Outfitting Your Kids

looking good--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Mr. ThreeYear and I practice selective frugality. That is, we spend our money on the things that matter to us, but minimize spending in areas that don’t matter. One of those areas is clothes. While I haven’t been on a three-year clothing ban like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I minimize costs in this area whenever possible. We also have two kids and live in Winterfell–I mean, New England–so we have growing bodies to clothe through our long, snowy winters.

So how do we outfit our Little ThreeYears each year so that they wear clothes that fit, don’t get made fun of by their peers (yes, this still happens, folks–little kiddos live for the moment they can decimate their classmates and be King of the School for a second), and aren’t wearing capris in the middle of the winter?

Use Bins

In New England, we have essentially two types of clothing the kids need to wear:

  • winter clothes including jeans, long sleeve shirts, and long underwear when it’s really cold, and
  • summer clothes including shorts, T-shirts, and bathing suits, for end of June through mid-September (if we’re lucky!)

Most of the year, in other words, the boys are wearing their jeans and long sleeved shirts. They throw on their snow pants, boots, and heavy coats when it’s really cold. So, during the summer, I put their next year’s winter clothes in bins marked with their size, so that when it’s time to get ready to organize clothes for the year, they’re all in one spot.

Box of clothes--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
One of our bins

Usually, my older son has two bins in his closet:  next summer’s clothes and next winter’s clothes. My younger son has four bins: the next two years of summer clothing and the next two years of winter clothing. The boys are three years apart, so they’re currently three sizes apart (size 7 and size 12–the way sizes work, they go from size 7 to 8, then 10, then 12).

Make a Schedule

I assess my kiddos’ clothing at the end of each summer. They go back to school at the end of August, so at the beginning of the month, I pull out their winter bins, and dig around to see what’s there. Where do the clothes come from? For my littlest guy, they usually come from his older brother. For my older son, they’re generally hand-me-downs (if you’re really clever, you will have deduced by now that they both wear passed-down clothes!). If you want to know how we get so many hand-me-downs, take a look at my post here.

Strategically Fill in Gaps

I usually aim for each child to have about 5-6 pairs of jeans, 3-4 pairs of sweatpants, 5-6 short sleeved shirts, 10 long sleeved shirts, 10 pairs of socks and underwear, and at least 1 pair of long underwear. I’ve found that they don’t really wear sweaters, even during the coldest days of the winter. They’d prefer layers. They usually go through one or two pairs of sturdy shoes during the entire year. They wear their boots to school and during recess, so that saves a lot of wear and tear on the shoes. The shoes are usually just worn indoors and during recess, except for a month or two at the beginning and end of the year.

If I notice that there are any gaps in their clothing, then I’ll head to our handy-dandy consignment shop. Let me explain to you why it’s so magical that we have a children’s consignment shop in our town. We live in a small town. It’s so small we don’t even have a stoplight.

I’m going to stop right there and let that sink in.

That’s a small town. No stoplight. We certainly don’t have a proper grocery store, drug store, department store, or fast food restaurants, except for the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts. So the fact that we have our very own, large consignment shop that sells clothing and toys, is somewhat shy of miraculous.

I take a look at the consignment shop and see if they have any of the missing items for the boys. They usually don’t have pants–boys are hard on pants and seem to always get holes in them (at least my youngest does). If they don’t have what I need, then I’ll go to my last resorts–TJ Maxx or the outlet stores.

Kids love reading--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We love Chucks and reading. And reading in our Chucks.

I don’t like to spend money on clothes, but I am completely seduced by clothing stores, so I try to avoid them like the plague. I can drop $100 in TJ Maxx faster than anyone. GoCurryCracker wrote a terrific post on this phenomenon recently, and I definitely utilize his strategy. I have to trick myself into staying away from clothing stores. If I need to shop for clothes for the boys, I prefer to wait until our annual summertime beach trip, which we take with my extended family, and shop there. If I can go into a store that just sells kids’ clothing, not only do I usually find what I’m looking for, I’m not tempted to buy myself anything I don’t need. 

I also buy clothes at LL Bean. If you’ve ever shopped at LL Bean, you know that this store is not cheap. However, their clothes are very sturdy, and if they do rip or tear, the store will take them back with no questions asked. Oh, and they’re guaranteed for a lifetime. This year, I bought my younger son’s sneakers at LL Bean. He wore them for about 9 months, then they started to rip. I took them back, and got a brand new pair of sneakers which have held up extremely well all year. I think I spent $40 on the shoes. I’ve also bought Bogs boots there, which are $75, but they’re so indestructible that the first pair I bought has lasted through both boys and are in good enough condition that I could resell them on EBay.

Online Shopping

But what about online shopping, you might ask? I have not been able to find an online store for the kids that works for us. For some reason, I need to see and feel the clothes and have them try on the shoes that we’re buying. Until now, at least, we’ve eschewed buying clothes online. But this is definitely a great option if it works for you.


Don’t forget to ask grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other family members to give strategic gifts of clothes, either. If they are looking for gift giving ideas, a specific set of boots or shoes can be a big help. Our kids aren’t super excited to get clothes as gifts, let me be honest (“Clothes??!!”) but over the years, as they’ve grown and appreciate their clothes more, they get more and more excited by them. The little ThreeYears generally get Christmas PJs from their grandma and wear them all year.

Stuffy's broken leg--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Wearing his Christmas pjs while performing a delicate operation on Tubby

To sum this post up, the biggest thing we do to outfit our kids is plan ahead. This is great frugal advice for your whole life. If we wait until the last minute to pick up winter clothes, for example, we’d spend a fortune. When we do buy clothes, we may spend a bit more on very sturdy clothes, but we’re planning for two boys to wear them, so we’re thinking years ahead. When we buy snow boots, we buy quality to last.

What are your favorite tricks and tips for dressing yourself or your family inexpensively? 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

6 thoughts on “Outfitting Your Kids”

  1. I remember reading about a similar clothing strategy in The Tightwad Gazette years ago. My oldest doesn’t get any hand me downs and unfortunately is outgrowing the kids consignment shop (although we do still have a rare find). My middle son gets plenty of hand me downs from his older brother, and my youngest is all tag sales/consignment shop/gifts. When he gets older, he’ll also benefit from hand me downs from his older brothers. Assuming my middle son doesn’t put holes in all the jeans first! 🙂

  2. Your boys’ clothes have three times to last through! That’s a lot harder than for two! Yep, my youngest gets holes in everything as well. It’s definitely a challenge. I wonder if your area has a Buy Nothing group? Thank goodness for tag sales and consignment shops!

  3. I don’t really go shopping for clothes that much. When I do, I usually pick out 1 outfit that I like and buy 5 of those. It saves me the time of having to decide what to wear in the morning since everything is the same!

    1. Hi Francesca! Thanks for stopping by. That’s terrific that your mother-in-law is your personal frugal shopper for your daughter! What a time and money saver for you. I wish my mother-in-law lived closer!

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