Scanning clearance racks, scouring through bins, hitting as many stores as possible takes time, but we managed to find some cute solutions to fill in where hand-me-downs left gaps. And thankfully, the timing couldn't have been better. I had some time in a larger city due to an appointment for my oldest daughter and we hit some excellent sales while waiting on her. Apparently retailers are needing to move merchandise in this sluggish economy and we were able to benefit from this.
Originally my goal had been to sew more clothing for the girls, however, I've been very discouraged by fabric costs! $9 for a yard of fabric? Fine for my youngest daughter, but not so great for a 5'4" teenager with long legs. Years ago, I knew of a couple of $1 fabric stores, but both of those are gone.
Thrift stores are another option, especially if you are building a wardrobe of basics. But if you need to fill in gaps with specific items, it can be a bit tricky. For example, my 13 year old was blessed with three wonderful wool skirts from a friend (for free!), but one needed a gold sweater to match. Not exactly a common item and typically not easy to find even in a store. Thankfully, JC Penney's seems to focus on a lot of quality basics in every imaginable color - 22 to be exact. And usually they have deep sales. SCORE! We paid only $12.72 for this sweater in the perfect color. So the entire outfit cost us less than $13, probably around $16 or so when we add some tights since thankfully, her boots from last year still fit.
We had to get creative a time or two as well. My 9 year old wears a size 7 or 8 in girls. Skirts off the rack tend to be mid-thigh in length (which frustrates our family to no end!). However, with the trend in girls clothing to add those great elastic bands with button holes inside the waist band, one can go up a size, or two, or even THREE, for added length and just cinch up the waist. (I wish they did that with adult skirts sometimes.) We found two size 14 corduroy skirts for LESS than $10 each at Gap Kids! Each had a lovely little tulle hem underneath and hung down below her knees. (Interesting that the on-line price is only discounted to $25, but the store sold this for $8.39!)
These are just two examples of great deals we found, but it takes time. Whether you're going to go through several thrift stores or shop sales racks, you need to wear your most comfortable shoes and be willing to spend several hours on the hunt. But the payoff can be big.
Here are some tips that help me when clothes shopping for frugal purchases...
• Access your wardrobe before you hit the street looking. Be sure to try on clothing and know what fits and what doesn't, writing down needs as you go through the closet. Know exactly what you're looking for and try to stick to your list within reason. And don't forget to note accessory items you might need such as tights, cami's, slips, etc.
• Decide how many outfits are sufficient. It's easy to go overboard if you find a really good sale. You can reason in your mind that it's a great buy so get more, but sometimes an extra skirt or two are just too many to wear. Growing kids are going to grow MORE, so don't over purchase. If there are too many outfits hanging in the closet, they won't be able to manage them and things won't get hung up. Before long, the closet is a mess. Beware of purchasing things a size or two larger with the plan that you'll put it back for later when they grow into it. Children don't always grow proportionally and it might not work later for that particular child. With three daughters, none of them are built the same, so sometimes what worked for one child, didn't work for the other. On the other hand, if you're sure something's going to work later and you have the cash, go for it!
• Make room for the new. Either pack the off season items away or be generous with clothes that no longer fit. Pass them off to a friend or a charity. Throw away or repurpose worn, stained items. For storing hand-me-downs, we use large plastic containers to prevent moths and mice from damaging the clothes or we hang them up high in the closet. With 10' ceilings, we were able to install a third rack up near the ceiling. This allows items that will be used in the next season to be close at hand, but out of the way. You can purchase a long handled hook like they use in the departments stores to access the clothes.
• Gather coupons before hand. Stash them in a zip lock back or something, but make sure you take them with you and stick them in your purse! I know this seems obvious, but it's frustrating to be at the check out and know you had a coupon at home!
• Go straight to the sales racks! There's a reason the sale items are in the back. The stores are hoping that you'll see the newer, in-season styles first and opt for these since they make more profit on the full retail price. They display these lovelies, all coordinated for a great fashion "look", but resist the urge! It's fine to get some ideas in this section, but only if your will-power is steel. If you can't find the sales rack, ask a sales clerk to direct you.
• Ask for help finding what you're looking for. While checking out at the Gap, I struck up a conversation with a kind sales clerk who obviously had great fashion sense by the way she was dressed. I asked her where she recommended we shop for boots (since that was on our list). She immediately directed us to a nearby store that proved to be a gold mine of styles at very modest prices. Since it was a small off-brand store, I would have never sought it out and most likely would have easily passed it by unless recommended.
• Avoid cheap trendy pieces. While it's fun to have a couple of fashion pieces, don't build your child's wardrobe strictly from the latest fad. Usually trendy items are not always made to last beyond the season at hand and younger children will find them unappealing in years to come if handed down (should they even last that long!). Also, trendy items typically aren't appropriate for any occasion. Items with "characters" on them may seem cute on the rack, but are very limiting in the overall wardrobe.
• Buy quality basics when possible. Basics in solid colors are easy to mix and match allowing you to change up your child's wardrobe without getting too bored. And the cheapest item is not always the best choice. Spending an extra $5 on an item that will hold up through repeated washings is cheaper in the long run than paying less for an item but having to repurchase mid-season because it didn't hold up. An exception might be dress shoes that are worn only for a couple of hours each Sunday. Paying top dollar for something they will seldom wear and out grow quickly doesn't make sense unless you think another child in the family can wear it (provided their foot is the correct size for that particular season's shoes). When kids are older and growing has all but ceased, you can start to think about purchasing investment pieces, but look for great deals in case they have a last minute growth spurt.
• Think outside box! Like our skirt example above, it can really pay to look beyond your child's immediate size on the rack. HOWEVER, be sure the item really does work and not look frumpy. Sometimes an added ruffle or an inexpensive cami can transform a great skirt or dress (this doesn't really work for the boys I'm afraid, but then again, they're clothing is typically easier to deal with from the beginning.)
• Purchase some items slightly larger. Coats are a good example of an item that should be purchased a tad bigger. The cost of a coat is often pricy, so plan on your child wearing it for at least two years. If you have to, roll the sleeves up the first year. Have you ever noticed that fashion magazines often do this to create a "look" anyway? Pick a basic solid color and your child should be set for any occasion.
• Talk with your children before you shop! This is so important... especially for families with girls. Talk about your shopping goals before you EVER leave the house! Make sure that they have an understanding of your family's policy on modesty (and that Dad is on board!), that they know the budget, and they understand what the goal is for the trip. Discuss before hand if they will be using any of their own allowance or work money to make any purchases and if they will be allowed to make any impulse buys (such as a DARLING pair of earrings that she thinks she can't pass up!). You'll be glad you did this when you're tired near the end of the day and the goal shifts to getting done! Not to mention the fact that we've all heard another mother-daughter duo duke it out in the dressing rooms. We don't want things to get ugly, but rather we want to set an example and shine like jewels before others.
I'd love to hear additional tips, especially from those who have boys! What does your family do when shopping for clothes that is frugal and helpful?