Where I shop with 6 kids on a one-income budget

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May 16, 2019

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Sometimes minimalism sounds like a beautiful dream, doesn’t it? Calming, simple, clean; an exhale of clutter and resources that helps you live responsibly on a budget, while saving the planet and reducing stress in your life at the same time.

I’m all for living simply, but for those of us with kids, we know that with kids comes buying stuff, and lots of it.

There are ways to avoid a lot of it, especially if we’re on tight budgets, but some of it is inevitable. For instance, kids need some clothes to wear, and for some reason they always keep growing out of them.

And then there are the books.  Yes, I know, it IS possible to keep all your books on an electronic device and to borrow others from the library. But if you’re anything like me, books are part of your identity. For our family, books are a necessity. But they can be costly.

And there are a whole bunch of other things you’ll also need if you’re raising kids, and none of them are cheap either … like a car seat if you have a car … and the list goes on.

What’s a responsible, cash-strapped mama to do?!

Well I’ve got you covered. As a mom of six on a one-income budget, of course I buy some things new, but I’m always on the hunt for places to find things at discounted prices (or for free!).

Here are some suggestions from my 10+ years of making ends meet:

01. Try a swap-day with your mama friends.

Think of the other mamas you know. Can you borrow, swap, or ask for something they no longer need? See if they might be interested in getting together for a swap-day.

When I hosted a swap-day for a local mothers’ group, everyone brought kids’ clothes and other items they no longer needed and took whatever they needed from the other mothers. Any leftover items were donated, and it was a huge success.

Pro tip: if you’re hosting with kids around during the swap, be careful about allowing toys to be brought in. They’ll want to keep all the toys of course.

Aside from an official swap event, I’ve also had friends offer to lend items to me that they are no longer using and I have done the same for others.

One family lent us a baby swing that was taking up space in their home. They told us to pass it on or give it back when we were done. This works particularly well with baby items that are only needed for a couple of months.

And this same idea works for kids’ clothes too. Moms are always looking to donate clothes their children have outgrown. You can always ask your friends if they know of anyone giving away items you might be able to use.

If you are nervous about asking other mamas about this, just casually mention it in conversation. If you gave all your baby girl clothes away, and now a new baby is coming, say so. They might jump in and offer you items, or you can ask if they know anyone who has the items you need. Several times we have had some clothes come back to us that we had previously passed on to others.

02. Check out your local giveaway groups.

Give-away groups like freecycle.org or buynothingproject.org are amazing! These websites are all about helping people give and get stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. For instance, if someone has a crib they no longer need, they’ll post it to the website, and others can claim it. Keeping extra stuff out of landfills is always a plus, and often the stuff is in great condition.

And again, it’s FREE.

03. Purchase it used.

Be sure to check local thrift stores, garage sales, consignment stores, pop-up consignment sales, eBay, Amazon, Amazon Warehouse, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor. There are probably numerous people looking to sell the items you need and the internet makes it easier than ever to find those people.

You can get some great deals—we’ve found solid wood furniture, strollers, a high chair, a baby bouncer, bicycles, and many other items through these sources.

Remember, shopping this way isn’t just more cost-effective; it’s sustainable and ethical, too!

These are more general resources, but if there is something specific you’re looking for, here are a few additional options you might want to consider.

Kids’ Clothing

I have two go-to online favorites:

01. thredUP sells thousands of good-condition used clothing items for women and children, as well as shoes, handbags, accessories, and jewelry. Shipping is free for orders over $79, or you can choose to place orders throughout the week and bundle the shipping into one order. Returns are fairly easy unless the item was marked final sale on the site.

You can also order “Rescue Boxes” for an extra discount. For example, a rescue box of baby girl items size 12-24 months will include 15 items for $24. These boxes can be a fun surprise—you don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but it’s a good deal. These boxes contain a mix of clothes that either may need a little TLC or that have been listed for a while.

They have “Goody Boxes” as well: answer some questions about your own style, size, and budget, and someone will choose items for you and send them (saving you time searching). If you want to send items to thredUP that you no longer need, you can order a “Clean Out Bag”. You can choose to get store credit for items you send or have them make a donation to charity.

They promise to recycle all items that they don’t accept. ThredUp has regular sales throughout the year as well.

02. Schoola is another great website for finding used clothing for women and children. The selection is not as large as thredUP’s, but the prices are usually cheaper,  shipping is free for orders over $25, and each purchase goes directly to support schools (40% of proceeds on each item; the item’s page will tell you who receives the donation).

Schoola also receives some new items from companies like Tea Collection and School Apparel, with proceeds benefiting the Malala Fund to support education for girls around the world. That’s a beautiful thing!

Baby Gear

If you have an old car seat you don’t need, don’t toss it. Some stores, like Target, will do a trade-in event at certain times of the year. They will recycle your old car seat and give you a coupon for 20% off a new car seat or select baby gear.

If you’re looking to buy some used baby gear, the first thing you want to do is check that there is no recall on the item.

But car seats are even trickier, because they expire. So if you’re getting this item used, you’ll want to make sure the seat is not expired and has never been in an accident!


Aside from Amazon used books, here are three great places to buy used books online:

01. Thriftbooks is one of my favorite places on the Internet (just ask my web browser). It’s also one of the most dangerous for me, given my addiction to books and the cheap prices.

The used books come from libraries, schools, and used book sellers around the country and are guaranteed by Thriftbooks. Shipping is free for all orders over $10—even if the books are coming from different parts of the country.

You can also create a wishlist and have them notify you when the books on your list are available. Plus, if you sign up for the Reading Rewards program, you earn points towards free books with each purchase. And they run sales run twice a year, in May and November.

I cannot recommend this website for used books enough, both in terms of cost and customer service.

02. Abebooks is another great resource, particularly for textbooks, hard-to-find books, signed books, or first editions. The books are coming from all over the world, so look at shipping prices and times as well as the price of the book itself.

The site guarantees a refund if the seller fails to deliver or if the condition of the book does not match the description online. Several times I have found a book on Abebooks that I could not find elsewhere, and I have sometimes found homeschooling books cheaper here than on Amazon or Thriftbooks.

03. Half Price Books is another website for used books that was recently recommended to me. I have not tried it yet, although I have been to one of their physical stores. It looks like they have a large selection.

Keep in mind that shipping costs are per item if coming from different sellers. If there’s a store near you, they will also buy books you want to sell and promise to donate or recycle any items they cannot sell.

If you get a used book with a library sticker on it, here’s how to remove it:

A little rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball will remove most sticky residue and gunk. If it doesn’t work, put some clear packing tape over the area.

Now please excuse me—I need to run to the thrift store to find more shelving for all of these books!

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