By Cameron Huddleston
Raising kids is expensive. A middle-income family with a child born in 2012 can expect to spend about $241,080 over 18 years on food, shelter, child care, education and other necessities, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's why it's always important for families to be on the lookout for ways to cut costs.
One expenditure parents can keep under control with smart shopping strategies is clothing. Although clothing makes up only 6 percent of total child-rearing expenses, according to the Department of Agriculture study, purchases can add up to an average of $804 a year and $14,464 per child over 18 years. If I spent that much on all three of my kids, I'd shell out more than $43,000. But I spend closer to the annual average per child on all three kids.
Here are several ways I've managed to keep the cost of clothing for my children under control.
Infants and toddlers
Yes, baby clothing is cute, and it's easy to go overboard on purchases -- especially with your first child. But it's important to remember that children grow incredibly fast during their first few years and won't wear anything very long. So there's no need to spend a lot on clothing that will be worn only a few months before your kids move on to a larger size. Plus, once kids start eating on their own and walking (and falling down a lot), their clothing will get stained. So that's another reason not to fork over big bucks for fancy clothes.
Shop at discount retailers. Stores such as Target (TGT), Walmart (WMT), Kmart (SHLD) and T.J. Maxx (TJX) are great sources of inexpensive onesies, pajamas, playwear, outerwear and shoes for infants and toddlers. I recently bought T-shirts for $5 at Target for my 1-year-old son. And the fact is, he could care less that he's not wearing name-brand clothing.
Buy name-brand clothing on consignment. When you need your little one to look nice for more formal occasions, you can find gently worn name-brand dresses and outfits at consignment stores at half the price you would pay if you purchased them new. I stock up on nicer clothing for my son at semi-annual consignment sales held by churches and charitable organizations where I live. These events tend to have a much larger selection and lower prices than consignment stores. You can find a large selection of consignment clothing for children of all ages online at thredUP.com. You also can find good deals on gently worn name-brand kids clothing on eBay (EBAY). And you can borrow nearly new designer baby and toddler clothing for special occasions at 80 percent off the retail price at Borrow Baby Couture.
Don't be afraid to ask for hand-me-downs. Plenty of people are more than happy to pass on their kids' clothes to others. Just be sure to ask whether they want the clothes back after your child wears them. I hardly had to buy any clothes for my son's first few months because one of my friends passed on clothing her sons' had outgrown.
I can buy whatever I want for my son, and he'll wear it. The same doesn't hold true for my two daughters, who are in elementary school. I've learned the hard way that it's a mistake to purchase items without their input. Yes, you might as well be throwing money away when you buy things your kids won't wear. But you don't want to give them free reign to pick whatever they want. So I use the following strategies -- along with the ones listed above -- to save money on clothing for my daughters:
Wait for sales. I receive several children's clothing catalogs. I let my daughters see the ones with clothes in our price range and circle what they want (up to a certain limit and subject to my approval). Then I wait for those retailers to have sales before I make any purchases. Sign up for e-mail alerts from your favorite retailers so you'll know when they're having sales. You can usually expect markdowns of 30 percent or more over long holiday weekends, such as Labor Day and Memorial Day, and deep discounts of 50 percent or more at the end of each season.
Buy the next size up. I typically buy tops and dresses for my girls in sizes larger than they actually wear. Then they'll be able to wear them longer, and I won't have to spend money buying them an entirely new wardrobe every year -- just pants, shorts and skirts in their actual sizes so they won't fall off. I do the same with coats so they can usually wear them for two years.
Mix, match and layer. A friend of mine with three sons saves money on clothing for them by making sure everything can be mixed and matched. She sticks to a simple color palette of blue, white and khaki so that any of the items can be worn together. With girls, it can be a little trickier. But I make sure that when I buy a shirt, for example, for one of my girls, it matches with shorts she has so it can be worn in the summer and pants so it can be worn in the winter. You can easily get more wear out of lighter weight summer clothing by pairing it with sweaters, jackets and leggings (for dresses) -- thus eliminating the need to buy a new wardrobe each season.
By middle school and high school, most kids are paying more attention to brands and might be asking for higher-priced (sometimes outrageously priced) items. However, you don't have to go broke filling their closets with the name-brand clothes they want. In addition to buying items only when they go on sale, shopping at discount retailers for basics and consignment for designer jeans and purses, try this strategy:
Ask your kids to chip in. Kiplinger Editor and Money Smart Kids columnist Janet Bodnar recommends asking teens to use a portion of their allowance or income from part-time jobs to help pay for their clothing. Parents can set a limit on how much they'll pay for clothing, and kids will have to make up the difference. This can quickly put an end to requests for expensive clothing and footwear. See Janet's tips for giving teens more responsibility for buying their own clothing.