Shopping kids consignment sales: Get organized before you go!


Liz Jenkins


Have kids that need clothes for the school year? Thinking of trying out shopping at seasonal consignment sales? This post is a sequel to my earlier post about shopping thrift and consignment sales (see that post HERE). That post focused on adults, but with school starting soon, the seasonal kids consignment sales are up and running. These can be a fabulous way to save a bundle on kids clothing (not to mention toys and accessories) but can also be frustrating if you don’t go about it in an organized fashion. Most consignment sales hold them in the fall and in the spring, though sometimes they can show up at other times.

I’ve been shopping kids consignment sales since before my daughter was born and have saved thousands of dollars while outfitting her quite well, if I do say myself. In my experience, I can fill her closet for 20-30% of what it would cost shopping at a mall or online. Plus I can usually get everything I need at just a few sales. An added bonus is the green factor – I’m thrilled to be able to re-purpose & re-use.

So let’s get prepared! Some tips will be similar to those in the original consignment store post (see that HERE) but this post is focused on the specific challenges of navigating the kids consignment sales.

1. What do your kids already have? If you don’t know how many jeans, t-shirts, socks, etc. you already have in their closet and drawers, you can end up with too many of some things and not enough of others.

2. Does any of it still fit? Not sure about you, but my daughter seems to stay one size for a while and then all of a sudden nothing fits. When we go back to school shopping, I make her try everything on down to the shoes. Kids usually aren’t super thrilled about this and will claim all of their tennies still fit but when the first day of school starts and all they have to wear is flip flops, you are in trouble! Try it all on, then donate or consign what doesn’t fit. If you want to learn about consigning kids stuff, see my post HERE.

3. Do you know what you need? Check the school dress code, figure how many jeans/shorts/socks/etc. you need for a week or two or however long you like to go without stressing about laundry. If you have a teen or a fashionista on your hands, this list may grow exponentially.  Create a checklist that lists how many of each item you need as well as, and this is super important, the sizes. I also don’t just note sizes but also use my tape measure to check inseams, arm length, waist, etc. Don’t forget to ask the kids what they would like – colors, styles, etc.

You can also find items other than clothes at many sales such as strollers, room decor and bedding, books, DVD’s, toys and more. Taking the time to inventory items other than clothes can help with impulse buys or duplicate purchases at the sale. In addition, keeping an eye out for holiday or birthday gifts can be fun and cost effective.

4. Do you know your brands, styles and retail prices? Having an idea of what you like AND what your kids like is helpful. Plus, if you are up on your brand names, you are more likely to get a good deal. Items are usually priced by the people consigning, not by those running the sale so you will see a range of prices for similar items. Knowing retail pricing and names of the better brands can make shopping easier. One thing I’ve always loved about this sort of shopping is spending as much for high end brands as others might spend at Walmart.

5. Do you know where the sales are? A simple google search will usually turn up quite a few, but also put out a query on facebook or ask friends where they go. Watch for signs as you are driving around. Many cities have consignment sale directories (in my area, there is Consigning Time).

6. Do you know the info about each sale? Sales tend to run for several days with the first day being the busiest, and the last day or so usually a half price day. Selection is best at the beginning of course, but you can get some great deals if you hit the sale at the start and the end. Something that you didn’t want to spend full price on the first time may be half price when you go back. In addition, sales tend to specialize in different sorts of items. Some are more generic brands such as Target, Old Navy or Gap. Many smaller sales will be more boutique brands. Many private schools offer sales through the school of used uniforms.  Once you find a sale that suits your needs and schedule, you can keep them on your radar as they come around.

7. Are you ready? When I go consignment shopping, I make sure to be prepared. The first day can involve long lines and big crowds. I wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and eat something before I go so I’m not stuck in line when I’m starving. Personally I like to wear cargo pants with pockets where I can stash my phone, debit card & ID, etc. so I don’t have to haul around my purse or I wear a cross body bag. Some other thoughts on what you might need:

  • Something to hold the items you are interested in purchasing. If you are planning on stocking your kids wardrobe (especially if you have more than one), your arms will not be able to hold everything and there usually is no place to keep items until you are ready to check out. Folding shopping carts are great for this, tall rolling laundry hampers with a handle, or a full size stroller (minus the baby!). Most sales will not have any carts, or if they do, they’ll all be in use when you get there. I have never once snagged a cart.
  • Bottled water and a snack.
  • Your list of sizes, styles and items needed.
  • Shopping bags (canvas or repurposed grocery) – most sales won’t have anything and you’ll end up juggling your purchases as you leave.
  • A budget. Knowing how much you can afford to spend before you go can help you not get carried away.
  • Smartphone so you can let your significant other know that you’ll probably be late, so you can text pictures of sweaters to the kids to see if they like them, or check out retail pricing on something to see if it’s a good deal. If your phone doesn’t have a calculator, bring a small one to help you track what you are spending.
  • Patience is key. Everyone is there for the same reason and may be looking for exactly what you are. Be courteous, don’t hoard everything just because you can, and try not to get frustrated with crowds or rude people. Most of the times I have gone, people have been great but there’s always that one mom….

8. Can you take the time to shop and check things over thoroughly? Give this some thought before you go. If the sale is a large one, it can take hours to go through everything plus wait in line to check out. There are not a lot of people around to help so you are kind of on your own. There are no returns at these sales so if something has a stain or a chip or a tear, is that ok? By taking the time up front, you will be much happier with your final purchases.

9.  Can you leave the kids at home? Shopping at sales like this with kids can be very stressful. Unless you have a fashion conscious child who can be patient and helpful, go without. You really have to go at these sales with a mindset that is focused on your list and budget. There is a lot to look at and sort through so if you have a child who wants to play with everything, dodge under racks or bring you random objects from around the room – it can make the whole trip a fiasco.

10. Did you know that often if you consign items or work the sale, you can get in ahead of the crowds? Most sales offer pre-sale benefits to those who consign and those who work at the sale. Put in a few shifts or be a consigner, and get in early. Less crowds and better selection.

*bonus tip: New or first time moms often get a preview day at many sales – check the sale website for details on this possibility.

I am sad that my daughter has outgrown most of these sales and is into adult sizes. I loved shopping this way – both the saving of money as well as the ‘thrill of the hunt’. You never know what you’ll find – there are usually some gems buried among the basics.

Be organized shopping kids consignment sales, save money, be green and have fun!