Kids’ Consignment: Buyer Side

Kids are expensive. The latest Department of Agriculture report averages the cost of raising a child at a cool quarter mil through age 17. Yikes. In the full report, you see clothing makes up 6% of total child-rearing expenditures.

Lino et al, 2017, USDA, Expenditures on Children by Families

It’s the smallest category in the graph, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. It probably feels pretty damn significant when you go to dress your child in winter and OH MY GOD WHY ARE THESE PANTS NOW CAPRIS?! The constant turnover in clothing is downright demoralizing. To bring that quarter mil down a bit, more toward a number that won’t cause night sweats, you should come to learn and love the world of kids’ consignment.

There are two kinds of consignment shopping experiences: the year-round storefront and the recurring and/or pop-up sale. Before you read on, you should make sure there’s at least one of these near you. I did a quick check and there are both a recurring sale and a year-round storefront in Alaska, so if your state is lacking, maybe it’s time for you to become an entrepreneur and capitalize on an untapped market!

Year-round Storefront

In my region there’s a store called “Once Upon a Child”. It’s about the size of a Dollar Tree, with racks of clothes four tiers high, from preemie/newborn to youth size 20. They also have a literal wall of toys, a wall of shoes, and every aisle’s racks are topped with play tables, bounce seats, and other baby gear.

This being a buyer’s side post, I can’t tell you how they run their consigning process, I can only tell you that items are priced based on a combination of type, brand, and condition. A t-shirt could be $2.50 or $7.50, depending on the brand and condition. So already you’re looking at decent prices, but the most frugal of shoppers will wait until the store has a sale to really make a killing. At my store, the best sale of the year comes one day each January (updated 7/13/17 – there is a July Grab Bag sale this weekend!), where all clearance items are 75% off until 4 pm, soaring up to 90% off after 4. Leave your child(ren) at home and bring a bag (no carts in this store) and go crazy! Here is last month’s 90% off haul: three winter coats (one LL Bean), a Colts cheerleader outfit (husband is a fan, I say E-A-G-L-E-S), two bathing suits, two rash guards, two t-shirts, two pants, one short-sleeved cardigan, one tank, and one jammies set.


Grand total? $14 and change. Only $8 if you subtract the three items on the bottom row which weren’t on sale. EIGHT DOLLARS for three winter coats alone is madness, let alone the rest. This is what frugal dreams are made of, my friends.

Recurring and/or Pop-up Sales

These sales are like your local storefront times 10, and they’re a great place to find big items (strollers, pack ‘n plays, infant swings). The one local to me runs for three days: if you want the big stuff you have to go the first day. I once scored a basic Graco pack ‘n play in excellent condition for $15. If you’re just looking for deals and don’t have a specific item in mind, go on the last day when most items are half-off. These sales have a crazy amount of clothes, many more toys than the storefront, plus they have a huge book selection which is almost non-existent at Once Upon a Child. I’ve found the pricing to be on par with the store, so the reason I go out of my way for this sale is for the big items or the half-off day. Hint: This sale is also a great place to find new/still wrapped items to stockpile for birthday parties throughout the year!

Rules for Consignment Shopping

The rules are simple and they are few (and they are almost identical to the rules of thrifting in general):

  1. Bring a reusable shopping bag/tote: carts are not available at either of my local consignment options, and as mentioned above I suggest leaving the stroller at home (but if you have no choice, the storage area and handles help!) A reusable shopping bag lets you sling your finds over your shoulder and keeps your hands free for nabbing deals.
  2. Inspect the merchandise: unlike a thrift store or garage sale, consignment operators are usually a little pickier, so you don’t have to be on the lookout for horribly stained garments. But you will see “play clothes” and items with some wear and tear, so just make sure the price matches the condition, otherwise – back to the rack it goes.
  3. Don’t buy too far ahead: I’m always tempted to shop the next few sizes (especially with winter coats and boots) but especially at a young age it’s a big gamble to assume your kid will move predictably through the corresponding age sizes and seasons. This is only my first child so maybe I’m overly cautious, but my rule of thumb is not to buy anything larger than the next size up.
  4. Grab first, consider later: So far I’ve left out the part about how these shops and sales can be crowded and (occasionally) cut-throat. If you pause on a cute holiday number but keep walking, then later decide that you really need that red plaid suspenders and bow-tie set, chances are another frugal parent has already spirited the outfit away. Your best bet is to take items YOU THINK YOU MIGHT WANT, then do a little inventory before you get in line. Then, etiquette says you should put unwanted items back where you got them, or at least give them back to staff at the register so they can re-stock. (In re-reading this a few months later, I realize it looks like I’m advocating for nasty hoarding. I’ve gone back and capitalized and underlined an important distinction. I do not condone just clearing racks Supermarket Sweep-style and then leaving your unwanted items in a pile in a corner. Be thoughtful and fair to other parents trying to save a buck.)
  5. Charge your phone, bring a snack, bring hydration: Typically the lines are LONG, and shopping while in line is generally frowned upon. Be prepared to spend 30 minutes or more waiting to check out, unless you have a shopping buddy you can convince to wait in line for you. (Note: line holding is risky in its own right, because then you’re on a time limit, and fellow shoppers may throw serious shade if you show up at the last second with a mountain of items!) If you’re not feeling chatty with other customers, keep yourself occupied in line with Facebook, a granola bar, and/or water. That is, of course, if you’re not occupied enough by basking in the glory of your full shopping bag.

If you’ve shopped consignment before, I have to assume you’re a friend or family member because at this point I don’t know why you would still be reading. If you’ve never shopped (or heard of) consignment before, I hope this post inspires you to search for sales/stores near you. As an adult I have no problem wearing second-hand, but I know that’s not for everyone. But for kids? PLEASE! No one is asking your toddler “Who are you wearing?!?” so you might as well save yourself a boatload of money and stick that kid in hand-me-downs. Get that 6% of your child-rearing expenses down to 2%, and your kids will still be just as happy:

T-shirt, cardigan, and jeggings: $7 (non-clearance at storefront consignment)  Bathroom: entirely outdated


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