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Top ten tips for smart kid clothes shopping (plus a chance to win $150 at Old Navy)

Girls outfits at Old NavyThe giveaway closed on 9/23/11 at 8pm, and the winner has been notified via email. Thank you to all who entered!

This post isn’t about buying clothing for smart kids (although I’m sure yours are). It’s about smart shopping when buying kids’ clothing. How do I know how to shop smart? Let’s just say I’ve learned from years’ (and many dollars’) worth of mistakes. But I’ve come up with a system that works pretty well for my kids, my budget, and my mental state.

Here are my ten tips for shopping for kids’ clothing. Once you’ve read them, I’d love to hear yours — share your tip in the comments for a chance to win a $150 Old Navy gift card! (Details at the end of the post.)

1. Take stock of your kid’s current wardrobe.

Ignore this first, crucial step at your peril — I did, for years. As a result, I came home from my shopping trips with lovely stuff, but stuff that either duplicated what my kids already had, or not enough of the stuff they actually needed.

Go through the drawers and closets (and the hamper, if need be). Weed out the ratty and/or outgrown clothing, including socks, underwear and pajamas. Then count what’s left and take note of what’s missing.

For example, if your kid wears t-shirts every day and you do laundry once a week, make sure she has 8-10 decent t-shirts. OR, if she has three pairs of pants that fit, one of which is magenta, you know to buy others in different colors (and to fill in with tops that go with magenta).

2. Take your kid’s measurements (especially if your kid has limited tolerance for trying things on at the store).

If your child is outside the average for height or weight for his age, clothing can be hard to fit. Buy a cheap dressmaker’s tape measure and take his measurements. Then compare the measurement’s against stores’ size charts (usually available online).

Not only will this step save you hours of trying-on time, it will help you more easily buy kids’ clothing via catalog or Web.

3. Check the store website before you go.

Spend a few minutes on the store website educating yourself about current styles and prices. Some stores offer item discounts online that aren’t publicized in stores, but that you can still get if you’re savvy enough to ask.

4. Buy separates, but match them into outfits at the store.

Here’s where your at-home preparation will pay off, because you’ll have in mind colors and styles sitting in the drawers at home, and you can buy separates to match. Everything else you buy should mix-and-match as well. That way, your kid can put together passable outfits even if half her clothes are in the hamper.

5. Buy multiples, but not too many.

Once you find something that fits, is comfortable, and looks good, BUY MORE THAN ONE, preferably in a different color. It will save you time and try-on burnout. It will also reduce the chance of “favorite pants syndrome,” in which one pair gets worn to shreds while the others sit, untouched, in the drawer.

But in your rapture, don’t overbuy. Your kid’s still growing, so you may be tempted to buy in the next size up. A good strategy, but only if you can remember where you stored your “grow into them” purchases. Even then, there’s no future guarantee your kid will still like this particular item of clothing.

6. Remember the shoes.

I always forget the shoes! Kid feet grow at a remarkable rate, so measure their feet and buy shoes as necessary. Here’s one time that “buying for growth” makes sense, as it will likely take place in the next 15 minutes.

7. Once you’re home, reevaluate your purchases BEFORE you remove the tags.

In the frenzy of clothing stores, my decision-making ability can fail me. But once we’re home, we can lay out our purchases, match them with the clothes we already have, and decide what works and what doesn’t. If we find one or two items that don’t work, they go straight back into the shopping bag for return/exchange with the tags still on.

Once you’re sure of the winners, here’s my process for efficiently removing all the tags.

8. KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS.

Your receipts are your Golden Tickets. Treasure them, save them, give them a special place of honor on your desk. (Same goes for the shipping receipt for online purchases.) For when your kid has worn her new clothing for a week and then decides it’s itchy, or the sleeves shrink, or it pills after two washes, you can usually return it with the receipt. Without the receipt, you may get an exchange, but it will be at the current price, not the price you originally paid.

Read the back of the receipt for that store’s return policy, and heed it, my friend.

9. Do your followup shopping online.

If you don’t have any in-store returns (hooray!), you can do your followup shopping online. Fill in wardrobe or sizing gaps, pick up an extra few pairs of underwear, or grab the stuff you forgot. With your kids’ measurements on hand, it will be a snap, and lots of store websites offer free shipping for a relatively small minimum purchase, and free in-store returns.

10. Investigate whether a store credit card is worthwhile.

I’m not one to lightly recommend credit cards, especially if you’re easily tempted by clothes and/or sales. But if you regularly shop a particular store, the store credit card may be worthwhile. My husband’s a Banana Republic man, and I do almost all of the kid shopping at Old Navy (both stores are owned by the same parent company, Gap). With a Gap credit card, we get significant discounts on clothing and shipping, and access to exclusive sales. It works for us because we don’t shop for clothing all that much, and what we do buy gets paid off immediately.

So there you have it: my shopping strategy for my kids’ clothes. It’s pretty good, but I’m sure it could be better, so…

Share your smartest shopping tip for a chance to win a $150 Old Navy gift card!

Part of the compensation for this campaign included the gift card for “shopping research,” but my back-to-school shopping was already done (mostly at Old Navy, in fact). So I would like to pass the gift card along to you. Giveaway details are at the end of this post.

What’s your best tip for shopping for kids’ clothes?

This post is brought to you by Old Navy. Check out the Kids & Baby Sale in store with great deals starting at $5.

I was paid to write this post, but all tips are my own, as is my Old Navy fanhood and my choice to host a giveaway.

The giveaway closed on 9/23/11 at 8pm. Thank you to all who entered! The winner will be notified by email in the next few days.

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