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: Week 48, off with a roar!

Last week I wrote about all the things we are doing, or intend to do to tighten our belts while our income is a bit lower than usual (due to D starting a new business).

D and I set to that belt-tightening with great gusto, so here’s an update on how we are going.

  • Become a one-car family.  We’ve put our People Mover up for sale and are hoping we get a decent price for it.
  • Buy a bike trailer.  We’re waiting for the car to sell before we do this.
  • Wean our son off soy formula and onto soy milk.  This is going really well.  Chip is happily taking bottles of half-formula, half soy milk.  We’ll up the milk over the next few days.
  • Be more diligent about using cloth nappies and wipes.  This is going REALLY well.  I cut up cloths and put them in a jar with a couple of squirts of cetaphil and some water.  It works like a charm.  The dirty cloths go into another glass jar.  I chose glass jars as they are easily cleaned and sterilised in our dishwasher.  We’ve been really diligent with using cloth nappies, although I wish I could find some that my son doesn’t wet through immediately when he does a wee.  One day I changed his clothes four times!
  • Shop our pantry.  Done.  You can see it here.  I absolutely recommend doing this.  For me, there was something about seeing what I had as a list, that got me thinking ‘Oh, I can make x, and combine y and z together…’
  • Use up all the fruit and veg from our garden.  This is going well, and if we get some decent weather I will be putting in another big veggie garden soon.  We are incredibly fortunate to own a place with many established fruit trees, and my sandwich garden has a good crop of broccoli, onions, lettuce and leeks that are ready for munching.

    om nom nom nom

    om nom nom nom

  • Say no to any unnecessary entertainment.  This is the only category that we have not done well in this week.  My wonderful cousin is visiting from Oamaru (and a shout out to the ones left at home, we miss you soooo much!), so I have had such a good time hanging out with her this week.  We’ve had  few treats as a result, but quite frankly this is why we are on a Dollar Diet – so we can have some treats when special people come to town.
  • Make our own cleaning products.  See cloth wipes above.
  • Sell off our unwanted items.  I haven’t listed my things yet, but plan to this coming week.  But I have sorted through everything and have made sure clothes are ironed etc for photos.
  • Do our own DIY as much as possible.  D and his side-kick J finished off putting a gate to close off our backyard from the front.  It looks great.

    Woohoo!  All done.

    Woohoo! All done.

Not a bad effort.  Next week our entertainment budget will go back to zero.  It is school holidays here, so we don’t have our usual playgroups to go to, but I do have several things lined up for my tots to do, and plenty of time spent playing and mooching around doing nothing.



Pantry Audit

As I mentioned last week, our income has dropped while D’s business is in its infancy.  One of things I’m doing to stretch our pennies further is to ‘shop our pantry’.  Basically this means you try and use up what you’ve already got in your pantry, because most first-world families have probably got at least a couple of weeks worth of meals hiding at the back of the cupboard.

We meal plan, so I am generally pretty good at using up our groceries but there are things I had bought for parties that I didn’t end up using, plus carby food items purchased prior to starting Trim Healthy Mama that are still lurking at the back of the pantry.  I am a visual person, so I decided doing an audit of exactly what food we had around the house would be helpful.

And in case you were dying to know, this is it:

pantry audit 1 totsintawhero

pantry audit 2 totsintawhero

It’s not the entire list as I didn’t think you ‘d want a long list of sauces, or baking essences etc.  And keep in mind, this was done at the end of the week before I went grocery shopping so there aren’t a lot of canned goods.

Seeing all of this in black and white helped me tremendously when making my meal plan for the week.  Seriously, that’s what we have lying around the house.  It seems like such a lot!  And yet how many times have I looked in my cupboards and thought ‘there’s nothing to eat’.

I immediately decided to roast the chicken and some kumara (sweet potato, sorry I forgot to put that on the list), which we had with peas and carrots.  One of those manky lemons got shoved up the chicken’s bum for subtle flavour.  The following day I used leftover chicken, kumara and peas to make a curry.  A can of diced tomatoes went in that too.  With the curry I served brown rice and cucumber raita, which used up one of the cukes and the unsweetened yoghurt, plus a little mint from our garden.

chicken curry tots in tawhero

I used up the coconut flour and some of the frozen strawberries by making some THM muffins.  Sausage and I made pikelets for lunch one day, and I also made her day by serving up the raspberry jelly after dinner.  I probably bought it for a party, but it’s been sitting around for ages.  I reflected the other day that I so rarely surprise my kids with treats like that, it was probably high-time that I did.  I used up the stewed apple (from our garden) and the oats by making a huge crumble for an extended family dinner, and they had it with the rest of the ice-cream which was purchased months ago when Sausage had a really sore throat and wouldn’t eat.  I’m sugar-free so I didn’t partake but it was gobbled up quickly.

THM strawberry muffin

THM strawberry muffin

I plan to use up the rest of the almond flour by making these paleo bagel dogs that other THMer’s are raving about.  For the next few weeks I won’t need to buy any veg as broccoli, leeks, spinach, celery and lettuce are now ready for harvesting in our garden.

The tins of beetroot are leftovers from one of our summer BBQ’s (it’s a New Zealand thing…).  I used them to make this beetroot hummus (it’s delicious), and will have a go later in the week at making these fudgy paleo beetroot brownies.

The sausage hotpot (a meal from a friend) and a pie are on the menu for D (who is already quite trim and healthy) and the kids while I cobble together a THM meal, and I’ll also be eating a lot of chicken, brown rice and soup this week.

I did go grocery shopping for ingredients to add to some of the meals, and for non-food essentials.  Shopping my pantry meant I spent 60% less than I usually do.  I’ve made a reasonable dent in my pantry, and have probably got enough to work with for at least another two weeks (seriously self, what was with all the couscous?).

The audit certainly made me think more creatively about my meals and I’ve tried out some pretty great recipes.  Win.

What’s hiding in your cupboards?


14 Ways to tighten your belt when you have a drop in income

14 ways to tighten your belt financially (image credit)

14 ways to tighten your belt financially
(image credit)

I started the Dollar Diet this year as a bit of fun.  Money and I have never quite seen eye to eye.  At times our relationship has been tense, heated and demanding, due to me treating money irresponsibly and frittering away more cash than I care to admit.  A few years back I decided to grow up and transform my relationship with money into a healthier, more adult alliance.

Even though my spending habits are much improved, the Dollar Diet felt like a challenge I (and my family) was ready for.  D and I knew there were holes in our budget as we never seemed able to save as much as we ‘should’; plus the idea of being good stewards of our abundant resources is something that resonates with us.  We knew we could do better.

They say you should be careful what you wish for.  The Dollar Diet has gotten real.

We are living on a reduced income while D’s business grows (which naturally takes time), and our savings have dwindled due to holidays that were planned and booked well in advance to his job change.  We’re okay, and thanks to the Dollar Diet, we are in much better shape financially than we would otherwise have been.  But as we ride out this particular chapter in our lives, suddenly my fun challenge has become a necessity (and I appreciate that it is for many, many people).

Here are some of the things we are doing (or plan to do) to tighten our belts during this time:

  • Become a one-car family.  We bought a Mazda People Mover last year with the idea of transporting one of my family members around (a long story I won’t be sharing here), and we also thought it would come in handy as our kids get older to transport their friends, for holidays etc.  We’d planned to sell our little Honda Jazz, but never got around to it as having a second car came in handy while D was required to visit Wellington each month for his old job.  But the reality is we have rarely needed to transport this family member, and now D has no need to go to Wellington.  A second car is a luxury that we cannot afford, so kissing it goodbye makes excellent financial sense. The Jazz is far more fuel efficient and less costly in terms of insurance.  Shifting to a one-car household can save the average family thousands of dollars each year in insurance, petrol and maintenance.
  • Buy a bike trailer.  I have been nagging at D to get a bike trailer for me so I can take the kids out by cycle rather than a car.  I see it as a great way to build in more exercise into my day, as I frequently make little trips to play groups, friends and the like.  My children are hugely excited by going for bike rides, and we are lucky to live in a city where it is very safe to cycle thanks to the nice, wide streets of Whanganui.  We are also fortunate that our city is not hugely spread out, so most facilities are comfortably within cycling range.  D has already been cycling to his office down town, so even if the weather is rubbish or we are simply pushed for time, our car will be available to use.
  • Wean our son off soy formula and onto soy milk.  Chip is allergic to the protein in cow’s milk and was put on soy formula by his doctor.  It was heart-breaking, but Chip has thrived on the stuff.  It costs almost $30 for one tin of formula, so now that he is over one and mostly on solids he doesn’t simply doesn’t need formula any more.
  • Be more diligent about using cloth nappies and wipes.  I use cloth nappies in fits and starts.  I will slavishly use cloth until I get sick of my kid wetting through their clothes (yes, they are on correctly and I do change them often), as laundry is my most loathed household chore.  I’ve been too squeamish to use cloth wipes, which is silly because really, using cloth nappies is absolutely no different.  So I’m biting the bullet and using cloth wipes as well.
  • Buy in bulk when possible.  The Dollar Diet has given us wiggle room in our grocery budget so we’ve often been in surplus.  This has meant we’ve been able to bulk buy on meat and other grocery items when we see good deals.  This week my local supermarket was selling large bottles of my shampoo for the same price as the small bottles that I usually get, so I snapped them up.  I doubt I will need to buy any more shampoo for a couple of years.
  • Cook in bulk when possible.  Jamie Oliver says ‘if you want to save big, you have to buy big’.  By that he means you get more bang for your buck buying a whole chicken instead of chicken breasts as you can usually get multiple meals out of it and use the carcass to make stock.  Preparing and freezing multiple portions is also a good way to ensure all your vegetables get used before they turn all manky in your fridge; plus you have the added bonus of having meals at the ready when you’re having one of ‘those’ days.
  • Shop our pantry.  I don’t know about you, but we’ve got stuff in our pantry that hasn’t seen the light of day for a loooong time.  For the next few weeks I will be only getting absolute essentials (like milk and loo paper) from the supermarket, until that pantry is bare.  This is such an easy way to free up some cash.  The money you don’t spend on groceries this week can be salted away or used to pay bills.  Admittedly some meals can get rather…uh…creative, but variety is the spice of life, right?
  • Cancel our newspaper subscription.  I almost did this earlier in the year, but they offered me a crazy good deal so I kept it on, as we try to support local businesses whenever possible.  But it’s gone now.  Any sort of subscription – whether it is for a newspaper or a gym – is a luxury item and can be culled from your budget.
  • Use up all the fruit and veg from our garden.  I sometimes miss the pick-me-now window with some of the veggies I grow, so I will be more diligent about harvesting anything that is ready.  We have tons of tangelos that are ripe, and masses and masses of grapefruit that is almost ripe, so I won’t be buying any more fruit until we’ve eaten, preserved and marmalade-ed it.  We will eat, sleep and breathe tangelos and grapefruit.  Until strawberry and plum season.  Anyone over 60 will tell you how they got sick of the sight of tomatoes, or never wanted to see another apple again when they were kids.  Somehow we’ve all gotten so used to eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – and that hits your wallet, even if you do shop seasonally.
  • Say no to any unnecessary entertainment.  We were awesome at this at the start of the year, but with the onset of winter some cafe trips and little outings here and there snuck back into our lives.  It will be strictly free or home-grown entertainment for us.  We’re at the perfect stage in our lives for this anyway – our kids are small, and the beach, forest or museum and visiting friends are quite exciting to them.  If I was a young singleton I’m sure I would find this a really tough challenge.
  • Scale back kid’s activities.  My daughter was going to start going to pre-school a few mornings a week for the last school term this year.  It’s not free for her until she turns three in the new year, so we’ve decided to wait until then.  While she is ready for pre-school, it certainly won’t harm her to stay at her current playgroups which she loves.  She also started kindy gym this term, but I discovered a free class is available on another day, so we will change our routine a bit so we can make it to that one.   I will also be dropping a play session next term, and will be doing free things at home instead.
  • Make our own cleaning products.  I have been really lazy at doing this since having children.  I used to in the past – mostly because I am super-allergic to chemicals – but since my kids arrived I told myself ‘I don’t have the time’ and have picked up products from an eco-friendly New Zealand store which don’t set off my allergies.  The truth is, I do have time.  I have loads of time, if I simply make it a priority.
  • Sell off our unwanted items.  I have a stash of good clothes that no longer fit, and baby paraphernalia no longer required.  We may as well turn it into some cash.
  • Keep on with our good habits.  We already do plenty of frugal things: we cook almost everything from scratch, re-use plastic bags, save scrap paper, only do full loads of laundry, ride bikes or walk when we can, visit farmers markets, check our library books instead of buying them, and buy second hand almost exclusively.  We live well and have found these habits to be pretty painless (except maybe biking into a strong wind…).

How have you managed a drop in income?  Share your frugal habits here.


Dollar Diet: My Not-So-Secret Weapon

In the past we’ve tried several ways to stay on budget, including a cash envelope system.  The idea being you allocate a certain number of $ for things that aren’t on an automatic payment, like groceries, entertainment or clothing.  And when the money is gone, that’s it for the week.  The theory is you are much less likely to spend cold, hard cash than zap a card through a machine.

While I know it works for many people, the cash envelopes were a dud for us.  I’m in charge of grocery shopping and 9 times out of 10 I would leave the blasted envelope at home and then have to reconcile it when I got back.  Or we’d forget to fill the darn things.  We’re New Zealanders, we hardly ever carry cash these days, having been some of the earliest users of EFTPOS in the world.  It just wasn’t going to work for D and I.

D, being a techie, reckoned he could invent an app that could create an envelope-like budget for us and keep it updated in real time. Meaning that when ever either of us spent money we could code it to a particular budget line, and see how much money is in a particular ‘pot’.   We would instantly know if were were about to go over our allotted budget,  All on our smart phones.  I have no doubt he could have whipped up an app in double-quick time, but being sensible, he soon discovered that such an app already existed.  Thanks interweb!

The app we use is Goodbudget.  D sat down and created envelopes for all our categories of expenditure, and we worked out how much money we need to ‘fill’ the envelopes with each week.

D demonstrating the Goodbudget app (you'll notice things like clothing and date night are currently at zero for the spending fast)

D demonstrating the Goodbudget app (you’ll notice things like clothing and date night are currently at zero for the spending fast, and that our car budget is waaay in arrears as we recently purchased a new car and haven’t sold our old one yet)

People, let me tell you that if you are struggling to stay on budget, or if one of you is regularly overspending and you’re not sure why, this app works.  I would ALWAYS overspend on groceries and simply didn’t realise that a couple of extra trips to the supermarket to pick up things I’d forgotten or run out of would blow our budget for that week.  These days I make-do or change the recipe if we have spent our grocery budget for the week.  The ease and immediacy of pulling out my phone and being able to see how much money I have (or don’t have) stops me from being all spendy-spendy and turns me into a mindful spender at the swipe of my phone.

We can easily tell if there is money available to shuffle around.  If we have overspent in one category, but another one is in surplus we can reallocate some of that surplus money.  If you find that you are regularly overspending in one category you know that either it’s time to increase that budget line, or take a good hard look at your expenditure for weak spots so you can cut back.

Goodbudget helps you to instantly see what you are spending our money on.  Sometimes we think we know, but a quick glance at an envelope might shock you to discover that you spent $5672 on gifts last year or $494 on takeaway coffee.  It takes a few weeks to get in the habit of coding every.little.thing into Goodbudget (it’s a very easy process), but now it is second-nature to me to pull out my phone after making a purchase.  The habit of coding everything (including utilities and other regular bills) also helps you realise that you’ve forgotten to add a line for it in your budget, which may account for times when you’ve had less money than you’ve thought.

The app does cost money ($45 a year) but I think it’s worth the expense when I look at the money I’m saving because the app is helping me to change my behaviour.

For me, the only downside to Goodbudget is I can’t use it on a ‘dumb phone’.  I’d like to get rid of my smartphone (I hate them, they are so addictive and such time-wasters), but I’m keeping mine so I can use Goodbudget :-).

I am in no way affiliated with Goodbudget, I am merely a very happy customer.  All opinions expressed are my own.