How to Dress a Toddler on the Cheap


Clothing a child feels like a full-time job sometimes. The minute you think her wardrobe is set, she grows some more! This is why I can’t bring myself to pay high prices for what my toddler wears, knowing that in a few short months the clothes will find their home in a clear plastic bin, awaiting future children. Also, I simply can’t afford high-priced clothing! But I don’t want my tight budget to keep me from dressing my child well. I value quality, comfort, and simple, timeless styles. And who doesn’t love dressing and accessorizing an adorable mini-human?!?!

I don’t think there will be anything revolutionary or earth-shattering about this post, but I’m asked a lot about how I save on children’s clothes so I’m here to tell you! I’m talking today about children’s clothes specifically, but many of these principles apply to shopping for adult clothes too. As I think about my methods for finding good deals, these eight things come to mind.

1. Frequently check clearance racks.

Before having my child, I had a rule for myself: “Don’t check clothing racks unless you’re looking for a specific item.” I used to get sucked into clothes shopping and would often end up buying things I didn’t truly need. This rule does help me as an individual, but I have found that it’s not practical when trying to clothe a child (who’s constantly growing) on a budget. You know how you always find things when you’re not looking for them and you can’t find what you need when you’re purposefully on the lookout (did that make sense)? I make a habit of checking clearance racks every single time I’m in or near my favorite stores. For example, I’m in Target weekly. As I’m doing my regular shopping, I quickly pop over to the baby/toddler clearance and take a peak. I have scored many deals (often on the next season’s items) by faithfully checking these racks. I consistently come away with items for between $2.00-$5.00 each. Our Old Navy is across town, so anytime I’m in that area, I try to make time to stop in and browse the racks. I purposefully don’t look through the entire store. Just the clearance. Old Navy has the best clearance racks out there in my experience. I rarely pay over $5 for an item of baby clothing there and often I pay less. Just a couple weeks ago, I stopped in at Old Navy and took 10 minutes to comb through the kids clearance rack and found a skirt and a pair of shoes for $3.44 total. Yes, you read that right! Those kind of deals aren’t a rarity if I’m faithful about checking.

2. Take advantage of extra-percent-off clearance.

Old Navy, Baby Gap, Carter’s and even Target occasionally offer extra discounts on top of their already reduced clearance. I am unsure of their schedules but I know that places like the Krazy Coupon Lady share all kinds of sale schedules. I’m not into intense couponing or heavily researching sales, but there is a lot of info out there if you’re interested. I find that being a consistent shopper is easier and more beneficial than tracking all the coupons and deals specifically. All of that makes my head spin! Target’s extra discounts usually come through their Cartwheel app. It seems like every couple of months they offer an extra 20% off clearance prices to clean out the previous season’s merchandise. Combine the already low prices with an extra amount off, and you can snag clothing items for a few dollars each! Old Navy and Baby Gap also occasionally offer an extra 30-40% off their clearance prices. In addition, Old Navy and Baby Gap (and maybe others) allow you to earn “cash” (depending on how much you spend) to use on future purchases (during specified dates). I recently spent $40 on baby clothes at Old Navy (all clearance of course) and I earned $10 in cash to use on a $25 purchase this week!

3. Buy a season ahead.

This probably goes without saying. I think every mama reading my post does this to some extent. It can be tricky to gauge what size your child might be by the time the next season hits. Sometimes it’s a guessing game. If you’re really unsure about whether or not a very summery item (such as a swimsuit) or very wintery item (such as a snow coat or boots) will fit your child during the next season, opt out. You’re not saving money if your child can’t wear it. But if it’s super, super cheap, it might be worth the risk! Especially if you can re-sell it to a friend or at a consignment sale in the event it doesn’t work. When buying a season ahead, I like to stick to multi-seasonal items. Three-quarter length shirts, lightweight sweaters, leggings, basics, and non-season-specific shoes are great things to stock up on for the next size because your child can get use out of them for at least 3/4 of a year (depending on your location’s climate). That way you’re not locked into guessing sizes for very season-specific items.

4. Be patient.

I often want to snag that adorable, must-have piece of clothing the moment it hits the clearance rack. But I know (especially with Target) that the item will likely be discounted further before too long. So sit it out. Especially if you frequent the store (aka Target – because I know you mamas live there just like I do)! At the end of the spring, I purchased a ton of toddler leggings at Old Navy for $0.47 or $0.97 each! I was at Old Navy two weeks ago and saw some toddler leggings on the clearance rack for about $3.00/pair. Now that’s still a great deal, but because of my past experience I’m going to wait it out and see if those prices drop this week! Being patient comes with the risk that the items you’re waiting for might sell before they hit the price you’re looking for. So if you find something you “can’t live without” go ahead and snag it before someone else does! Paying a few extra dollars is often worth it if you love it.

5. Stick to (mainly) versatile and classic pieces.

About 80% of my clothing purchases for my daughter would fit under the “versatile” umbrella. Neutrals, solids, stripes, cardigans, basic white onesies or shirts, a myriad of leggings and jeans, neutral outerwear, and items that can be mixed and matched really stretch the budget. But I do love to throw in an occasional less practical, less versatile piece just for the fun of it. There are so many cute prints out there! But I make them the exception rather than the rule. Accessorizing is the best (and often cheapest) way to incorporate spunk, color, and personality into your child’s wardrobe. Headbands, hair clips, tights, socks, and hats are generally cheaper than actual clothing pieces and they pack a punch!

6. Buy cheap on the whole and spend in the gaps.

I make it a point to start gathering the next season’s clothing by shopping strictly clearance at first. Once the season comes and you have stocked up on quite a few pieces on the cheap, go through what you have and write down a list of things you need to make the wardrobe complete. I have gathered a good portion of my daughter’s fall and winter wardrobe over the last 4-ish months. I have purchased a lot of leggings, jeans, a few sweaters, a jacket, some shoes, and some headbands. I am getting ready to write out a list of the items I need to fill in her wardrobe and make it complete. When I specifically write down these filler items I can be sure I’m spending my bigger (non-clearance) dollars on just what I need. I went online this past weekend and was able to fill in the gaps a bit while Old Navy was running their Labor Day sale. I scored 11 items for $60. Not dirt cheap (in my book) but it came out to $5.45/item and included a bunch of long-sleeved tees, a couple of fall dresses, a tunic sweater, and some dresses and play clothes for next summer.

7. Don’t forget online shopping.

Online shopping has become a life-saver in the recent past, especially since becoming a mom. We all love how easy it is to hop online during nap time and find and order what we need without loading up a child or children in the car and spending unnecessary hours hauling them around to various stores. I love a good, in-person shopping experience and being able to personally handle items before purchasing. But companies make it so easy to buy online and return (either online or in person) that the risk attached to online shopping is little to none. Old Navy, Baby Gap, Carter’s, etc. often run really great online sales, sometimes even offering free shipping! I think the best time for online sales are around holidays. Last spring, I stocked up for Kya’s current fall wardrobe during an online sale that Carter’s/Oshkosh was having. They offered an extra 40% off clearance items plus free shipping if you bought something from each store. I ended up scoring eight fall items (jeans, sweaters, shirts) for under $30! I’m also a huge fan of the Target Redcard which allows you free shipping on any amount. So it’s no big deal for me to order a bunch of clothes online and return what doesn’t work in-store!

8. Stick to your style.

 In clearance shopping, just like all shopping, I need to love the item I’m purchasing. It’s easy to throw an item in your basket just because it’s dirt cheap.  That’s always been a temptation for me. But if you don’t love it and you won’t use it, don’t buy it. Buy items that coordinate with things you already own. I’ve shopped for my 15-month old enough to know what stores I like and don’t like. I stick to these five main stores – Old Navy, Target, H&M, Carter’s, and Baby Gap. Target is the most convenient brick and mortar store for me. I’m there weekly (sometimes bi-weekly, ya hear me?!). They’ve just launched a new line of kids clothes called Cat and Jack. You guys, the pieces are ADORABLE. They’re the perfect blend of classic and hip. And the prices are really affordable, even at full price (but I still wait for sales). Our Old Navy is about a 20-minute drive but I’m in that area enough to stop in quite frequently. It’s probably my #1 store for kids clothes. Their style correlates with Baby Gap but the prices fit my budget! I also adore H&M’s style but I find that their retail prices are generally a bit more than I’m willing to pay (except for their basics). But they regularly fill their clearance racks and mark down most items to $3, $5, or $7 dollars. I have found many super-stylish clothing items there for mere dollars if I’m patient enough! I have a love-hate relationship with Carter’s. We don’t have one nearby but of course, many stores carry their brand. In recent months, I’ve noticed that they’ve been offering more classic-looking pieces than years ago. I pick and choose through Carter’s selection, gravitating toward items that emulate Old Navy or Gap’s style. They do offer a lot of great staple pieces, specifically onesies. Sticking to your style saves time because you won’t waste it at stores you don’t love. But sticking to your style also saves money because you’ll get the most use out of items you love!

Speaking of items I love, I wanted to finish up this post with links to a few of my current favorite shops!

Over the last few months, I’ve started purchasing bows from Zozu Baby. I have tried to stick to the most basic of their pieces and have found that they coordinate with my daughter’s outfits across the board. They aren’t cheap, so my first purchase was made with some of Kya’s birthday money. Then Zozu Baby ran an end-of-season sale and I was able to get bows for at least 50% off! Worth the wait. I’m in love with their products!

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve shared The Little Doe products quite a few times. We LOVE their moccasins. They retail for $15/pair (which is a great deal already) but often run $12.50/pair! My daughter was a very early walker and these moccasins were some of the first shoes she wore. They fit well and stayed on her tiny little feet. I just snagged a couple more pairs for the fall/winter over the Labor Day weekend. Follow “thelittledoebaby” on Instagram or “The Little Doe” on Facebook to stayed updated on deals!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. It was fun to write! I welcome your tips and tricks for getting great deals on stylish baby/toddler clothes. Please share! I don’t claim to be an expert or to totally have my act together in this area! I honestly just have so much fun dressing my little girl so I’ve adopted a budget-friendly way to do so!


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