Monday, June 22, 2009

make the sale work for you: buying kids' clothes without losing money

I have been at rockbottom. And it was on the floor of a Gymboree store on my hands and knees. Fortunately, I have been in the trenches in buying clothes for my daughter, so here I am, ready to teach them to you.

Let me stand, back up. I used to view Gymboree as a store of the privileged. I'd visit every now and then when Bitty was an infant and flick the $19.50 price tag for a onesie away from me like it was poison. Who pays these prices? I would ask and then gaze at my child's cute, albeit cheaply made and disposable, outfit in her stroller.

I found myself in the store last year picking up some bows, and even then gasped at the total that ran across the cashier screen. For bows? I paid, and when my credit card was being run I could see them in my peripheral vision. The sale signs. I hadn't noticed them before, but not that it mattered. But then I also saw women lugging hanger upon hanger of clothes and walking around frantically.

Do you have Gymbucks to spend with us today? The cashier asked the next person in line.

Gymbucks? How strange--what is that, monopoly money?

I left the store that day with some adorable bows, but also with the curiosity for this little haven of children's clothes with it's own fiscal system. I interviewed my friends who smartly shopped this store and got the run down on how to get the Gymbucks, when to spend them, and how to stock up on clothes for next season.

By the next big sale, I was ready. I grabbed things for the next summer, and kept my total low. Upon exiting the store, I felt triumphant....I had a big bag, and I hadn't spent a lot. Other moms entering the store smiled approvingly at my loot. I felt like part of a club. We had beat the system. We could dress out children like a million bucks without spending it.

I was hooked. Bitty pranced to and from playdates with adorable, matching outfits. I invested also in Oxyclean to keep those pricey pieces clean. I started ironing her clothes, because why spend a lot if they were going to be wrinkled?

And then it was time for the next big sale. I knew about it before it was advertised. I lurked on Gymboree message boards, speculating when the sale would be advertised. I gave myself a budget, and got to the mall early before the sale. Other moms were there, too, and we all smiled politely at each other. Little did I know, that was the last time we would be "friends."

Upon entering the store, we scattered like mice. I flipped through sizes, dug through bins, and tried to talk myself out of anything that seemed pretty because it was on sale. Children were crying. Mothers held up outfits across the store to each other. It was then that I saw the store clerk pushing out a big cardboard box of leggings and tights. Myself and two other women descended on them, whispering, 99 cents???!! One of the women poured out all of the leggings in the middle the floor. What size are you looking for? she loudly asked at the woman beside her. I went through the other box causally, because, really, how many pairs of leggings do you need? But seeing the towering stack one had made, I apparently was wrong.

You needed them all. And in every color.

One of the woman migrated over to my box. If you find 5T in this, it's MINE! She barked at me. I drew back and blinked. Leggings. These were leggings. And tights. I backed slowly away from her grabby hands and wild eyes with a reasonable amount of leggings and tights for my child.

This is the moment I knew it was time to check out. And I don't mean just paying. I mean backing away from the potential crime scene. I paid for some items and was proud that I had spent way lower than I intended.

Not everything is great that's on sale. And most people know that nothing is on sale because it's particularly great, either. I admit, I can be faced with a great sale and feel the leap of my heart, but really, a good sale is only good if you are deliberate about saving money.

After spending those brief moments on the floor of Gymboree, I resolved never to be like those women. I did not need to buy 30 pairs of leggings because they were only 99 cents. My child does not need 30 pairs of leggings, perhaps not even in her lifetime. I'm thankful for this because I'm not really sure what spell I'm under that have embraced leggings back into my life since the 80s anyway.

As for shopping at Gymboree or any other children's clothing store, the following plan has worked for me (and I really try to stick with it) when trying to save money:

--Whatever store you love, sign up for their email lists so you can be notified about their sales ahead of time. Then, you have a plan, rather than being bombarded by them when you "drop by."

--Resolve to only buy things if they are on sale.

--The highest price I will pay is $10 for an item (and I almost never pay this-it's usually $7, tops), unless it's a dress.

--Buy mostly dresses for girls, as they are cheaper than buying a shirt or pants separately and more versatile.

--If you have the time and dedication, buy from higher end stores during sale times and stock up, rather than buy during a season at cheaper stores, like Old Navy or Target. Not that those stores are bad, it's just that their clothes do not hold up as well, and you could be wasting money rather than saving it once something falls apart in the wash.

--For good play clothes that can get really dirty, don't forget about Old Navy and Target!

--Always buy in outfits, especially for girls. If a shirt is dirt cheap, but it doesn't match anything you have, then you have to purchase something else new to go with it. By then, it doesn't feel like a good deal anymore. That's why I almost always find something to match it there, at the sale. With dresses, of course, this is easier.

--Only buy one season ahead. You don't know what will happen in a year. Maybe your child will have a growth spurt or not. Maybe the wardrobe you bought for summer will actually fit him in winter.

--In the above case and others, don't remove the price tag until the day your child is going to wear an item. If it doesn't fit, you can sell it on ebay or craigslist.

--Do you really like it?

--I mean, really, really like it?

--Know your stopping point. For me, it's 10 to 13 outfits for a season. Those outfits can be matched with each other as well, if I'm smart.

Today, B and I were at the mall looking at shoes for him. I saw Gymboree and veered the stroller a little that way. What? Did you want to go in there? B asked. Well....they are still having that sale. Maybe they have some new stuff that they brought out from the back. I walked in, the store looking much different from when I saw it last. Calmer. Emptier. I scouted the most adorable pair of rainboats in Ava's size.

How much are these? I asked the clerk.

$4.99, she answered.

Well, for that price, I can handle a little something special, so I had her ring them up.

How are you handling this crazy sale? I asked.

She laughed. It's been definitely been busy, she answered.

I came here on the first day, and it was madness, I said.

Yeah, I didn't even bring out a lot of stuff that day because it was so crazy, she told me.

Like these? I asked.

She put the boots in a bag and gave them to me.

Yup, like these. She smiled.

So, despite all my plans and efforts, sometimes a sale will surprise you.


Anonymous said...

Um, you are my new hero. I am quickly commenting on your blog and then I am off to research Gymbucks. I <3 you Alison Frenzel!

Lindsay Aja

Sara said...

Alison... make sure when you get a gymbucks you check around to see if family magazines where Gymboree advertises have coupons! The June issue of Family Fun magazine has a 20% off coupon that is good until AUGUST which means you can use it in conjunction with your gymbucks. I am not sure if they still do, but behind the counter at Gymboree they carry some newborn baby coupons. If you are buying a baby gift be sure to ask if they have those because the coupon reads that it is good on ANY merchandise. Head to the store today to get your June issue of Family Fun!

Alison said...

Sara--I remember when you used to work at Gymboree! I'm sure you are a wealth of knowledge on this subject--maybe you can guest blog for me sometime on the ins and outs of making Gymboree sales even better.

Peyton said...

I gotta say, I loved this post. There is nothing like sale victory! You shop for kids clothes like I shop for groceries. If only groceries would last at least one season ahead...

See you soon!

Kylie said...

Love this post! Love Gymboree (for my daughter, but not so much for my son actually) and I LOVE, LOVE Gymbucks. I am very excited to look for one of the coupon's Sara mentioned and save even more next time!

Faith Imagined said...

I just had a baby girl and this is fantastic!!! Plus this was a hilarious read!!!

Allyson Lewis said...

I love this post. You have obviously spent lots of time looking into this. If you get any spare time (HAHAHA), I would love to know good deals like this for boys clothes. I have never had much luck at Gymboree for boys clothes at all. It is inspiring to read your posts. By the way, I love the new look of the site!

Amanda said...

Last time I was in there during a sale I nearly lost my ever loving mind. Insanity, I tell you! Insanity!

greenkiddo said...

ha ha! you're hooked!!

just a heads up... our gymboree lets you come up to two days before gymbucks redemption and put stuff on hold!! i go in and preshop, then go back on gymbucks day and smile b/c I'm not fighting the crazies for a .99 cent pair of leggings! LOL!