This first time one of my sons asked me for a Nike outfit he was 3 years old. I have three sons under age 5, another child on the way, and decades of clothing them to get through. This weighed heavy on my mind as I dealt with sticker shock at the $50.00 price tag for boys gym shoes, times 3 kids, times 4 seasons, times 18 years. The USDA reports that as of 2017 the annual cost of raising EACH child is $13,000 which includes those Nike outfits and other costs to ensure they have well-fitting clothes each season. After just a few months of my first child’s life, I decided to find other ways. I knew my friends and relatives all had tubs of clothes for their children in their basements, and that buying new just wasn’t going to be an economical choice for long.
Here are some strategies that have worked for our growing family and for others with multiple children.
Save thousands a year by turning to Facebook Marketplace
This fall I’ve been looking for size 6 “skinny pants” for one son, size 4 “pants with no strings” for another son, and extra-long pajamas for my tall and skinny 2-year-old. With a ten second search for “Boys 6” on Facebook Marketplace, I instantly have 14 options for nearby parents selling their children’s clothes. This first post is a $10 lot of four pants, which breaks down to $2.50 each (cheaper than my favorite thrift store). The second post has six pairs of pajamas for $15, in contrast with the $18.00 I spent the last time I bought new pajamas for one son.
Some parents hesitate to use Facebook Marketplace as they worry about quality, safety, and cleanliness buying from a stranger. I can safely say in 6 years of doing this that I haven’t had a single issue. I wash the clothes when they enter my home, and since the pandemic began I do “porch pickups” meaning the seller leaves the item outside and I pick it up and leave money without having to see them. If I’m not happy with the quality upon checking it there, I don’t buy it or leave money.
I also earn back about 50-75% of the money I’ve spent by reselling most of the items back on Facebook after use. In this way, I’m basically renting clothes for a short period of time. I save my favorites for the next son and resell the rest. Less clutter in my house, and more free bins in the basement to store other items.
If money is tight, there’s an app for that
Many people would donate clothes to others in need in their communities (from the aforementioned bins taking up space in their basements) if they knew who needed what. Luckily, there’s an app for that, and a variety of services in each community for matching peoples’ needs to those who are willing to donate. An example is the app Purposity, a nonprofit that partners with school systems to fulfill the needs of distressed families and students. “Purposity is built on the simple truth that if you knew a kid down the street had holes in her shoes and couldn’t afford new ones, you’d buy her a pair. People want to help those in need—sometimes they just don’t know where to start,” CEO Blake Canterbury explains. This type of program is especially beneficial to those struggling to clothe their families as unemployment rates spike due to the pandemic.
In these types of programs, schools social workers upload the need, such as the clothing type and sizes, and a user can select the need and directly purchase the item for the individual. It is then delivered to them within two days. 100,000 users have tried it so far, and 1200 schools have partnered with the nonprofit. In my community, a similar program connects those who need clothing with those willing to donate, and your community may have a similar initiative.
Old-fashioned hand me downs, with a twist
If you aren’t asking relatives and friends to swap clothes, you are missing out. Baby clothes in particular seem to barely even be on for a few weeks before the baby is on to the next size. In my experience, I was gifted many newborn items, only to have my ten-pound babies start life in size 3-6 month outfits. The dilemma is often that family or friends don’t have the same aged child (or they have the opposite sex). This is where local community groups online can help you connect with parents of children who are in the size just above or below your own children.
After just a few weeks looking for a family like this, I found a family to follow that has boys both older and younger than mine, meaning we have the perfect situation set up for a swap. They give me their size 6-7 clothes for my oldest son, and when my youngest is finished with some items, I give ours to them. These mutually beneficial hand me down setups can offset costs.
Another mom I know is the third recipient in a line of hand me downs from cousins to friends, as she has the youngest child. She’s been surprised at the quality of the items she receives even though she’s last, especially in that baby clothes category.
If you are still buying full-priced items, explore options in your town and neighborhood to offset costs, and to help the environment through using second clothes. Some schools and churches even host free swap days, where you can bring the clothes you no longer use and pick up what you need (although they’ve been restricted more lately due to COVID-19). Best of luck looking for the perfect swap system for your family.