At this time of year, a lot of us are starting to think of school.  For us parents, with deep longing.  However, no one likes the expense of school clothes.  This is my guide to buying clothes for kids. 

First: Listen.  Ask your child what is important.  For my kids, shoes are the thing.  Everything else can be second hand, but he prefers new shoes.  I also take my kids to the mall and walk around having them point out styles they like.  I tell them up front that I will not be buying anything: I’m just trying to get an idea of what they want. Then, I can look for what they want in other places.  If I can’t find it second hand and I feel like it is really important to them I can find it on sale. 

I also spend time looking at trends.  I look at what kids on the street are wearing, and I check out the ads in the paper.  It was because of this, I was able to anticipate the great polo shirt event of 2006.

Second: Scope out the cheapest places.  Here’s my cheapest list:

Hand-me-down. Price: free.  If you can find hand-me-downs, this is the best source.  Never turn down hand-me-downs unless you suspect that they have bedbugs.  Even if they are much too big for your child, save them.  He will grow and you have no idea what he will like until he gets that age.  Let people know that you are open to hand-me-downs.

Your own or your spouse’s closet.  Free.  Regardless of sex, when you find out your child’s style, look in your own closet for clothes you don’t wear anymore if they fit the style.  You may wear your hoodie twice a year, and be just fine without it, but your teen may wear it every day.  A teen may need a suit coat or dress just for one day, and you can lend it from your closet. Also, for younger kids, consider cutting down worn clothes.

Church sales. Brown paper grocery bags of clothes for a few dollars.  Some times you can find bag sales at thrift stores, but church sales are the best source for super cheap clothes.  Go to for your area and click on garage sales, search for bag sales or church sales. At these sales, I am willing to pick up things without my kids present because they are so cheap.  I will buy things that are too large, or maybe a little bit out of the box.  I remember picking up my son and his friends from the mall and one of his friends had bought a woven hoodie very similar to the one I had picked up for my son on a whim.  His friend had bought almost the same hoodie for 8.95.  This is admittedly a very good price.  However, I had bought my son’s hoodie at a church bag sale where the whole bag was five dollars.  I also like that my money is going to a church instead of a huge corporation.

Sew when something is just way beyond your budget.  All the second hand pants we have found when my son was an eight grader were very baggy.  He wanted his pants skin tight.  It was a very easy thing to bring these jeans into the sillouette he liked.  T-shirts can be cut down.  Little purses and vests are super easy and quick to whip up. Sometimes it is worth it, if you are a really good seamstress, to make something from a pattern.  Little girl dresses and shorts for boys and girls would probably be less than what you would pay retail.  You could recycle fabrics for these garments from you closet or from garage sale finds.

Regular garage sales. Prices depend.  This can be a hit or miss.  Sometimes prices are fabulous, and the garments are perfect.  Prepare to spend some time to find great things.  You never can tell what you will find in one day.  It may be great-it may be terrible.  I search for neighborhood sales on craigs list, which usually means several sales in one area.  Because of the time investment and the fact that the sales are best in the morning, it is difficult to get a teenager to come with you.  This means that you may have to guess.  Guessing is no big deal if you have several children of the same sex.  If you only have one, it is a little bit of a crap shoot.  I have a general limit for garage sale stuff for my kids of one dollar, unless it is a spectacular thing that I am almost 100% sure one of them will like.  Sometimes I will buy things that I might be willing to wear – hand-me- ups – now that my son is the same size or a little bigger than me.  I am super picky compared to the church sales.

Thrift stores:

Thrift stores are a second to last resort for me.  (The mall is the last resort).  I spend time building up a wardrobe for my kids to pick clothes out of from the sources above.  If they just can’t quite get it from the things I have, we make a trip to a thrift store.  I find the prices are often comparable to really good clearance sales at department stores so I use this very sparingly.  The upside is that you can usually go to one store so if your child has patience issues, he will usually comply.

Savers: high prices (some comparable to clearance at department stores), great selection, clean store.  Both my sons enjoy Savers.  It is a little bit of a treasure hunt.  Make sure you bring a couple bags of donations to get 20% off you whole purchase.  We went there this year and got:

17 year old: 1 silk shirt, 1 pullover sweater, 1 nylon jacket, 1 t-shirt, 1 pullover woven hoodie, 1 pair of dress shoes and 2 pairs of name brand tennis shoes

12 year old: 2 zip up patterned hoodies, 2 pairs of jeans, one pair of boat shoes

me: a lamp, 2 pairs of athletic shoes

Total: $78.00

As my son reminded me, this is still very cheap.

Salvation Army: high prices (comparable to Savers), stores usually not as nice, poorer selection.  Having said all that, I have found great deals there.  Brand new Liz Claiborne tees for 99 cents, for example.  It’s hit or miss so I wouldn’t probably bring my kids along.  These are my impressions in Minneapolis. You may find that in your town the Salvation army is clean and bright. 

Anyway, it really goes back to finding what is important to your kid.  Your child will feel valued and feel great in his new things.

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