Growing a Family on One Income: 7 Tips for Clothing Kids, Cheaply, in All Seasons

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Give a warm welcome to Molly W of Molly Makes Do with this guest post in the  “Growing a Family on One Income” series with some suggestions on how to keep the costs of clothing your family down when you have to deal with multiple seasons. Be sure to start by reading the first part of this series on spending less on clothes.

In Iowa most people will tell you that we have Five Seasons.  Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring and Mud.  Winter lasts about 5 months of the year, Summer takes up 4, you get about a month and a half of Fall, and about a day and a half of Spring.  The rest is Mud and it comes and goes as it pleases.

It’s not uncommon during certain parts of the year to wake up to frost on your windows, run the air conditioning in the car during the day and have to turn on the heat at night.  Sometimes I wish for the less seasonal climates of my southern friends in Florida or Arizona, but then again I honestly have no concept of Christmas without the chance of snow so for now I’ll be staying put.

If you live in an area with crazy seasons you’ll know clothing your kids appropriately can be a little daunting so I’m here to share 7 Tips for Clothing Kids, Cheaply, in All Seasons (even Mud). 

Room to Grow – Make purchases (or selections from your hand-me-down bag) with room to grow.  Pants can be cuffed, sleeves rolled up and thick socks worn to insure a proper fit while your child is growing.  Once your children are out of those first years of crazy infant growth spurts you might be able to stretch out an extra season or even an extra year just by going big.

Learn to Love Layers – Our seasons can change at the drop of a hat, and flip flop within days or hours and there’s nothing like having just put away the winter clothes when the temperature takes an off season nose dive.  Learning to layer clothing appropriately lets you stretch out those spring and summer clothes a little longer.  This comes in handy when your children are not born in the same 3 months of the year – layers can keep you from having to buy a whole new sized wardrobe for that lone child who had the audacity to be born in the winter instead of the summer.  *Bonus Tip: Look for winter jackets with zip out linings.  This gives the item 3 seasons of wear instead of 1.* 

Quality over Quantity – Those $6 shoes might be a good deal, but those $30 sandals or snow-boots are worth the investment if they can make it through multiple kids.  My son has been sporting a hand-me-down pair of Keen sandals that were bought new – they’ve been worn by 3 different children already and show no signs of wearing out anytime soon.  Quality can also signal a better fit, and nothing will get an item of clothing sent to the bottom of the pile faster than a child’s discomfort.

Shop a Year Ahead – If you’re the first of your friends and family to have children you’ll have to shop at some point for children’s clothes.  Have no fear – it’s not the end of your budget!  Even when junior is still in utero you can be looking out for deals because if there’s one thing you can count on its end of the season sales.  There’s really no reason to spend full price on things like snow-boots or a heavy jacket because you can always score a 50% or even 75% off sale during the right time of the year.  Buy at least a size or two ahead and it’s unlikely you’ll be rushing to the store to pay full price for snow-boots or sweaters during that early freeze.  Instead, you’ll get to stay in your nice warm home, open up the closet, take out those $5 boots that you got marked down from $30 at the end of the season and send junior to frolic in the snow all afternoon.  *Bonus Tip:  Consignment and resale stores often have end of the season sales too.*

Limit the NiceHaley touched on this in the first segment but it bears repeating.  Kids and Mud go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, Calvin and Hobbes, and Popcorn and A Generous Helping of Parmesan Cheese.  In fact, they shouldn’t be separated.  Did you know that exposure to the microbes and bacteria in a good pile of dirt actually make you happier?  Reserve a pair of shoes, a couple pairs of pants and shirts or dresses for church, visiting relatives or going out in public, but don’t worry that your child isn’t going to look like “My Fashionably Dressed Toddler” all the time.  She’s a child, let her get messy and you’re more likely to let her get messy if you have clothes that can get messy.

If you’re a bit of a fashionista don’t despair – by not using your whole clothing budget to buy fancy play clothes you could easily justify a splurge here or there on something great for those real special events.  In fact, those special clothes will seem even more special and worth saving next to those used and abused second hand play clothes.  Let those special clothes be special by limiting the number you have.

Stay Organized – The last thing you want to do when winter comes early is trying to remember where you put the winter clothes.  Even if you scored that great high quality winter coat at 90% off in April it won’t do you a lick of good if you can’t find until two years after you need it.  Use what space you have in closets, the garage, under beds, anywhere to keep used or new items stored until they’re needed.  Investing in a few plastic totes with solid, locking lids and a couple of packets of moth balls or cedar chips might seem silly, but it’s worth the extra bother when you don’t have to worry about bugs or mildew ruining your hard work.

*The Off-Season Closet.  Winter Clothes – a size or two big – ready to be switched out and the last 2 years worth of clothes cleaned and packed away for the next munchkin – complete with moth balls*

Know Your Limits – Maybe your the lucky one with a hundred siblings, cousins and friends waiting to pawn off their hand-me-downs on your, maybe you have a loving grandmother who loves to shop or maybe you’re just good at hunting out a good bargain either way knowing your limits can help your closets from over flowing.

Take a look at a typical week or two in your family.  Examine how often you do laundry, do art projects, go places that require more than gym shorts and a t-shirt and how often your children go through clothes in a day.  (The later will probably decrease as they get older to a degree depending on the child.)  From there do a little math and figure out your comfort zone. I find the line where you feel prepared for Mud Season corresponding with Flu Season or Potty Training is best.

For us our comfort zone with our 2.5 year old is 2 outfits a day (remember Mud Season combined with Potty Training) and a Pajama for nights.  With our family schedules, work and activities factored in we like to have enough to last us about a week and a half.  This is the number that gets us through crazy work weeks or illness smoothly, but doesn’t leave our closet bursting with unused items.

*Our summer clothes.  About a week and half worth of play shirts on the left, dress clothes on the right.  We’ve already pulled out our light sweaters and long sleeved dress clothes because of a mini-cold snap.*

I’ve also found this is about my tipping point; any more and I feel cluttered, a little claustrophobic and wasteful.  *Every family is going to have a different Limit – some can get by with 4 days worth of clothes, others need 2 weeks – no judgment, find what works best for you!*

– just because you live in a climate that can range from arctic tundra to barren desert in a matter of hours doesn’t mean you are at the mercy of your closet.  Know your limit, think ahead and shop smart and you can clothe your family cheaply and well during all seasons.

Molly W is a Catholic wife and {working} mother to one amazing toddler and a little soul in heaven.  She loves book-lists, backyards, and the BBC, but not necessarily in that order  She writes at Molly Makes Do about bringing a love of Learning, a love of Life and a love of Faith into her home. 

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  1. says

    The part about the tipping point… that’s something I struggled with last year. We had so many generous friends who gave us clothes for our little boy when he was born that I had just waaaaaaay too much stuff. I knew that I would never be able to make use of it all. I mean seriously, how many pairs of overalls does one little guy need? At one point I had more than 15 pairs… and that was JUST overalls. I struggled with guilt about giving some of the pieces away, but I made sure that they went to good charities (like the women’s shelter). I still have boxes of stuff for our little guy to grow into. He’s set until he’s three at least.

    • says

      I just received a huge delivery of clothes from a co-worker last month. It put us well past our limit. So I divided up what was left and reserved some gender neutral things for a my best friends little girl, and have a box waiting to be shipped to a blog friend with two little boys. The rest is off to donations. It actually felt great to pass it on to charity and people I know! I think it helped that my co-worker was very clear that nothing in the delivery (seriously it took up my whole car trunk) was sentimental, she’d kept what she wanted to keep and that she wanted me to pass on whatever I had left over.

  2. says

    Please, no moth balls! I read that they are toxic. However, you can “Google” and find out a safe alternative. Otherwise, great post! [I am Haley Stewart’s mom].

  3. says

    I love this, especially the limits. Great idea to figure out how much you really need. We just moved from a NCY apartment to a house with my in-laws (parents and a sister) so space is limited. I’m keeping this in mind for sure. Thanks, Haley and Molly!

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