Updated on 03.07.12

Shop Yard Sales for Young Children’s Clothing (66/365)

Trent Hamm

Newborn. Three months. Six months. Nine months. Twelve months. Eighteen months. Twenty four months. 2T. 3T. 4T.

Children go through clothes sizes incredibly fast. I’ve watched my own children blaze through all of the above clothes sizes in three to four years.

That means children simply aren’t going to wear out the clothes you buy for them. Assuming you have at least a few different outfits for them, they’re simply not going to wear a given set of clothes more than ten times or so before they outgrow them. Unless you’ve got incredibly hard water or some other mitigating factor, the clothes that they outgrow are mostly going to look very good when they outgrow them.

What do you do with children’s items that no longer fit? You either sell them or give them away. For a lot of people, that means a yard sale or a garage sale.

Shop Yard Sales for Young Children's Clothing (66/365)

Virtually all of the shirts, pants, dresses, and other such outer items worn by our children come from three places: grandparents who can’t resist buying a cute outfit for their little grandchildren, yard sales, and secondhand stores.

If you drive through a suburban neighborhood on a warm spring or summer weekend, you’ll inevitably find some signs posted directing you to local yard sales. Many of those sales are hosted by beleaguered parents who are trying to unload clothes that their children have outgrown, often nearly new and often at impressively low prices.

Here are a few tactics to really maximize your dollar when buying children’s clothes at yard sales.

Don’t be afraid to make a bulk offer. When we were at a yard sale in a very nice neighborhood a few years ago, Sarah saw a large number of dresses and girl’s clothes that she thought would be perfect for our daughter, ranging from the size she was currently at up to what we estimated she’d be wearing in two years. Rather than just picking out the items individually (they were marked $1 each), Sarah counted up all of the items she wanted and offered a single amount for all the items equal to about $0.40 per item. They happily agreed. We had a pile of girl’s clothes at a very nice price, they had something they didn’t need out of their house, and they had a little pocket money, too.

Don’t be afraid to buy bigger items than you currently need. We had a large number of 3T and 4T clothes stowed away in boxes for our children before they reached that size. Right now, I have several youth medium baseball replica jerseys I got for almost nothing saved for my sons in a few years. Just keep some diaper boxes (that’s what we use), slap a piece of masking tape on the side, and identify what’s in the box, then check the clothes boxes whenever the kids are about to transition to a new size.

Wash the items when you get them home. Yes, this seems like common sense, but it’s such a vital move. Although the items you pick up at yard sales are usually clean, it’s hard to tell how long they’ve been in storage or what condition the storage was like. Give them a cleaning before you have your children wear them.

Go to yard sales in nicer neighborhoods first. Whenever I go to yard sales in really nice neighborhoods, I’m often stunned at the high quality of the items being sold for a dollar or two. I’ve found clothes with their tags still on them, video games that were still sealed, and all kinds of wonderful home furnishings and kitchenwares on sale for almost nothing. Quite often, you’re finding neighborhoods where people spend money at a very high rate and have a lot of item turnover, and that’s something you can take advantage of.

Always remember that you can be picky. If something doesn’t suit you, don’t buy it. Go to a different yard sale or start over with sales in a different neighborhood.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. marta says:

    Seven lines into the post and I’ve already counted 2 occurrences for “incredibly” and 2 for “simply”.

    :: drinks ::

  2. Tracy says:


    Your liver is going to be shot!

    I want to know where the diaper boxes came from.

  3. Izabelle says:

    So true about yard sales in nice neighbourhoods – and not just for childrens’ items!

    In fact, most of the stuff in my house (including furniture, fixtures, plants and handbags) was bought for a steal, almost new, in “posh” yard sales.

  4. lurker carl says:

    At yard sales in my area, stained or damaged childrens clothes are very inexpensive while the like-new items sell for like-new prices. For the past several years, we’ve found good quality clothes cheaper to buy new during the end-of-season clearance sales. Be aware that youngsters can outgrow those off season purchases before they’ve ever worn them.

    Toys and baby items, on the other hand, are dirt cheap at yard sales.

  5. Angie says:

    virtually, inevitably, mostly, impressively… it would be a quick game. Good advice, though. My friends and I have kids that are close together but staggered enough to clothes swap back and forth.

  6. Cindy says:

    When buying clothes ahead because the child will grow into be sure to account for the season. My newborn daughter got wonderful clothes for 9 months later but they were not warm enough for the winter month she fit them.

  7. julie says:

    Is that really the best example you could come up with for a garage sale photo?

  8. David says:

    It’s quite an intriguing example of a garage sale photo, largely due to the idiosyncratic handwriting. When I read it I thought it said “Sausage Balls Left”, perhaps an over-enterprising attempt at trying to recoup the cost of buying too much of what is no doubt considered a delicacy in parts of Iowa. What a real garage sale might look like I know not, but on the whole I am happier to remain in ignorance. I’ve done it all my life, anyway.

  9. Johanna says:

    If that’s a real garage sale ad, when was this photo taken? Has Brittany been working on this project since last September? Are the good people at 329 North Pearl advertising their sale six months in advance? Or did they make their signs out of some kind of indestructible material that’s immune to weathering effects?

  10. Izabelle says:

    This is a good example to illustrate why, in an era of readily available photography equipment and instant results, qualified commercial photographers are still relevant. Anyone can snap a picture like this, but planning a shoot, from subject matter to composition and lighting, takes years of training and experience to do well.

    Trent, if you are not demanding better / more pertinent subject matter, you are failing your intern. But then again, these are details that usually elude people who are not visual communication professionals… and why professional photography looks so easy to outsiders.

  11. rebecca says:

    You do need to have a general idea of how fast your child is growing when buying clothes to grow into. It might be a bit challenging for a first time parent, at least at first. As kids get older their growth slows somewhat, and yes, occasionally you do underestimate their growth spurts and some stuff may not match the season when they hit that size, but I think I have had only a handful of pieces that my three have not been able to wear over the 7 years I have had kids. You still come out way ahead.

    You can also re purpose items. I had a cute white sundress for a little girl, but my daughter was born in August and it got cold to fast for her to grow into. But I hung on to it and the following summer she wore it tunic length with leggings, and the next summer she wore it as a cropped tank top with shorts, and then it was passed on to my niece. Jeans that are too short in spring to hang on to for fall but still fit in the waist? Make shorts or a skirt for summer.
    I love hunting dirt cheap yard sales for items to re purpose for kids clothes. Some of the easiest sewing projects out there are turning adult or bigger kid clothes into little kid items.

  12. Troy says:

    So why exactly are you “stunned at the high quality of the items being sold for a dollar or two” in “really nice neighborhoods?”

    You allude to the benefit of getting a great deal on all these new shiny expensive wonderful things, where it’s ok if you buy them at yard sales, but then assume that others that have these same nice things or are selling them are somehow miserable and in debt and are not true to themselves because they choose work and making money to buy shiny new expensive things not at yard sales and “spend money at a very high rate and have alot of item turnover.”

    How do you know?

  13. Emma says:

    Thanks G-D for rich folks! Remember them while voting. The are indispensable to a frugalist survival.(and his happiness) Along with a goat, crock pot, outdoor cloth line, home made soap and cloth diapers(for children). The proximity to the rich folks scraps or by products(seen as a renewable resource here) must be taken into consideration when planning to built a house in the middle of the woods. It might be not efficient to go on a scavenger hunt into a distant neighborhood with ever increasing gas prices.Why do I think that going after the rich man’s scarps being an educated and somehow well off man himself is not the same frugality tip as baking your own bread ? Why mock those(the rich) who provide for you?

  14. David says:

    Well, someone must buy these things at cost. I mean, manufacturers of baby wipes hand woven from dupioni silk and fragranced with Joy perfume do not dump their entire production run directly onto the garage sale market at a dollar a pop. This is not merely because they are unmindful that Sarah will come along and knock them down to forty cents.

    But whether Trent’s neighbors are selling nearly new baby clothes because they are rich as Croesus and happy as Larry, or because they are so desperate they have eaten the baby and are just about to hang themselves, does not and should not matter to Trent. In the former case he is getting a bargain that will make him happy and no one miserable; in the latter, who knows but his forty cents on the dollar will make the difference between damnation and redemption for the poor rich guy next door?

    Well it was said by the Master:

    If I want to dress parsimonious
    What’s that to Polonius?

  15. Mister E says:

    This place gets weirder by the day.

    I think garage sales are nifty, even if I’m almost never out of the house early enough on summer weekends to take advantage of them.

  16. Izabelle says:


    I did not get scorn from Trent’s post, just astonishment at the rate some people spend.

    I can relate – every summer, at the yard sales I frequent, I score tons of barely-used things that must have cost a small fortune at the store. Granted, I don’t know the story behind these purchases, but it opened up my eyes to the fact that *maybe* we North Americans tend to buy too much stuff. When it’s all laid out in such a plain (and visual) manner, it’s hard to ignore.

  17. Raya says:

    #9 Johanna @ 3:40 pm March 7th, 2012
    “If that’s a real garage sale ad, when was this photo taken? Has Brittany been working on this project since last September? Are the good people at 329 North Pearl advertising their sale six months in advance? Or did they make their signs out of some kind of indestructible material that’s immune to weathering effects?”

    I don’t see how THAT has any relevance to the post.

  18. deRuiter says:

    Thank you Marta #1, “Seven lines into the post and I’ve already counted 2 occurrences for “incredibly” and 2 for “simply”.” Now it IS called “The Simple Dollar” so perhaps there is a clause in the sale agreement of the column that “simply”, “simply put” (Don’t TELL me you’re putting it simply, PUT IT SIMPLY!) must appear a certain amount of times in each column? Does everyone in Iowa have such a limited vocabulary and sound like they never traveled out of their own cornfield? I wouldn’t think so! It’s like that horrible accident on the other side of the highway, you can’t help looking, and just when you think it can’t get worse, it does! The battered garage sale sign is months out of date, illegally posted on a utility pole and ought to be accompanying an article on how NOT to run a garage sale. The author should to take some of his precious stash of cash and buy a thesaurus!

  19. Amy K says:

    Along with yard sales, I am a fan of the consignment/tag sales that our local Mother’s Club runs twice each year. Because dozens of sellers are coming together there is a great selection. Before our daughter was born I picked up her bathtub, boppy, and a few other large-ish things I wasn’t sure we’d need. I also saw quite a few things we had already gotten at showers, for 1/5 the retail price (baby bjorn, bundle me). That’s a little higher than yard sale prices, and unlike a yard sale I can’t negotiate, but I’m not really one to do that anyways.

  20. Andrew says:

    deRuiter, I love you. I don’t agree with every comment you write, but each one is a thousand times more entertaining than any original TSD post !

  21. Joan says:

    #11 Rebecca Informative comments like yours are the reason I use to love the comments. I use to read the comments for addition information that was great and there was a lot of good information given. I will now quit reading the comments because they seen to be a contest between who can say the most wierd things about the writing. High school is way in my past, but somehow the comments seem to remind me of it.

  22. Kai says:

    Illegally on a pole? Where do people post such signs where you live? I’m not sure of the actual legality, but it’s definitely commonplace her, and I’ve never heard of a prosecution. that seems like an extra dig just to get one in.

  23. Slccom says:

    It is illegal where I live. City officials will rip them off, but I don’t know if anyone has been ticketed.

  24. Slccom says:

    A lot of people put their signs on a large box held down by bricks or rocks, with a balloon on it. That works well.

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