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5 Ways to Save on Costs for Your Growing Toddler: Toys, Food & Clothes


If you’re lucky enough to be thrown one, baby showers represent an incredible way for cash-strapped parents to stock up on everything that a new arrival needs. Many showers produce an overwhelming amount of clothes and supplies for newborns and infants.

However, infants keep growing – and nobody throws you another shower when the baby turns one or two, leaving you to foot the bill alone on a new wardrobe and gear as your baby grows. Once children grow out of the stash of clothes from their baby shower, they still need new items regularly – every couple of months at a minimum, and it could be more frequently if your child grows quickly or if you live in an area with dramatic climate changes. The costs can add up quickly which makes it prudent, if not essential, to save money on toys, food, and clothes for your toddler.

How to Save Money on Baby Items

1. Scour Consignment and Thrift Shops

stack of used baby girl clothes

Consignment stores carry gently used clothing. The consignment store acts as a third party between the previous owner and future owner, and the store usually exercises a lot of judgment over which items are deemed worthy of being carried for sale. Thrift shops, on the other hand, aren’t as picky about what they accept, but can be great sources for incredibly steep discounts on lightly used items.

If you’re squeamish about purchasing used items, having kids might be just what you need to push you from a foe to a fan. Kids outgrow clothing so quickly that consignment shops are chock full of barely used clothes in excellent condition.

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Some consignment shops, such as Once Upon a Child, carry exclusively children’s items. Once Upon a Child stocks many items in addition to clothing, including cribs, toys, bouncers, strollers, shoes, costumes, and books. Other consignment shops may cater primarily to adults but have children’s sections. Call ahead to make sure children’s clothing and supplies are available.

It’s not unusual to get 80% or more off full retail prices for consignment items. This is a particularly good deal if you’re hooked on designer clothing for your little one. I recently scored Ralph Lauren Polo shirts in excellent condition for my toddler at a cost of only $3 apiece. The shirts cost $29.50 each if purchased new.

Unlike thrift shopping, consignment shopping isn’t limited to brick and mortar stores. Online consignment stores are increasingly popular. Here are several options to consider:

  • eBay is the original and largest online sales site, and while it’s not limited to consignment items, that’s the core of its business.
  • thredUP boasts a large collection of used clothing items available for up to 90% off retail. It includes items for adults as well as for babies, toddlers, and children.
  • stands out by offering used baby gear as well as toys and clothing, along with items for adults as well.
  • Second Chance Toys is devoted specifically to used kids’ toys.

2. Buy, Swap & Sell With Friends and Acquaintances

mother hanging baby clothes

If you have friends, family members, or neighbors who have children older than yours, you might be able to take advantage of their hand-me-downs. Many parents don’t bother to sell their kids’ outgrown clothing, toys, and supplies to a consignment shop or donate to a thrift shop. Instead, all those discarded items simply take up space in closets and basements. Don’t be afraid to ask around to see if any friends, family, or neighbors have items that they’re looking to get rid of.

If you’re worried that someone might feel taken advantage of, you can always offer to pay for the items or swap for something else, such as a gift certificate to a restaurant or a personal favor. In many cases, people are just happy to clear out the clutter and reclaim their extra space. You may even want to host a clothing swap party.

Friends or family members who aren’t sure if they’re done having children yet may be willing to simply loan clothing. I’ve had success with that approach, borrowing items from friends whose kids are staggered in age. I promised to return those items as soon as my son outgrows them. Of course, if anything happens to those items while they’re in my care, I’ll assume responsibility for replacing them.

3. Search for Used Goods Online

mom and toddler shopping for baby items online

Friends and acquaintances aren’t the only source for swapping or finding used goods within a community. Try these online sources where people can list what they’re trying to get rid of (or in search of):

  • Facebook Groups. Facebook is increasingly full of groups that allow neighbors and communities to swap and sell items. Sometimes you need to be invited to join a particular community-based sales groups, so ask trusted neighbors if they are members of any groups and if they can invite you to join. On these groups, community members look for items to buy, list their items to sell, and also post items they’re searching for. Community-based groups often run the gamut from free items, such as boxes of old books, to items for sale, such as clothing, cribs, and strollers.
  • Craigslist. The Internet-based, geographically oriented buying and selling market can be a great option for finding gently used items. However, Craigslist is no longer the only option. In many communities, there are an increasing number of platforms conducive to scoring great deals. Try alternatives such as Oodle and Adoos.
  • Nextdoor. Founded in 2011, Nextdoor is a community-based website that allows communities to create private groups for posting messages to be shared with the community. Residents use Nextdoor to post classified ads, buy, sell, barter, or trade items, post “curb alerts” notifying people of free items left out for the taking, and discuss various issues, such as lost pets, job opportunities, construction updates, and political information. If your community is on Nextdoor, you can join and subscribe to an email digest that may include the items you’re looking for, available for local pick-up.
  • Garage Sales, Both Real-Life and Virtual. Chances are, you’ve seen garage sales in your neighborhood, and these can be a great resource for used items. However, there is an increasing number of “online” garage sales, which means you don’t have to spend your Saturday driving around town. Ask around to find out if your community has an online garage sale site. If there isn’t one, perhaps you can start one.
  • Freecycle. Freecycle is a site dedicated entirely to keeping household and personal items (such as clothes, entertainment items, tools, and home furnishings) out of landfills by encouraging people to give them away for free instead. Items on Freecycle aren’t always in tip-top condition, but you sure can’t beat the price.

4. Use What You Already Have

a kid playing in a cardboard box

Advertisers would love you to believe that you need special cereal, special snacks, and special toys in order to feed and entertain your children. In truth, you can get away with taking advantage of many items that you already have in your house.

For example, try the following:

  • Mix Your Own Yogurt. Don’t be fooled by fancy branding aimed at children. Kids’ yogurt is just sweetened yogurt. You can buy generic plain yogurt and stir in fresh fruit for a healthier, cheaper option. Buy frozen fruit in bulk to save even more.
  • Make Regular Food Fun. Instead of prepackaged kids’ snacks and lunches, make regular, cheaper food more fun. Use a cookie cutter to make fun-shaped pancakes. Make teddy bear toast by using banana slices for ears and a nose, and add blueberries for eyes. Get creative and you can make eating healthy fun for your kids.
  • Repurpose Household Items Into Toys. You might have heard the saying that kids often like the box that the present came in more than the present itself. Use that philosophy to repurpose safe, everyday items into toys. For example, instead of buying a fancy kids’ kitchen toy (which would also take up a lot of space), simply choose a few safe cooking tools from your own kitchen, such as a spatula and a plastic bowl. Ask your children to “help” you cook and they’re likely to be excited to use real cooking tools – to the point where they won’t even miss the expensive, space-hogging kids’ kitchen.

5. Sign Up for Email Lists for Coupons and Deals

young mom using computer

It can pay off big-time to sign up for your favorite kids’ retailer’s mailing list, as coupons and special deals may be frequently offered. For clothing, try Carter’s, Osh Kosh B’Gosh, and Old Navy. To find discounted activities, sign up to receive notices from daily deal websites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. And, when it comes to toys, it’s hard to beat Target and Toys ‘R’ Us.

If there’s a retailer you frequently shop at, ask if it has a mailing list that features coupons and information on sales. If you sign up and change your mind, you can always unsubscribe.

Final Word

There’s no denying that kids are expensive. However, that doesn’t mean you have to empty your pockets for brand-new items that they’ll churn through in one or two uses and then quickly outgrow.  A little creativity and advanced planning can go a long way toward saving money on essential supplies – and some not-so-essential fun stuff too.

Last-minute shopping can spell doom for your budget. If you know you’re going to need a double stroller in six months, start bargain-hunting now – maybe you can find one on sale, or perhaps a neighbor is looking to get rid of one when winter hits. In addition to allowing more time for finding deals, planning in advance can permit you to take advantage of off-season deals and sales. For example, winter clothing is typically marked down mid-winter, and there are a lot of post-holiday clearance sales to be found. The only thing you risk by starting the hunt early is the possibility that you’ll need extra storage space until you actually need the new item.

What are your favorite tips for saving money on toddler toys, food, and supplies?

Ellen Hunter Gans is a full-time writer who loves highbrow books, lowbrow TV, late afternoon sunshine, Oxford commas, adding to her "countries visited" list, and the three Cs: cabernet, coffee, and carbohydrates. She's also a fifteen-time marathon finisher and Ironman triathlete. Ellen lives with her awesome husband and adorable son.