How to Build a Child’s Wardrobe on a Budget

Guest post from Faith of Home Ec @ Home

It’s no secret that children outgrow their clothes quickly and need new clothes each season. This can get expensive. However, if you plan ahead you can save lots of money and build a quality wardrobe for your child at a fraction of the cost.

Buying New

Shop the Clearance Racks:

Shop at the end of a season for clearance items that your child can wear the following year. (Fall and spring are great buying seasons when retailers are clearing out merchandise.)

Buy the next size up and store them for later. I drive out to the local outlet mall a couple of times a year and stock up on end of season clothes, shoes, coats, hats, mittens, etc. for the kids.

Use Coupons:

Utilize extra discounts and coupons at your favorite stores. I buy quality name brand clothes for my boys, but I never pay full price. I buy good quality because the clothes have to last for multiple children.

Sign up for the email or mailing list at your favorite stores so that you can get extra discounts and coupons. I receive email and print mail coupons and discounts at these stores and am able to get additional discounts off already clearanced items.

Shop Online:

Online retailers also offer special discounts in addition to clearance prices. I only buy when I receive an email with an extra discount that I can apply to sale items and get free shipping. I shop past season reduced merchandise online too and stock up for the next year.

By using coupons and discounts, I am able to save an additional 20-50% off already reduced prices.

Buying Used

Another great option for outfitting children on a budget is buying used clothing. I buy a mix of new and used clothes for the boys.

I am very picky since the clothes are pre-owned. I am careful to check the clothing closely and make sure there are no stains, tears, fading, etc. I always check zippers and buttons to make sure they are functional too.

Kids Consignment:

Consignment shops offer the convenience and availability of a large selection, but can be a little pricier. My local store offers clothing at around $3.00 to $8.00 per item.

I pay less for new clothes than most of the clothes in consignment shops. If you have items you no longer need and consign them, you can use your store credit to shop.

Thrift Stores:

Thrift stores are more hit or miss in my opinion, but the prices are generally very good. If you like the challenge of searching to find those hidden gems, you can get some good deals on gently used clothing at thrift stores.

Stores in my area, price children’s clothing at $1.95 to $2.50 per item. I have found lots of great clothes for the boys at thrift stores.

Garage Sales:

I love garage sales and especially large sales hosted by churches or schools. The larger the sale, the more likely you are to find a large selection of great kids clothes.

I have found the best deals at yard sales on kids’ clothes. Usually items are $0.50 to a $1.00 and if you are purchasing several items, feel free to offer a smaller amount. More than likely, the seller will take your offer. If not, and you really want the items, you are still getting a good deal.

Thred Up:

ThredUp is an online used clothing site. Prices are higher than thrift stores or yard sales, but the clothes are in great condition and you have the convenience of shopping online.

They also offer special promotions and discounts from time to time. And you can order a bag from their site and send in your gently used clothes for shopping credit. I just sent in my first bag. It was super easy and shipped free from my UPS store.

Free Clothes

Hand-me-downs:

If you have family or friends with older children, you may be able to borrow or keep hand-me-downs.

Free Swap:

We have a friend who organizes a free swap every year. She invites everyone in the group to drop off any unwanted kids items the week before the swap. She cleans out her garage and sets it up like a garage sale.

Then we have a potluck kids swap and everyone gets to shop for free while the kids play. We have been blessed with toys, clothes, a stroller, and a Stokke chair from the Free swap and passed on a few things we didn’t need anymore.

Do you have any other tips to build a wardrobe on a budget? 

Faith Still is a former Home Economics teacher who stays home with her three beautiful boys and blogs at Home Ec @ Home.

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Comments

  1. says

    These are all great tips, and I love the idea of the potluck swap!

    We have been blessed with many hand-me-downs, and have been able to swap clothes with families who have children either older or younger than ours.

    I find the best clearance deals at Target and Children’s Place, and using coupon codes at the latter often brings the price down to what I would pay for a used outfit at consignment!

    I don’t really try “guessing” ahead on sizes until they get a little older, though. Perhaps toddler. When my kids were infants, I had loads of clothes I had purchased on clearance the season before, and they ended up not able to use them (short sleeves for winter, long sleeves for summer, etc.), so I ended up losing money trying to get a “great deal”.

    Finally, I think my littles need less clothes than I think they do. When they get older and more social they may desire a more varied wardrobe, but right now the basics are really all we need.

  2. Karina says

    I agree with garage sales being the best place to get clothing. I scored my sons entire 2T wardrobe for about 10.00 (not counting shoes) by taking a lot of clothing and offering less.
    Back in 2011 I used the JCP coupons they used to send out for 10.00 off a 10.00 or higher purchase. I’ve found 2 since they quit doing those coupons regularly.
    Also, anyone who lives near a Sears Outlet that sells clothing can be a Shop Your Way rewards member and score one piece of free clothing when they do free apparel day.

  3. says

    As I quickly skimmed throgh this post, I had to laugh, because I thought it said, ” she invites you to drop off any unwanted kids…”
    Oh, “unwanted kids’ items!” :)

  4. Liz says

    We have a Carter’s Outlet near our home and I signed up for their coupons by giving them our spam email. The outlet prices are so-so, but the coupons add an additional discount which is nice. I try to pair up the coupon with their cheaper clothes and it turns out to be a decent deal.

  5. says

    Great tips! Some other ways to build a wardrobe are to reuse the clothing you already have. Here are some ways to reuse clothing.

    * Cotton Dresses can become “tunics” when they get too short.

    * Buy dresses that are sleeveless and one or two sizes bigger. Your girls can wear them year-round, by pairing a short sleeve shirt in the summer and a longsleeve shirt in winter.

    * Pajama pants can be cut to make pajama shorts for the summer.

    * Denim or khaki pants can be cut into shorts or capris for the summer. If you buy adjustable waist paints, you can just loosen the tabs to make room for summer growth.

    *Instead of throwing out stained everyday shirts, use them for pajama shirts.

    * Stained white shirts can be tie-dyed and used as play or pajama shirts.

    ~Hope these tips help someone and everyone has a wonderful weekend~

  6. says

    Last week, I bought a new pair of shorts (that included a belt) for my son for $2 at a garage sale. The original price on the tag said $32.

    Garage sale prices tend to be higher here ($1-$2, but sometimes I find lower prices), as do thrift store prices (generally $3-$4 per item at the thrift stores for children).

    I am friends with a woman who lives half of her year in another state with a different climate (cooler than mine). She loves to go garage sale shopping all summer, and all of her children are grown, so she has fun buying small clothing for my children. I give her my list of needed items, and she buys what she can find at .25 to $1 an item (except for coats, which she can usually find for $3). She brings back my items and I pay her for what she buys. She manages to find most of my boys clothes for me for an amazing price. Because the climate there is different (short summers, while we wear shorts most of the year), the summer clothing that she finds is in really great shape. She offered to do this for me several years ago (since she loves going to garage sales) and it’s wonderful for me to have a personal shopper.

    • amy says

      Denim jackets are a wardrobe staple for my kids. I look for them at consignment stores, but years when I haven’t been able to find them, I buy one during a major sale of the year at my store of choice, with a coupon. I buy denim jackets a size larger than the child currently wears, and I find I can get two years (at least) out of the jacket that way, rolling up the sleeves. IMO it doesn’t look so big that it is sloppy.

      I also buy PJs big, and we wear them until they are cropped, also getting about two years out of them this way. And I try to buy used PJs by garage sale or local mom sales.

      I know the sales schedules (and coupons) of my favorite kids’ clothing store, and I shop their clothes during those sales. I resell the clothes that I can, using that money to go towards new (or new to us) clothes. I have sold in a variety of places, but the easiest and best place for maximum money is eBay, IMO. I’ve sold on online consignment sites, clothing boards, FB boards, and consignment stores. Consignment stores are the worst for $$, clothing boards are the best for $$, but I find eBay to be less time consuming and less drama with less flakey buyers.

      Once I’ve gotten to know a brand’s fit and quality, I will also buy those clothes on eBay. I’ve gotten great deals on clothes and shoes this way.

      My way isn’t the *cheapest* way, as I do favor some pricier brands (Janie and Jack, Gap), but I’ve found that I spend less on my JJ or Gap for my kids than I would when I see the prices on the cute Target sets–that I know I won’t be able to resell later for much. It is a little time consuming, however (mostly the resell process).

    • Jen says

      I also have my own personal garage sale shopper, a family member who just happens to love garage sale shopping. :) It is a fantastic setup: she gets to go out to garage sales which is enjoyable for her, and I am able to get very nice clothes for my kids at prices that can’t be beat.

  7. Aubrey says

    If there are seasonal consignment sales in your area those are another good place to get kids clothes. We have two different semi-annual sales in our area and I find that they have much better prices than the consignment store in town. They’re still not quite as inexpensive as garage sales, but I save a lot of time and money not having to drive from one garage sale to another not knowing if I’ll actually find something once I get there!

    • says

      I was going to say the exact same thing! :)

      I’m not a good garage saler (it wears me out and I just want to lay on the couch for the rest of the Saturday if I go), and so it’s much more doable for me to go to the semi-annual consignment sales. The prices are lower than thrift stores (although not as low as garage sales) and I can get it done in one fell swoop. (Besides, my little guy doesn’t like traipsing around to garage sales any more than I do! :) )

      I made a shopping list/clothing inventory printable to help me make sure I get everything I need when I go to these large sales: http://www.savingbymaking.com/2012/09/baby-clothing-inventory-with-printable-lists/ (Crystal, if I’m not supposed to leave a link, feel free to delete.)

      • Michelle says

        I found my almost 2 year olds entire summer wardrobe at our towns consignment sale for $35 – that was for 9 pairs of shorts, 8 shirts, 3 pj sets, and 3 bathing suits. Well, unless he decides to grow – living in the south I generally have to buy new summer clothes in Late July because my kids outgrow theirs. we are in shorts from March or April through early November most years. I usually go on half price day and can usually still find lots of good deals. Although I will say there is much more of a selection the smaller your child is. My 5 year old is a size 10 and I couldn’t find her anything.

  8. says

    Great post! I do almost all of the things suggested, especially buying new, good quality clothes online, on clearance, with a coupon, and a free shipping offer. I buy most everything else at consignment sales including great quality coats, jackets, pajamas, etc., and dress shoes that are only worn once a week.
    One additional suggestion I have is for the Moms who like to dress their children alike like I do: My girls are 2 years (2 sizes) apart. When I spot a great sale on dresses, for example, I buy 1 dress for my youngest daughter (ex. size 2), then a matching dress for my oldest daughter (ex. size 4), then I buy one more dress that will be for the oldest daughter 2 years after that (ex. size 6) when the youngest daughter fits in the one previously worn by the oldest. That way I have matching dresses for my girls at ages 2 & 4, then again in 2 years at ages 4 & 6. But instead of buying 4 dresses, I only had to buy 3.
    I did this just the other day right after Easter when Children’s Place was having a clearance sale. I got 3 of the same beautiful dresses in 3 different sizes (2 years apart x 3)) that were originally $35/ea (totaling $105). They were on clearance for $13.59, then I used Place Cash and free shipping to get them for under $10/ea (totally under $30).

    • Marie says

      Oh I love this!!! I match my girls but I hadn’t thought of buying one size up for the oldest so when the youngest gets her handme downs they would still match!! Love it! I also bought their Easter Dresses for next year at Carter’s for under $10!! I got the beautiful sea/teal/mint green color with the taffeta body in layers!! They look like princess dresses!!!

    • Anitra says

      I love matching my girl (currently 4 years old) and my boy (2 years old). It’s tough to do church clothes for them that match, but they love matching T-shirts. My boy gets good wear out of his, and while my daughter might not wear them as often (she has a school uniform, and some days, just doesn’t want to match), I know that they’ll get worn again in 2-3 years. :)

  9. Jen says

    I have been really pleased with Gap deals – when they offer 40% off of everything in store, that includes sale/clearance items in the back of the store. You’re not going to find matchy-matchy, but I have scored basic tees for a few dollars, a great velvet jacket, pajama pants (DD9 no longer wants matched sets, great!), special occasion dresses…I end up with a few high-quality pieces for not much money. I’ve found some GREAT tee-shirts for myself during the sales, too.

  10. says

    My favorite things to get from thrift stores are jeans and jean shorts for my daughter and son. Salvation army has 50% off clothing days every Friday i believe, that’s when i go. I get sun-dresses and shirts on clearance at Target,Carter’s, Oshkosh, Marshall’s, Ross, etc.

  11. Emily says

    I think the best way we save money now is to just buy less! Instead of buying lots of clothes because they are a good deal, I try to keep it to the bare minimum of what they actually need. I buy new (on sale/clearance) for my oldest boy and girl, and then save to pass down to the rest. About 3-4 church outfits, 2-3 nice casual outfits, and 5-6 play outfits are really all my kids need… and if they get more from b-days/Christmas then great! They get one pair of church shoes, sneakers, and boots in the winter, and then nice sandals, play sandals, and sneakers in the summer. Makes it a lot less to keep track of too! :)

  12. Corie says

    For my youngest daughter, I have hand me downs from her sisters (even though they are 5 and 7 years older than she is) and fill in the rest with used clothing from Once Upon a Child or new clothing from stores like Crazy 8, Children’s Place, or the usual discount stores. So far, she seems to just get taller (rather than bigger all over) so she’s been able to wear the same clothing for more than one season.

    All three of my girls get a certain amount of money for clothing twice a year, fall/winter and spring/summer and get $30 for shoes. If they want to go over budget, they have to buy it with their own money (allowances, Christmas and Birthday Money, etc). If they want more expensive shoes, they have to pay the difference. My girls have grown up watching me pay less than full price, buying clothes on sale, clearance, or consignment so they are using those skills to get the look they want for less.

    In the past, I have just kept a running total of what has been spent for clothing but recently, I bought a gift card for my 13-year-old to use for clothes and liked that much better. So I’m looking into reloadable prepaid debit cards.

  13. says

    There are also some large and fantastic annual/bi-annual consignment sales. Just between Friends and The Lolliposh Sale are the two in my area. I always end up with high end clothes at bargain prices…$4 for a Janie & Jack sundress, etc.

  14. Tasha says

    Thred Up is a great place to buy clothes. But my experience with sending items was disappointing. I packed my bag with 31 items. All were name brand and in excellent condition. I was only given credit for 3 items and was told that the rest were donated. I was angry to say the least. I will continue to purchase from them but will not send any items for credit.

  15. says

    We do as Emily does: keep fairly minimal wardrobes for each child, and everything is more affordable!

    We tend to do 10-days of undies and socks, 5-6 everyday outfits, 3 sets PJs, and 2-3 church/best outfits, plus one set of clothes for truly grubby. 1 light jacket, 1 warm coat, etc.

    We also look at thrift stores as “raw materials”–sometimes I find an item that gets used as-is, but more often, I’m cutting down a man’s dress shirt into a little play dress, or turning pants into capris, combining a few different $1 items into a pieced dress or skirt, that sort of thing. Just being able to change out buttons, add a pocket, or do a fun bit of applique makes all the difference.

    I target buying on the items I can’t better make… so I’ll buy shirts for my athletic 8yo, but make her pants, because she has much more leg muscle than ready-to-wear styles can accommodate. I tend to need to make dresses for my 5yo, as she’s long and lean, and takes a 6 for length, and a 2T for widths–hard to buy! Faster to buy used and adapt, or start from scratch.

    We also involve all our kids in editing and replenishing their own wardrobes. Getting in the habit of looking critically at what they have and what they need, and learning to pass along items in good condition to other families or to the charity shop, lets them really see how many blessings we have, and how to be content when needs are met.

  16. Marie says

    I use many of these tips for my kids. There is a Children’s Place outlet right by my house and I wait for their Monster sale and pair it with coupons to score most items under $1.50! I have bins in the my kids closet with clothes for the next sizes. I find prices at Once Upon a Child to be way overpriced so I typically don’t buy clothes there buy find other items. You have to really know your prices and know what you can get things for new to see if it’s worth it. Two other things that help shopping there is that before Christmas they offer additional $ on gift cards for every gift card purchased. And in the entertainment book their are 3 coupons for $5 off $25.
    Every once in awhile I will hit it big at Gymboree. I typically only like to buy there when it’s super clearanced to like $2.99. Just last week I was able to get over $400 worth of clothes for $65 and then had a $25 gift card!!! Everything was 60% off and then I had a 15% off coupon for the outlet.
    Shoes is another area I save. I had a rule of not paying more then $5 for new shoes. I shop clearance and have done so since my twins were little and they are now 6. Just recently I took all three kids to Stride Rites to get feet measured and my littlest one was two sizes bigger then the shoes she was wearing! And the twins were about a 1 1/2 to small. We came home and went to their closets and pulled out the right sizes, brand new and they were thrilled!!! My rule helps me because if I ever can’t use the shoes I can resell them and not be out any money.
    Carter’s used to be a gold mine for me but they stopped accepting coupons on clearance. But if you wait long enough you can find deals like the pj sets I got my son for $3.99. I love Carter’s pajama’s. I haven’t bought footed fleece pj’s in 3 years because I hit a sale/clearance once and bought all sizes up to size 7!!!! This was when I could get them for around $3 a piece!!!
    I believe in buying ahead but know your prices and what your willing to spend. I’ve also done this with underwear from Children’s place. When you see a price you know you may never hit again STOCK UP. When I did that with underwear I have yet to find them clearanced like that one time.
    I have a passion for saving money and helping others too. Plus it’s really blessed my family because we don’t have much in the way of a budget for clothes. The recent Gymboree purchase was made with money my kids received for birthdays and I saved it knowing I had the gymbucks.
    I’ve never seen Gymboree or other name brands at Once Upon a Child for less then what I can buy it new.

  17. says

    I’ve been getting some great used clothing items for our daughter through several different local Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade groups. The prices are fantastic and the clothing is in great condition! I also kind of find it fun to watch the groups and try to snag the great deals :)

    Another great thing to watch for on the Facebook B/S/T groups is diapers – for cheap!

  18. Ann says

    I charge everything on my Amazon VISA credit card and each month I earn enough Amazon credits for a free pair of shoes for my daughter. My husband uses the Banana Republic credit card for all his business travel and we get Banana reward bucks that can be used for clothing at Old Navy, Gap or Piperlime ( also shoes).

  19. says

    I’ve pretty much lived by these rules. I’ve always loved Gymboree but not their prices so I only shop at their clearance racks. I also wait until I have a 20% or there is an extra 20% off sale at the store. I have a Gymboree Visa that I use for paying bills so every 6 weeks I get a $10 gift card. Finally, I take advantage of their gym bucks. I even with the gymbucks, I only purchase off their clearance which makes them incredibly cheap. Unfortunately, my children are nearly outgrown their clothes so I’ll have to find another store to do this with.

  20. Heather R. says

    My 9 year old son likes some of the character shirts which tend to be pricier than plain or off brand. At the end of the winter season, I stock up on plain turtle neck shirts (black, white, grey, and navy). Then for birthday, Christmas, or any other gift day, I let others know what character he is into and what size he wears (I go big) and have them get t-shirts. He can wear them all spring, summer, and fall then layer with turtle necks in winter. So those beloved character shirts are good for at least one year (he is on the small side).

  21. nicole says

    I am so blessed to have a thrift store nearby me at a church. They moved the church and turned the entire building into a thrift store. The last saturday of the month everything is included in a 5 dollar bag sale. I have gotten most of my wardrobe and my boys for next to nothing! Its great :)

    • bridget says

      I agree with alot of these tips. i also check walmart’s clearance. Most all of our pjs are from there AND if there is something specific you are looking for I find ebay a good resource. not as cheap as these other options but cheaper than just going to a regular store.

  22. SaraBerry says

    I strongly recommend avoiding ThredUp. Both I and a friend have had awful experiences with them. The clothing was worn, strained, and had cat hair on it. I had to fight with them to get any amount of refund, and am still out the cost of shipping. They ignored my first couple of emails and keep offering me credit less than what I am owed. Avoid!

    • says

      Did you order from them recently? I had a negative experience with them in the beginning (I blogged about it), but they overhauled their whole system and now you choose individual items (not a box of clothes) and I’ve had much, much better experiences with them and have heard the same from everyone else who has ordered from them in the past six months.

      I’m so sorry you had a bad experience with them. :(

      • SaraBerry says

        Yes, it was in the last 6 months, and we chose individual items. Out of 7 items we ordered, only 2 were in acceptable condition. I can’t imagine how they passed the “triple-check” or whatever they call their quality checks. They were called “like-new” but I would have passed them over even at a garage sale. :(

  23. says

    Great ideas! I use several of these methods (clearance racks, hand-me-downs, etc.) My FAVORITE, though, is when our local consignment store (Children’s Orchard) has a fill-a-bag sale. It happens 2 or 3 times per year. You can fill a small bag for $8 or a large bag for $14. Last time I was able to fit 28 clothing items in the bag, which made each thing $.50. These clothes are in very good condition. We buy the occasional necessity here and there, but for the most part I wait for this sale to come around and stock up!

  24. Sonia says

    Some of those I do but I do like the free swap idea. I wonder if the other ladies at church would be up for something like that.

  25. Jamie Wohlgemuth says

    God’s provision and care for the smallest desires of my heart are such a blessing. Our youngest two sons are three months apart and I love dressing them alike. With 12 kids, money is always tight. When a friend of my cousin started selling her twins clothes to me it was great. I don’t have to take time to shop and I get name brand, adorable clothes that I LOVE. Every time I go to pick up a new bag of clothes, it is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness.

  26. Cynthia says

    I get creative with my sewing machine – T-shirts can be paired with cotton fabric to make dresses, you can add a strip to the bottom of of a t-shirt to get extra wear. A ruffle will lengthen shorts or a skirt. Jeans with worn knees become cutoffs. etc.

    Another things we do is to always buy things which layer, they become their own winter and summer wardrobes depending on how many layers you are wearing.

    And I let the kids have a couple new things for fun – but they have to change into play clothes when they get home – keeps the new things looking new longer.

  27. says

    I do a lot of thrift store shopping, and I LOVE to upcycle! Right now I am about to start what I’m calling “Sewing Summer in Seven” on my long neglected blog. I’ve downloaded tons of free patterns from the internet, and I’m diving into my stash of old t-shirts, bedsheets, and thrifted/vintage fabric to make an entire summer wardrobe for both of my kids in SEVEN DAYS. Yes, I may be crazy LOL.

    • says

      Oh, and for stuff I can’t make like jeans, coats, and shoes, I also LOVE consignment sales. My personal favorite is Rhea Lana, but we just moved and they don’t have a sale here yet. I’ve been in talks with the lady who runs the one in our old town about starting one though ;)

  28. says

    I use to spend an average of $300 on clothes per child per season. Looking back now it makes me ill. So much wasted money. Now I purchase all their clothes on eBay. I refuse to spend more than $3 on an item. I just completed their summer wardrobe (3 girls) for under $300. I always buy from sellers who have good ratings. And I usually buy clothing lots because I can deals for about $2 dollars an item. Buying used allows me to get the girls top name brand clothes that will last for a fraction of the cost of retail. Kids grow out of their clothes do fast – and you can resell their clothes once they no longer fit. It’s a win/win. I never pay retail anymore.

  29. L.L. says

    I have to make a whole new wardrobe, but I am on a limited income budget. Can u do a post about how to make a wardrobe on a budget?

  30. says

    Definitely yard sales! I’ve also found that if I time it right (doesn’t happen every year), Gymboree sometimes has end of the season sales where I can find the next year’s wardrobe for about $2 or $3 per item.

    Also, if you have a consignment stores that pays cash up front for clothes (such as Once Upon a Child), this is a great way to pretty much break even selling and buying clothes. We have a small, local one in our area as well as a new Once Upon a Child. I love finding boutique/smocked clothes for $4 and $5 or less! And often I can resell my yard sale finds there, as well, and basically not “paid” for my kids clothes!

    And as others have mentioned, they really don’t need that many outfits per season!

  31. Surina Brewer says

    If I can add…Ebay is great I have bought whole lots for as little as $5.00.
    Just watch the shipping costs.
    I only have myself to blame for my daughters love of Juicy Couture but I have found whole practically new track suits for less than $20.
    Generally people are really honest if the garment needs repairs or has stains. and I bought in both instances just to get the garment and I never found a stain and the tear was tiny.
    Just an added tip :)