Forever! That’s exactly how long I’ve been a budget shopper and how long I have worked to save money on clothing for myself and my kids. Even when I had the money and could have spent more, I usually couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I love to shop for used clothing!
It may not be something you’re willing to consider, and that’s okay. I get it. We all have areas in our life where we are perfectly willing to pinch a penny, pinch it hard in fact. Other areas… not so much.
Read on! There is plenty of money to be saved on new clothing as well.
Shop Used to Save Money on Clothing
We Americans buy far too much of everything, including clothing. Impulse buys we never should have purchased. Ups and downs on the scale creating a closet full of clothing that no longer fits. Gifts … what were they thinking? That super special outfit needed just once for that super special occasion. The reasons are endless.
Because of this, there is never a lack of used clothing available to anyone who wants or needs it. My favorite places to shop for used clothing are easy to find in nearly any city in America.
1. Yard Sales (aka Garage Sales aka Tag Sales)
To save money on clothing, the best deals you’re ever going to find are at yard sales.
I admit, I’ve outfitted my kids in used clothing for most of their life. When my daughters were babies up until the time they started school (and began to pitch a fit about always being made to wear dresses) they wore fancy, new-dress-for-Easter style dresses every day of the week. It didn’t matter whether we were going to Sunday church or playing in the sand pit at the park. They were adorable, and I paid no more than $1 per dress.
That was my limit at the time. $1 per outfit.
Used clothing is as common as dirt at garage sales, and you’ll find much of it is in amazing condition. This was especially true of children’s dressy clothing – always saved for a special occasion – always outgrown before being worn more than a time or two.
Set an upper limit for what you’re willing to pay per outfit. If the sellers are asking more, it’s perfectly acceptable at garage sales to bargain for a better price. But do it with a friendly demeanor and a smile, with respect and a willingness to politely walk away if your offer is refused.
Are you not used to bargaining and not really comfortable with it? Get over it! (Ha! You’ll find no sympathy here.) Read my post Garage Sale Deals And The Art of Haggling.
BONUS TIP: Get really good at buying low and you’re ready for the next step – selling high. Learn how I made a profit selling what I find at garage sales.
2. Thrift Stores
Clothing at thrift stores is donated and the items come from a variety of places. There is everything from the average person cleaning a few things out of their closet, to the entire vintage contents of dear Aunt Sally’s attic after she passed, to local retail stores who donate return goods or leftover end-of-season apparel.
Prices for used clothing at thrift stores are typically higher than garage sales, and there is usually no bargaining allowed, but you’ll also have a much larger selection all in one place. If running all over town looking for a summer wardrobe for the kiddo isn’t quite your thing, or you’re short on time, you can still save a lot of money by shopping at thrift stores.
Most thrifts are overrun with used clothing, and will hold sales on a regular basis to help keep things moving through. A common practice is to use colored tags on the clothing. Each week a different color goes on sale, rotating through the colors in order.
Most thrift stores are run by charity organizations and the proceeds are used to help those in need. When you shop at a thrift store, know that you’ll not only save money and help yourself, but someone else at the same time. You’ll also keep perfectly good clothing out of the landfill and help the environment. Triple win!
3. Consignment Stores
Consignment stores offer a good selection of used items and are a great way to save money on clothing. They are generally assumed to carry a bit more upscale merchandise than thrift stores, but it’s not always found to be true. Items in consignment stores, unlike thrift stores, are not donated. Instead, the items are brought in by the owner to be placed for sale, and the owner then gets a percentage when the item sells.
It depends on the store, but most consignment stores have policies regarding what they will or won’t take. They may take only children’s clothing, or may be devoted to selling only upscale, high value, designer items. Many will accept only certain brands of clothing and only the most recent styles knowing these are what sell best.
Some stores, such as Plato’s Closet, Once Upon a Child, and Style Encore will pay you for clothing. They are not true consignment store but are popular and well-known because they have locations nationwide. Check around and see what you have in your area.
BONUS TIP: Everyone has things in their closet which aren’t being worn. Consider selling your unused clothing to finance your new pieces.
4. Accept Handed-Down Clothing
As a kid, I remember being given a bag of clothing from a neighbor family who had a daughter several years older than me and my sisters. We were in middle school. She was a high-schooler, and a cool one at that.
I can still remember one specific dress which we all nearly went to war over. It was a mini-skirt made of lemon yellow and mint green patterned polyester. (This was the late 70s … and I’m showing my age.) A pair of brown suede go-go boots (Can you believe that’s what we called them?) were included in the bag and were a perfect match to accompany the dress.
I wish I could remember how we all settled the argument, but I don’t. Most likely … I think Mom probably took the dress away, ending the fight, and none of us got it. Ahh, but the memories.
My sisters and I obviously saw that bag of unknowns as an exciting, fun adventure. For some, a similar incident from childhood would bring memories of embarrassment and humiliation.
Hand-me-down clothing, especially from someone known to you, can unfortunately be a tricky thing.
The potential giver may want to offer, but worry about offending or embarrassing. And the potential recipient may or may not want to accept. The clothing may not fit or may be some God-awful style you’d never imagine putting on you or your child’s body and wonder if it is offensive to refuse?
If only there were something which detailed proper etiquette for these type situations. Oh wait, there is. 🙂 I found this great post: Hand-me-down Etiquette: Appropriate Ways to Give & Accept Second Hand Gifts
If you’d rather avoid the minefield all together, check out places such as Craigslist.org and Nextdoor.com. I frequently see posts on both of these sites from both people with clothing offering to give, as well as requests from those in need.
5. Swap Clothes With Others
Online swap sites such as swap.com and swapstyle.com are popular and offer a trendy way to save money on clothing, but it’s often easier to swap live and in person. A good place to do that is through Clothes Swap Meetups, or for children’s clothing, through a local mother’s group. Many of the mother’s groups host annual clothing swaps. Join in, meet other mothers in the area, have a day out with the kiddos, and get a whole new wardrobe while you’re at it.
If you don’t find a swap near you, consider starting one. Read our post 8 Great Tips For Hosting Your First Clothing Swap to get started.
Shop New and Save Money on Clothing
If new clothing and latest styles is your thing, here also there are plenty of deals to be found.
In order to keep customers happy, interested and returning to shop on a regular basis, retail clothing stores need to be constantly flipping merchandise. The average new items stays at full price on the shop floor only for about 6 to 8 weeks before it is marked down for the first time.
Large retailers typically make purchasing decision 6 months ahead of time, meaning they must try to forecast demand as well as consumer trends, the economy, etc. Any of these things can change quickly, creating excess inventory.
6. Shop End-of-Season Sales
End-of-season sales are a great place to look for bargains. By the middle of January, stores begin clearing out winter merchandise to make room for summer wear. By July, they’re in a rush to clear things out again getting ready for back-to-school and fall clothing.
Look for clearance sections toward the back of the store, situated so you must walk past all full price merchandise on the way there.
End-of-season sales are a great way to save money on clothing which will still fit the coming year, but be buy carefully when shopping for kids. You might want to go up a size or two so that it will still fit when next year rolls around.
TIP: Try shopping on Thursday for best deals. Stores know people do most of their shopping on the weekend and will get ready for the crowd by making new markdowns on Thursday.
7. Join Store Mailing Lists
If you’ve got a favorite store locally at which you like to shop, look them up online. On their website, find the option to join their mailing list. (It’s rare for a store not to offer this.) Once on their list, you’ll receive offers and discounts direct to to your inbox which will allow you to save money on clothing.
Online versions of your favorite stores typically have a larger variety of merchandise available and often include sizes not offered in the store. Most stores allow returns to be dropped off at the local store, saving you the hassle and expense of returning an item by mail.
My person favorites:
- Sears – a favorite place for as long as I can remember. They offer an abundance of coupons. In fact, one is almost always available. My favorites are the general use codes for $5 off $50, $35 off $300, although category specific coupons are often for larger savings.
- Kmart – owned by the same company as Sears and sends out a similar selection of discount codes.
- JCPenney – huge selection of great merchandise, plus the fact there is almost always a discount coupon available makes it a favorite.
- CafePress – general use coupons for discounts of 20-40% are often available. No minimum purchase amount required.
- Kohl’s – coupon codes are sent out on a regular basis. Best deals, however, require use of the Kohl’s store credit card.
- One Stop Plus – does not have a local store, but I love them anyway. Thousands of plus size styles available, and frequent discount codes sent.
- Victoria’s Secret – they regularly make coupons available and the coupons stack, meaning you can use more than one at a time!
8. Discount Stores Online
There are great deals to be found online, but shopping without seeing what you’re buying, especially when it comes to clothing, can be a bit of a gamble. There are several things you can do to save money on clothing and also lessen the risk.
Measure yourself, or have a friend do it, then find the company’s ‘size chart’ and compare. This will give you a better idea of whether their clothing runs small or large.
You’ll also want to check out the company’s return policy prior to ordering. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
A couple of my favorite online discounters are 6pm.com and overstock.com.
Other Options to Save Money on Clothing
It likely won’t be the most popular choice – we all like new things – but a big part of being frugal is making do with what you already have. Wear what you have. Repair what you have. Make it last.
9. Buy Less
There is no better way to save money on clothing than simply to not buy it at all. Before making that purchase, ask yourself:
- Do I need it?
- Will I wear it?
- How often will I wear it?
- If you’re shopping for a one-time occasion, could you borrow from a friend instead?
- Could that fancy gown you need be rented or borrowed?
For many, shopping and overspending is based less on need and more on emotion. Ask yourself, what am I really feeling when I shop? Then find another way to deal with the emotion.
Consider beginning a ‘No Buy’ challenge. Commit to making no unnecessary purchases all month or, if you’re brave, all year. If it helps, ask a friend or two to participate in the challenge with you.
10. Buy Classic
Classic clothing does not quickly go out of style, it mixes and matches easily, is flattering to nearly any age or body style, and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Look for neutral colors, simplistic styling, and of course, the ever popular little black dress.
The classic style appeals to me personally because (odd as it may seem) I am a woman who doesn’t particularly care to shop for clothing. It’s not something I enjoy. Classic style lets me get away with minimal shopping and still look fairly decent.
I have a large collection of black pants and several pair of black shoes (sandals, flats, dressy, boots). For casual wear I grab black pants and any color top from the drawer. I’m done!
For slightly dressier wear I grab black pants again, paired with a black top, then grab a bit of color by way of a colorful blazers or scarf. Throw on a bit of jewelry. Again, done and dressed in record time.
I jokingly call this my ‘uniform’. 🙂 Define your own style and run with it.
11. Repair What You Have
Minor repairs are something anyone can do and should know how to do. If you don’t know how to do these simple tasks, it’s time to learn. Why not make it a family affair. Kids, especially young ones, love learning to do this type stuff.
Whatever you need to learn, there is a YouTube video to show you how to go about it. Simply go to youtube.com and search for what you need. Here are a few to get you started:
- Sew on a button.
- Darn a hole in a sock.
- Hem a skirt by hand.
- Mend a torn coat lining.
- Replace a drawstring.
12. Take Care of What You Have
When you take good care of the clothing you have, it will look better and last longer. This is not something which comes natural to me, but I’m working hard to learn and improve.
It is not okay to throw all clothing into the washing machine together. You may get lucky most of the time and cause no harm, but once you’ve turned an entire load of whites pink there is no turning back. Learn to always sort clothing before washing into a minimum of three piles: whites, colors, and darks.
Sweaters by their nature, are stretchy and easily pulled out of shape. They should be folded for storage, never hung, and preferably washed by hand and laid flat to dry.
Pay attention to care labels sewn into garments – before you buy! If you know you hate the inconvenience and the expense of dry cleaning, look for something else.
For more ways to save money on clothing see my blog post 26 Smart Ways to Save Money By Taking Better Care of Your Clothing
Let me know what I’ve missed. Leave a comment below and let me know how you shop for clothing and stay on a budget.