How to Clothe the Kids Without Busting Your Budget

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

Kids go through clothes like boxes of Cheerios. We say: Don’t spend a lot of money on playwear and school clothes.

By the time kids wear them or use them once or twice, who can tell if they’re new or used anyway?

Following are several ways to top up your kids’ wardrobes without bottoming out your wallet.

Get thrifty

woman thrift shopping
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You can find some kids’ clothes in excellent condition at thrift stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army and other thrift stores. Call your local store and ask if they have a special discount day that includes children’s clothing. You could save up to 50% per item, bringing your cost down even more.

Look for “one-time wear” items, like Halloween costumes or party dresses. Check out high-end consignment shops like Plato’s Closet for trendy threads that your older child will enjoy.

Buy from your neighbors

Garage sale sign in yard
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Garage and yard sales pop up in the warm weather months. Parents clean out the closets and get ready for summer, knowing the kids won’t fit into those sweaters and jeans by the time school is in session.

This is a great time to find gently worn children’s clothing and outerwear that will fit perfectly in the fall months.

Look at consignment stores

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Some specialize in children’s clothing. You can find quality clothes (some with the tags still on them) for a fraction of what they cost at Macy’s or Sears. Yes, sizes might be limited, but you could get lucky and find just the right dress for Christmas or Easter. Worn once or twice, you can take it back to the consignment store later and make part of your money back.

You also can take your barely worn kids’ clothes to consignment shops to sell and help defray the cost of dressing your youngsters. (Buying and selling at the big consignment sales is also an option in major cities.)

Buy out of season and during restocks

Young girl in fancy clothes
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Check out the sale racks at the big department stores or outlet shops right after the season is over for 70% to 80% off original prices.

And Ross, T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s always have decent deals, often on name labels. An employee of JCPenney just told us that the company now hauls armloads of clothes from the regular-priced racks to the sales racks on the first and third Fridays of each month. “It’s the very best time to shop,” she says.

Learn to sew

woman at sewing class
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Make simple items like skirts or rompers from these free patterns. If you don’t feel confident enough to make an entire piece of clothing, start with patches on ripped pants. Cut patches from other pieces of clothing that are destined for the garbage bin. Replace buttons or buckles to refresh an old pair of overalls or a jumper.

Upcycle old clothing

Woman looking at clothes in her closet
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Look at fabric with a creative eye. Your old clothing can be transformed into stylish duds for your babies. Here is a tutorial on how to make a pair of baby pants from one of your old shirts.

Smaller pieces of fabric can be remade into hair bows, totes, or bracelets. Use fabric paint, applique patches, or cute buttons to glam up clothes for kids. Let them have a go at decorating their own clothes. We loved this tutorial on turning too-small children’s leggings into socks.

Don’t let dirty laundry pile up

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Kids are messy. They spill things. So avoid letting a stain set on a piece of clothing. Treat the stain immediately, and wash in cool water. If you do have a stain that won’t budge, consider covering it with a cute applique.

You’ll get more mileage from the clothes, and you can remove and reuse the applique when the child outgrows the garment.

Advertise for second-hand clothing

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Put the call out to friends and family that you are collecting appropriate clothing items in one or two sizes larger than your child’s current needs. This will give you time to wash, mend or change them before your child is ready to wear them.

Don’t forget the magic of community bulletin boards. Put up a note asking for unwanted children’s clothes, fabric or clothing that can be remade into items that are just right for your child.

Borrow special occasion clothes

Man speaking on phone.
Dmytro Zinkevych /

Do you need white pants and a button-down shirt for your son to wear for a school concert? Don’t buy them — borrow them. Ask parents of older children if they have clothing that will fit your child.

Remember, they had to supply their child with the same outfit for their own concert. If your child attends a school that requires uniforms, ask (or create) a uniform swap.

Think basic

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It’s okay to be a minimalist when it comes to your children’s clothing. Think of classic items, just like an adult’s wardrobe. A pair of black or denim pants and a few colorful tees can go a long way.

Reorganize their closets with an eye to the basics. Use key pieces and accessorize. The babies don’t mind wearing the same onesie twice in one week.

Give tweens and teens more control

Teens with cellphones
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Set a limit on how much you will contribute to a new wardrobe. But don’t leave them without knowledge. Take them to thrift stores or garage sales and show them how to choose good deals, how to accessorize, or how to remake an item into a cool skirt or top.

Have a practice session on how to buy a wardrobe on a budget. Once the shopping is in their hands, they will need to add their own money if they go over budget.