If you have kids, you’re keenly aware of the one major factor they all have in common:

They don’t stop growing.

And that growing is a big problem for the budget, especially as they go through spurts. Isn’t it fantastic when you can count on them as babies to need new outfits and jammies every month? Well guess what: it’s worse, and a LOT more expensive, when they’re 9 or 10. A new pair of jeans can cost $30 or more, and may not even last them a whole school year.

We found the solution, though. It’s not quite hand-me-downs, but it is a life (and budget) saver:

Thrift stores.

See, while it’s true that trends come and go fairly quickly, the staples of kids’ wardrobes don’t really change that much year to year. And better thrift and consignment stores know this, and don’t necessarily stock or even accept the more out of date styles.

This fall, we hit our favourite thrift store for back-to-school clothes for our kids, and they were ecstatic with what we were able to find. We did hit a few brand name stores just to get some of the “latest” items. But knowing their tendency to outgrow jeans in three to six months, this was a real game changer.

Thrift Store Must-Have #1: Jeans

Jeans are versatile, sturdy, and don’t cycle through styles too quickly. That means a good pair of jeans in Steve’s drawer can last 2-3 years (provided he keeps his workouts on schedule).

For kids, jeans tend to get too short before they get worn out or too tight. This year, we were lucky enough to find four pairs of quality brand names, all in great shape.

Tip: for younger kids, look for jeans with a cinch in the waist. This will give you more room to match up the waist with the length. Some kids have trouble with jeans that are long enough being too big in the waist, so a cinch is a must.

Thrift Store Must-Have #2: Other Pants

You can rummage through the racks to find other kinds of pants as well. Corduroy and dress pants for special occasions, as well as tights, can be great finds. For girls, tights will be great throughout the year, as they can double as leggings in the winter.

With slacks, be sure to check for that cinch again. With tights and leggings, check the stretch in the waist, as some brands use less than top-notch elastics. Also be sure to check the butt and seams, as stretchy pants tend to wear out in these spots, and you don’t want a gym class blowout to ruin the rest of their year!

Thrift Store Must-Have #3: T-Shirts

OMG!! T-shirts for kids are so expensive! But they can last for a couple of years, so it’s definitely worth looking into these on the thrift racks.

While some branded things (think TV shows, musicians, etc.) can go out of style fairly quickly, cute sayings and generic designs are always great. Solid colours are a useful hit as well. Just be sure to look for stains and any wear around the sleeves and neckline that could turn into holes with a little kid-style abuse.

We’ve seen T’s go for as little as $3-5 at thrift stores, so this is a great source for active wear, day-to-day, and a good backup for the baking soda volcano wardrobe.

Thrift Store Must-Have #4: Skirts

There’s not really much to a skirt, so the idea of paying a high-ticket retail price for a yard of fabric that may or may not see more than a couple of dress-ups and a fall dance doesn’t make a lot of sense. So why not try to get a bargain?

Grab a couple second-hand, and you’re all set for the party season!

Thrift Store Must-Have #5: Sweaters

Sweaters are actually something we need in volume here in Canada. But they’re bulky and kind of a pain to store. The solution? Get them cheap, and re-donate them in the spring.

That sounds crazy, right? But why spend $40 on a brand new sweater when you can spend $8 at a thrift store, and avoid storing the bulk all summer? Just get a couple for the coldest days, and get rid of them when it warms up. They won’t fit next year anyway.

Thrift Store Must-Have #6: Jackets

Oh jackets. Whether for rain, cold, or style, jackets are ubiquitous fall apparel that you just can’t do without. It’s nice to go with the hand-me-down if you can, but if you can’t you’re guaranteed to find some nice denim, pleather, or rain wear at the thrift store.

If you’re lucky, you may even be able to use them again in the spring!

We don’t stock a lot of jackets. Our kids tend to stick to one for the whole year. But it’s nice to have a cool jean jacket or pea coat for those times when they’re feeling a little more adventurous. We’re not about to break the bank for those options, though.

Thrift Store Must-Have #7: Snow Pants

Kids go through snow pants at a rate of a pair a year. How can they not?! When the snow and ice hit, this is requisite gear for outside play. And snow and ice (plus the gravel underneath) are abrasive. Plus the extra padding adds an extra degree of bravery to some of those dives and slides.

Knees on snow pants wear out fast.

BUT!! Once in a while you luck out and find a pair at the thrift store. Picture it: Kid gets snow pants in November. They get worn all the way through until March Break. The knees blow out. Mom and dad rush out to get a new pair. There’s only a month of snow left, so kid doesn’t have a chance to completely destroy them. Then kid goes through a spurt over the summer, and BAM!!…they don’t fit anymore.

That bit of misfortune could be your ticket to a great pair of relatively gently used snow pants. Get them. These things are hard to find separate from a complete snow suit in retail stores, and when you can find them you’re gonna pay for them!

This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. But do make sure they’re big enough to last at least most of the winter.

Tip: They’re also great for a back up pair, in case someone (we won’t say who) forgets to bring them home for the weekend some time.

Thrift Store Must-Have #8: Winter Coat

We separated this one from the snow pants simply because these should, in our opinion, be separates anyway.

It’s rare to find a complete snow suit in a thrift store, because one part or the other usually falls apart first. But don’t let that be a problem. If you can find them separate, by all means take it on. We all know how expensive high quality outerwear can be brand new, but if you can find the same items gently used at a thrift or consignment store, you’re looking at a goldmine in savings.

Look for something that has plenty of room for layering underneath, as your child may need to fit not just a sweater, but also the bib portion of an overall snow pant. That can get really bulky if you’re looking for a fitted coat. Also, even though most things are cleaned when they’re brought in, you might want to have it dry cleaned. Snow apparel tends to get damp and isn’t always properly stored. This can make them smelly, and potentially moldy.

Thrift Stores vs. Consignment

You might not be clear on these two distinctions between budget recycled clothes, but there are some things to consider.

First thrift stores tend to be associated with a charity (Salvation Army, Valu Village, Talize, etc.). As a result, they’re less selective about what they put out, and you’re likely to find a lot of things that didn’t make it through garage sale season. That’s OK, just be aware that the selection can be more random, more “closet smelly,” and in rougher shape. It’s also usually a bit cheaper.

Consignment stores, on the other hand, act as a resale agent for people looking to unload their old stuff. The store sells it, but the person who brings it in gets a small cut of the sale. This usually means they’re more selective about what they’ll put on the racks, so the condition is generally better and the selection more “retail ready.” It’s also slightly (read “very slightly”) higher in cost, on average–but still WAY less expensive than retail.

When you’re ready to dump your kid’s gear when it’s outgrown, remember this difference as well. With a thrift store, you’re donating to a charity. With a consignment shop, you’ll get some of your original purchase back. Both are absolutely reasonable, so go with your gut. Our preference is to donate large quantities (like the yearly purge) to charity, but take individual items (like a jacket that doesn’t fit) to consignment. Either way, you’re making someone’s life easier by providing a lower cost clothing option for their kids. And we’re all for that!


aHave you made any major thrift store breakthroughs for your kids’ closets (or even your own!)? Let us know in the comments, and share your best finds with us on Facebook!

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