I try to have 10-14 outfits for my kids per season so that they can change clothes about twice a day without me having to do emergency laundry midweek. Add to that pjs, socks, shoes, undies, coats, bathing suits, and fancy clothes, and its a lot of money! When both of my kids were born, we were very lucky to have lots of clothes given or lent to us. It was a huge stress reducer, as well as money saver. But once the baby clothes were outgrown, I didn't know anyone get clothes from and had to buy all Natalie's clothes. I bought new since places like Good Will were overwhelming and often filled with faded and dated selections. But now that I have networked as a mom, I've found venues to save significant money on clothes without having to compromise how I'd like the kids to look. The key is to share clothes as much as possible, and supplement by selectively buying used, clearance, and full price clothes.
Look early or late.
If you want used clothes, start looking well before your child needs them. That will give you time to find items one or two at a time to create a manageable collection for a whole size or season. For example, I have most of my son's 24 month fall collection done and he's 19 month old now in April. If you are buying new, still look ahead of time, but do it at the end of seasons when clothes go on clearance. I've gotten my kids winter coats for half price two years running by getting them at the end of the winter before. This is especially great for holiday clothes, like Halloween or Christmas themed outfits. If you are buying new and not on clearance, you still need to buy early before the stores run out of items and / or switch to the next season. Its surprising how hard it is to find a pair of kids sweats in January or shorts in July.
Shop discount stores for new clothes.
Living in Maine, we have all the Freeport outlets. Where ever you live, there are probably outlet malls as well. Also, try stores like TJ Maxx. The clothes will be be brand new, but the prices reduced.
Kids out grow clothes quickly. There is no reason to spend so much money on all brand new clothes, and especially not on big name brands. (Why spend $25 on a tank top at Gap when you can get a new one from Garanimals for $2.50?) If you must have brand names, all the more reason to buy used. I recently purchased Carter's long sleeve tees for my son for $2 each used but like new, when they are about $9 each brand new. Don't forget to look for shoes, too. Little kids feet grow so fast that they typically don't wear out all their shoes before they outgrow them. Dress shoes are typically only worn a few times and great to get used. My three year old daughter has a basket of shoes bought used (or handed down) that she loves to play with. She sometimes will change her shoes four times a day. I never could have provided her with such fun if I bought new.
Avoid paying for lots of clothes.
After buying lots three times for my son, I've learned my lesson. Only one of the lots was really nice, and that was one from someone I knew. The other two contained some stained, faded, and mismatched items which diminished the value of the lot. With any lot you get, whether borrowed or paid, or from friends, family, or strangers, there will be items that won't fit your child or you just don't like. Its easier to spend more time buying individual items that you know you and your child will like, that will fit in size and season, and are of good quality.
Accept offers hand-me-downs to keep or to borrow.
Its a different story, though, if someone is going to give you clothes for free. Then it is worth your time and effort to root through the clothes to find the ones that suit your needs.
Be courteous and respectful when lent or given clothes.
Say thank you. Return the clothes promptly when your child outgrows them. Do your best to keep them looking nice, which is hard with kids, but you can choose not to let your child finger paint or eat spaghetti sauce in someone's borrowed shirt.
Don't be afraid to ask.
I first asked for clothes for my kids a year ago. In that time, I've had four moms with older girls lend or give us clothes, and one mom with a boy lend us clothes for my son. Lots of moms are happy to share because: 1) They know how big of a help it is and 2) They want to get the clothes they aren't using out of their houses!
Try to set up a continuing line of hand-me-downs or cycle of swapping.
If you can arrange this, it will save you time and money! Families are very good at these arrangements, but you can make them with friends, co-workers, and neighbors, too!
Use on line sources like Craigslist or FB.
As I mentioned above, I don't like shopping for kids' clothes at Good Will or Salvation Army. There is just so much hanging there that I am overwhelmed. But, I have found FB groups in my area specifically for selling or swapping kids items. You can browse at your leisure, including using search functions to find just what you are looking for. If you do go this route, be sure to ask questions such as if the house is smoke-free or pet-free, if that is important to you. One of the lots I got from my son stank of smoke until it was washed twice, but I never asked.
Buy a few things new, even if they are full price.
Its nice to be able to pick out a few things that your child will really love. I also felt better about getting William's first pair of real shoes new as well as Natalie's first sets of underwear brand new. But we've also had to buy new when we couldn't get what we wanted anywhere else; most recently this was rain boots for William. Having saved a bunch on so much else, it was nice to just shop a little. Saving so much else where allows you to splurge a little on extra items or fill in the gaps.
When its time to buy the kids clothes for the new season or size, I go to my favorite places on line and shop virtually first. I put everything I like in the cart, then I par it back. Most times, I never finalize the purchase. Doing this really helps me reduce impulse buying. First, I feel like I've already done the fun part of shopping by seeing everything, and second, I've organized my thoughts to make better choices when I actually go to the store.
Make a wish list.
Often, I add the items I really like while virtual shopping to my Amazon universal wish list. Then, anyone who is looking for something to give one of the kids, can see what they need and like. I'm also sure to tell people like my mother and sister what the kids need and don't need each season. They like to shop for clothes for the kids, so telling them what we have and don't have makes the money they spend on gifts well spent.
Lend out the clothes your kids have outgrown.
Hold on to your items if you plan to have your children close together, but otherwise, lend them out.
I was holding on to all my girl clothes in case there was another girl in the extended family. But then I realized we knew families that needed clothes. There was no harm lending them out until we needed them elsewhere.
Choose people you trust when lending.
I only lend to trustworthy people I know well or a close friend knows well. I want my items back! So, I'm not going to lend to someone who feels no obligation to me.
Mark your things.
You can't expect someone to give you back your clothes if you don't mark which ones they are! I write out last initial on the tag with the size.
Weed out the stained or otherwise desirable items.
Save a few favorites for sentimental value.
No matter how trustworthy or responsible the person you lend to is, there is still a chance you won't get your things back. Maybe you loose touch, or, heaven forbid, some kind of damage happens to their home. And kids are kids. They spit up, throw up, poop, spill food, play in mud, color on themselves. Clothes get ruined. So, save a few things.
Sell your things when you can't share them to help someone else.
If you don't know someone who could use your clothes and you don't plan on having more kids, selling them will help you raise money to buy clothes. If money isn't an issue, donate them!