The Art of the Hand-Me-Down: Saving Money on Children’s Clothing

hand me downs
Image via Amanda Rodriguez

For my middle son’s sixth birthday, he received a really cool shirt.

I remember it vividly because when he opened the wrapping paper, he said, in his louder-than-should-be-possible-kid-voice, “AWESOME! My first new shirt.”

All of the parents in the room turned their judgy eyes on me. I stammered about how he was totally lying—it wasn't his FIRST new shirt. He’d had others … maybe a long time ago, but whatever! He had them. I could prove it! 

But what he also had was an older brother who was surprisingly easy on clothing, so we lived on hand-me-downs almost exclusively.

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Realistically, I don’t think I bought more than a handful of outfits for my second child before he reached the age of five.  Having a mess of same-sex children is actually, among other things, crazy economical—at least that’s how it shakes out for us. We don’t have to buy different toys because they tend to enjoy many of the same activities, allowing us to capitalize on second-child discounts. Oh, and clothes. They share clothes.

Twelve years and three Dudes later, I've got some tips for how you can make hand-me-downs work harder for you!

Image via Flickr/
Image via Flickr/kelly.sikkema

1.  Buy well-made stuff. We invest in our oldest son’s clothing—we buy him only basics from those super centers that sell things in bulk.  With important things like coats and boots and sweaters and shoes, we sink a little more money in, so we can make them last longer. But not jeans. Unless you can find jeans with titanium-reinforced knees, it really doesn't matter what you pay for them. Your son will slide around in the yard and rip them to shreds—maybe even during the first time he wears them.

Image via Flickr/
Image via Flickr/Charkrem

2.  Go classic. Trends make your clothing look dated, and even though your 4-year-old would be fine in nothing but a cowboy hat and a cape, you’re less likely to put the clothing on your child if it looks like it came from another era. For example, baggy cargo pants were stylish when my 12-year-old was a toddler, and I distinctly recall feeling like a heel when I shoved my third son  into an old pair for his first day of preschool. He just looked so out of place from the other kids in their nice, new skinny jeans!

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Invest in items that are more classic; straight-leg jeans, polo shirts, and hooded sweatshirts are good examples of here-to-stay attire.

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Image via Flickr/
Image via Flickr/Rubbermaid Products

3.  Store it right. Avoid storing your items where moisture may have a chance to get to them. Moldy hand-me-downs are so not cool.

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

4.  Take good care of your items. Treat stains, don’t over wash or use too many harsh cleaners, and tell your kid to lay off the sliding kicks. OK, so that last one is probably not going to happen, but the other two suggestions are totally within your control.

little girl in closet
Image via iStock

5.  Get your friends involved. Hand-me-downs don’t have to be strictly among siblings. Friends are welcome to get in on this action, too. Another mom in my hood with three older sons drops bags off on my door step seasonally. I take what I can use and happily pass the things I can’t on to someone who can, along with everything my Dudes have grown out of.  It takes a village, right? 

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Are you a fan of the hand-me-down? How else do you have money on children's clothing? 

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The Art of the Hand-Me-Down: Saving Money on Children’s Clothing

Amanda has been wowing the Internet since 2008 when she launched her pretty-much-useless guide for parents, parenting BY dummies. As it turns out, her parenting advice is not generally useful for more than a good laugh, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need! Amanda spends her offline time (which is embarrassingly limited) running a photography business, working as a social media director for a local magazine, writing freelance articles about stuff she loves, wrangling her 3 little Dudes ... More

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4 comments

  1. Erin says:

    We didn’t find our the gender of our baby before she was born, so we had a whole 0-6 month wardrobe of unisex clothes amassed by the time she was born. Yeah, so sometimes she looked like a boy, oh well! Of course after she was born, we got some girlie things for her. Now we are all set if a second child comes along, regardless of gender. Even if you do choose to find out the gender before birth, get some basic newborn and 0-3 month clothes for your first, because let’s face it, babies look cute regardless of what they’re wearing! =)

  2. mommy nhoj says:

    My daughter has clothes from her 2 cousins. One dress was given my mother was used by my 2 elder nieces. I’d love to collect their pictures wearing the same dress 🙂 We accept hand me down clothes 🙂

  3. gfeld says:

    My son is wearing his cousins wardrobes, since that was a combination which included some of my older sons wardrobe of when he was that size. Since my two boys are 7 years apart, I gave away my boys clothing because it’s a shame it should sit around. Now my second son is wearing it after many of his cousins wore i as well. It’s a great feeling and the clothing lasted nicely.

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