Having both a 5-year-old and a newborn (a girl and a boy), I've done my fair share of buying ... and selling what no longer fits.
We know how fast they grow, so shelling out tons of cash to keep them clothed—especially as the seasons change—can present a budgetary challenge.
With that in mind, here are nine of my best tips for keeping your kids in threads and your bank account plump, tried and tested by a "real" mom!
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1. Buy Gender Neutral
Exactly as it sounds, buying gender-neutral clothing means that your son and daughter (or even future ones) can share the same duds. For example, babies can wear onesies in neutral colors like yellow or navy. Kids can share items like pajama pants, winter gear, raincoats, tennis shoes and even sweaters. My 5-month-old son has a seriously substantial onesie collection because friends and family smartly purchased neutral options the first time around with my 5-year-old daughter.
2. Buy (Gently) Used
It’s simple, yes, but it’s amazing how inexpensive perfectly good secondhand clothing can be. Many parents have large quantities of clothes to unload. Since kids grow so quickly, used kids’ clothes are likelier to be better quality and less worn than adults’—and new sites catering to families make the search easier. A few good places to look:
- SwapBabyGoods: This site allows parents to buy, sell and swap their kids' outgrown clothing, toys and accessories. Once you complete the free registration process, you list your goods—either noting the cash price you'd like for an item or what you'd want in return. Users can then connect with each other through the site to hammer out a sale or swap deal on their own.
- eBay: You can often score brand-new clothing here, and some items even have tags. Loads of sellers troll outlets and resell on the site at very reasonable prices—and those selling used pieces often take very good care of them. To be a savvy bidder, look for items that say NWT, which means "new with tags" and NWOT, or "new without tags," and consider steering clear of items in “play condition,” which means the clothing has marks and/or shows signs of wear. For more advice on how to master eBay, click here.
- Local parents listserv: Most major cities offer an online parents group that serves young families looking for advice, social outings, local tips or to exchange outgrown clothing and toys. Just search “[your city], online parents group” and see what comes up. Parents often offer to sell individual pieces or bags/boxes of clothing by size and season (for example, you might find “a box of winter clothes for boys’ size medium”). You could be lucky enough to scoop up an entire seasonal wardrobe for anywhere from $20 to $40 … total.
3. Find a Regular Swapping Family
This is a tough one to find, but when you do, you’ll save a ton. We are in a committed clothing swap relationship with a neighborhood family. We give our daughter’s outgrown clothing to their 4-year-old girl; they give their 1-year-old boy’s outgrown clothing to us for our 5-month-old son. Like I said, it may be tough to find a family that couples perfectly with your own, but this has meant that we’ve literally spent pennies to outfit our son. Tip: If your parents' board allows it, you might post to find a family to swap with, or, once your kids reach school age, pick out a family with similar-age siblings and make your pitch.
4. Go a Size Up
While we don’t want our kids swimming in their everyday clothes, there are definitely some items with which you shouldn’t be afraid to go a size up. Some are worn so infrequently—like raincoats or snow pants—that a bigger size doesn’t seem as obvious the couple times a year that they are used. Other items, like winter PJs, are comfy even if they’re slightly roomy. These are the same items that, to me, fall into the “buy cheap" category. If you only trot them out once or twice a season, there’s really no sense in handing over good money.
I shop for summer 2014 clothing in July 2013. Because life gets busy, the easiest way to tackle this is to set calendar alerts to remind yourself.
5. Sell in Bulk—and Sell It All
If you’re motivated enough to sell off your kids’ outgrown clothing, save time by packaging and selling as a collection/full seasonal wardrobe (as opposed to individual pieces). Try to gather enough tops and bottoms to make outfits when you photograph, and play up the mix/match angle in your description, so prospective buyers can see how many looks they’ll get. You can ask for a decent bulk price, say, $50 or $100, even depending on the quality of the clothing and the brands you’re offering. You can do this at sites like eBay.
6. Shop Off-Season
A little dip in the temperature makes back-to-school shopping all the more timely, but we’ve already stocked up on fall clothing—last November. Pick up that winter coat in January or February, swimwear in August, and so forth. There’s no hard and fast rule. Just think: When will most shoppers be purchasing said item? Wait one month, two max, and shop for the following year. For example, I shop for summer 2014 clothing in July 2013. Because life gets busy, the easiest way to tackle this is to set calendar alerts to remind yourself. Wait any longer, say, September, and you run the risk of depleted stock or the retailer sending extras back to make room for next season’s offerings.
7. Skip the Flash Sales
The flash sale mentality can lead to major buyer’s remorse. Sure, discounts are tempting, but many of the clothes on sites like Zulily are still more expensive than your average play clothes, plus shipping can be more than $10 and returns can be a hassle (if they're allowed). If you’re looking for name brands, consider the big-box stores, which often have capsule/mini collections, e.g. Joe Fresh Kids for J.C. Penney or Diane von Furstenberg for Gap Kids.
8. Curate a Collection
If your kids are old enough to have an opinion about what they wear (which can start as early as 3!) and want to have some say in the process, do an initial sweep of an online store, collect your picks in the cart, then let your child narrow it down from there. It’s much easier to drill down to optimal price range and parent-approved styles—without “But I want that!” on repeat.
9. Rent for Special Occasions
Renting is usually more expensive than owning, but when we’re talking about a dress your 2-year-old might wear only once, the “price per wear” ratio changes. If your child is heading to a formal event, dresses and suits can be pricey to purchase. Instead, check out BorrowBabyCouture, a baby clothing rental site with sizes for children up to age 4, where you can find everything from a Fendi silk dress ($63 a week) to a Jottum knit sweater ($16 a week).