As the mom of two young daughters — Penny, 3, and Georgia, 1 — I understand why the average American family spends roughly 3.8% of their annual household income on clothes. Children are constantly growing, and their clothing needs change nearly every season.
Since we’re a lower income family, my husband and I decided early in our parenting journey to spend as little as possible on our kids’ clothes. My children are both well-dressed, typically wearing the latest fashions and the best designer brands.
Yet I spend virtually nothing.
How do I do it? Let me share my secrets. Here are 10 ways to get children’s clothes for free or next to nothing.
1. Host a Community Clothing Swap
This is a fun way to exchange clothes! Gather together for a few hours of light refreshments and swapping.
Invite friends, neighbors and community members who have children within a certain age category. Considering the ages of my kids, I would invite families with newborns to children about 6 years old.
Time your clothing exchanges about two to four weeks before the start of a new season. This way, your children will have some new items at crucial times, such as back-to-school season and summer break.
2. Sell Used Clothes at a Consignment Shop
Trade in your pre-worn clothes at consignment shops in person or online. Depending on the clothing’s quality, staff will usually offer you a store credit of 40%-50% of the selling price, which you can then use toward new clothes.
One store my family frequents is Once Upon a Child. This buy-and-sell children’s shop offers 30% of their selling price in cash. I take the money they offer me for my used children’s clothes and head to their 70% off rack, where I have found entire outfits for $1 and T-shirts for 40 cents, often brand-new with tags still on them.
3. Trade Your Services for Outgrown Clothes
Find a friend who has children one or two sizes up from yours, and offer to trade your time and effort for their kids’ outgrown clothes. For example, two nights of free babysitting for a garbage bag full of used clothes.
4. Create a Facebook Clothing Trade Group
Many local Facebook groups cater specifically to moms and parents.
Consider creating your own group focused on trading children’s clothes, with an emphasis on free clothing. People can post a photograph of an outfit and what they’re seeking in return.
This has the same feel of a community clothing swap, except it’s ongoing and you can request specific items, like rain boots, from a much larger group of people.
5. Repurpose Old Clothes
My children are always in need of pajamas. The problem: They rarely go on sale, and it’s hard to find used ones in good condition.
The good news is pajamas are for sleeping — not wearing outside — so who cares what they look like?
Consider putting your kids to sleep in T-shirts and track pants that are stained or worn out.
Or, search through your own drawers and find some old shirts you don’t wear. Use them as nightgowns or cut them in half. If you have any sewing abilities, you can even create a shorts and T-shirt set.
6. Create a List and Sort Through What You Have
Sit down for a moment and write out a list of clothes you think your children need. Perhaps you think they don’t have enough shorts, so you write down, “needs two extra pairs of shorts.”
Set aside an hour and go through all your children’s clothes. Make sure to check their dresser, under the couch, in overnight bags and in the dirty laundry. Sort and count all their clothing and write down each item in columns.
For example: 12 T-shirts, 10 pajamas, 15 shorts
Look at your original list. You wrote they needed extra shorts, yet you found a bunch you forgot about, and they actually have more than necessary!
Keep that list in your wallet, and when you feel tempted to buy them another pair of shorts, remind yourself: They already have 15 pairs!
7. Borrow One-Time-Use Items
We all have those annoying events where our children need a pair of white shoes or a black dress, and you know they will never have to wear that item again.
Instead of blowing money for a single-use item, ask friends on social media or in person if they happen to have that item in the correct size. Borrow it for the event, write a nice thank-you card and offer to do the same for them next time.
My daughter has worn dresses slightly too big to events; nobody noticed, and my daughter loved knowing she was borrowing her older friend’s dress for the day.
8. Request Items for Birthdays and Christmas
Some might call this tacky, but I call it smart: If you have family and friends who typically buy your child a gift, make sure it’s something he or she needs.
Before a holiday, consider sending a quick email to your closest family members to let them know some of the items your child is running low on. Perhaps Grandma’s birthday present can be a new winter coat or a pair of rubber boots.
9. Check Craigslist for Free Items
Sometimes people post free clothing out of the goodness of their hearts.
Check out Craigslist every so often to see if someone giving away clothes for free.
10. Use Referral Programs
Look for online clothing retailers that provide referral credits, which can lead to free clothes for your family. Thred-up is one example of an online retailer that sells used clothing and offers a great referral program.
Your Turn: What are some ways you get free (or nearly free) clothes for your children?
Brianna Bell is a wife, mother and freelance writer specializing in articles on personal finance and family. She has been featured in the Globe & Mail, and has been referred to as a “tiger mom of personal finance.” You can find her blog at mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com and on Twitter @briannarbell.