I've been thinking a lot about how being frugal for me, at least, really can't mean that the whole family look too scruffy. Although I admire the sort of Brighton free range children look with scruffy hair, too short trousers, red socks and organic clothes I know I'm a bit too straight laced to get the children to dress like that, and at 35 years old I'm a bit too old to look gorgeous in jumble shop and any old fair trade clothes. I need to spend quite a while planning outfits as I get older, and making sure clothes are flattering. Same goes for make up really, did have a bad day on Monday without any on, but really does make me look closer to forty.
I also have to admit to being a bit against the sort of hippy free range woman look that I know a lot of women in London particularly get in to when they are older and with children. I personally think some of the inspiration for the look simply comes from not having much money, wearing out all decent pre-children clothes and just not putting yourself first enough, basically letting them rush your clothes planning by annoyingly demanding breakfast, nappy changes, face washes etc. This is probably why it takes my family now about three hours to get ready in the morning and even then we're hardly the most glamorous family on the street.
However, I do think there are some tips that are useful for pulling together family dressing on a budget.
1. Accept all hand me downs, my children generally love wearing clothes from older friends. And buy gender neutral clothes if possible.
2. Browse charity shops regularly, do look out for brand labels you know, and like, for example I bought Ol some lovely Gap jeans in a local shop. Be selective about clothes, although there is a place for cheap children's clothes in their wardrobe, I think cheap second hand clothes tend to look a bit scruffy and are simply not good enough for a second use. Interestingly I read the other day that some charity shops are refusing cheap clothes, as they just take up shop space, and can only sell for pennies as they were so cheap in the first place.
3. Use car boot sales, but be very selective, its worth having a quick look at the family and their car/goods first to see if they are Like Us. I know this seems a bit snobby but its really depressing shuffling through aforementioned piles of cheap clothes, or worse fake designer. n.b. this is not to say that families don't buy designer clothes for their children, I think they just give away the best bits, or sell it on e-bay. When you are looking for clothes, as before, check the labels, it just makes life a little easier.
4. Shoes, I wish I had a tip to buy cheap shoes but I'm afraid I believe proper well fitting shoes are a lifetime investment that needs to be done. The tips I can pass on are the following; if there is a sale on in the shoe shop, do check with staff to see if they happen to have your children's size, once only this happened to us, but we did get some great girls boots for £15, just buy one proper pair of shoes for your children each at a time, they can usually manage on this plus some wellies (definitely bought cheaply as only worn for a little time), and some canvas shoes or converse in the summer.
5. Look in cheap shops for women's clothing, and some basics like men's t shirts. I'd like to recommend buying socks and underwear in cheaper shops but find it a false economy as they're just not nice enough, and don't quite work properly. Cheaper shops can be great for nightwear though, and one season only fashion bits, little tops, dresses, and skirts. It's always best to go in at the very start of each season though as the best bits, linen trousers for £8 etc. sell out very quickly.
6. Look in nearly new designer shops for women's clothes. This can be fantastic value and some of my most unusual but lovely clothes have some from these. Our local ones had some brand new black Uggs last winter that my friend S picked up for £30. Think monsoon skirts, vintage jackets, and racks and racks of lovely handbags.
7. In the country, as I've learnt this year, it is worth stocking up when visiting favourite shops, Hennes for example, or a decent department store for underwear. Our local Marks has an extremely limited knicker selection which is a bit of a shame, I think they market to the older lady brigade down here given the size of coverage the pants give you.
8. Again, when in the country, use decent catalogues, I'm a bit of a fan of the French ones for clothes for me and the children, but wait until they send you a really good offer, e.g. 40% off your order, or £20 off or so on. You can spread payments out with catalogues, or just pay them off straight away with a debit card. I think you only tend to save money with offers, so if you refrain from shopping until they get a bit keen its worth the wait. You can also tend to get some more unusual bits that you don't find on the high street.
9. Mend clothes, I know this sounds obvious for some people but I seriously never used to do it. It only takes a minute to mend a tear of rip on a seam, or replace a button. And clothes really do look as good as new ( if on a seam) if you do this.
10. Use some stain removers, look at tips on the internet for specific stains, but I have to admit to using washing up liquid for greasy stains, and an old block of Vanish for everything else, oh, and I also, predictably I guess have something for red wine. Again, this is probably a bit obvious but am sure I'm not the only one to have thrown loved clothes away in the past due to a little stain.
11. Buy quality where its needed, e.g. shoes, swim arm bands, baby nappies, but save on not needed quality, cheap t-shirts, seasonal little dresses and shorts etc.
12. Any guide to saving money, should include make your own, you can buy some really fab fabrics for decent prices, and there are still patterns out there to make clothes. I wish I could say this is something I use, but afraid am not skilled in sewing and cutting enough. However friends who make and knit do have some fab pieces for decent amounts of money.
13. Keep your eyes out for a bargain, whilst in the supermarket, browsing shops, jumble sales etc.
14. And finally, something I learnt this summer, school uniforms in the colour and style you need sell out very quickly. You do actually need to buy them in July for the whole year, God parents were right on this one, otherwise your offspring will be in clothes much too big or small for them for whole year and you will spend pointless and boring hours searching through every bit of uniform you see in the shops for the right size/colour/size. n.b. this also applies to black plimsolls down here, but can't work out how to get that right, you don't know what size and width they are going to be in advance do you?