In 2009, I had my first child, a girl I named Lydia Rose. She was beautiful and dainty just like a baby doll, and I loved dressing her up in cute little outfits and taking all kinds of pictures. Unfortunately, those first few years turned out to be expensive. Since I wasn't all that frugal at the time, I spent all kinds of money on outfits, hairbands, and ridiculously tiny baby shoes.
In 2011, things changed. I had a second daughter and realized we needed to rein in our spending... fast. But where would we start?
Save Where You Can, Ignore the Rest
For us, the most frustrating part about cutting our spending was the fact that so many things were out of our control. For example, doctor visits couldn’t necessarily be negotiated nor could the price we paid for day care. On the other hand, there were plenty of places to cut that were well within our reach, so we started with those. Soon, we cut cable television, grocery spending, and restaurant meals, to name a few, but we continued looking for more ways to save.
It was during that time that I started going to garage sales, and I quickly started having these “light bulb moments.” At almost every garage sale I visited, I found at least one table of gently used children’s clothing. Sometimes, they were even name brands like Carter’s, A Children’s Place, or Gymboree. What’s even crazier is the fact that people were selling their used clothes for less than $1 in some cases, and a few bucks at most. I quickly realized that I needed to take advantage of this situation. I needed to stop paying full price for tiny outfits and start buying used instead. And so it began.
Over the next few months, I began perusing consignment shops and Craigslist for clothing too. And, in the five years since my oldest daughter was born, I’ve perfected a strategy for buying and selling kid’s clothes and getting entire wardrobes for free. Here’s how I do it:
How to Get Kid's Clothes for Free
First of all, my idea of getting children’s clothing for free has nothing to do with dumpster diving or begging. Instead, my strategy involves buying clothes for exactly what you can resell them for -- and even more in some cases. I simply rotate out and resell the clothes my kids outgrow and use the money I make to buy used clothes in larger sizes. Sounds easy, right?
Let’s start with the buying part. I typically shop for used clothing in one of three places:
Consignment shops typically have some of the most expensive (and nicest) used clothing items, and it makes perfect sense. Since consignment shops are legitimate businesses, they need to turn a profit. Expect to pay between $5-$10 for a used item at a higher-end consignment shop, or less at a discount consignment store. You can even try an online consignment service like ThredUP.
Pros: One-stop shopping, professional atmosphere
Kid’s clothes are generally cheaper per item when you buy them off Craigslist. However, Craigslist sellers usually list their clothing items in “lots,” meaning that you might get stuck buying a whole box of items in order to buy the few things you really want. But the bargains are out there for the taking if you find yourself in the right place at the right time. Expect to pay $1-$3 per item when you buy a "lot" of clothing off Craigslist.
Pros: Less expensive
Cons: You might have to meet someone in a Walmart parking lot
Garage and yard sales are by far the best way to get a good deal on used children’s clothing since the people who hold them are often simply trying to get rid of stuff. With that goal in mind, they often price their unwanted clothes cheap -- real cheap.
Of course, there are always exceptions, and some sellers ask far more for used children’s clothing than most people would ever pay. On the other hand, most garage sales offer low prices and plenty of selection. Expect to pay between 50 cents and $3 per item of kid’s clothing at a garage sale.
Pros: Cheap, and you can typically buy one item at a time
Cons: Sporadic availability, and you might have to dig through tables of clothing
Organizing Your Clothing
Having two girls is another huge money saver, since I'm able to save my oldest child's clothing for a second life with my youngest. However, the savings can only be realized if I can keep my children’s clothing organized enough to find them.
To keep things as organized and efficient as possible, I keep my children’s clothing in labeled totes. Some tips on using totes for children’s clothing:
- Label each tote with a season and size: Trust me, you don’t want to dig through totes of clothing to figure out what size they are. Save yourself the trouble and label each tote ahead of time with the size and season of the clothing inside -- for example, "3T Summer."
- Don’t get lazy: It’s tempting to throw clothes in whichever tote is closest, but don’t do it! The only way to benefit from all the used clothing you've gathered is if you can find it. Keep things organized and always make sure each item ends up where it belongs.
- Keep a tote in each child’s closet: As each season progresses, my kids tend to outgrow their clothes. That’s why I keep a tote in each child's closet -- it makes it easy to put away outgrown clothes as each season comes to an end.
Selling Used Kid’s Clothes
Since I have two girls, I rarely sell used clothes when my oldest outgrows them. And since my daughters are two years apart, I typically have to hold on to pieces for two full years before my youngest can wear them. On the other hand, my youngest daughter’s clothes are fair game, and I typically sell them at garage sales and on craigslist after each season. Here is a basic rundown of my strategy:
Sell Nicer Items on Craigslist
Craigslist shoppers seem to be willing to pay a little bit more for children’s clothing, so I try to capitalize on that. When my daughter outgrows a size or season of clothing, I typically pick through them and find the nicest pieces, then sell them on craigslist. A few tips for selling on craigslist:
- Post plenty of pictures: Since Craigslist is free, you should utilize all it has to offer. That means taking pictures of your items and posting them along with a description. Trust me, people will not drive all the way to your house to look at clothing if they have no sense of the quality or appearance.
- List name brands: Some shoppers like to buy specific name brands when shopping for children’s clothing, so make sure to list them if you have them. If you don't have any name brands, don't feel obligated to list anything other than the physical description of each item.
- Be willing to compromise: Craigslist is a popular place for hagglers; you will be asked to negotiate. I typically start with a higher price than I am willing to accept, then go down from there.
Hold a Garage Sale
I tend to accumulate a lot of random stuff I don’t want, so I usually have a garage sale each spring. Since I’m having one anyway, it’s the perfect time to put all of the clothes my kids have outgrown on display. When selling in a garage sale, I set one price (usually $1) for items of similar quality then put them on a “children’s clothing table" for people to dig through. If I have nicer and more expensive items to sell, I typically price them separately. Some other tips for selling clothes at a garage sale:
- Advertise your sale: Putting signs up is always a great idea, but there are other ways to advertise your sale. For example, Craigslist allows you to advertise your garage sale for free, and nothing is stopping you from announcing your sale and posting pictures on social media sites like Facebook.
- Mention children’s items in your ads: As a garage sale shopper myself, I know that many people with kids are drawn to sales that advertise children’s clothing or toys and specifically search for those keywords. Make sure to mention those items in your ads if you want your sale to get noticed.
- Wash the stinkin’ clothes: Shoppers do not want to buy clothes that look and smell funky; that’s why it is crucial to give your kid’s clothes a good wash before you try to sell them.
More Strategies for Getting Kid’s Clothes for Free
You’re probably thinking that this whole process sounds a lot like work. If so, you’re 100% correct. On the other hand, buying and reselling used kid’s clothing can be extremely lucrative if you know what you’re doing, and can even save thousands of dollars over the course of your kid's childhood.
The key is buying clothes for what you can resell them for -- or even less -- and taking excellent care of them while they're in your possession. But that’s not all. Here are a few more ways to profit from children’s clothing and use those profits to your benefit:
Learn to Spot Hot Deals
I occasionally buy children’s clothing that my kids will never wear. Why? Because it is a hot deal.
Let’s face it: Some people have no idea what their nicer clothing items are worth, and will practically give them away. For example, I’ve paid 50 cents or $1 for many gently used Gymboree, Janie and Jack, and Gap clothes and then resold them for $3-$8 each on Craigslist. Those profits can then be used to buy more used clothing for my kids.
Don't Pay Top Dollar
Getting kid’s clothing for free means avoiding items that are priced for more than you want to pay. In other words, avoid the high-dollar resale places and stick to the cheap stuff instead. Only buy expensive, used pieces if you are sure you can resell them for a similar price.
Ask Family and Friends for Help
I always make sure to tell my family members and friends that I am on the lookout for used children's clothes. Because I go out of my way to make people aware, I am often the recipient of hot deals and first looks. When you let people know you're looking for clothes, you are often the first to know when a family member or friend has some to sell.
Offer to Take Free Stuff
Some people don’t want to go through the hassle of selling their children’s clothing and would rather give them away instead. I’ve been lucky enough to be given plenty of used kid’s clothes simply because people were aware that I would take them. When I do get free clothes, I usually go through and take out the things I want, then sell the rest.
Put in the Work, Get Free Clothes
A University of Minnesota Extension study found that low-income families spend $28-$52 per month on children’s clothing, while upper income families spent $44-$78. Imagine if you could skip those expenses altogether with a little bit of work and a reasonable amount of planning and organization.
A family that would normally spend $50 per month on clothing, for example, could save $600 per year on clothing and up to $10,800 by the time their child turns 18. A family who saves even half of that would be in much better shape when it comes to helping pay for their child’s college education or even their first car.
Unfortunately, no one is going to knock on your door and offer you all the clothing you could ever want for pennies on the dollar. In other words, no one is going to do it for you; you have to put in the work. Fortunately, the payoff can be huge for those who are trying to save money for the things that really matter in life.
What is your strategy for getting children’s clothing for a reasonable price? Have you ever bought and resold kid’s clothes? Tell us about it in the comments section.