'Fitting' Into A Budget

Catherine Fournier

In every budget, there are fixed costs and adjustable costs. Housing costs (mortgage or rent) and insurance after you've shopped around and negotiated are fixed costs, while utilities are adjustable costs. It may be difficult or impossible to eliminate adjustable costs without moving to the mountains and living off the land, but they can be lowered.

Clothing is an adjustable cost. It is possible to cut clothing costs drastically, and still avoid looking like you're auditioning for a Charles Dickens movie. All it takes is planning, and some careful shopping.

There are basic minimums that everyone needs regardless of age and location; shoes, socks, underclothes, and seasonal outerwear. Everything else is dependant on your taste, expectations, and budget. What you end up spending on clothing depends on how you arrange those criteria. If you place expectations ahead of budget, you'll spend more on clothing than if you reverse those priorities.

The following are some recommendations of ways to save money on clothing, and re-think how you buy clothing. I can't make any recommendations of how much and what style of clothing you need to clothe your family. Climate and acceptable dress codes of different regions and families will determine that.

How to Start

To begin with, make a list of all the people in the family, their sizes, the colours they wear and what they need. Carry this list with you all the time, and update it at least once a month. For example: Robert.
Size: 8 to 10. Shoes: size 4, soon to be 6
Favorite colours: red and black. (looks good in blue and beige)
Needs: socks (he always needs socks)
2 shorts,
3 t-shirts
check sandals????
look for new jeans for back to school.

Figure out what kinds of clothing situations you and your family are typically in, and how often. Everyone needs a Sunday outfit, and a dirty work outfit. Beyond that, an office working mom will need more formal clothing than a stay at home mom, who will need more jeans and t-shirts. Decide on the basic minimum wardrobe that each family member needs and try to stick to that. This will cut down on the amount of laundry you have to do, and contribute significantly to eliminating 'materialism' from your life. In my experience, clothing is the opening wedge to run-away materialism.

Kid's Clothes

There is an over-abundance of second-hand baby and toddler clothing available from friends and family. Combined with baby shower gifts, there is little need to buy new clothes or spend any money on anything other than diapers for the first two years of a child's life. If you do need to purchase clothing for your small one, look at garage sales and second hand stores first. Recruit grandmothers to help in the search.

Associations of twin and multiple birth parents have 'garage sales' to raise money every year. These are great places to find clothing and furniture in good condition. These sales are very popular though, so plan to arrive early.

Eventually, you need to start buying clothing for your child, to match the season, size, sex and style. Second hand clothing is still a good possibility for things like shirts, dresses, and sweaters. But when our oldest son reached the age of five, I discovered that five year and older sized boys jeans and pants are completely unavailable second-hand. Anyone with a five year old son will understand why. At the age of five, children finally reach the point where they wear out their clothing before they grow out of them.

Foot specialists and doctors recommend that children not wear hand-me-down shoes. Second hand shoes retain the foot shape of the first wearer, which may inhibit the development of their growing feet. This makes shoes an unavoidable cost. So, I flinch and buy new shoes for my children, with the exception of winter boots and sandals.

Even when I'm buying new clothing and shoes for my children, I look for sales and end-of season mark-downs. If I find a good sale, I'll buy items (even shoes) to fit now, and a size or two larger to fit next year. I store these clothes in boxes in the closet (more about storing clothing in another article.)

Every child needs a 'dress-up outfit' for Sunday Mass and other special occasions. Keep this outfit in your closet, and it will be clean and available when you need it. Never buy white shirts for children, unless it's for dress-up occasions, and you don't expect your child to wear it while eating. If they eat or play in the white shirt, all bets are off.

Seasonal Clothing

Unless we're talking about 5 to 10 year old boys, seasonal clothing should last through several children. A parka my sister-in-law bought new for her son (who is now 25) has been worn by all six of my children. I've replaced its zipper twice, but the parka still looks great, and keeps them warm. She actually bought three parkas, a size 6, 8 and 12 because she found them at a great price at an end-of-winter sale. I dry clean the parkas once a year, to get them really clean and store them in a closet over the summer. I have not found it to be worth while to buy high quality high price snow pants. Children can wear out the knees just as fast as the cheaper ones, and they're just as difficult to mend.

The best time to buy seasonal clothing is when the season is definitely over. Vendors don't want to store clothing until next year, every square foot in their store costs them rent, and styles change too much from year to year. Too much for them, but not too much for the you. So they mark it down. This is different from a 'beginning season sale' which carries a great selection of merchandise, but at artificial sale prices. If the typical mark up on an item is 100% (ie: double the wholesale price) and the sale is 20% off, they're still making money. An item which usually sells for $19.99 cost the retailer $10. If he then puts it on sale for even $16.99, he's still making nearly seven dollars. These sales attract a lot of customers, so the business owner ends up ahead.

An end of season mark down, on the other hand, will be $11 for the same item. Still some profit to the store owner, but a much greater savings to you.

Most stores have a rack of marked down items hidden at the back of the shop. It is stocked with a selection of 'out of season' clothing when new goods are brought in. Since seasonal clothing tends to run about three months ahead of the weather outside, spring clothing winds up on the sale rack in May and June. 'Back to school' clothing is marked down by the end of September. The selection may not be as great, and sizes can be limited but keep looking.

Make a point of visiting your favorite stores on a regular basis, and checking the sale rack. Watch for classic pieces. Even stores that carry goods that are too expensive to buy at full price should be cultivated, becuase their high quality clothing is often more economical in the long run than cheaper clothing. To avoid impulse purchases which can blow the budget, carry that list of what every member of the family needs with you.

Thrift Shops, Consignment Stores and Factory Outlets.

One of the saddest days of my housewife life was when the Wrangler Jeans factory closed in a neighbouring town. At its factory outlet store, I was able to stock up on jeans, cordoroy and twill trousers for the whole family for $10 a piece. The store carried shirts, jean jackets and rain jackets too. That one store, on an back street of an industrial park, saved our family hundreds of dollars a year.

We still have a lingerie and costmetics factory in our town, though, where I can pick up bras and underwear for $5 a piece, shampoo, and lots of other personal care products for 1/4 of their retail price. The thing to remember about factory outlet stores is not to get carried away by the great prices and buy more clothing than your family really needs, just because it's a good price.

I haunt the thrift shops in our town. Amidst the really junky stuff, I've found a designer ramie cotton pants suit for $20, a down-filled parka needing a new zipper for $12, sports blazers from an upscale men's clothing store with the pockets still sewn shut, winter boots, hiking shoes, skates, and lots of other useful items.


The basic black dress, or black pants. The wear-anywhere knit dress. The go with everything blazer. Classic pieces never go out of style, and can be up-dated easily with accessories. This is one place where it is worth looking for and paying for quality, though great bargains can be found at thrift shops and consignment stores.

Find a style that you like and stick with it. Elegant, country, peasant style, whatever suits your lifestyle and body type, there are good basic pieces for each style. Remember your basic minimum wardrobe you figured out, and buy these classic long-lasting pieces to fill it.

Men always need at least one suit and good shirt for weddings and funerals. Girls need at least one dress - knit skirt sets, or elastic waisted pleated skirts fit all body types well. Boys need a good pair of pants, elastic waisted ones can be covered with a vest, or of course the alb while they're serving.

Classic clothing is a good reason to eat sensibly and maintain a healthy weight. Once you've paid for such beautiful clothing, you want it to fit as long as possible.

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