Tips to reduce children's clothing costs

Most adults can get by without buying new clothing for themselves for a while, but families must frequently purchase garments for growing children.

That makes children's clothing a big budget item for family households. Back-to-school clothes shopping totaled $7.6 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Among consumers who bought clothes during back-to-school season, average spending was $241, excluding shoes.

Some ways to spend less on children's clothing:

-- KNOW WHAT YOU NEED

Hold a fashion show with children periodically to determine what still fits what doesn't and what's too tattered. That planning will allow you to take an organized approach to shopping.

-- BUY USED Buying used clothes is a good idea for adults, and it's an even better idea for children--the useful life of children's clothing is limited as the child outgrows the garments. Thrift stores will be your wisest bet, said Melissa Tosetti, editor of Budget Savvy Magazine. Play clothes are good because you don't much care what they look like. And second-hand dress clothes will likely have been worn just a few times.

"Because kids grow so fast, dress clothes at the thrift store are practically brand new," she said. And whether buying new or used, don't spend more than $10 on any one clothing item for a baby, she suggests.

If you're having trouble with the concept of buying used clothes, Clark Howard, radio host and author of "Clark's Big Book of Bargains: Clark Howard Teaches You How to Get the Best Deals," has a suggestion. "Go look for a nearly new item for yourself, something you would be proud to wear," he advised. "Buy it and wear it, and if you get past your reluctance for yourself, maybe you'll be able to get past your reluctance to buy used clothes for your child."

-- TRY GARAGE SALES

Yard and garage sales can be fruitless excursions for adult clothes, because you're looking at limited inventory for particular sizes--and perhaps colors and styles. You're not as restricted with children's clothes because you can buy items in a child's current size or future size, knowing they will grow into the clothes. Such sales may allow you to buy in bulk, said Steve Economides, co-author with his wife, Annette, of "America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams."

"For infants, toddlers and kids up to about 5 years old, garage sales are a good way to go because you can buy a bag of clothes for, say, $10," he said.

-- CONSIDER ONLINE AUCTIONS

Generally, buying used clothing online is dicey because you don't get to try on garments and see true colors and fit. But that's less of an issue if the child is not finicky about colors and you buy larger sizes that a child will grow into. And online auctions can be great for clothing accessories. For example, Steve and Annette Economides needed a red bow tie and cummerbund for their son to wear in a Christmas band concert. They were able to find the items, probably to be worn just once, online for a few dollars.

-- THINK HAND-ME-DOWNS

It's worth spending more for better-quality clothes that will last long enough to be passed down to younger children in the family. That especially applies to such staples as jeans and khaki pants. If younger children balk, rename passed-down clothes. "First-grade clothes," for example, sounds less like the clothes were handed down to the child and more like the child was promoted into the clothes.

-- CHECK DISCOUNTERS

Wal-Mart and Target, for example, are good for socks and underwear, and can provide good buys for children's clothes.

Inexpensive clothing likely to last only a single season--or maybe two--ends up being expensive for adults, compared with quality clothes that could last much longer. But discounters are a good deal for children' clothes. Of course, end-of-season sales are times to stock up on clothes in larger sizes for the child to grow into.

-- SEND THE CHILDREN SHOPPING

"Let the kids buy their own clothes once they reach about age 11," said Steve Economides. "That reduces the `gimmes' from peer pressure, and it also teaches them a powerful lesson in being a careful consumer."

Annette Economides said her oldest daughter's friends sometimes try to get her to shop at the mall. "She just laughs at her friends. She says, `You want me to spend how much at the mall, when I just go to my favorite thrift stores and find the same thing for a fraction of the price?' "

Buying their own clothes on a budget allows older children to experience the concept of trade-offs--how purchasing one item limits their ability to purchase others. It also gives them a sense for which clothes are "needs" and which are "wants."

Mom and dad should retain veto power over purchases.

-- SWAP CLOTHING

Trading clothing among family members, friends and neighbors can dramatically reduce costs.

-- CREATE AN INVENTORY SYSTEM

As you squirrel away bargain clothing that a child will grow into, you'll need an organization system to store and track what you have. That way, you'll avoid buying duplicates because you forgot about clothes you previously bought. The system can be as simple as notes on index cards or a pad of paper.

Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., a Tribune Co. newspaper. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com. For additional discussion on spending wisely, see the Spending Smart blog at http://blogs.mcall.com/spendingsmart/.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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