Organizing and Buying Kids’ Clothing

Before having kids, I never thought about how much organization goes into a child’s first year of clothing. It would be pretty easy to have a huge, confusing mess of tiny shirts and mismatched socks. Thankfully, a few habits I’ve adopted over the years have helped me save tons of money on my children’s clothing. Thanks to my organization system, I can also easily find the next size up for the child who’s growing up way too fast.

Keeping an Inventory

It sounds a little crazy, but when you consider how many sizes a child wears before the age of 5, it makes a lot of sense to keep things organized on paper instead of trying dig through bins to find what you need. I made a separate spreadsheet for the boys’ and girls’ clothes and included the following information:

  • Clothing size
  • Number of summer outfits (a combo of short sleeve shirts or onesies + shorts or short overalls, etc.)
  • Number of winter outfits (a combo of long sleeve shirts or onesies + pants or long overalls, etc.)
  • Total number of sleepers/PJ’s

I chose to organize by “outfit” for a couple of reasons: it makes sure everything gets worn, I don’t end up with oddly matched things at the end of the week, and tops and bottoms get worn out evenly. I never put my kids in just tops (onesies), and if they make a mess on just a top or bottom, I change the whole outfit. It’s not going to make a huge difference in my amount of laundry. I keep that system for as long as I’m dressing the child, up to age 3 or so. After that, they choose their own clothes.

Storing Clothes

I used to use diaper boxes, but I have since switched to using plastic bins from Walmart ($4 each). I tape a label to 2 sides and the top of the box, then stack the boxes in a good place. Since my house is very low on storage, the clothes that don’t currently fit any of the kids are stored underneath my older daughter’s loft bed. As long as the labels are facing out, I can easily find what I need within seconds.

Hanging a curtain helps hide all the boxes under the bed. 😉

Buying and Saving on Kids’ Clothes

This is where the inventory really helps. Whether it’s a size my oldest hasn’t grown into or a size for a future baby, I already know exactly what I have, which means I know exactly what I need. I aim for 8-10 summer and winter outfits for each size. The only exception is 0-3 months, where I mostly have sleepers and just a few outfits.

I update the inventory each time I pull out a new box of clothes for a child or scrap an old piece of clothing. This helps me keep a running list of things I need to look for when I shop next.

My order of preference for obtaining children’s clothing goes from cheapest to most expensive.

  1. Hand-me downs. Since they’re usually free, you really can’t go wrong. I’m grateful to have received many hand-me-downs from neighbors, friends, and family. I’m also glad to be on the “giving end” as my youngest boy and girl grow out of things.
  2. Yard sales. Though the amount of work is greater, items of clothing usually range from $.25 to $2. Buying a big bag will often get you the best deal. It helps to check ads that specifically mention having children’s clothing available.
  3. Thrift store. Most children’s clothing costs $2 to $10 and is organized much better than a yard sale. I especially love stores geared toward children’s clothing (such as Kid to Kid), but I’ve also had success at our local, tiny D.I.
  4. On sale at Walmart. Clearance items are often only $2 to $10, but the selection may not be as good. I hardly ever “have” to buy things from Walmart, but it’s nice to get new things for birthdays or Christmas. My kids really don’t care if their clothes are new. They will tear and stain anything within a few months.
  5. Full price. (Ouch!) Thankfully, it’s also rare to need new, full-price things, Most often, it’s a church shirt for a boy or new shoes. Shoes are harder to hand down, especially with older kids, because they tend to wear our after a few months.

Potential Savings

If you’re not convinced yet, let me give an example of how much I saved on buying clothes at yard sales for my first baby girl. I’d already had 2 boys, so I needed a whole wardrobe. I decided to buy enough for her first 2 years.

  • Sizes of clothing bought: 5 (0-3 mos., 3-6 mos., 6-9 mos., 9-12 mos., 12-24 mos.)
  • Hours spent: 7 (over two weekends, 2 Fridays and 2 Saturdays)
  • Number of items bought: 237
  • Total cost: $130
  • Average cost per item: $.55
  • Estimated savings compared to Walmart: $1300 (based on $10 per complete outfit, pair of shoes, or pair of PJ’s)
  • My profit (savings/hours spent shopping): $185.71/hour!

Conclusion

Let this be encouragement to anyone who needs it: you don’t need to go broke in order to dress your children. Though I may meet resistance in the future, so far none of my children have complained about wearing mostly second-hand clothing. (My oldest is currently 9.) Once again, planning ahead and keeping things organized can really make a huge difference in how much money you save.

(See here for additional savings on your baby’s first year.)

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