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How to Stockpile Clothes By Shopping at Yard Sales

Guest post by MaryEllen at The Deal Scoop

The reader tip last week on stockpiling clothes is something our family has already been using to save an incredible amount of money each year. As I read through the comments on the post, I noticed some readers’ concerns.

There were some readers who don’t think they could find good enough deals at yard sales to make stockpiling clothing worth their while. Some felt that all they can find at yard sales is junk and that they would rather buy clearance items at the stores. Then there were those who admitted that they aren’t organized enough to know what they need and don’t need.

Here are a few tips on how to get the best prices at yard sales and how our family has been able to make stockpiling clothing work for us:

On Friday night, check your local paper or ads for Saturday’s yard sales.

(Or if you live an area with a lot of Friday sales, check on Thursday night. Go whenever is best for the area in which you live.) Most people will list some specific items that they will be selling. Mark the ones that specifically have kids’ clothing listing and skip the rest. In my family’s experience, you will barely have time to make it to just those yard sales, and there is no sense wasting time and gas going to yard sales that don’t have what you’re looking for.

Plan your route ahead of time.

If you need directions to certain places, be sure you have them all printed out the night before so you can go from place to place quickly and use gas efficiently. The more gas you use, the more those yard sale clothes will cost you!

Go as early as possible in the morning.

Many people think there is only junk to be found at yard sales, but a lot of times that’s because there are high-quality items to be had for nearly pennies. The first ones at the yard sales find all the best stuff before it’s gone!

Set a target price and don’t be afraid to make deals in order to hit it.

This is probably the most crucial part to the whole game of stockpiling clothing, and I’ll be the first to admit that my husband is more skilled at it than I am. Our family’s personal target is $0.25 per clothing item, $1 for a pair of shoes and up to $1 for nice dresses for our daughter. That may seem like quite an ambitious goal, but my husband has proven to me that it is quite doable. Here’s what I’ve learned by watching him:

::If a seller has high quality items and is asking 50 cents each, pick out three things and ask if they will take $1 for all three. Nine times out of ten, they will. Although that is $0.33 per item and not the target $0.25, you can average it out later.

::Ask the seller if they will consider a bag special. If there are a good number of items in which you are interested, ask the seller if they will allow you to fill a shopping bag for a certain price. If they will sell you a bag of clothing for $3 to $5, you should be able to hit your target price. (This is especially true when you’re buying smaller sizes because you can fit more pieces into the bag.)

If they charge $5, you’ll need to fit at least 20 pieces into the bag in order to hit $0.25 an item. (It’s amazing how many pieces will go in when they’re folded neatly!) If they charge $3, you need to fit at least 12 pieces in the bag in order to hit your target.

Then, there are always the sellers who surprise you by saying, “Sure, fill a bag for $1!” It happens, and those are the times that help you bring your average back down to the target price when you’ve paid a little more for something you really like.

::If a seller is asking $1 for a pair of shoes, ask if they’ll take $0.50. The worst they can say is “no”, and if they say “yes”, you’ve just brought your average price per item down. If they’re asking $2, ask if they’ll take $1. Then you can get the shoes at your target price.

Skip the junk.

Don’t buy something just because it happens to be your target price. If you don’t like it or it’s worn out, skip it. You’ll find something else later.

Buy only classic styles and colors.

Remember, by the time your children wear the clothes you find, it may be a couple years down the road. Trendy things go out of style very quickly and you’ll end up not using them and wasting your money.

Keep a detailed list of what you have and what you need.

I don’t think it makes sense to buy another pair of pants, even if they are only $0.25, if our son already has enough pairs in that size. On the other hand, if the end of yard sale season is approaching and we see that he still needs pants for the upcoming winter, we can up our target price for that item. I’d rather pay $0.50 or $0.75 for the pants instead of waiting until we get out the winter clothes only to find out we have to run to Walmart and buy a couple pairs at full price.

Spreadsheet Tip:

Our family uses two spreadsheets, one for boy clothes and one for girl clothes. Each spreadsheet includes every size from birth through several sizes beyond what our children currently wear.

There are categories for every different item, such as play shirts, shorts, dress pants, dress shirts, etc. We also include every size of shoes.

Every time we come home from yard sales we immediately wash everything and add it to the spreadsheet. The next time we find something at our target price we can check to see if we already have enough of that item in that particular size. We keep a copy of our spreadsheets on the computer, and carry a printed copy with us to the yard sales.

Properly organize all the clothes you have stockpiled.

It’s no fun to know you have clothes available when your child has a growth spurt, but you can’t find them anywhere! I like to keep everything in airtight tubs that are labeled by size and gender. I haven’t figured out a better way to do shoes, so everything just gets thrown into either a “boy’s shoes bin” or a “girl’s shoes bin”.

When one of our kids outgrows their shoes, I just look on the spreadsheet to make sure we have the next size for them. Then I can rummage through the bin to get their next size shoe. I love being able to make a trip to the attic when our kids have a growth spurt instead of making an emergency trip to the store!

We Save Over $140 Per Year By Stockpiling Clothing and Shopping at Yard Sales

If you’re still not convinced that stockpiling clothing from yard sales would be worth it to you, here are a couple rough figures of how much money we save this way. Let’s say my little girl needs a minimum of five tops, five bottoms, three Sunday dresses and three pairs of shoes for each season. If we buy the five tops and five bottoms at $0.25, the three Sunday dresses for $1 each, and the three pairs of shoes for $1 each, we end up spending $8.50 for an entire season’s worth of clothing.

If we found some really great sales at Target or Walmart and bought the same amount of clothing for $5 a piece, we would spend $80. So we save at very minimum $71.50 per season, or $143 a year per child.

The more children you have, the more your savings will multiply. Plus, though I have nothing against clothes from Target or Walmart, our children are wearing Children’s Place, OshKosh, Gymboree, and Carter’s clothing instead. Many times the clothes and shoes we find are brand-new with the tags still on.

I do understand that this method of saving on children’s clothing is not going to work for 100% of you due to lack of storage space or because you may live in a rural area with very few yard sales. However, I do hope that those of you who have the means to do so will give some of these tips a try. You may be surprised at how well you can do!

MaryEllen Bream is a stay-at-home mom who is always looking for more ways to stretch her family’s budget. When she’s not playing with her kids or shopping yard sales for their clothes, she can be found sharing deals and money-saving tips on her blog.

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  • Jan says:

    I did this all the time for babies and toddlers. I still can somewhat for my 2 youngest but my eldest is so hard to fit that I won’t even bother at garage sales. She has got to try on every item. She’s in between a plus and a regular and very few clothes -esp. pants- exist that fit her. I sew what I can.

    Although I do agree that sometimes the time/energy factor comes into play and clearance items at the mall costing $2-$4 are worth it to have a few nice complete outfits.

  • Amy L says:

    I try to stockpile clothes too… my problem is that my kids are now older… 13,11 and 6… it is REALLY hard to find girls clothes once they are out of the toddler sizes! I seem to have better luck at consignment stores and clearance racks… sometimes my time is just to valuable to hunt the yard sales every weekend! (not that I don’t enjoy it though!)

  • jen says:

    Just thought I’d add about consignments and resales. I do hit up yard sales when I can but it can take up a whole morning if I’m not careful! 🙂 We’ve found great success at consignment sales–sometimes items are priced more expensively but I usually find clothes between .50- $1, or a few dollars for really nice things. If you volunteer and/or sell your own, you usually get to shop the presale and snatch up the very best quality/price before the sale is public. We have 4 children and most of their clothes have come from these sales at rock bottom prices–I usually look for 1, maybe 2 sizes ahead and keep in an extra bin. We’ve also gotten books, toys and games for pennies on the dollar. I often keep things for birthdays and special gifts. Just thought I’d mention it!

  • Rachael says:

    I’ve been shopping at yard sales for quite some time, even before I had kids. I love saving money, but I also love that items are being reused. I’ve bought and sold many things that are practically new and they SHOULD be reused. I also like that I’m helping out another family by shopping at their yard sale.

  • Megan Camp says:

    My kids outgrow their clothes so quickly. I don’t want to have a yardsale every time I have a new set of clothes they no longer fit into. I’ve found that I get a great deal by bagging up a large bag of about 30-50 items (garbage bag sized) and advertising it on Craigslist for $25. I make just as much as I would at a garage sale without the hassle of having to throw a garage sale every two months. I did this with my baby boy clothes. I included all infant items and had enough to split it into two groups. I made $50 off just my sons infant clothes. I included shoes, socks, etc. I made sure items were in decent to great condition and if there were a couple of stains on some clothes I made sure to disclose that as well. When the people came to pick up the clothes, it was a great time to mention other baby items I was also selling to see if they were interested in those.

    • Beth T says:

      I ask people at good garage sales if they will sell me their kid’s next set of clothes that they outgrow and just name a price for the bag. I have a lady that said she would sell me all of her twin boy’s 3t stuff for $40 and I was happy with that! I can’t wait for her to call! So, if you find a good sale…always offer to leave your name and number for this!

  • Michelle says:

    I love the spreadsheet suggestion. We have gotten a lot of hand-me-downs and I pick items up here and there so even though she’s only 5 mo she already has clothes up to 24 mo but I couldn’t tell you what I have in what sizes. It would come in handy when the grandma’s want to pick up or make things for my daughter, too.

  • Michele says:

    Another thing we do to stockpile clothes, is host a free clothing exchange. You can do it with your neighborhood, church or any other group. Everyone brings anything they need to get rid of, everyone takes what they want, & the rest goes to charity. It’s wonderful & I get almost all our clothes this way. We’ve done it with books & toys at the same time too.
    It’s free & I only have to host once a year instead of going to garage sales every week.

  • Hope Easter says:

    This is a very neat strategy. I think I might try this the next time we go out to yard sales.
    We stock pile everything else in our house why not clothes? 🙂

  • Megan says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the broader social and environmental benefits of buying used clothing: when you buy used, you’re not (directly) contributing to poor labor conditions, child labor or industrial pollution. It’s a great solution – I love this post!

    • Jill says:

      I see your point, but for you to continue to have decent used clothing to buy, someone has to buy new. Even though you don’t do it directly, you still rely on new clothing to eventually make your way to your yard sale. I guess the only way to be truly environmental would be to live in a nudist colony :).

  • Jennifer says:

    Ha! I can totally relate to your learning how to get garage sale deals from watching your husband. We have noted, though, that if the person running the sale is a man, he’s more likely to say “yes” to my offer than my husband’s. Likewise, women are more likely to say “yes” to him than to me.

    We’ve found neighborhood sales to be worthwhile. It’s a low cost of entry for the participants, so they’re often willing to part with things for less as they otherwise probably would have just given it all away.

  • Ashlee says:

    I’m the negotiator in the family. I find the more you buy the better chances you have they will take less. Find lots of stuff you want and figure out how much total you want to spend and see if they will take that. I rarely ask for a discount on a single low priced item. My favorite thing to get at garage sales is jeans. Kids jeans are really tough and last through many many many kids, yet they are pretty expensive in stores. I pay about a $1 for good jeans at sales and they always look brand new.

  • Christi says:

    Thanks so much for the tips! We have been lucky enough to get hand-me-downs so far to clothe our boys, but the supply is running out and we’re starting to stockpile through garage sales. I LOVE the spreadsheet idea! Thank you so much for that!!!

  • Liz says:

    A couple things…

    -for organizing shoes: attach each pair together using the shoes’ laces, velcro or slip fliop flops into each other. Then place the shoes of each size into a plastic shopping bag, tie it loosely once (so you can get it undone again) and write the size on the outside with a king size sharpie (so you wont miss it later). We tend to keep a max of 2 sneakers, 2 or 3 dressy type shoe, 2 flip flop, and 2 others in each size. We dont’ have that many in most sizes. Then when you want a size, open up the boys’ shoe bin, find the right bag and you’re good. Because of the range of my 7 kids I have one bin for the older girls, one for the middle boys, and one for the little girls.

    -about how many clothes to save: I shoot for about 14 outfits per size per season (ie: winter and summer). I try to have 4 dressy type outfits and about 10 casual types. This method means My kids can make it through about two weeks without having to wear the same outfit and they only wear the same thing at church once each month. This way the clothes hold up through the whole season, too. I will also save 2 bathing suits, two hoodies, and if there’s still space in that size bin I’ll squeeze in the fun extras like ponchos, cute sweaters, something I just can’t pass on, a holiday outfit, etc. Once the bin is full and I’ve met my goal of 14, I don’t allow myself anymore clothes in that size.

  • Carla Sorensen says:

    I recently went to a yard sale for charity. Nothing was marked as far as the prices. They said to give whatever. That really made me evaluate my heart in regards to how much to spend at a yard sale. I was really tossed in offering a little, to more than I would normally pay, because it was for charity. I never want to take advantage of someone. I would rather have things priced. I did understand where they were coming from though.
    Just some thoughts.

    I enjoyed the article. Thanks!

  • Laura Johnson says:

    Church sales have been the best for me. I actually buy new items and resell on EBay for much more.

  • I have been stockpiling clothes since my first kid was born (while i only have 2 we plan on at least 2 more!) Anotehr great way i find deals is on Craiglist i find many people offering bags of clothes for $5 on up. I went and bought clothes for my son once and paid $20 for what was advertised as 2 20 gallon bags of clothes a great deal on it’s own when i got there she had 2 20 gallon trash bags, a kitchen trash bag full, and 3 diaper bozes full of shoes!! Even after going threw the clothes and taking what i would use i told other stuff to the consignment shop and MADE money there and used that credit to buy other things i needed.

    I also put the word out with friends what sizes i need i have a friend who’s son is 2 sizes above my son and she gives me the stuff her son out grows and i ahve a friend who just gave me 2 20 gallon bags of clothes for my daughter i go threw take what i want/need then eitehr donate the rest, give to some one else ot take to the consignment shop and use the money from the consignment shop to get what i can’t find at yard sales ect.

    great tips!!

  • Felicia says:

    I am excited that a few weeks ago I was able to buy nice name brand items for my youngest daughter for $0.50 each. Gymboree, Baby Gap, Old Navy, OshGosh, Nike and New Balance shoes, etc. I even bought 3 winter coats and everything was only $0.50!

  • Felicia says:

    By the way I’m excited because today I went to JCPenney and found 2 summer dresses (which my oldest daughter was needing) clearance down to less then $8 each and had a $15/15 coupon. I paid $0.15 total and saved over $75!!!

  • Carrie says:

    I stockpile for my son – usually up to 2 sizes ahead – and I save a TON!
    I do garage sales, Mom to Mom sales (some are free to get into), our church clothing swap, and craigslist.
    I usually pay less than $1 for really nice name brand clothing (Gap, Gymboree, Childrens Place, etc.) sometimes (about 1/3) the clothing still has tags attached!
    I have gotten adorable items for my son and gotten so many compliments on the way he was dressed. I usually get asked where I buy his clothes. 🙂 My usual response is to just check the tag of what he is wearing – since I used to say “garage sales” and they would get disappointed they couldn’t get the same kind of outfit.
    We have tons of garage sales in my area and the prices are usually super cheap. Even when I buy off of craigslist I buy with a price point in mind. I have even had sellers contact me!!! – when they have more items to sell to see if I want first crack at them. 🙂 How great is that!?!

    For storage of the stockpile – I use storage tubs and put the clothes, shoes, etc. in the same tub. I even stockpile diapers, although my son is 2 and potty training, so I have been stocking up on the free samples of pull ups and such as well. I just put them in the next size up and if he gets there before he needs them, I will just move them to the next tub.

    My mom shops for my son as well and keeps a tub of each size at her house as well. They live close by and it comes in handy if he is there and needs a change of clothes or a swimsuit or extra mittens, whatever – she can just pull something out for him and she is all set.

    She even stockpiles toys – a little bit. She just bought him two PowerWheel ride on toys that are still too big for him for $15. The seller told her if she bought one, she could take the second for free! That is $7.50 each for ride-ons that are over $150 each in the store!!! Plus they are in excellent condition. He has a mini one now that is is just starting to grow out of – she got that for $5 a year ago. Sometimes sellers are just really friendly and it helps to be stockpiling when you find those great deals!!!

  • Michelle says:

    Also check out Goodwill. Every week they put a color tag on sale. On the weekend you can get them for $1.00, or $.50 on Sunday. I have gotten brand new winter shirts for my child and jeans with tags still attached. Alot of people are only buying summer clothes right now, which leaves more for me to stock for the winter!

    • Andrea Q says:

      Around here, Goodwill and Salvation Army keep a separate rack of things that are brand new with tags and they price them considerably higher. That color tag never seems to be on sale.

  • Andrea Q says:

    I have shied away from selling clothes on eBay because of the fees, but it looks like you can list up to 50 things per month for free and only pay the eBay fee (9 percent), PayPal fee (3 percent + $0.30 per transaction) and shipping. If you build those fees into your price, it seems worthwhile for nicer clothing.

  • Lynette says:

    The only down side to getting second hand clothes – is how many kids can those clothes be passed on down too? With my oldest, she might be wearing brand new clearance items from Target or Wal-mart, but her sister after her….and her sister after her are both going to wear these as well! So while I may spend $20 total in clothes for her (shopping clearance sales, never more than $2.00 an item or hopefully a pair of clothes). That’s $20 worth of clothes that will easily be worn over and over again by her two younger sisters as well! Almost all of my sons clothes since he was born (he’s now 3) have been hand-me downs. But I couldn’t gurantee that they would all be passed down, again, and again! Thankfully there is just 1 of him so we’ll make by passing them on to the third child. Eventually even clothes wear out!

  • At our church we started to do an exchange table and it has been WONDERFUL!! You drop off what you want to exchange, gently used of course, and then you go shopping for what you need that you can find. All free and it has been a blessing. Thank you for all the great ideas and helping so many save money!

  • smileeys says:

    I have fun going to and having the few garage sales we have had. It would not be worth doing it to me if I didn’t. My two cents on haggling. Most people who haggle simply enjoy it and see it as part of the experience. I am not one to haggle much, but luckily I understand that people do enjoy it. That may not be everyone’s motivation, but consider may be a factor instead of rudeness. And no, I don’t think it is rude to haggle and author never suggested offering way less. She actually suggested walking away if price you have in mind in considerably different. Thanks for tips on garage sale apps!

  • Lisa Sweeney says:

    I love garage sales, and also stockpile clothes for my kids. But I find that it is very hard not to buy too much! There always seems to be one more adorable dress that my daughter *needs*! LOL In the long run though, if I paid $0.50 for it at a garage sale and my kids don’t end up wearing it, I can usually sell it for $0.50 at my own garage sale so it doesn’t really end up costing me anything (besides the storage space in my garage, which I don’t mind anyway).
    When I was pregnant with my second child, I hit one garage sale with a TON of newborn, 0-3 month, and 3-6 month baby girl clothes for $0.25 each. I think I bought about $20 worth and thought I had my daughter pretty much covered for the first few months! Then she was born at 9lb 7oz, skipped newborn size entirely and only wore 0-3 months until about 6 weeks old. My early stockpile for her was totally wrong season-wise – she was in 6-9 months by 3 months old and the cute Christmas outfits I had picked up for her were WAY too small by Christmas. BUT I was able to resell most of what I had bought for almost the same price so I didn’t lose out much.
    Last weekend, I hit one garage sale where the lady had all of her girls clothes for $1… I thought it was kind of high until I saw the entire WALL with brand-new-with-tags clothes! I ended up buying 9 NEW outfits plus 4-5 other like-new outfits, and the lady said $10 for all of it. Such a steal! Now just crossing my fingers that my daughter can wear a 3T in the summertime eventually!

  • Valerie says:

    Great article!! I am a HUGE yard sale shopper. It is good to keep in mind that some areas have different pricing. $.25 in one area might be more in another. Even if you get quality items for $.50 – $1.00 an item it is still a GREAT deal! Goodwill sells childrens clothes for $2.00 and Once Upon A Child for $2.00-$10.00. $.25 is great, but I wouldn’t walk away from great clothes just because it’s not $.25 – $.50. Also, it is good to keep in mind that kindness is the key. I have done many yard sales myself and have come in contact with rude bargain hunters. It makes for a bad day and people will less likely give deals.

  • Anon. says:

    Wow, those are some low prices for clothing! Where I live (a suburb near Chicago), the items seem to be priced a bit more. I have noticed that brands that were frequently mentioned in the comments are Gymboree and The Gap. These are considered normal/low end labels where I live, and usually are priced .25-2.00 dollars. I often see Uggs, The North Face, Coach, Juicy Couture, etc., and I have no problem paying more money for these brands. For example, I paid $15 for a pair of new Coach shoes, which retail for $150-200, and I thought that was a spectacular deal! They last long, and are so comfortable.

  • Blaire Ruch says:

    I thought I was the only one who did spreadsheets like this! Glad to know I’m not the only one. It is so helpful for me, because there is no way I could remember what I already have for each of my three children.
    It is also very helpful when I am borrowing clothes from friends. I just add a column and fill in the friends’ name next to the item, so I will remember who to return it to. Likewise, when I lend clothes out, I write the friend’s name in the new column, and leave a copy in the bag for my friend, so she can have an easy way to know which clothes she borrowed.

    I have a column marked article (top, pants, etc.), brand, description and size (some are XS, some are 5). One page for each size.

    I do try to get classic clothes that will not go out of style. This is much easier to do for boys than girls. I have been buying ahead little by little over the past 5 years, and at the moment have a complete wardrobe for my 3 year old son for every season until he starts wearing size 6. But I have a few years to shop for that size 😉

    My target price is $1 per item.

    My kids are messy, and I only want to do clothes once a week, so I aim for 14 tops and 14 bottoms. 4 dresses, 2 swimsuits. 7 pajamas. They eat breakfast in them and always get food on them.

  • Natalie says:

    Any tips on getting deals on plastic storage bins??? 🙂 My kids clothes are currently stored in a messy stack of cardboard boxes. Yuck.

  • DeleneHamilton says:

    Il. I need someone to help me have a yard sale in side as soon as we can ok thanks

  • Leah C says:

    Though I grew up shopping at garage sales, last summer was my first year shopping for my daughter. I made a spreadsheet, and had a printed list of what she still needed in each size that I took with me everywhere. I got some really weird looks for being so organized, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! I was able to get almost everything she needed for the next year for 25-50 cents an item!
    It just doesn’t make sense to purchase new clothes for someone who will go through four entire wardrobes in a year!
    Now I’m prepping for our second summer, but I’m having a little more trouble figuring out what sizes to buy for the next year (she’s currently 15 months old and wearing size 12 months clothing).

    Thanks for the post!

    P.S. My favorite garage sale this past summer was the one of two families with little girls – the moms had left the dads in charge, and I got a TON of clothing for 25-cents each! And they threw in a sunhat. 🙂

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