From the book in progress, “On A Budget: The good housekeeper’s guide to economizing.”
The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping, time management, mending clothing, cooking, vouchers and coupons and staycations. This one is from the chapter “Clothes”.
Buying clothing for children can get pretty expensive. They grow out of everything incredibly quickly in the first few years of life, then they need school clothing, dress clothing and “I want that” clothing and, to boot, they wreck everything within days of getting it. I’m sure that every parent has gone through buying both very cheap and very easy-to-clean items, to minimize cost, but there are various other methods that parents (and messy adults) can employ to get the most clothing for the money they spend.
Avoid Unnecessary Clothes.
First of all, needless to say, is to avoid unnecessary clothes. Everybody thinks they do, but with children it’s harder.
First Unnecessary Clothing Category: a child under the age of five doesn’t need designer or fashionable clothing. You may WANT them to wear it, but a child of that age is not going through the mental processes or peer-pressure that lead to a love of fashion. Not yet. If you want to buy your child the latest and best, that’s up to you. But bear in mind that they will grow out of it quickly, it will need replacing frequently, it may never be used again in the family, the child doesn’t care if it looks trendy and, besides, babies and small children look adorable in everything. Ever seen a baby in Crocs or a sleeveless vest? Still cute.
Second Unnecessary Clothing Category: in the same vein, shoes on a child that isn’t walking serve one purpose and one alone: keeping the feet warm and clean. They do not have to have solid soles (in fact, it’s healthier for children to first learn to walk barefoot or in socks, not in solid shoes), be made out of leather or anything of the sort. Sandals for babies make no sense to me. If it’s so warm that the shoes can have holes in them and the baby isn’t walking yet, there’s no reason to put shoes on.
Third Unnecessary Clothing Category: too many of the same thing. When you first have a child you will need to go a bit overboard with the number of clothes it uses, especially if you have a weekly or twice-weekly laundry schedule. Small babies… let’s just say they “produce” a lot of nasty stuff and get it all over them (and you). But it’s important not to keep buying the same number of clothes when they get bigger. A two-month-old baby in a household that does laundry twice a week may need at least 14-20 tops, because it will soil at least two a day to a degree where you have to put it in the laundry. But slightly older children have fewer and fewer accidents and their staining of their clothes is more down to paint or ketchup, which, unlike poop, can be put in the laundry at the end of the day and not immediately. And, as children grow so quickly, you will find yourself replacing 20 tops every time they grow, until you notice that, between the ages of three and four you got them 40 tops and there are still 5 new with tags on and 15 they hardly wore at all, all of which are now too tiny.
Fourth Unnecessary Clothing Category: accessories with no practical function. This can get very hard as the child gets older and wants more things, but it’s important to remember that having a few hundred pairs of clip-on earrings your daughter no longer wears is an expense you could really do without. Try and balance it out by getting the odd nicer or more practical item, like a little handbag or a cute watch.
If you avoid all of these and stick to the right number of tops, bottoms and underwear to last them until they next grow, don’t get designer items, start buying solid shoes when the child is actually walking and keep accessories simple and functional, you’ll be well on your way to saving a lot of money on baby items.
If you’ve already had one child of the same gender or stuck to gender-neutral clothing, then your new baby or younger child could benefit from using the old clothes of the previous child. Again, because children grow out of clothes so quickly and are changed so often when young, the clothes are rarely particularly damaged. As long as they aren’t stained or torn, they’re likely fine for wearing again. This practice becomes harder as the child gets older and wears a certain item of clothing for longer, but is a very practical way of getting your money’s worth out of baby clothes. For this reason, it may actually be better to buy gender-neutral clothes until the child wants to wear something else, so as to make the most use of them.
Another way of saving money during the stages when a baby grows very fast is to buy adjustable clothes. Some items of clothing are hard to do this with, but skirts, onesies, pajamas and coats are good examples of clothes you can easily adjust that aren’t uncomfortable for the child. Adjustable clothing often just includes extra fabric and buttons at different heights, making it easy to size-up when needed. You can buy pretty much any clothes as adjustable ones today, but, if the cost dissuades you, try getting the clothing three sizes up and converting it to make it adjustable for all three sizes. You can also always do the traditional thing and get clothes that are a bit big or elasticated so that the child can grow into them. The ideal is to skip a few clothing sizes each time; so from 0-4 months the child can wear the same clothes, rather than one set of 0-2 and one of 0-4 and from 1-3 years old the child can wear two sizes rather than three or four.
This is especially important for older babies and toddlers. They will get food, sick and ink on anything you let them near. It is believed that the common toddler, in the absence of something sticky, will start producing a sticky substance from glands under its skin to make everything sticky anyway. The best way to avoid a transfer of sticky and staining items from a child onto its clothes is to make these clothes as easy to clean as possible. Get t-shirts with big, elaborate acrylic designs on them, as these wipe clean easily. Encourage the wearing of small raincoats when painting or drawing and bibs when eating. Make sure the child owns waterproof trousers and wellies for playing in the garden. If necessary, get a waterproof coating kit and coat their most frequently used clothes. Anything to make it so you can just wipe their clothes clean, rather than hand-scrub, use them only for romping or throwing them away.
Make or Customize Your Own.
The final option is to customize children’s clothes the same way you do your own. If they get a tear, stick a patch or badge or button on it. If they get a huge ink stain, try tie-dye. If they shred the cuffs, replace them.
It’s also very easy and reasonably cheap to make your own baby and toddler clothes, due to their size. You can get printable patterns online that fit standard A4 printer paper and use old clothes, blankets and small scraps of cloth to make gorgeous baby clothes. They’re also quicker to make, again, due to their size.
You can even get the children involved when they’re older, having them pick their own designs to paint over stains on their t-shirts and help glue down animal-shaped patches over tears. They’ll love it, so it would help with the inevitable problem of children becoming bored when you need to mend their clothes. It could also dissuade older children from staining or tearing their clothes if they’re involved in the cleaning or mending of them.