Surviving and Thriving at Children’s Clothing Consignment Sales

Every spring and every fall in my area (Piedmont Triad, NC) there are tons of clothing consignment sales for children.  Most of them are held at churches or other local buildings, and all of them are packed with gently used clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, and other things for infants through teens; some even have maternity clothing and supplies.  I look forward to these bi-annual sales with excitement at the prospect of outfitting my daughter at a fraction of the cost of brand-new clothing and toys.  Here are some tips for how to shop at children’s clothing and toy consignment sales:

  1. Expect crowds, especially at the beginning of the sale, and during the clearance/mark-down day.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.  Athletic gear is best!
  3. Don’t be too judgmental of the prices sellers place on their items.  They’re usually only earning 40-60% of what they’re asking for, while the location hosting the sale gets the remainder, so clothing may be marked up just a little.  Remember that part of the proceeds of each sale usually goes to a good cause.  You can’t expect “yard sale” prices, yet the prices are usually very reasonable.
  4. Take a handy rolling cart, a laundry basket with bungee cords for dragging, a small wagon, a huge tote bag, or just use your stroller for piling the things you choose to buy.  You’ll be thankful to have something to keep your merchandise in while you’re waiting in long lines.
  5. Volunteer at the sale.  Volunteers usually get nice privileges like advance shopping passes, or additional discounts.
  6. Bring cash, credit cards, and checks.  Some sales are very specific as to what types of payment they will or won’t accept.
  7. Hoarding is SO NOT NICE!  Just don’t do it.
  8. Leave your child at home.  It’s difficult enough to make your way through the tight clothing racks and crowded spaces with just yourself and your rolling cart, and much more difficult with a toddler or tired baby in tow as well.  It takes a long time to browse everything, and children will easily become restless.  If you feel you need your child with you to gauge sizes, try writing a “cheat sheet” that lists all your children’s sizes, and/or trace your child’s foot on a piece of paper to help with estimating shoe size.
  9. Check thoroughly for stains or missing buttons, etc.  Most sales require sellers to clearly specify items with stains or tears, or else specifically state that damaged items aren’t to be sold, but unfortunately some sellers don’t always follow guidelines, or may simply be unaware of damaged items.  One year I bought a DVD, but got home to open it and found there was no disc inside!
  10. Watch out for recalled items.  This is tricky to do, because often sellers aren’t aware that a toy they’re selling has been recalled.  One year I bought a “certain brand name” dollhouse and toys, only to find out that my money was almost wasted – it had been recalled the year before.  Without an original receipt, I could have been stuck with it.  Luckily, I was able to arrange a merchandise voucher for the toys with the manufacturer, but it was a lengthy ordeal.  Here is the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s list of product recalls.
  11. Don’t splurge.  Know the difference between what’s needed and what’s simply a desire, and take care to stay within your budget accordingly.  It’s easy to pick up something on a whim at these sales, because it’s hard to pass up all the good deals.
  12. Remember that all sales are final.  If you get home and don’t like what you’ve bought, that’s really just too bad.  But hey, you could always just sell it at next year’s sale!