Kitting out the kids: save/spend

It’s ridiculously easy to spend big bucks on your small fry’s clothing, but there are actually countless ways of saving without compromising where it matters. Pippa Henderson helps bridge the gap between wallet and wardrobe.

I was a child of the eighties, but in terms of clothes, the seventies still had our family firmly in its grips. I fondly recall pale blue corduroy flares with ric rac ribbon hems, flannel shorts, homemade pinafores and even some kind of large collared sailor suit. I was the third of four children, and my parents had a tight budget, so I spent most of my childhood in either homemade clothes or hand-me-downs. I was quite happy with this until the age of about ten, when a friend’s pair of Adidas stirrup tracksuit pants and kung fu shoes caught my eye, and my complaints began: “I’m over hand-me-downs Mum! I want new stuff, my own stuff, choice stuff!” Now a mother of three myself, I cringe at the pressure that must have put on my parents. A lot has changed in the world of kids’ clothing since the 1980s, aside from sewing machines and ric rac gathering dust on the shelves. Unfortunately most kids are a lot younger than ten before they have a loaded opinion about the style and quality of their clothes. Sure kids’ clothes are now imported en masse, making them more widely available and significantly cheaper, but now the cost of living is comparatively higher, and most families are looking to make savings wherever they can.


Hand-me-downs. Unfortunately you can’t really orchestrate being the recipient of hand-me-downs - it’s up to friends, neighbours and relatives who they pass their used clothing on to. I feel blessed that we’ve received bags from a number of sources of the years, so I make sure I pass that blessing on as much as I can, even storing clothes my kids’ have outgrown for their younger cousins in other cities – and then passing them on when we visit. The benefits of this are not just financial. Call us sentimental but our family really enjoys it when quality items like denim jackets and GAP hoodies really go the distance. It’s fun watching them bounce down from cousin to cousin, and seeing the string of names on the name tags.

Just a few words of advice when it comes to pass ons:

  • Go through the bag before your kids do. My daughter used to receive hand-me-downs from a family with very different tastes to ours, and she managed to rummage before I did. It felt cruel to ban her from wearing ‘new’ clothes she was excited about, but the alternative was painful – watching her wearing clothes I really didn’t like.
  • Have a storage system. We receive so many pass ons from our extended family I have a stack of plastic storage boxes in the garage, each one clearly labeled with each kid’s name, filled with clothes I am waiting for them to grow into. I have a separate box for all of their potential shoes though, as even slightly-used shoes can be a bit smelly. I look through each box at the start of each season, and then only go shopping to fill in the gaps. This saves me both rummage time and money, and ensures my kids don’t end up growing out of the pass ons before we’ve even found them. If you are storing clothes for a few years down the line, be more selective on what you keep. Has it really got a lot of wear left in it? Raincoats, pyjamas and board shorts don’t seem to date, but strong colours and fads do.

Outlet malls. You can’t depend on outlet malls to stock your kids’ wardrobes as sometimes the size and style range is really limited. But if there is an outlet store near you it is worth dropping from time to time, as you may hit a well-stocked store with some real bargains. When I do get lucky I often stock up for the following season, pick up bits and bobs for nieces and nephews and presents for the kids’ friends as well.

Auckland: Dress Smart, Onehunga.

Hamilton: Dress Smart, The Base Retail Park.

Wellington: Outlet City, Tawa.

Christchurch: Dress Smart, Hornby.

End of season sales. Farmers often have 50% off sales that are well worth it if you have a long list of essentials to tick off, or you like to buy a few items in advance. But be aware it’s easy to overspend in these environments. Do you your kids actually need another t-shirt or hoody, and will they actually like it?

Warehouse clearance sales. These seem to be few and far between, but NZ Sale and Glassons are two large companies that do these, so keep your eyes peeled for their next one. It can be a bit of a bun fight, but most items sell for just $5, $10, and $15.

Secondhand shops. My kids haven’t inherited my love of a good old-fashioned second-hand shop, but when they were babies and toddlers I frequented Wellington charity shops to scout out good staples – like quality winter boots and jackets and hand-knitted winter woolies.

It’s also well worth attending school uniform secondhand sales. Secondhand fleeces and jackets sell for about a third of their original price and are sometimes as good as new.

Name your kids' items. Most of us have learnt this the hard way – spending $60 on a kid’s school fleece or jacket, and finding it’s mysteriously disappeared within the week. Naming is literally a five-minute job that could save you hundreds of dollars over the years.

Mend things, darn it! It’s almost an old-fashioned concept, but don’t let this art die out! It’s not actually hard to thread a needle and sew on a button. There’s a little bit of an art to adjusting a hem, so visit your local clothing alteration shop if necessary. It will still most likely be cheaper than buying a brand new replacement. 


Protective clothing. When you’re up against the elements, it pays to push the budget if you can. A winter in the south demands a quality winter jacket, and warm weather-tight boots. And due to New Zealand’s depleted ozone layer, we all need to fork out for generous and plentiful sun hats, and rash vests for summer trips to the beach. 

Hard wearing school shoes. Even though kiwi kids love to go barefoot, the reality is your kids are in them five days a week, and they need to be supportive and comfortable. But before you blow the budget, make sure your kids actually like the style.

Easy-to-wear shoes for pre-schoolers. Even if it costs a bit more, go for sneakers and boots with Velcro fastenings instead of laces. The time I have wasted struggling to put on toddler’s shoes in a hurry has been far more precious than the money it would have cost to buy more user friendly shoes. Sure they need to learn to tie their own laces, but there’s a time and place for that – not every morning when you’re trying to get out of the house.

Warm pyjamas and baby sleeping bags. You just can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep. Merino is the ultimate fabric as it's both insulating and breathable. Choose the appropriate rating for the season you're in.

A few brand new items for the kids who live in hand-me-downs. It’s a real treat for children who usually receive all their clothes pre-loved to spend a little time at the shops actually picking out a few brand-spanking items. I've never forgotten falling in love with a purple button-down top in a shop window when I was kid, and Mum actually buying it for me! I recently took my youngest child clothes shopping for a change, and he was over the moon selecting what he liked from the racks. His absolute favourite was an $11 'cool dude' t-shirt, proving he has way better taste than his mother, and hopefully an eye for a bargain at that.



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