Dressing your child on a budget – Part One: Hand-me-downs


Kiddley visitor Jen from Semantically Driven submitted her tips for dressing your kids a tight budget. We have decided to turn her ideas into topics for a series which will run over a number of weeks.

This week we are looking at Hand-me-downs and next week it’s all about buying second hand clothes at thrift stores and consignment stores. After that it’s about looking for clothing on sale in regular stores, followed by buying and selling kids clothing on Ebay and finally making clothes for your kids… If you are interested in submitting your own tips on these topics please do so.

But now, back to this week… Hand-me-downs.

Jen says:

“Spread the word that you’re in the market for hand-me-downs. Most parents are glad to off-load the clothes their child has grown out of so you will be doing them a favour. As a child gets older they might get more fashion conscious and they wear out their clothes as the level of activity increases, so hand-me-downs are easier to obtain for younger children.”

Kiddley says:

I have a small group of friends who share kids’ clothing. Because our kids are all different ages and all born in different seasons things cycle around the group depending on need. Obviously we don’t share anything we aren’t prepared to lose to permanent staining, under the bed clothes-eating monsters or the kinder lost property box but it means there are good amounts of basic gear on hand for each new child.

Each family has stitched a small number of stitches in a bright coloured thread inside the back of the collars which indicates which family the clothing needs to be returned to. Our family is green, another is pink, another is purple and so on. Some of us do just write our initials on the label in the pen — but sometimes labels need to be cut off for comfort’s sake.

Drawbacks are that if you grow particularly attached to an item (as I did with one set of pajamas that didn’t belong to us but became synonymous with Amelia’s babyhood in my mind) you need to either let it go or lean on your friendship a little to keep it. Also things do start to get rather worn and stained so the pile needs replenishing from time to time and favourite pieces hit the rag bag sooner than otherwise.

I make sure I always buy nice new clothes to give to one particular family’s kids for birthdays who happen to be the oldest and the front of the queue, not so that we will end up inheriting them, but as a kind of thank you for their trail-blazing kindness.

Jen’s quite right about hand-me-downs being more common for babies and toddlers. Not only do the clothes of older children wear out more quickly, they also stop growing so quickly and tend to wear their clothes over a longer period of time so the supply starts to dry up!

18 Responses to “Dressing your child on a budget – Part One: Hand-me-downs”

  1. amanda

    Some friends of mine started a community kids clothing swap, held bimonthly in our city. Families bring clothing they’ve outgrown and simply swap it for clothes in the size they need. It’s where a lot of my kids clothes have come from…and it feels so good to be passing it around…and around…and around.

  2. emira

    When a good friend of mine had a baby, she was given an entire series of boxes the parent of a child she teaches. Not only was it an incredibly generous set of hand-me downs from a mom who knew she didn’t have any others in her future, it was outrageously well organized. She had separated out boxes into ages (sizes) and included in each a few toys appropriate for that age as well. My friend was able to put it all in storage and every 3-6 months go back and open up a new box of surprises.

  3. Annonymous

    I recently got into a bit of a pickle with a “friend” of mine. She was kind enough to give me a big box of rather nice hand me downs-mostly high end stuff. This big batch of clothes constituted my six year old daughter’s wardrobe. Over the course of the last 18 months I gave Sara back the clothing that was still in fairly good shape. The clothes that were not in such great condition I threw away or sent to the Salvation Army. She phoned the other day asking for ALL the hand me downs to be given back to her. I explained that some were worn out or given to charity…she was livid and said that I needed to take better care of the clothes! I in turn explained that she should have clearly stated that she wanted them all back REGARDLESS of the condition they are in…and that I have a hard time telling my daughter she can’t play in the jeans that were handed down to her…or scold her for spilling juice on the Ralph Lauren t-shirt that once belonged to Alex…

  4. Baby Cheapskate

    How excitiing! I love this topic! It just doesn’t make sense to buy pricey new clothes for a baby.

    We were fortunate enough to be recipients of used / bought but never worn baby clothing from a woman with a nasty penchant for buying expensive baby clothes. So much of the stuff still had the tags on it!

    I very rarely buy new kids clothes. I love consignment stores and sales as well as the thrift store. It’s not unusual for my 11 month old to be wearing a Baby Gap outfit that cost Mommy less than $5! I have a list of my favorite cheap-clothes places at http://babycheapskate.blogspot.com if you’d like to check it out.

    If you don’t have any clothing benefactors, you can often find bags of free clothes on Freecycle.org.

  5. WildSnowflake

    Free clothes can also be had by checking local websites.

    For example, http://craigslist.org has a free section. Also, your local “freecycle” email group will often have members wanting to pass on children’s clothing (and toys). Check http://freecycle.org and Yahoo groups for more info. Then you just email “dibs” on the clothing and pick it up from your fellow member’s home/job.

  6. Anamaria

    My son wears clothes handed down from (in some cases, through) his three cousins almost exclusively. I didn’t realize what a savings this was until we had a daughter! Fortunately, people like to buy clothes for little girls.

    The hardest thing for me is to organize the flow of clothes so that I don’t forget about the boots that will fit Leo two winters from now and have a place to put his outgrown jeans and sweatshirts until they fit Milly. I have a box “system” that amounts to two overflowing boxes and would love some organizational tips!

  7. sarah

    I love this topic – i always buy my kids really nice outfits for special occasions, however, my son will wear things only once or twice before outgrowing them so we pass them on to friends who love to get ralph lauren cords or vests – my daughter on the other hand loves to dress up -so I often let her wear her nice clothes whenever she wants even if she is just going to preschool or grandmas. i also save all of her stuff in hopes of making a quilt someday.

    my dilema though is i gave/lent a neighbor a kelty kid carrier when my kids outgrew it – it was in excellant condition – but then what do you know surprise baby no. 3 appeared and i wanted it back – do i ask for it – should she offer it – or is it a wash?

  8. Zoe


    Just to reiterate what WildSnowflake said – Freecycle ( http://freecycle.org ) is great – and international. I’ve used it lots here in the UK, and not just for babyclothes. It’s also a good place if you want to hand on servicable baby equipment/clothes yourself, either because taking them to a charity shop is difficult (we don’t have a car so transporting items is difficult), or because you like the ethical dimension of simply giving stuff away to people who need it.

  9. Cathi

    Unfortunately, I’m on the donor not the beneficiary side in all this. But I now have a hand-me-down dilemma…excessive amoungst of background follow: I have a 6 year old daughter whose clothes I mostly sell on ebay when outgrown; I give favourites which I want used by someone I know to a friend’s daughter (and various baby clothes to various people); I’ve kept absolute ‘special’ classic toddler dresses in case my newly-acquired sister-in-law has a daughter. Which is all fine.

    I also have a nearly 3 year old son. I dealt with my initial disappointment over not having another daughter by seeking out (and managing to find) the highly unusual in terms of clothing for my son (courtesy very much of ebay designers, thank you all!). So far, I have handed down his outgrown clothing to a friend with very little money whose son is a year younger. But now my brother-in-law has married and plans to have children.

    My dilemma is this – should I save my son’s beautiful clothing in case my brother and sister-in-law have a son in the near future? Or continue to give it to my friend, whose finanical need is greater, but who never goes anywhere (she is about to have baby number two -a girl) and may well end up with a very overdressed little boy.

    My friend has given back the stuff that she’s used and no longer needs so far, and I’ve told her that if stuff gets written off in the course of her son using it, then so be it. But she says that she doesn’t want anything else that we might want passed back eventually, she doesn’t feel up to being organised enough to keep track of all the stuff (or having to store it – she lives 800 kilometres from me). I want her to have the use of it rather than it possibly sitting around in a box for ages – my brother-in-law may not be able to have children, or may have girls – but I guess I’d like to be able to pass it on to my brother-in-law too! Can’t have it both ways…

    My husband couldn’t care less what I do – he doesn’t care for his sister-in-law particularly, and he knows that my friend’s chances of being able to ever buy nice clothes for her son are about zero. And I’ve been happy to pass stuff onto her…but as my son’s clothing has entered the hand-embroidered area of clothing, I think that I now feel a bit more ‘clingy’ about it (and no, I’m not insane in dressing him like this, a lot of it’s turned out to be very, very durable!). I guess that I want someone to have it who will really love it – but I do not know anyone who shares my obsession for little boy clothes.

    So for those of you who have received, or hope to receive, hand-me-downs from family members, any suggestions?

    My answer to Sarah’s dilemma above (an often-encountered one amongst my circle of friends!) is that yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask if your circumstances change, just phrase in the “if you don’t need it anymore?” way.


  10. island Jen

    I’ve always been a huge fan of thrift stores. Children grow out of their clothing so fast that the stores are full of virtually new items. I have pulled many a cute outfit together for a mere dollar or two.
    I also follow a simple rule of never buying kids clothing that’s not in a bargain bin. Simple as that.
    As far as I’m concerned- only hand down clothes you never expect to see again… if you want them back perfect- don’t give them away in the first place!

  11. shannon


    Just had to send in my opinion on your dilemma.

    If you know someone who will use and love the clothes you give them I would give them as much stuff as possible. So often people are quite picky about what their kids wear, so even if you have great clothing to hand down it might sit in a closet if the person has even slightly different tastes.

    Also, if your brother-in-law doesn’t need hand me downs he may not want them. (Sad to say, I know!) We have friends who are the last of the lot to have a baby and they’ve mentioned that they wish they didn’t get so many hand me downs because they feel uncomfortable not using perfectly good clothing, but that they never get to pick out anything new that they love for their son.

    Good luck with everything!

  12. Rachel

    I’m upset! I had talked with my neighbor about clothes. She mentioned she scored at a garage sale for her daughters clothes. I am currently pregnant and I mentioned to her, “If I have a boy, I will give you my daughters clothes. I have saved them all and they are in great condition.” After that talk, about a month later I found out I was having a boy. So I packed up all my girl stuff and sent it her way. Mind you, I didn’t give her anything that had marks or stains on it- that stuff I actually either threw away or gave to Goodwill. I gave my neighbor a huge !HUGE! gift bag filled with my daughters clothes. Do you think she even said, “Thanks”??? I also have to mention that with my first child, I wouldn’t even think about hand me downs or garage sale items. So everything I had was brand new, brand name. This time around, I’m definitely more relaxed and feel it is a great idea for sale, used, hand me down clothing. I could have sold the stuff at a yard sale or eBay. But I gave it all to her for free asking for nothing in return. I guess the only thing I want is a “Thank You”. I feel bitter, upset, mad. I guess my feelings are hurt that she didn’t even thank me. Maybe I should have given them to someone else. I guess I feel my act of generousity was unappreciated. I wanted to give because so many people have given to me. (free maternity clothes!) Signing out as bitter, mad and just plain hurt.

  13. Ash

    Living overseas we don’t really have a network of friends and family that we can swap between, but I have some tips. My boys are 2.5 years apart.

    I try and buy decent brands for the first child. This is because I noticed that they last through 2 kids much better than cheaper brands, and I mean *much* better, especially now that they’re getting older.

    I avoid those character printed t-shirts like the plague unless they’re embroidered or screen printed. That ironed on stuff just comes off in the wash and it comes off if they happen to go in the dryer by mistake. Then you get stuff happening like half of Scrat (Ice Age) hanging off the t-shirt and looking unseemly.

    I buy similar colours for both of them so that the hand-me-downs work well with newer bits of wardrobe for the younger one. If you have mainly neutrals you can always pop in a few colourful accents bought new in the seasons to help pep it up a bit.

    We have a problem with them growing at different rates though so one is out of season to the other one – horrible when you have a 50 euro winter coat to hand down and the little one has grown out of it by the next winter. So, if you’re going to plan for hand-me-down clothing expect some things not to work.

    I don’t hand-down shoes. They’re always uncomfortable for the second child.

    I keep all outgrown clothing in a box with a computer printed list on the top so that when someone needs something i can consult the list first before consulting my credit card 😉

    When I take something out I cross it off the list on top, and periodically I update the list (end of summer, end of winter) on the computer and print a new one. If I buy new stuff on sale that is a few sizes too big still I note it on the list too.

    The list on top of each box specifies what the item of clothing is, the season its for and the size.

  14. Kiddley » Blog Archive » Dressing your child on a budget - Part Two: Buying second-hand

    […] Last week we looked at Hand-me-downs and next week’s article will be on looking for clothing on sale in regular stores, followed by buying and selling kids clothing on Ebay and finally making clothes for your kids… If you are interested in submitting your own tips on these future topics please do so. If you have any tips for this week or last week’s topics please leave them in the comments. This week we are exploring the intoxicating world of buying kids’ clothes second-hand. […]

  15. Kiddley » Blog Archive » Dressing your child on a budget - Part Three: Sales

    […] In the first week we looked at Hand-me-downs while last week we had lots of great pointers from Jen and other Kiddley readers on buying second hand kids’ clothes. Next week’s article will be about buying and selling kids’ clothes on Ebay and finally making clothes for your kids… If you are interested in submitting your own tips on these future topics please do so. If you have any tips for this week or the first two weeks’ topics please leave them in the comments. […]

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