For the past several years, I have purchased the majority of my daughters' clothing at children's consignment sales. Each season, I am able to completely outfit them for a fraction of the cost of new clothing, yet they have adorable outfits in name brands. I have also purchased wonderful toys, books, baby equipment and furniture from these sales.
I have now shopped and/or volunteered at seven children's consignment sales, and I have learned a lot of strategies for making the most of these terrific money-saving events. Here are some of my suggestions:
Find your local sales. Look in local publications and on community websites and bulletin boards. Also try googling “children's consignment sale” or “children's resale” with your location. There are similar sales in many areas. March is prime season for spring sales around here, and October is the time for fall sales.
Make a list and a budget. Before the sale, make a list of what you need and want. These sales can be overwhelming, and it's easy to get distracted and forget to find what you really need. Search for the items on your list first and then feel free to browse. It's also smart to set a budget. I have definitely gotten carried away with the bargains at these sales, but now I remind myself – just because it's a great deal doesn't mean that we need it or have the money for it. However, I do try to leave a little “fun money” in my budget for unexpected finds.
Shop early. For the best selection, shop early. And depending on your area, that can mean really early! I went to the half-price portion of the first sale I attended, and when I arrived the line wrapped around the building. As a new mom, I was floored. I thought it looked like a celebrity event or something! It is especially important to shop early if you want something that is in high demand. In my experience, this includes more expensive or trendy brand names and expensive equipment, for instance, Baby Bjorns, Bumbo seats, Legos, Gymboree and Janie and Jack clothes, etc.
Pack lightly. It's best to shop by yourself, without little ones if you can. If you need to bring a baby, a soft carrier is easiest (some sales don't even allow strollers). Definitely leave toddlers at home; otherwise you'll spend all your time keeping them away from the toys. Many sales encourage bringing a large bag or basket to hold your purchases. Although my sale hands out trash bags to carry your purchases, I've found that it's much easier to carry around my huge reusable shopping bag with handles from Ikea. I've also seen shoppers with rolling carts or with laundry baskets.
Make a plan of attack. Unless I'm looking for a specific item of equipment, I usually head to clothes first. I love having the best selection of name-brand items to choose from. However, last summer, when I was looking for some new baby equipment before my second daughter was born, I went to large equipment first. Basically, look for the most important items on your list first, especially if they are more scarce. If you're looking for an expensive or high-demand item, run to that area right away!
Grab and sort. Don't stand in front of the clothing rack debating between two dresses while everyone else takes the best coats! Instead, go ahead and grab anything that you think you might purchase. Then, after you've finished looking through an area, sit down and sort your items and narrow them down. In my area, this is so much the approved strategy that most sales have a designated sorting area and volunteers who will return your excess items to the racks.
Plan for the next sale. Next year or next season, consider volunteering or consigning. Volunteers usually get to shop before everyone else, and often consignors do as well. I just volunteered at my sixth sale, and I always really enjoy it. Since I'm getting the best selection at the volunteer pre-sale, I have also been able to get the majority of clothes and equipment that my girls need for each season at just one sale. I also often consign a few items at each sale. We're not ready to get rid of most of our baby stuff, but I also don't hang onto everything. A great advantage of these sales is that you can try a piece of equipment for little money and sell it right back at the next sale if it doesn't work out for you.
Have fun. In the end, don't go too crazy with strategy and tracking down bargains. As with every kind of bargain shopping, there will always be another deal. Part of the fun of the sale is chatting with other budget-minded moms, so be courteous and fair. And even if you miss out on something that you're looking for, there are often fun items that you wouldn't expect. I love coming home and surprising my girls with a little treat, especially if it was a great deal!
Liz McGuirk is a wife and mommy to two little girls. She is passionate about saving money for her family and sharing what she has learned. She blogs about living the good life on less at Frugally Blonde.