How I save money on children’s clothing

Keeping children clothed when they insist on growing every few months can be an expensive exercise, but it doesn’t have to be.  Although I confess to going a teensy bit mad buying adorable duffel coats and bear-shaped booties while pregnant with my first child, these days I don’t spend much money clothing my tots at all.

Here’s how I keep our clothing costs to a minimum:

  • I don’t expect my tots to have a vast wardrobe.  Last time I checked, my children aren’t North West, Harper Beckham or Suri Cruise, so they don’t require 150 outfits to see them through Paris Fashion Week or the Cannes Festival.  Children who grew up during the Great Depression counted themselves lucky to have two changes of clothing, and some of those were probably fashioned from flour sacks.  I love clothes, but I don’t think my children need several pairs of skinny jeans or party clothes for every day of the week.  A few outfits that are comfortable and weather-appropriate – plus one ‘good’ outfit – are all kids really need.
  • I gratefully accept hand-me-downs.  I chuckled as I wrote that last bullet point because although that is my personal belief, my children do currently have more than they need!  We are often given clothing from friends with bigger children, and the clothes rage from mint to I’ve-played-the-heck-in-this condition.  I appreciate all hand-me-downs as they are brilliant for my tots to wear to kindy and to get mucky in.  I don’t sweat it if they get covered in mud and finger-paint, like I would if it was something I’d paid good money for.  I opt for second-hand clothing myself whenever possible and hope that my children grow up appreciating second-hand clothing just as much as new.
  • I let it be known that I am on the lookout for hand-me-downs.  After we moved cities we didn’t get any hand-me-downs for a while, but as I made friends I let them know I was happy to receive them.  Friends can often assume that you are getting things from someone else, but if you’re not, let them know.  I always ensure I share the love by passing on my children’s clothes to others.  I get a real buzz from seeing a friend’s child in something one of my tots wore.
  • I go to clothing swaps.  Clothing swaps are so much fun.  There’s usually nibbles, wine, good friends and several tonnes of clothing involved.  I have never, ever come away empty-handed.  One swap netted me enough clothing for Chip which lasted him a year.  Here’s a picture of the last swap I went to – bear in mind that this was just the children’s section! clothes swap totsintawhero
  • I buy second-hand.  I baulk at paying $40 for something my child is going to wear for six months.  When I need something for myself, I always look in second-hand stores first, and I do the same with my children.  I’ve paid peanuts for really, really beautiful clothing.  I often find expensive labels like Oshkosh, Gap, Pumpkin Patch, and the like, for a fraction of what they normally retail for.
  • I ask for clothing as presents.  When grandparents and friends ask what to get my children for their birthdays or Christmas, I often suggest clothing.  Today’s children are overloaded with toys, and I struggle to stem the tide of toys that come into our house from well-meaning friends and family.  Clothing is a great – and useful – alternative.
  • I buy ahead.  If I am at an op-shop and spy something really cool or useful (like waterproof overalls, bathrobes etc) but it’s a size or two bigger, I buy it.  We have plenty of storage, and I’ve saved so much money this way.  My daughter attends a forest pre-school which necessitates waterproof clothing over winter, plus I like for us to get about in all sorts of weather.  A pair of waterproof overalls retail for $40-$60 here.  I found a pair for my daughter for $3 and a pair for my son for $1.99.
  • I buy on sale.  A major chain-store in my city has a half-price clothing sale in the middle of winter.  They sell awesome merino singlets and other thermal gear, so I stock up for the next year if we haven’t already inherited some from other children.  I’m also not totally opposed to buying new clothing.  If we were on the bare bones of our arse, I would expect my children to wear what they were given and be grateful.  But we’re not.  So when my daughter went into a fit of rapture when she saw this dress – and I saw it was heavily reduced – I said sure.  She’s all about dresses, and tulle and sparkles and butterflies right now, so she just loves, loves, loves this dress. Dress tots in tawhero
  • I buy clothes for my daughter that can be passed down to my son.  When possible I do try to get items for Sausage that are plain and serviceable for her brother too.  Chip wears loads of his sister’s cast-offs and no one would ever know.  Or care.
  • I don’t pass things on too quickly.  My son is very slim so he gets away with wearing smaller-sized trousers for a few months before beginning to resemble Steve Urkel.
    steve urkel

    Remember this guy?

    My daughter has several dresses from when she was a baby that we use as tops.  They look terrific as breezy summer tops.  So don’t be too hasty to get rid of things.  Children slim down a LOT once they start walking, and trousers that once need to fit around bulky nappies will often still fit the child when they are older and toilet-trained.

  • I deliberately befriend people with children slightly older than my own.  Just joking.


How do you save money on children’s clothes?


Dollar Diet 2016 : Life socks

The alternative title for this week’s Dollar Diet update should be ‘A diatribe on socks’.

As we still have a temporary nanny while I recover from a back injury, I have lots of free time.  It’s really tempting to spend that time shopping or going to cafes and doing other things that cost money.  But since re-comitting to the Dollar Diet, I’ve mostly kept myself away from any temptation.

It wasn’t hard at all, I must confess.  Even though I’d recently bought some new clothes so I am suitably attired for work, I bought carefully and with much consideration.  Did I really need another striped top?  No.  That white top is nice, but I already have one at home.  My inner dialogue definitely prevented me from making any impulse purchases, and seems to be here to stay.  My old ‘Buy it!’ voice seems to have left the building.

And so it was this week when I wander into a department store to buy socks.  I walked past the women’s clothing section and just said to myself ‘There is nothing I need’ (because there really isn’t) and off I toddled to get socks.

I did need socks because mine all had holes in them.  Seriously.  All.  The beyond darning kind of holes.  It’s a recent phenomenon, but as our socks mostly come from Asia these days, I’ve noticed that women’s socks now run small.  I bought a few pairs in 2015 and they barely lasted six months before I put holes in them.  It’s because all the women in my family are cursed blessed with size 10 feet.  Like I said, as a great deal of NZ’s shoes and socks are manufactured off-shore and therefore now run small, I often need an 11!  Except women’s socks stop at the ‘new’ size 10.

I had to give up on the women’s sock department, and headed for the men’s section – crying on the inside.  My reasoning is that maybe, just maybe, the men’s size 10s might be truer to size.  I’m crying because my husband’s socks are invariably black or brown, and utterly boring.  My last lovely-but-holey women’s socks had tigers, foxes and racoon faces on them.  What can I say?  My mantra has always been that life is too short to wear boring socks.

So part of the problem with my socks, is that they are a bit too small, hence the holes.  But secondly, the quality is rubbish.  Not just that particular brand, but almost all women’s socks.  Men’s socks are often made of sterner stuff, and have things like reinforced toes and anti-hole micro-robots who detect and instantly repair any damage (okay, so I made that bit up).  Why???  Are men on their feet any more than women?  Are they cursed with hobbit feet and pointy toenails that tear socks to shreds immediately?  I don’t think so.  I suspect the ol’ genderisation of clothing plays a part here.  Whatever it is, men definitely get the better deal when it comes to socks.  Go on, have a look at your local department store and tell me I’m wrong.

Anyhow, I drag my reluctant carcass over the the men’s socks, and Lo!  There are some of the funnest (totally a word) socks ever in existence.  And they are half price!  I am now the new owner of socks with pink flamingos, roosters, and – my personal favourite – T-Rex’s on them.  They fit perfectly, and I pray will last longer than six months.

trex totsintawhero

T-Rex on your feet! What more could you want?

Everyone knows that when it comes to clothing we should opt for quality over quantity if we expect to get decent cost-per-wear from an item, even if we’re just talking about socks.  The trouble is, it’s really difficult to find quality clothing any more.  I would love to buy quality, locally-made goods but it’s often not an economic option for me, and I suspect, for many people.  Ethically made, local manufacturers can have amazing clothing, but it is often prohibitively expensive.  $100+ for a top or a t-shirt.  I get that their cost of production is higher than a sweatshop, believe me, I get it.  But my bank balance often trumps my conscience.  Then there’s the fact that some ‘designer’ labels are not guarantee of quality.  I’ve seen ‘designer’ t-shirts retailing for $200-$300 and the fabric is of no better quality than what I can find in a chain store.

If these new socks give out completely I will admit defeat and buy the best socks I can find, and cross my fingers that they service my feet for several years hence.  Or move to a tropical island where socks and shoes are useless.  Actually, that might be the cheapest option.



Dollar Diet 2016

Last year I embarked on a Dollar Diet to curb my spending habits and save for a couple of overseas trips.  I simply divided up our wants from our needs and did my level best to stick to the needs.  No clothes, shoes, handbags, trips to the cafe or movies, takeaways, expensive gifts, magazine subscriptions…you get the picture.

It was a good year and we mostly stuck to our game-plan.  I learned a great deal.  I came to accept the fact that as much as it pains me, I am not a crafty person.  My friends and family will not be getting any knitted gifts made from my own hand-spun wool any time soon, nor will they be dazzling the masses with designer threads hand-sewn by me.  Despite my best intentions, I ended up buying most gifts I gave out last year.

I went into this year intending to keep on Dollar Dieting, but life threw a teensy curveball.  I got a job.  I only work a couple of mornings a week, but suddenly I needed to get suitable clothes.  I’d lost weight so some of my old work clothes were too big.  Regular trips to my favourite second-hand store were suddenly back on the menu, as I gathered a new work wardrobe together.  Because I baulk at paying full-price for clothes, I felt justified at getting a few things for work when they were only a few dollars a piece, but it was hard to stop at just a few things.

Though my job is small, it required me to develop a new parenting programme.  This took considerable time and head-space, and I fell out of the habit of posting each week about my efforts in frugality.  This regular habit helped keep me motivated and focused over 2015.

We had sneaked in the odd takeaway during last year’s Dollar Diet.  I discovered that of course, sometimes I would just have a rough or exhausting day and couldn’t face cooking.  And this year I’ve been to the movies several times as I’m making the most of having a nanny while I recover from a back injury.  D and I had a wonderful weekend away at an expensive hotel for our wedding anniversary (no regrets here though!).  We resubscribed to the local paper.  Had a few cafe visits.

Slowly, slowly, softly, softly.  Little expenses have crept back in this year.

So I’m calling time on it.

One of the things I absolutely love about blogging is how it keeps me accountable.  I simply cannot in good conscience blog about doing something without actually doing it.  So here is what we’ll be up to for the rest of the year:

  • Have a fun budget.  I need things to look forward to.  I don’t need to escape to a tropical island on a spa retreat (although that would be heavenly), but I do need the odd date-night out with my husband or a trip to see an out-of-town friend.  But with limits.  D and I have a regular date night which we take turns to organise.  We usually stay in (see here for inspiration), but for this year’s Dollar Diet, we’re allowing one date each month where we can go out and spend money.  Within reason.   We also have ‘family night’ once a week.  We eat something yummy for dinner and watch a show together/have a dance party/play games etc.  Every now and then I let Sausage decide what we’ll eat (Chip will get to have a go once he’s three), and she invariably asks for fish and chips.  Not Mummy’s home-made fish and chips, but from the store.  And that’s perfectly fine.
  • We have all we need.  Seriously.  D, my tots and I have all the clothes we could possibly need so I won’t be buying any more this year.  If things wear out I do possess enough skills to mend them.  My kids have all the toys and books they need.  Chip’s birthday is coming up fast, but I think instead of a present we will take the children  tobogganing in the mountains for a day.  He’s not old enough to ‘expect’ a gift from us, so we can easily get away with this.  My only caveats for this embargo are underwear (for all of us), decent shoes for the children, and clothing swaps.  My friends and I do this a couple of times a year, and I usually end up with plenty of of clothes for my tots in the next size (or two) up.
  • Give perishables whenever possible.  There’s so much pressure on us to give gifts.  So. Much. Pressure.  That’s why we all end up with hand cream, socks, ties and the like when people are stumped as to what to get us.  Most people I know have all they need, and I don’t want to add to everyone’s pile of stuff.  I may not be a terribly crafty person, but I am good at baking and cooking, and intend to give home-made food as gifts.  I’m also trying my hand at home-brew (I have a batch of Feijoa wine on the go right now), and D makes the best ginger beer on the planet.  So we should be sorted for things like Christmas.  Which is just as well, as this year we’re participating in Buy Nothing Christmas.
  • Save on heating.  In my last blog post I wrote about a huge power bill being the impetus for moving my tots into together so we had fewer bedrooms to heat.  We’re lucky enough to know a sustainable energy expert.  We had a consultation with him,and have several other things we plan to do in order to keep warm over winter.
  • Use our bodies more, and our cars less.  At the moment I find cycling painful due to my back, but if it’s not raining I walk to work.  It takes me less than 30 minutes, and it’s a pleasant walk.  D cycles to work when possible.  I could do with shedding the habit of taking the car for little trips instead of cycling or walking, and this is definitely an area I will be working on this year.
  • Always have something in the freezer for ‘one of those days’.  This year I’d like to keep takeaways to family night, and have something quick and easy I can just throw in the oven for the times I don’t want to cook.
  • Spend TV/internet time doing something constructive.  I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do muck about on the internet more than I should.  Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to do more constructive things with my leisure time, like learn to make the perfect curry, play my ukulele, finish my novel and spend more time in prayer.

Our list from 2015 hasn’t changed much, but here’s a breakdown of our ‘needs’:

  • Groceries
  • Electricity, firewood
  • Internet/phone
  • Netflix
  • Insurances
  • Petrol, vehicle maintenance
  • Rates
  • Tithing, sponsor children, church activities
  • University money for kids (we put $10 a week into their accounts)
  • Doctor’s visits & prescriptions
  • Kindy/playgroups etc
  • Ballet for Sausage, swimming for Chip
  • Haircuts (we both only get our hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
  • Moisturizer, bug spray (mozzies LOVE me), undies – A
  • Toastmasters – D
  • Rubbish & recycling collection
  • Lawn mowing (our place is HUGE)
  • Garden & home maintenance
  • Chicken feed & maintenance
  • Shoes for the children (but trying to get second-hand or free where appropriate)
  • A small holiday to attend a wedding
  • Materials for gifts

I know it’s almost half-over, but here’s to 2016!


One room to rule them all…

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as we headed out the door.

What if it didn’t work?  What if this was my worst idea ever?

I’d wanted to take the plunge last year, but it never seemed to be the right time.  I came up with excuses.  D came up with excuses.  We couldn’t commit.  But I knew things couldn’t continue the way they were.


We moved our tots in together.


And you know what?  It’s going great.

We had ridiculous power bills last winter (like $500 one month!!!) and that got me fired up to move my tots in together to save on heating.  I’d been toying with the idea anyway, as I think sharing a room is good for children: they learn to share and respect each other’s space, it helps children learn to sleep through anything, and it’s so much fun to have a playmate the instant you wake up in the morning when you’re a toddler.

It’s been almost a year since that giant power bill o’doom.  Yep, it took us that long to pluck up the courage.  Our reluctance to have the children share a room was due to sleep.  Our sleep and theirs.  Chip mostly sleeps through the night, but still has the odd bout of teething/sickness/plotting to take over the world that disrupts his sleep.  Plus he wakes an hour earlier than his big sister.  Sleep is the most precious commodity in our house, and any deprivation turns each one of us into Grumpy McGrumpy’s.

It’s only been a few days, but moving the children in together has been brilliant.  They’ve had no trouble getting to sleep, and we’re putting Sausage down at the same time as Chip, to make up for her earlier brother-wake-up-call.  Sausage is not a morning person, but instead of immediately whining at her dad and I, we get a kick out of hearing her sing songs and pass toys to her brother over the baby monitor.


Plenty of room for two

Sausage had the biggest room so it was a no-brainer to move Chip in with her.  Even with Chip’s cot now in it there is plenty of space.

Chip’s old room is now the children’s playroom.  I’m cringing as I write that, as ‘spare rooms’ don’t sit well with me.  As someone who has worked with the homeless, I’m quite sensitive to living with surplus space when so many people have none.

Anyway, the playroom has Chip’s change table, two ‘big’ toys (doll house and parking garage), and a comfy spot to read and play music.

I do have plans for our spare room.  I was an exchange student, and would love to pay it forward to other exchange students.  My tots should be sweet to share for the next few years, so I want to take on students who do short exchanges to New Zealand.  (Inflicting two toddlers on a teenager for a year, might be a bit much so we’ll stick to short-term exchanges for a while.)  The room isn’t big, but it’s adequate.

I know one day that my tots will prefer to have their own space, especially as they are different genders.  But I love the idea of sharing our home and culture with others, and hope we can take in a student next year.


Do your tots share a room?