awesome systems down that prevent anyone from having to put out huge sums of money for kids clothes. A group of people I know (who are all related) have totes of clothes for boys and girls in all the different sizes that they rotate as each new baby is born. This system saves any one person from having to buy everything for their child. Of course, the oldest boy and girl have the most to acquire. After this it is an amazing money and time saver for all of them. I think this is an amazing system! This is probably the cheapest way to outfit a child (with the exception of the oldest of each gender).
For the majority of us we are somewhere in the middle. We want our children to be dressed in decent clothes. We want them to wear things we find presentable and are pleasing to our taste in clothing. We do not want to spend a fortune on kids clothing, but we also do not have a constant source for free clothes. So, how do you outfit a child without spending a fortune?
Here are some of the ideas we've used to avoid spending much on outfitting Little Guy:
1. Be organized with what you have and what you want to have. Make a list of some sort so that you know what you are working with. Some people like them to be very detailed, but I just use tallies with a few notes when needed (color of winter coat so I can find snow pants that match, dress clothes specifics, etc.) I try and find clothes for at least the next year so that I can avoid too many in season rushed purchases. Before Little Guy was born I focused on 3-12 months, last summer (when he was wearing 12 month) I focused on 18 months-2T with a few 3T thrown in. I'm now working on filling in 3T and finding 4T items, he is wearing 18/2T. By staying ahead I avoid last minute shopping and save money.
2. Join Freecycle if there is one in your community. This is an easy way to be able to post what you need and to respond to those who offer up clothing that you may be able to use. (Basically on freecycle people post things that they no longer need and do not want to send to a landfill. If you are interested you e-mail them and arrange pick up if they select you.) Many months ago I responded to a woman who had some toddler clothing. She didn't get back to me forever and I had forgotten about it. Then I heard from her and we discussed sizes. Then it took a few more weeks until I heard from her about pick up. We went the next day since I didn't want to drag it out anymore. The sad thing is that Little Guy is pushing the size limits on what she gave us. The amazing thing is that she gave us about 5 big boxes of clothing. Seriously, there were more clothes than he has ever had for any single one size and it may even rival all of what he has for 12 month-24 month put together. So we've gone through it and are keeping some things for him (probably way too much) and we are passing on the others to a little guy who is about 6 months younger. If they can't use it I've got another baby in mind who is even younger and may be able to fit into some of them. Now, they are not all perfect and some are pretty old, but there were still enough really cute, in great shape clothes, some even pricey brands that it totally made it worth my time to wash and sort them. And for FREE! I love that price.
3. Make friends with people who have kids older than yours. One of the girls I used to work with has one son who is almost 3 years older than Little Guy. She has been storing everything from his toddler years and finally decided it was time for a yard sale. Since she knows I love bargains she called me first. She is overwhelmed at the idea of going through everything to sell it and I was able to help her pair down her inventory before she even started pricing. As we went through her totes I was able to help put like things together and I was able to find some things that are often not easy to find at rummage sales. (We won't be buying any socks for a few years!) She has already told me that each time her son outgrows a season she's calling me first. While I pay her a bit more than I would in normal garage saling I figure it is worth it to have first pick, not spend any extra in gas and also have some girl time at the same time. It is a real win-win for both of us.
4. Rummage or Yard or Garage Sale, depending on where you live! I really find these to be a key to our money saving technique. You can read a whole lot about it here if you haven't already. I keep my list up to date by adding to it as soon as I get home from bargain hunting so I don't get too confused. (I am sooooo ready for rummage sale season to start even if I might be a bit later than normal on getting in on it with the little one coming in early June.) Basically I focus on finding sales that have great prices. If a sale is asking $1-$5 per piece I'm out of there, but if a table is marked "everything is $.25" then I'll be there for a while! I am not afraid to spend some time when I find what I like and the price is right. It is amazing how often you can bring home clothes that still have tags on them for just a few cents.
5. Craigslist or eBay. This is a good way to find specific things that you need and do not want to spend too much time looking for. You can find brand names with an easy search and do not have to spend any time at the mall! The benefit to craigslist is that you do not have to pay any shipping, but it is only available in certain areas. eBay has been a good resource for my sister to outfit her twins. She could find lots of clothes in styles she liked, often in 'twin sets' and it saved her the time required for garage saling. Often these options will be more pricey than some of the others above, but they can still be great deals.
6. Clearance racks are your friend. When you want new clothes and have a favorite store or brand clearance racks can be an amazing place. Many department stores have great kids wear now and when you combine end of season sales with already marked down prices you can score some great deals! It is always smart to shop at the end of the season for next year's needs. Even if you miss once or twice on sizes or styles chances are great that you will come out way ahead. If you do end up with one of those new, with tags outfits you can always try and sell it on craigslist or eBay!
8. Second hand and consignment stores. There are a plethora of thrift/consignment/new to you type stores out there. Some are focused on kid's items, others like Goodwill have a huge variety of things. I consider these to be my 'mall' of sorts. When I haven't found what I need through any of my other venues I'll look there. The prices are not as good as many other ways I find clothing, but they are better than full price at Target or A Child's Place! This winter I had not found snow boots for Little Guy. Since he was able to go out and play in the snow he needed boots, but I did not want to spend $25 at Target to get them. I ran through a new Goodwill and found exactly what we needed (matched his coat and snow pants and everything) for $2.99. Most of his shoes I get for $1, but these were the right size, matched and were there when I needed them!
And last, but certainly not least...
8. Get real. Kids grow out of clothes really fast. Babies spit up on pretty much anything they wear. Toddlers like mud. Older kids fall off bikes, skin knees and ruin clothes in the process. Clothes will probably not look all that great within a few wearings. They may stay nice for the entire growth spurt, but even then they may only fit for a few weeks or months. Kids want to explore the world they are learning about and that means they will be dirty. Their clothes shouldn't be more important than their learning. I do not want to stress about keeping my babies clothes perfect, I want to enjoy their childhood with them. When I spend $.50 on a shirt it doesn't matter so much if it gets ruined or even just stained. If I spent $30.00 on that same shirt I would be stressed. Buying nice used clothing is really smart for a family's budget, a mother's sanity, and is good for the environment as well. You will get clothing as gifts, especially for babies. Be grateful, exchange what doesn't work, and for goodness sake do not buy any newborn clothes yourself! We ended up with about 40 newborn-3 month sleepers...no one needs that many. People are generous, especially with first babies.
I think some of the best things that we do to save money on Little Guy's clothing is to realize he doesn't need all that much, he doesn't care if they are used so we shouldn't either, and believe that we can outfit him for a few dollars each year. And for Baby 2 we have not bought a single item. See 40 sleepers comment! If Baby 2 is a girl, I'm sure I'll be enjoying the rummage sale season even more. However, our kids will hand down a lot of clothes, regardless of gender. PJs, jeans, sweatsuits, shorts, etc can all be worn by either girls or boys. And if we have another boy he'll be wearing a lot of his brother's clothes for years to come! They probably weren't new for Little Guy anyway :)
Please add any other ideas you have in the comments! This is not an exhaustive list, just some things that have worked for us and for others we know. I am constantly trying to learn more ways to save money and look forward to hearing your ideas!