Jenn’s Tips (Vol. 6): Clothing a family on a budget

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I’ve begun the process of purchasing Parker’s Fall/Winter wardrobe (no need to purchase for Austin most of the time as he just gets Parker’s hand me downs), so I thought it was a good time to share about my strategy for getting cute items at a reasonable price.

 

The Backstory

I like clothes. Here’s how I know…

As you may have noticed, keeping up with household chores is not my area of expertise, but laundry I actually do. I don’t mean to say that the pile of laundry won’t get really high or that clothes won’t sit in baskets for days, but apparently I do things that others do not. Laundry always ends up folded in drawers or hung up in the closet– and organized! I even fold underwear (I’m told that’s not normal). When I move the kids’ clothes from the washer to the dryer, I check to make sure they are stain free so that I don’t lock in the stains by putting them in the dryer. If they are not, I either put spot cleaner on them right then and return them to the hamper, or set them on the edge of the hamper so that I know I need to treat them before I wash them the next time. I get the impression this is not normal either. Meanwhile, important chores like cleaning the floor and the bathtub and generally keeping the house from looking like a disaster fail to get done. So this tells me that I like clothes.

When I first met my husband, this was how I shopped for clothes…

I didn’t go to the mall very often, but when I did, I would usually come back with bags of clothes. Before I went my then fiancée would ask how much I was going to spend, and I would say something like, “it depends on what I find.” My budget conscious fiancée found this to be very alarming. Back then, I really didn’t give a lot of thought to things like budgets or deals. I never spent beyond my means, but I wasn’t shopping wisely. I was paying way more for clothes than I needed to and not really thinking through my purchases. Fortunately through my husband’s example and necessity as we started a family together, I began to learn better ways to shop, and I now really enjoy seeking out a good deal and giving thorough consideration to my purchases.

So if you’re interested, here are some things that are working for us…IMG_0996

 

The How To

1) Shop Online

For me, online shopping really helps. It can be done anytime and anywhere, and there is no dragging kids through a store involved. Not only is it a major convenience, it also helps me control my spending. When I shop online I can put everything I like in my shopping cart, and then take the time to think about what I really need and which items I’m really excited about. Best of all, I can play around with the cost. I can easily see how much each item costs after discounts, as well as my total spend, and make adjustments accordingly. So for example, I might notice that this item is $8 and this similar item is $13 and consider if the $13 one is really worth the extra cost. Or it might become obvious to me that I’ve selected more shirts than I need, but not enough pants, so then I can cut back the shirts and see if I can find more pants at that website or at another one. I know online shopping doesn’t work for everyone, but it is tremendously helpful to me.

2) Plan your shopping

When shopping for my boys I find it works well to do the main clothing shopping at the beginning of a season (I should clarify that I’m combining fall/winter and spring/summer here) because there are usually only a few pieces from the current wardrobe that will work as the weather changes. It also often ends up being the perfect time to make any necessary changes in sizes.

I try to be aware as I’m helping my kids get dressed what items we are short of. As an example, before I started shopping for Parker’s winter wardrobe, I noticed that he was starting to outgrow several pairs of pants, and other pairs were fitting just right (which meant they would be too short soon). Thus, I knew pants were a priority for me.

Besides just paying attention to what categories of clothing you need, like pants and shirts, give some thought to the type of items you need or will actually use within each category. For example, I usually like to have one or two dressier shirts and one or two dressier (but still ok for everyday) pants, but I know that on an average day we are most likely to dress Parker in jeans and a T-shirt, so the majority of my picks need to fall within that arena.

I try to buy enough clothes to give a solid start to the new season’s wardrobe (maybe 10 items of clothing), but I don’t want to overbuy. I find it helps to add new pieces in smaller groups rather than to try to buy everything at once. This way I can see how the new pieces are working and then evaluate what else I still need.

Once you know what you need, you can start keeping an eye out for sales on those items. Knowing what you need will also help you to avoid buying things you don’t need just because they are cute. For instance, if you know you don’t need pajamas, you can not even look at the pajama section and avoid the temptation.

For adults, I recommend a similar strategy but with significantly fewer items needed because hopefully you already have a good base of clothes to work with and are just replacing items that have worn out, freshening up your wardrobe, or adding key pieces for a new phase of life.

3) Be strategic

Hand me downs are a big deal for us. We were given some hand me downs that really helped us get started when we had Parker, and now we know that all Parker’s clothes will be being passed down to Austin. There are a few pieces that end up getting too beat up to be passed down, but I try to minimize that as much as possible. Cheap clothing can help fill out a wardrobe for a minimum cost, but I also try to find deals on better quality items whenever possible so that they will hold up better. Additionally, I try to take care of clothes by spot cleaning them. My new favorite spot cleaner of choice is Caldrea No. 7 (as discussed here), and I find that pouring Clorox2 directly on a stain can help as well.

For my boys, I always buy a size ahead to maximize how long they can use the clothes. When a size fits just right that means it’s time for me to start buying the next size up. Sure, the next size will be a bit big, but I can roll pants and sleeves and make it work. I also like to buy 3 piece pajamas (a shirt with pants and shorts) so that they can work for multiple seasons (my kids are smaller, so this works well, but if your kids are growing leaps and bounds, this might not work for you). Of course I still will buy some pajamas that are seasonal (gotta love cozy footies for winter).

I recommend only buying items you’re excited about. It’s easy to find something that “will work” and settle for that, especially when you really need something. However, I find those are the items that never get used because you don’t actually like them. Don’t buy desperate and take the time to think through your purchases if you can.

Try to select pieces that can offer versatility to your wardrobe. For example, cardigans or other cover ups can be a great addition to a wardrobe as they can give the same top a different look or allow it to be used across multiple seasons. Pieces that can be dressed up or dressed down easily also give you a lot of flexibility.

Don’t forget to use occasions to your advantage. If you notice you need something, but it’s almost your birthday or Christmas, you can always choose to hint for what you need. This can even work for kids, especially if the clothes are “fun”… i.e. my brother got Parker Batman and Superman pajamas for his birthday that Parker was very excited about.

4) Find the deal

So now that you’ve figured out what you want to buy, the time has come to find the deal that you want. As I mentioned earlier, it is great to buy quality pieces when you can get them for a good price. One way to do that is to combine a clearance or low everyday price with a coupon or promo.

We’ve found this to be a great way to buy Clint’s jeans. Clint loves Lucky jeans, so when he’s in need of more jeans we scour the clearance section for pants he likes, and we can usually combine that with a promo (30% off or so) to get high quality name brand jeans for the same price as (or less than) Levi’s. Often the clearance pants are too long for him, but we can easily get them hemmed for very little cost.

As a note, Lucky does have a few children’s items, so you can watch for deals on those as well if you want to get some nice jeans or jackets for your little one. I also find that I can get decent quality jeans for the boys at a reasonable price from Old Navy: I can find jeans for $10 there and then combine that with a promo to get them even cheaper! I’ve also recently started shopping at Gymboree because I’ve been really impressed with the quality of their clothes. Their prices are slightly higher, but not unreasonable, and if you find clearance items or every day low price items that you can combine with a promo, you can still get some pretty good deals.

This year I also learned about the joy of buying used clothes. I was never any good at thrift store shopping, but then I heard multiple people mention a website called ThredUp. If you haven’t heard of this yet, you can buy women and children’s clothes (hopefully men’s clothes someday) from them that are “new with tags” or are “practically new.” This is another way to get name brand clothes for the same as or less than the cheaper brands. A few months ago I was able to get four name brand shorts/capris for me and three name brand shorts for Parker, all for just over $50. Talk about a smokin’ deal! So even if you’re not part of a hand me down chain, there is still a way for you to enjoy the many benefits of hand me downs. I haven’t tried this yet, but you can also sell your like new used clothes to them.

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I hope some of these ideas were helpful for you. Please share with me any tips you have that I might have missed. Any good clothing websites that I should check out?

 

   

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