Ways to keep kids in clothes without cleaning out the wallet

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Did you ever wish that children could go barefoot and wear shorts until they reached their full growth? It's not unusual to find toes protruding out of sneakers bought only two months before, or a new dress that is too short, too soon.

It' impossible to keep children from outgrowing their clothes, but there are ways to reduce the cost of keeping them outfitted. A combination of the following ways will slash the government's estimate of more than $5,000 to buy one child's clothing over the first 18 years:

Hand-me-downs. The "chain of love" is not a store, but the familiar custom of passing along used clothing. No money is involved, only thoughtful consideration of who would benefit from children's outgrown clothes.

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When one mother received a large box filled with boys' clothing and offered to pay the family, she was told, "No thanks, just give them away when they're no longer needed. It keeps the chain of love going." And somehow each "link" in this chain -- friends, neighbors, or relatives -- has opportunities to give as well as to receive.

For the reluctant beneficiary of hand-me-downs, add a personal touch, such as new buttons on sweaters or patches on slacks.

* House sales. Many families stock up at house and garage sales, where children's clothing often sells for under $1 per item. For best buys, arrive when the sale opens, look at the garments inside and out, check for flaws and correct sizes. Boots and skates at house sales usually cost a fraction of their original cost.

If you don't see what you need, ask. A yound couple saw girls' clothing at one sale, but they needed little boys' clothing, so they inquired. Within minutes a neighbor brought a stack of infant garments from her attic, which were soon marked SOLD.

* Thrift shops. "Outgrown before worn out" describes children's clothing from thrift shops requiring good quality. Since these used clothes are sold on consignment or for charity profit, prices rise slightly from the house sale bargains. Yet the selection is usually greater, more seasonal, and better marked as to sizes.

* Factory outlets. Yearround low prices at outlet stores result from surpluses, seconds, or discontinued clothing from large stores. Prices are also kept low by holding advertising adn decor to a minimum, and perhaps by maintaining a cash- and-carry policy.

Factory outlet guides assist your hunting, such as those by Jean Bird, F.O.S.G. Publications.Mrs. Bird used her home economics background and cost-conscious requirements to compile six outlet guides covering states from Maine to South Carolina.

"The years ago our first newspaper and for the guides resulted in 300 requests daily for a while. I never realized there was such interest," Mrs. Bird reports. The guides are updated and published annually, sell for $2.95, and include many helpful tips for outlet shoppers.

* Sewing. Perhaps, the greatest savings come from making your children's clothes. Mothers with the time and talent estimate that sewing costs one-fourth the price of buying new clothes. Finding fabric on sale and using a pattern more than once stretches dollars further.

A home economics teacher and mother of three children especially likes making coats and dresses. "It's difficult to find these garments at a low cost and high quality due to labor and material increases," she notes. She recommends "easy to make" patterns and ponchos as good starters for beginners. Sewing to your ability is the key.

One of the best sewing books available is "Kids' Clothes;" by Meredith Gladstone, William Morrow & Co., Inc. This how-to guide illustrates a complete yearround wardrobe for children aged 1 to 5, using only four basic patterns.

Despite the high cost of clothing, parents can dress their children well without spending a fortune.

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