How I Clothe My Kids, Attempting to Be Frugal While Respecting Their Feelings

When my kids were younger, clothing them was easy enough. I started off their babyhood with a huge amount of clothing as hand me downs from my then sister in law, both girls' clothes and boys' clothes. This stash of clothing, more or less, lasted me until my kids were nearly 2. What I didn't have I supplemented with clothes from a very cheap used clothing store. My criteria for clothes were basically that they fit, that they were the right gender's clothes (or neutrals), and that they were seasonally appropriate. I spent very little on clothing for them, mostly just warm undershirts and tights.

By the time my kids were around 2 my kids' clothing stash from my sister in law ran out, and I started getting hand me downs from other friends, but that wasn't enough. I supplemented it quite a lot with clothes from the second hand store, but since the local second hand store had items for 25-50 cents each, it really wasn't a big deal. My boys were still too young to care much about what they wore, so I bought whatever was on sale, as long as I thought it looked presentable and nice. 

This continued on until my kids were nearly elementary school aged. Some hand me downs, but very few things from second hand clothes, because boys at that age are really rough on their clothes, and nothing lasted long enough to reach second hand clothing stores. So in addition to the few second hand things we could buy, I also shopped for them at cheap clothing stores, and bought cheap clothes from (specifically the boys' uniform pants).

My girls, on the other hand, showed strong opinions about their clothes pretty much as soon as they could talk. I did buy clothes from the thrift store for them, but I let them pick them out, because they wouldn't wear just anything. Same with the clothes from the cheap clothing store and Next.  In early elementary school age my boys also started having some opinion about their clothes, but with my younger son it was more texture based because of sensory aversions.

To be honest, I don't remember everything about how I got clothes for them after this stage (but if I read up on all my past posts here, because I chronicled that time) but when my oldest, Lee, was about 10, he put his foot down and told me that he didn't want to wear any more pants from Next, and asked for a different style shirt from what I'd been buying for him. Ok, so the pants started costing more money, but it was important for me that my kids feel good in their clothes.

All the clothes I bought for my oldest, Lee, ended up as hand me downs for my son Ike, and all the clothes I bought for my daughter Anneliese ended up as hand me downs for my daughter, Rose. 

Then Ike pretty much caught up to Lee in height, and there was no more hand me downs. I had to have twice as big of a wardrobe because the same sized clothes needed to fit two kids. Fortunately that stage didn't last more than a year or so, and now Ike can wear Lee's hand me downs again.

For my daughters I've pretty much only been online clothing shopping for them pretty much for the last 4 or 5 years. In addition to losing a lot of energy at that point (that was around the time I started dealing with my mental health stuff) it just made my life easier to shop online instead of running around with 4 kids to 4 different stores. I was mostly just buying them stuff from Next, and got my boys clothes from Vertbaudet and Marks and Spencers, plus a few local stores. But Lee started wanting not just specific types of clothes, but also specific fit, which wasn't quite so easy when doing so online, so it was in person shopping. But only took Lee along when we went with clothing shopping, because when I tried bringing the other kids along I literally wanted to rip my hair out and had a hard time being patient when Lee was deliberating what to wear, because I just wanted to go already because of cranky kids.

My daughters, on the other hand, have pretty much always been easy to shop for online, even once they became particular about what they wear. We've switched to Shein more or less for clothes, as well as another online local store, plus the occasional outfit in person. They care about the color of the clothes, the style, and the texture, but so far haven't been particular about the fit (as long as it is the right size) so buying online works for them. I occasionally get them hand me downs from my friend's kids, but they also get hand me downs from their cousins, the same ones that they got hand me downs from when they were babies. 

I still occasionally try my luck with buying clothes for my boys online, but that pretty much has only been successful with shirts. Pants are pretty much always a no-go from online. I keep at it once or twice, hoping that this time they'll be ok with the fit from pants bought online, but I really need to learn my lesson already and not even bother. They, too, get clothes from their cousins (it really is perfect in terms of ages for hand me downs) and fortunately their cousins are pretty stylish, so my boys are happy to get their clothes. 

The thing is, other than that short time when Lee and Ike were the same size, my younger son always got hand me downs that I purchased new for my older son. And for my daughters, clothes passed down from older sister to younger, with the older getting new and second hand to the sister.

As a younger sister, I am aware of how it can be to see your older sibling get new things but you just getting hand me downs, but clothes are costly and I can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe for each kid. 

I was actually inspired to write this post because my seven year old daughter Rose just told me the other day that she had no clothes to wear. She was frustrated that her older sister just got new clothes but she "had nothing to wear". However, I knew that wasn't true. I knew that she had all of the hand me downs from Anneliese, plus, but she claimed she had nothing to wear.

Since I try to find the balance between a kid feeling special with new things and also being budget-conscious, what I end up doing with my kids for clothes now is as follows.

Lee and Anneliese get new clothes, in addition to the hand me downs from their cousins. 

Because Lee has quite expensive taste in clothes, and because he's hard to shop for, he knows that I can't buy him so many outfits. I've given him set budgets for clothes shopping, and he knows he can either buy fewer pricier name brand outfits, or shop frugally at cheaper stores or even thrift stores. He prefers to have fewer outfits but nicer ones, and he makes sure to keep up with his laundry so he always has what to wear.

Anneliese is less picky about brand and fit, so I buy her a larger amount of cheaper outfits from Shein and such, so she has more outfits than Lee does. Even so, she doesn't have so much clothing because she's the stage where she's shooting up and changes sizes every few months, so by the time I get her one size she's nearly moved on to the next one, so there's a limit to how much I can buy her at once.

Rose isn't so thrilled seeing Anneleise getting new clothes. But I try to remind her that she not only has hand me downs from Anneleise and from her cousins, but I also get her new clothes. Not nearly as frequently as I get for Anneliese, because she has clothes, but this is just to supplement things that got ruined or lost or that Rose needs for specific things, and also so that Rose feels special with new things.

Ike, on the other hand, isn't so particular about needing new things. He just wants to have enough clothes to wear, so when clothes of his get ruined I buy him new things in addition to Lee's old stuff. (And apparently, he also ends up with Lee's clothing and wears them inadvertently.)

So back to Rose. When she told me she had no clothes, I knew that couldn't possibly be true. Because she had a mountain of clean laundry to put away, but there was no place to put her laundry, since her drawers were too stuffed. And since they were so stuffed, it was hard to open them. And she couldn't find anything. I knew that the answer wouldn't be to get her more clothes, but to get rid of clothes. Because sometimes having too much of something is almost as bad as not having enough.

It was a big job. It took a few hours. Rose and I sat down and went through every single thing in her drawers. We first got rid of all the clothes that were too small on her. (I'm terrible at doing this, because it never seems urgent. And then it never gets done.) While we were doing that, we sorted her clothing by type in piles. We then went through the piles and saw if there were any pieces of clothing that were stained, ripped, or otherwise destroyed, and also removed those. We put one garbage bag for giveaway things and one garbage bag for ruined things, because no one should put those stuff in giveaway stuff because that just makes more work for sorters/the receivers, and also implies that you think poor people deserve to wear damaged clothing.

A few years ago I was very frustrated that Rose's entire wardrobe ended up on the floor each time she went to get dressed, and she refused to put it back. No matter what I tried, the same always happened. I tried to work with her and where she was at, instead of getting frustrated with her. I reached out to a group of adults who are autistic asking why that was always happening and what could be done about it and they said that it was likely that she was having a hard time finding what she needed in her shelves, so she dumped it out to find them, and then got too overwhelmed to put things back. They advised that we made her clothes easier to find, by dividing it up into smaller areas, so we got a Kallax shelving unit from Ikea and divided each of Rose's boxes into two smaller drawers, so that each only had a small amount of clothes in it of a specific type. This way she can see a bit at a time and find what she needs without dumping it out. It has worked wonderfully, but with her overabundance of clothes lately it has just caused trouble. But now that we got rid of so much of what was in her drawers, it is once again easy to see how much clothes she has. And you know what? She was right. She could do with a few more shirts and a few more skirts, and once I saw that I was fine with getting it. But not with an overflowing clothes closet, because then she wouldn't find anything then either.

Once we finished sorting through Rose's old clothes, I decided to give the rest of the kids' clothes the same treatment. I remembered that some boxes in the shelving unit also had clothes in them that belonged to Ike, but wasn't sure what was what, so took down all the boxes. Most of those clothes were far too small on Ike (I have no idea when they were put there) but there were also some boxes into which I'd put clothes hand me downs we'd received that were too large for them at the time. Some they'd outgrown by now (whoops) but some were the right size. Unfortunately, my kids weren't a fan of all the stuff that now fit them, but some they did like. All the clothes we found there that weren't going to be worn by the kids went to the give away bags as well. We filled 2 big garbage bags of clothes. Now I just need to get them to the second hand store. 

When I was a young mother first starting out, I was sure that I'd be able to clothe my kids entirely by shopping for them at thrift shops. I hadn't realized yet about the difficulties I'd encounter in clothing my kids there, or expected to have kids with very discerning tastes in clothes, but over time I think I've managed to find a balance between being budget conscious and respecting my kids' tastes in clothes.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I completely understand. We raised 6 children and money was always tight. We had something called "The Magic Clothes Barrell" which was a large paper drum with a good tight lid where I put all of the hand-me-down clothing and anything good that had been outgrown. There was almost always something in there to make things work. I know as they grew older they sometimes yearned for more trendy items and I did my best, but as I said, money was tight. Now they are all grown up and on their own and buying their own clothing. I'm happy to see that none of them are particularly extravagant. One daughter buys a LOT of clothing, but it all comes from thrift stores! Another one buys more expensive items, but not very many. I think the frugal years helped them.

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