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How I Save Big Money on My Kid’s Clothes

One dad's seven secrets to scoring brand-name gear on the cheap.

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The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

I confess my heresy upfront: I enjoy shopping for my toddler’s clothing. Well, let me be clear. I enjoy shopping for my toddler’s clothing and making sure I get a deal. When your shopping habit is as bad as mine, you have to do everything in your power to stretch your dollar as far as it goes.

For a long time, I relied on the standard ways of saving money. I shopped at consignment stores, hit annual/biannual clothing swaps, and hunted for discounts online. When my kid left the crawling stage, however, my tastes started to get more sophisticated. And, yes, I wanted to see him in the dreaded brand name apparel. When you’re a two-dad household, the stakes are high, the pressure (self-imposed and otherwise) is astronomical, and your kid has to look spectacular (OK, fabulous, if you will) whenever he steps outside. So, I had to develop a system to clothe him in the way I wanted to clothe him, and not break the bank.

With patience, some careful planning, and a lot of research, I figured out how to buy new, brand name clothing at substantial savings. Here are the seven things I do to save money and keep my kid looking fresh:

Sign Up For Promotional Emails

Whenever I visit a retailer’s website, the first thing I do is sign up for their promotional emails. Honestly, it’s hard to miss the pop-up offer on most sites these days: Sign-Up and Get 20% Off Your First Purchase; 15% Off for a Week. Rather than ignoring the prompts, I’ve set up a secondary email account for shopping and use it for my discounts. The secondary email helps me separate promotions from personal email. The sign-ups bring all sorts of valuable offers, including percentage-off coupons, sales announcements, “secret” sales, and special offers exclusively to their email subscribers. If you’re not on the list, you don’t get the offer ⏤ simple as that. And the best part: “Special” offers are often stackable on top of discounts already being advertised online. So, you can add another 10-20 percent off to the 40-percent discount you’re already getting!

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Shop End of Season

The best markdowns are often held back until the end of a particular season. By timing things just right, you can buy “for next year” at substantial savings. Winter coats, especially, go for 60-75-percent off at the end of the season. In fact, this winter, my kid will be wearing a $250 winter coat I bought for $35 at the beginning of the year. Yes, paying $250 for a size 3T winter coat is insane. Paying $35 is not.

I also like to keep plastic crates labeled with sizes for the clothing I buy in advance. For example, my kid is currently a size 2T. I have plastic crates labeled 3T and 4T in which I throw my bargains. That way they’re organized for when he’s big enough to wear them.

Use Store Credit Cards

Retailers are desperate to keep your loyalty. Shop in stores where you get a discount simply for using their branded credit cards. This discount is also stackable! Just don’t forget to pay off your purchases at the end of the month ⏤ the interest will eat up any savings.

Price Match Plus

If I like an item in a store, I almost always use my phone to quickly see if it’s sold cheaper elsewhere. If so, I usually inform the cashier that “I can buy this at ABC store for $X,” show them on my phone, and ask if they will both match the price and give me an additional 20 percent off? Price matching is standard at most retailers now so I assume a retailer will match. I ask for the additional discount because, well, why should I do business with them? The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. I’ve had a lot of success with retailers countering with an additional 10-percent off the matched price.

Be Nice to Salespeople

We should treat everybody well at all times. In the rush of daily life, however, we sometimes forget. When talking to salespeople, I smile, make eye contact and engage them in conversation. Once I establish a rapport, I’m not afraid to ask them for an additional discount — especially in small boutiques and “mom/pop” shops. These smaller stores are ripe for relationship building. Relationships are good for them; and, good for you. Salespeople are also a wonderful resource for insider knowledge on upcoming sales, discounts, and unadvertised markdowns.

Know What’s Really a ‘Sale’

A lot of stores these days offer year-round discounts masquerading as big one-time “sales.” Which means if you’re buying on sale, you’re actually paying full price. And if I pay full price, I’ve paid too much ⏤ and they’ve taken advantage of me. Knowing this, I wait for additional sales. Then I stack coupons and use my store credit card.

Shop the Outlets, But Beware

Yes, I can find great stuff at the outlets; often at substantial savings. However, buyer beware. Retailers have wised up. Many, and I mean many, retailers have started making clothing directly for their outlets, often at a lesser quality than they sell at their non-discounted stores. Just recently, I fell into this trap. The t-shirts that I bought for a great price at the outlet were not made from the same Pima Cotton as those in their traditional stores. Needless to say, I returned the outlet t-shirts and am waiting for the right time to buy the t-shirts I actually want. So, compare apples to apples. Make sure that what you are buying is what you actually want to buy.

Alexander Fernández shares a home with his husband and two-year-old toddler in Arlington, Virginia. He is a freelance writer, sometime theater director, and amateur photographer.