The Cheapskate Mom’s Guide to Clothes Shopping

where to find cheap clothes

Time for new pants?

Budgeting for family clothing purchases can be tricky. If Sis and Junior aren’t growing out of the clothes you just bought them last week, they’re wearing the new duds to do some amateur spelunking under the porch.

Or worse, they’re insisting that the icky old off-brand sweater isn’t good enough because they must have a Hollister sweater. Never fear, just follow these tips to dress your kids well without taking out a second mortgage:

Clothing Swaps

This is a fun update to the age-old practice of hand-me-downs. To organize a clothing swap party, invite families with children of various ages to bring gently used clothing to trade. Everyone will go home with new pieces to add to their wardrobes, and any unwanted items can be donated.

This can also be a fun way for Mom to update her look if you’d like to do a swap just for women’s clothing. can help you find an existing group of clothing swappers near you.

Buy Secondhand

We all know that it’s possible to find great clothes for tiny prices at thrift stores and consignment shops. If you’re looking for particular name brands, however, it’s important to know which bargain shops to go to.

The consignment and thrift stores in the most affluent areas of town will often have barely worn or brand new name brand clothing only a season “behind.” If your child is a budding fashionista, this is an excellent way to show her dressing well does not necessarily mean spending a fortune. The best online place for secondhand clothes is eBay.

Buy Big

We all remember the clothing that we were supposed to “grow” into. While some clothes, like smock style dresses, two-piece pajamas, tube socks, and lace-up or Velcro shoes, lend themselves to growing, others just make your child look like he’s playing dress up in Daddy’s clothes. The solution? Learn your way around a sewing machine.

Hemming durable pants and skirts with a hem that can be let down will buy you multiple seasons from a single item. And while you’ve got the sewing materials out, reinforce the knees and elbows of play clothes with patches ironed on the inside.

Even if you’ve got two left thumbs when it comes to sewing, the tutorials on youtube can get you started.

Shop Clearance Racks

At the end of the season, you can pick up clothes for bargain prices. You just need to plan ahead in terms of how big your child will be once that season comes around again.

And you might not even have to do that. Spring and fall clothing can often be worn year-round, as long as you don’t mind pastels or football themes on the clothes.

Invest in Unisex Clothing

If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to keep your clothing purchases simple, easy to care for, and unisex. That way you can pass clothing down from one child to the next without anyone objecting to aggressive pink frills or super masculine camouflage.

Buy on Thursday

Retail clothing stores often put out their newest stock on Thursdays in order to prepare for the weekend sales. Go in on a Thursday morning, and you may be able to find “current” clothing that is now discounted in order to make room for the new merchandise coming in.

Use the Clothing Budget as a Teachable Moment

It can be difficult for a child to understand why she can’t have the name brand clothes her friends and classmates wear. So use budgeting as a means to help her understand.

Let her know that she may spend the budgeted money where she wants, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. So if she uses the entire $50 budget on one pair of jeans, that will be an important lesson for her about the cost of name brands.

Photo by sean dreilinger

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About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher and respected personal finance blogger. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her engineer husband and two high-energy little boys. She has written four books: The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.


  1. Buy for the season and not for the latest fashion trends. Classics are good pieces and avoid white clothing!