Updated on 03.08.12

Take Advantage of Hand-Me-Downs (67/365)

Trent Hamm

When Sarah and I had our children, we were somewhat lucky in that a lot of our friends and family were having children around the same time. There were several different couples that all had children within two or three years of each other.

Because of that, and because many of our friends and family are frugally minded, many of our family events and gatherings of friends turned into swap meets for children’s clothing and other items. We’d bring a bag or two of clothes and leave with a diaper box or two of more appropriately sized items.

For example, today my youngest son is wearing a pair of pants that was worn by his older brother, then by two of his older cousins. In the near future, it will be passed on to another of his cousins.

Take Advantage of Hand-Me-Downs (67/365)

If you have family or friends with children anywhere close to the age of your own children, there’s no reason not to suggest a clothing swap when the children outgrow their clothes. This is particularly true if you have a relative with children that are staggered in age in parallel to your own.

For example, the cousin I mentioned above has a child that’s a year younger than our oldest, another a year younger than our middle child, and yet another a year younger than our youngest child (hi, Kim!). I don’t even want to guess how many clothes we’ve swapped back and forth at this point, but it’s been quite a lot.

All of this has saved us a lot of money.

I wanted to try to estimate exactly how much swapping clothes, using hand-me-downs, and buying clothes from yard sales and secondhand shops has saved us over the years. So, I’m going to make some estimates, and I’ll walk you through the reasoning behind them.

Let’s say that for each children’s size – newborn, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, 2T, 3T, 4T, and 5T – we need to have 12 outfits. That’s probably a low number given the messiness of children (dirty shirts, ruined pants, mud all over the place requiring an emergency change of clothes, etc.), but we’ll go with it.

Let’s also say that a new outfit at the store costs $10 on average. You can get new outfits at some stores for less, and you can certainly pay far more than that, but we’ll stick with $10.

So, if you bought all of the clothes for three children new, you would spend $3,600 on children’s clothes.

Now, let’s look at some simple cost-cutting tactics.

Let’s say that you are able to hand down 75% of the clothes from an older sibling to a younger one at that age. That means that we don’t have to buy nine of the outfits for each younger child, so we would only need a total of 18 outfits at each size. You would spend $1,800 on children’s clothes, saving half of your money just by handing down clothes.

Let’s say that you were also lucky enough to get 75% of the clothes for your oldest child handed down to you by a friend. That means you’ll only have to buy a total of 9 outfits at each size. You would then only spend $900 on children’s clothes, saving $2,700 over buying new outfits.

Let’s also say that you were able to buy 6 of those 9 outfits at a yard sale, paying $1 each per outfit. That means you’re only spending $36 at each size level, or a total of $360 on children’s clothes, and saving $3,240.

That’s a lot of savings. If you have multiple children, handing down clothes will save you a lot of money. Even if you have one child, getting hand-me-downs from a friend or relative then passing those clothes on when your child outgrows them can save you some real cash, too.

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. Sassy says:

    A friend of mine was stunned when she got a box of used clothing for her toddler from her sister and a lot of it was stained — clean, but stained. She asked about it and her sister told her “when you know your daughter is going to get messy or dirty (fingerpainting, digging in the garden)put her in one of these — you won’t feel nervous about her getting dirty and if it gets too bad, toss it then.” She loved it once she heard the reasoning and used those outfits quite often, saving the new stuff for days when she did not think things were going to be particularly messy. I grew up with lots of hand me downs even though I’m the oldest because I have a huge number of cousins – it was great — clothes still in good shape that none of my friends had ever seen before.

  2. Nate says:

    I really think Trent should leave out the pseudo-mathematical calculations he tends to do in articles like this. They make so many assumptions that they’re basically meaningless. Though I guess it’s slightly better than an unsubstantiated claim that “this can save you thousands of dollars.”

  3. Brandon says:

    I can understand what you mean Nate. I thought Trent was on point until he messed up the math in the calculation. If you handed down 75% of the clothes, you would only need *15* outfits in each size.

    Either way, I would say that 12 outfits in a size is a gross underestimation once you get above 12 month unless you really like doing laundry all the time or live in a climate that never changes. You probably need somewhere between 12-15 “warm weather” outfits and 12-15 “cold weather” outfits plus I dunno 5 pairs of pajamas.

    Nonetheless, his thesis is right. Hand-me-downs are awesome. Sometimes the quality is bad (stained, etc.), but we just typically don’t use those outfits. Other things just aren’t to our taste, but you can’t beat the price and we plan to pass it along to the next person that can use it!

    Incidentally, we had some luck with a friend in “borrowing” clothes. She wanted to ultimately have them back in case she had other children, but she didn’t mind us using them. It was a great way to round out his wardrobe, and she had similar taste to us so some of the outfits we borrowed became my very favorites!

  4. Roberta says:

    It helps if your kids are either the same gender or you buy/inherit gender neutral clothing. My sister bought everything in pink and purple or covered with flowers or lace for her daughter which severely limited the handmedowns for my four boys. While you can’t dictate the color of things that are passed along, to fill out the wardrobe it helps to stick to a color scheme. I bought white and light blue sleeved shirts, and khaki and navy shorts and pants for years. That made everything interchangable for church or other occasions requiring better dress. (My husband used the same concept when he moved to a job which required civilian clothes – 10 light blue shirts, 10 pairs navy pants which he wears every day unless he’s outside the office seeing clients and needs to wear a suit.) Makes getting dressed as easy as his old uniform days.

    Since my youngest is now taller than me and outweighs me, we have reversed the process. My at-home-parent role largely does not require a professional wardrobe, so I wear “hand me ups” – the shirts, jeans, sleep pants etc which they have outgrown. As a woman, I draw the line at their boxer shorts, although at least some of their athletic socks are usable.

    I have also found hand me downs are not welcome in some neighborhoods. I offered them to three different mothers after we moved here. One actually wrinkled her nose and said her boys deserved new clothes of their own. One declined politely. The third looked through the stacks and hanging racks of clean, unstained, ironed clothing, and took one team logo sweatshirt. After that, I started donating them as they were outgrown to the local battered women’s shelter to be worn or sold at their thrift shop. It feels better knowing they’re going to someone who really needs them, or are being sold to support the shelter.

  5. Izabelle says:

    Despite what the photo would have us believe(!), hand-me-downs can look nice!

  6. Andrew says:

    By all means, take advantage of hand-me-downs. It’s foolish not to.

    However, every child deserves new clothes from time to time. Something that is just theirs, that didn’t belong to their older siblings or the kids down the street. It is incredibly easy to make children feel as if they don’t matter, and never allowing the joy of the new is one way to do so.

    Also, by turning new clothes into an inflexible taboo, you are guaranteeing an extreme reaction later in life; frugality can breed materialistic excess.

  7. I agree, make use of recycled jeans and T-shirts for children. They will out grow it within 2 days anyway!

  8. lee says:

    I did all of this with friends and relatives.
    However with my daughter there was a twist to it. She was very much smaller (still is )than my two friends daughters of the same age, despite weighing 8lbs at birth. So two years later she would be wearing her friends old dresses etc and by this time both she and her friends had forgotten who they had originally belonged to.(and no one was bothered anyway.)
    I had some beautifull dresses from my friend who had an only child and whose child was the only grandchild. Needless to say these all got passed on in due course.

  9. Joan says:

    Another way to cut costs for children is to buy all matching white socks. I buy several packages at once and there is no having to find the matching sock as they all look alike. I then just throw away the ones that get mud stained or get holes.

  10. Maria says:

    #5 – The photo looks like mostly cotton t-shirts. What the heck would make folded t-shirts look any better?

  11. CNP76 says:

    Really #10? I can think of two or three different ways to display t-shirts to make the photo more interesting and eyecatching, using nothing but the existing shirts in the photo. And I haven’t done pro photography since folks still used real film!

  12. Izabelle says:

    @Maria: The choice and order of the clothes’ color. The shot’s angle. The shot’s framing. Where the shot is taken (ex.: on a table next to a sunny window, with lots of natural light, or on top of a pretty bedroom dresser). The lighting. Or even just the subject matter.

    There are more original ways to illustrate hand-me-downs, and there is a huge difference between effortless and careless.

    Just go to any stock photo site, type in hand-me-down and you’ll see what I mean.

  13. maria says:

    Thanks for the photo101 briefing, however this is a “finacial talk” blog. So, really does it make a difference how clean colored cotton tshirts are portrade in a file photo.
    Seriously, you think that the author”s message of hand me downs could be better understood if the green shirt was on top with more natural light and on a pretty dresser?
    All the hand me downs I have ever received were in a cardboard box or a garbage bag. Maybe i would have appreicated them more if the gifter had them color coded on satan hangers and ironed.

  14. Riki says:

    Presentation matters, especially if you call yourself a professional blogger and an aspiring professional photographer.

  15. Izabelle says:

    I would love to see what a satan hanger looks like ;P

    But more seriously if Trent is trying to sell us on hand-me-downs, making the option appealing is part of the photographer’s job. And since she’s an intern, criticism should be welcomed. It’a a tough field and so far I believe she still has a lot to leran to make it.

  16. Izabelle says:

    *learn* I mean

  17. maria says:

    I mean *author’s*, *satin* and *appreciated* and all the other unknown errors…. I’m a 40 something semi-retired accountant not an author or pendant and can barely type with two fingers. Sorry for all the mistakes.
    However, I still do not see what is so wrong with a photo of a pile of shirts to represent hand me downs. I just do not see how natural light and pretty dresser would make it more appropriate for this post.
    Nicely arranged, sitting on a bright white sunny dresser with a vase of fresh sunflowers would make me think of something other than a bunch of kids hand me downs… Hell my brand new clothes wouldn’t look that good… There on a plastic hanger jammed into a over croweded closet.

  18. rebecca says:

    I don’t agree with children “deserving” to get new clothes. I wore exclusively hand me downs most of my life. Many times I didn’t really have a choice about what I had to wear because it was all we had. I loved it when the older girls in our church congregation would grow out of things because their moms would pass on garbage bags full of fun clothes to me to use. I didn’t care that they weren’t NEW new, they were just new to me! It was like shopping for me, which I never got to do otherwise, to dig through an entire bag or two to find a “new” shirt or pants.

  19. Izabelle says:

    We all make spelling mistakes, but there’s no age to be able to take a good-natured joke.

  20. maria says:


  21. maria says:

    i took it as a joke.

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