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The Simple Dollar

Baby clothes too pricey? Try a yard sale.

In the early stages of childhood, kids outgrow clothing so quickly that it's unlikely they'll wear out.  As a result, it's easy to find secondhand kids' clothes that are practically new.

By Guest blogger / March 8, 2012

Shoppers Nancy Edwards, left, and Paula Ellington, from Paducah, Ky, look for bargains on yard sale tables along U.S. 60 East in Henderson in this file photo. Hamm argues that baby clothes are ideal to buy secondhand, because they generally aren't worn for very long.

Mike Lawrence/The Gleaner/AP/File

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Newborn. Three months. Six months. Nine months. Twelve months. Eighteen months. Twenty four months. 2T. 3T. 4T.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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Children go through clothes sizes incredibly fast. I’ve watched my own children blaze through all of the above clothes sizes in three to four years.

That means children simply aren’t going to wear out the clothes you buy for them. Assuming you have at least a few different outfits for them, they’re simply not going to wear a given set of clothes more than ten times or so before they outgrow them. Unless you’ve got incredibly hard water or some other mitigating factor, the clothes that they outgrow are mostly going to look very good when they outgrow them.

What do you do with children’s items that no longer fit? You either sell them or give them away. For a lot of people, that means a yard sale or a garage sale.

Virtually all of the shirts, pants, dresses, and other such outer items worn by our children come from three places: grandparents who can’t resist buying a cute outfit for their little grandchildren, yard sales, and secondhand stores.

If you drive through a suburban neighborhood on a warm spring or summer weekend, you’ll inevitably find some signs posted directing you to local yard sales. Many of those sales are hosted by beleaguered parents who are trying to unload clothes that their children have outgrown, often nearly new and often at impressively low prices.

Here are a few tactics to really maximize your dollar when buying children’s clothes at yard sales.

Don’t be afraid to make a bulk offer. When we were at a yard sale in a very nice neighborhood a few years ago, Sarah saw a large number of dresses and girl’s clothes that she thought would be perfect for our daughter, ranging from the size she was currently at up to what we estimated she’d be wearing in two years. Rather than just picking out the items individually (they were marked $1 each), Sarah counted up all of the items she wanted and offered a single amount for all the items equal to about $0.40 per item. They happily agreed. We had a pile of girl’s clothes at a very nice price, they had something they didn’t need out of their house, and they had a little pocket money, too.

Don’t be afraid to buy bigger items than you currently need. We had a large number of 3T and 4T clothes stowed away in boxes for our children before they reached that size. Right now, I have several youth medium baseball replica jerseys I got for almost nothing saved for my sons in a few years. Just keep some diaper boxes (that’s what we use), slap a piece of masking tape on the side, and identify what’s in the box, then check the clothes boxes whenever the kids are about to transition to a new size.

Wash the items when you get them home. Yes, this seems like common sense, but it’s such a vital move. Although the items you pick up at yard sales are usually clean, it’s hard to tell how long they’ve been in storage or what condition the storage was like. Give them a cleaning before you have your children wear them.

Go to yard sales in nicer neighborhoods first. Whenever I go to yard sales in really nice neighborhoods, I’m often stunned at the high quality of the items being sold for a dollar or two. I’ve found clothes with their tags still on them, video games that were still sealed, and all kinds of wonderful home furnishings and kitchenwares on sale for almost nothing. Quite often, you’re finding neighborhoods where people spend money at a very high rate and have a lot of item turnover, and that’s something you can take advantage of.

Always remember that you can be picky. If something doesn’t suit you, don’t buy it. Go to a different yard sale or start over with sales in a different neighborhood.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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