Series: Back to School on a Budget, Part Two | i should be mopping the floor
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Series: Back to School on a Budget, Part Two

In the first post in this series, I discussed getting organized before going shopping so you're not buying more than you need {although I still seem to do that a lot}. Once you have your list of back-to-school clothing needs, it's time to hit the stores...but not just any stores. Remember, we're trying to cut down the national average of $600 spent per child on back-to-school stuff to a fraction of that number!

The way I wardrobe-shop for my kids is not exactly conventional...but it saves a whole lot of moola. Although I do occasionally stroll into the Gap or Gymboree for special outfits, I do about 75% of my kids' clothes shopping at....thrift stores. Yep...thrift stores. Five years ago, if you told me I would be so thrifty, I would have laughed and called you a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. I'm a clothes-horse by nature. I am the youngest of four and the only girl who came along much later than my, my mom and I shopped. And I mean shopped. I'm not lying when I say budgeting was a bit of an....errrr, obstacle when I first got married. My sweet husband was beyond patient with me and I finally got to the point where I realized budgeting is a major part of life...whether your budget is little or still need one. And hey, we've now been married almost ten years, and couldn't be happier. 

I'm definitely the spender in this marriage. And not just in one area. Thrifting my kids' clothes allows me to spend less in that area and allocate more to another area {vacations, home stuff, pedicures, fancy know the absolute essentials and such, right? :)}. And, all kidding aside, we can allocate more  to put in savings, tithe at church and give to others less fortunate {the last few things are much greater priorities to us than spending fifty bucks on a pair of jeans for junior}. 

It took me a lonnnnnng time to get past the "yucky" stigma that thrifting carries with it...if you want to call me a snob and walk away, that's okay. Just trying to bare it all and let you know where I came from {and how far I've come}. But, I have arrived. And I now embrace this unconventional pastime of mine. 

There's definitely an art to it...I am probably the pickiest thrifter there is. And other sweet friends {even most who don't know I thrift} have always been too kind with the compliments on how I dress the boys. I do take a lot of pride in my kids' appearances {not because of status or whatnot, but because I truly feel that putting your best self forward is something we should strive for in every area of life...not just clothes}. I do lean a bit to the preppy way of life...collar pops, cords, khakis...all singin' my tune. But, hey, sophisticated dressers do donate their clothes to thrift stores once they're done with them. And I'm oh-so-happy to be the one to take them home at a fraction of the price they paid retail. 

Here's how I do it:
Seriously...SERIOUSLY?!? WHY does my face do this in the thumbnails?
And I apologize that I'm talking low {although I still think it's audible} was a Saturday and the store was kind of busy {I usually try to go on weekdays when I have the run of the place}. Didn't want to be the weirdo video-taping in the corner. Even though I was. 

This was the loot I scored the day we shot the above video {you may remember a few of the items from the demo}. Three long-sleeved shirts and one short-sleeved {2 GapKids, 1 Children's Place and 1 John Deere for my horse-riding, tractor lovin' seven-year-old}. Three pair of school jeans/pants {1 pair of GapKids cords, GapKids jeans and Children's Place jeans}. The only reason I put back the Levi ones featured in the video was because they were skinny jeans...and I'm not sure my five-year-old can pull off the rocker look quite yet. My total was $24 and some change for all seven items. 
And I honestly hadn't intended to buy anything that day...just shoot a video. But, once a shopper, always a shopper. But how can I feel guilty when I spent so little?

As you can see, purchased from the retail stores, just the jeans and pants would have totaled over $89 {pre-tax}. With all of the shirts, I have no doubt, this total would have been well over $150. And I spent $24! That's an 84% savings off retail. And the quality of the items on this trip was fantastic...they all look brand new! 

Here's a couple of my other FAVORITE purchases that I've made in thrift stores. I stumbled upon these two Nautica light-weight jackets the day I went into a Goodwill to find a replacement for my older son's lightweight jacket that he ripped the day before. I couldn't find a decent one and had given up and was headed to Macy's to buy one I was walking out, these were literally wheeled out on a rack in front of me {that's right...Jesus must have been rollin' that rack out himself}. They were about to be put out in the clothing area. I scooped them up and was quite giddy. The smaller one is size 6-7 which my oldest wore last year, so he finished out the year with that one. It's being passed down to little bro this year and my big guy will now wear the green one {size 8-10}. They still had their original Dillard's tags when I bought them...BRAND NEW {retail $49.95 each}!
And I paid $6.95 each. SIX NINETY-FIVE! Another 86% off retail...cha-ching.

One thing I often do is dress up a thrift store find with something special. These were the boys' Easter Sunday outfits this year {I had just finished reading Jen Hatmaker's heart-wrenching book, Seven, so no way was I about to go hog-wild in Gymboree for Easter outfits this year}. I found both of these identical Ralph Lauren chambray dress shirts for the boys on separate trips to my local Goodwill. When I stumbled on the second one in February, I knew I had matching Easter outfits in the works {we always have lots of khaki slacks on hand}. The only new items here are the bow ties I purchased from an Etsy artist for $12 each. But the bow ties totally MAKE the outfits, in my opinion. Last year I did something similar with clearance dress shirts from Marshall's and brand new Fedora hats for that special item {they were a smash hit}!

Are you still with me? Or do you think I spend way too much time thinking about/looking for well-priced kids' clothes? Because I probably do.

A few {of my personal} guidelines for back-to-school clothing shopping at a thrift store.
  • Brands to Look For: {As I mentioned in the video, I don't buy superstore brands like Circo, Cherokee, George, etc. at a thrift store...they're not much more pricey retail}: Class Club or Class Club Gold Label, Children's Place {this isn't a top brand, but their jeans are really well made and if the shirts are newer and they're priced well, I'll grab them}, GapKids {love their jeans, too}, Gymboree, Hanna Anderson, Janie & Jack, Kenneth Cole, Land's End, Levi's, Nautica, Nike {clothing}, Ralph Lauren, Talbots Kids and Tommy Hilfiger. Again this isn't so much for the status factor, as it is for the quality factor. These brands are made better to last longer {as in right through their second owners}.
  • Dealing with Actual Clothing in/from a Thrift Store:
    • As I mentioned in the video, inspect thoroughly for stains, tears, worn spots, etc.
    • Be sure to check the gender of clothes. Thrift store workers aren't trained in the same fashion as retail clerks. Things aren't always placed in the correct section. I've gotten home a few times with a pair of girls' jeans because I neglected to look them over better. On shirts with buttons, you can distinguish the gender by button placement: on boys' shirts, the button is on the right (from the point of view of the person wearing the garment). On jeans, look how high the back pockets are.
    • One concern with purchasing clothing from thrift stores is the whole not knowing what some articles of clothing have "gone through". Wash everything thoroughly when you get home. Have faith in your washing machine, use the HOT cycle if possible and praise the Lord if your machine has a sanitize feature.
    • The one worn item I consider purchasing is boys' jeans with thinner/smaller holes in the knees. If it's the right brand/size, I know I can mend/reinforce it for next to nothing. I was going to do a tutorial for that within this post, however, things are getting a little lengthy. I will post that process this week and come back to hot link it here. 
  • Things NOT to Buy in a Thrift Store {like, never ever}: 
    • Socks: {I'm a sock snob and prefer a thick, well-fitting athletic ankle sock and have passed this partiality on to my kids.} I prefer Nike brand socks and always buy new ones for everyone at the beginning of the school year.
    • Undergarments: I'm guessing this needs no explanation. And yes, there's a rack of undies at thrift stores. It kind of makes me want to throw up. Every time. 
    • Pajamas: I've never seen a set of decent PJs in any thrift store. They're all pill-y and worn and never in matching sets. AND, PJs are the only character-allowed clothing in my house, so we generally pick a few sets out through the year at Target as we need them. {You can see my full rant on character and message clothes in the first post...I'm kind of weird, yes, I know this.}
    • Shoes: When kids are toddler age, you may be able to find a few decent pairs. But, since my kiddos are school age, they wear through shoes and are pretty rough on them. We've already bought our sneakers to start out the year {I usually buy them in June, since I know I'll be spending a lot on clothes/supplies in July & August}. 
    • Character/Event tees: I'm talking about a t-shirt from someone else's "fun run", reunion or other event. I steer clear of those {as well as character clothes, as I mentioned above}. Nothing says "I shop at Goodwill" more than a Petroski wearing a William's Family Reunion shirt. But, hey...if you're into that sort of thing, then by all means. We get plenty of t-shirts from school events {both my kids' school and my husband's since he works at a high school}, that I really don't feel the need to purchase any other people's school shirts.
  •  Price Points: {these are just general guidelines to what you can expect to pay at a thrift store. Bear in mind, these are for the above-mentioned brands that I try to stick to}:
    • Jeans/Pants: $3-$7
    • Collared Shirts {both button-down and polo-style}: $3-$5
    • T-shirts {again, the type from retail stores...not reunions!}: $1-$4
    • Shorts/Skirts: $2-$5
    • Casual Dresses: $3-$6
    • Fancier Dresses: $5-$10
    • Sweaters: $4-$7
    • Jackets: $5-$8
    • Heavy Coats: $6-$12

Shopping Year-Round: Another benefit of thrifting for kids' clothes is the non-seasonal aspect. Although some stores only put things out according to season, the majority keep their entire stock out year-round. And my favorite part is that a lot of the clothes that aren't in the current shopping season are discounted even deeper {Last month, I bought a brand new London Fog winter coat for my oldest for $5}. I shop all year for stuff...even sometimes picking out things that may be next year's size if it happens to be a really good find. We are blessed with a house with great closet space {kind of rare, but we got lucky in this place}. I have designated rods in each child's closet for future only problem is that I sometimes forget about them until it's almost not their size any more. 

It's Always a Gamble: I go to thrift stores about once a month {I also look for projects in the houseware sections, too...makeovers galore to be dreamed of there}. There are times when I literally don't find a thing. Then there are times that I spend almost $100 on tons of clothing just because it's there at the right time. It pays to be persistent. I'm not saying you have to camp out everyday waiting for the Goodwill to open, but stop by when you have a few minutes and peruse the sizes you need. If you're doing all of your back-to-school clothing shopping at thrift stores, consider a larger city. We live in a mediumish city that has 1-2 decent stores. However, this time of year, I try to make an "Austin Thrift Day" and drive down to my hometown to check out their thrift stores. I'll make an entire day of it and go to half a dozen thrift stores. I always come back with plenty. The larger cities tend to have the nicer, cleaner well-organized stores, too {as well as some cruddy ones to just drive on past}. 

Friendly Shopping: One "issue" I sometimes have is bringing girlfriends with me to thrift. {I seem to be a better alone shopper}. A lot of my friends have kids the same age as mine...which leads to...errr, "problems" in the boys' section. I'm soooo not above throwing elbows for a pair of size 8 Ralph Lauren jeans, friend... just kidding...sort of. But, seriously, if you'll be in competition all day with your shopper buddy, you may want to leave her behind....heehee.

Thanks bunches for stopping by & "shopping" with me. Be sure to catch the first post in this series: "Part One: Before You Hit the Stores." Next week {in the third and final post in this series}, I'll be chatting about supplies, gadgets and what I call the "Mom Pile". 

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  1. Love love love this look into thrift shopping for the kiddos for back to school. I'm glad I'm not the only one doing this as it helps stretch our hard-earned dollars just that bit further. And congrats on the finds! Especially those Nautica jackets. CAHUTE!!!

  2. Great post! I also like to go to consignment shops to buy my girls clothes, my oldest is just starting to outgrown all of her cousins hand me downs. I need to find some good thrift stores in our new town. Great deal on those jeans!

  3. I love consignment sales for my kids' clothes but I've found a few good things in thrift stores as well!

  4. I'm grateful that the folks who work at our local thrift store don't seem to recognize name brands, cuz when they do they tend to mark them higher. But I've been able to get much nicer clothes there than I could afford first hand. Big help to me. Thanks for sharing your good ideas.

  5. good thoughts here...I got lucky many times at thrift stores!

  6. Hey Kristy,
    I'm fairly new to your blog and I love it! We have a few things in common---I live in Texas and my husband is an Asst Principal. : ) I love this post. I have three girls and I have to be practical with their clothes. I went just today to a kids resale shop and shopped the $1 clearance rack and found several cute Gymboree skirts, capris and even a little denim jacket. I love the "hunt" to see what I can find. Thanks for your fun posts!
    Amber : )

  7. Great tips.

    Mrs. Delightful

  8. Very nice and detailed post. I love the tips you shared, will be helpful in future. :)Thanks for linking up at Friday Fun Party. Have a nice weekend.

  9. Those two are darling in their little blue dress shirts!

  10. Thanks for sharing another fabulous project -- it is part of our featured favorites this week over at Craft Junkie Too. Stop by to check it out and link up more craftiness. :)