Top 10 Ways to Find Kids' Clothes for Free (or Almost)

Dollars & Sense on 03.05.11
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Photo credit: Randen Pederson/Creative Commons

The average U.S. family spends $1,881 on clothing per year.  With kids growing like sunflowers in August, many families are spending a lot more.

99% of the clothes my kids wear are hand-me-downs, rummage sale finds, or clothing swap loot.  With four kids, we've saved thousands of dollars on covering those little bodies. And I swear -- my children don't look like ragamuffins. 

Thankfully most clothing today is built to last, so keeping it in circulation as long as possible also makes good environmental sense.

Here are ten ideas for majorly overhauling your clothing budget.

1.  Ask and Ye Shall Receive

My favorite approach to finding free clothes involves a simple question: "Got anything you want to pass along?" I love the warm, fuzzy feeling when people help each other out like this. Don't be shy: most parents prefer to give their stuff to someone they know. An added plus? Since you usually inherit an entire season of clothing, you save a ton of time in shopping and scrounging.

Moms' clubs and other kid-related groups are perfect for this kind of exchange -- so start joining ... and sharing!

2.  Be Charitable

Church rummage sales are known for selling oceans of cheap clothing, as low as $1 per piece.  Goods are donated for free, and profits benefit the organization. Keep in mind that stuff goes fast, so arrive early!

3.  Swap it Out

Get rid of what you don't need and pick up what you do at a clothing swap party. How does it work? People bring any unwanted clothes, and the clothes are sorted by size or gender. At a set time, "shwopping" begins. Leftovers are donated to charity. For my step-by-step guide, see How to Organize a Clothing Swap.

4.  Get Thrifty

Duds at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army can cost as little as 50 cents to a dollar, especially with special sales. For example, the thrift shop near me slashes 50% off everything on Wednesdays.

If the kids' department is scant, don't make a beeline for the door. I love scoring brand-name clothes for my husband and myself. To find a shop near you, try searching TheThriftShopper.

5.  Bid for a Lot

You can get the best deals in online auctions like eBay if you buy a "lot" -- or a bunch -- of clothing. Instead of paying $10 for a single piece, you'll pay more like $2 a piece and get a whole season's worth of clothes. Another advantage for fashion hounds: eBay's offerings lean toward the famous-name variety.

6.  Drive Slowly

Spring and summer are high season for treasure troves of cheap duds: yard sales. For leads on where to find sales near you, try Yard Sale Treasure Map, which searches Craigslist for you and maps out the sales in your area. Watch out for super deals, such as $2 for as much as you can stuff in a grocery bag.

7.  Look on the Free Lists

Craigslist's free section often has boxes of clothing. (Search the "free" category under "For Sale.") The clothing and kids' sections also have tons of low-cost options, such as bags of clothes for $10.  

Tip: If you are looking for something specific but don't want to check back every day, have Google email you when it comes up. Go to Google Alerts, type in what you are looking for followed by "site:" and your local Craigslist url. For example: "18 months boys site: http://syracuse.craigslist.org/."

8.  Recycle Fashion

You're more likely to find name-brand -- even designer -- clothing at consignment shops, than at thrifts or rummage sales. Because both the donator and the store share profits, these shops can be more pricey. For less expensive options, look for stores run by a non-profit.

9.  No Money Allowed

Of course we couldn't talk about free without mentioning the grande dame of gratis, Freecycle. Stay on top of what's being offered in your city, and you're sure to come across an offer of free threads. 

Tip: If you want mountains of free clothes without mountains of emails, create a rule in your email program to send all Freecyle posts to two separate mailboxes. One for all offers with the words "clothes" or "clothing," and one for everything else.

10.  Get it in the Mailbox

Rummage through virtual yard sales -- in your pajamas -- with clothing exchange websites. At thredUP, a kind of Netflix for second-hand kids' clothes, you exchange gently-used clothing in an organized system using Priority Mail boxes. Zwaggle works more like a co-op, where you earn points when you give clothes and spend points when you receive clothes.

Are there other options I haven't thought of?  How do you like to find cheap kids' clothes?  Tell us in the comments.

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