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Winter is coming. It took me a few years to become a savvy shopper and figure out how to best prepare my children for winter without spending more than I needed to. I wanted to share some of these money-saving tips with you.
Don’t leave it too late – I was surprised to find that August and September are the best months to buy winter gear for children. In contrast to other children’s clothing, winter items seem to be produced in relatively limited quantities at the start of the season. As a result, certain sizes can go out of stock fast and won’t necessarily be replenished again. I suspect it’s the fact of smaller quantities for a limited market: there are entire states where it won’t reliably snow or get cold enough for certain winter items. This is in sharp contrast to items such as pants for example, which can be utilized at some point by virtually everyone in the US and therefore stay in stock longer.
I figured out all of this the hard way, by waiting too long for discount sales to materialize (which never did, or only at the point where all the sizes I needed were sold out). Then you’re stuck with high department store prices, and even then you’re limited by what they’ve got in stock. I don’t want you to have to make those same pricey mistakes that I did.
I recently shopped online for my children’s winter items for this year, and it did take some shopping around! Here is my guide for what you’ll need for your boy or girl, with some suggestions of options to find them:
Water-resistant pants for snowy or rainy days
When I mean water-resistant pants, I don’t mean completely waterproof but just that a lot of the water will run off it, unlike jeans. If you want 100% waterproof or thick padded snow pants, you’ll need to search for those specifically.
For a girl, it’s harder to find water-resistant pants, but it’s worth the extra effort. Amazon and Kohl’s are good starting points here. They are usually called “wind pants” or “warm up pants”. If you have trouble with that, you can try looking for a tracksuit – they can be surprisingly good value. Not all of these options will be as waterproof as what is readily available in boy’s clothing, although it is pretty easy to find girls’ ski pants if water resistance and warmth is very important to you (try The Children’s Place for that). Otherwise, thick winter snug-fit athletic pants are a good option for girls and are easy to find from most children’s retailers. Alternatively, some of the lighter brighter colors like lime or aqua in boy’s styles are actually well suited to girls – and probably available in stock, since parents of boys are often looking for the manliest possible colors.
Depending on the sales, coupons, promotions, you may be surprised at which is cheap and which is expensive. When I shopped earlier this month, OshKosh was actually cheapest! Bonus! Great for waiting at the school bus stop on rainy or snowy days, plus as athletic pants they do double-duty as winter PE gear.
For probably all of winter your child will need a really thick warm jacket anytime he or she is outdoors, and you don’t have to spend a fortune.
I routinely get mine for under $20, although here I usually shop end-of-season online sales for the next year ahead. My 3 top places for cheap but superb quality warm winter jackets are Cookies Kids (my top pick by far – a great starting point), or Old Navy, or Kohl’s. There is no “magic solution” to jackets – you just need to shop around.
This is always tricky at a low budget, but we managed it fine again this year. I want to make sure my kids have warm dry feet with boots tall enough that snow won’t get in the top like they can with regular shoes. However, it is extremely hard to find good sellers of inexpensive snow boots, and even harder if you want to buy 2 different sizes and colors (because of 2 different kids). Many of the specialty children’s stores like Gymboree don’t offer snow boots at all.
The good news: you can find boys and girls snow boots at OshKosh and Carter’s – footwear is grouped together in these sibling companies. Oaki is another option for children’s snow boots at an affordable price point (you can read my review of Oaki here). You can also get snow boots from The Children’s Place, although our family experienced hit-or-miss quality from there.
Amazon has a bunch of great prices on different brands of snow boots but you have to really shop carefully there, because some brands will vary widely in price depending on which size and color you want. There isn’t really an easy way to narrow it down that I found, because you only get to see the price after you take a look at the size and color you want. Still, we got Hi-Tec boots at Amazon for under $30 a pair when we shopped!
Now is the time to buy though – I was surprised to notice how many of the snow boot sizes were already out of stock in certain brands or stores. Read reviews carefully to gauge whether the fit runs small, large, or true-to-size.
If you live in a cold area, synthetic shoes just don’t cut it in winter. Leather has extra insulating properties. I found this out from experience after switching between leather and synthetic myself, and I didn’t want my kids to endure the biting cold of synthetic shoes in winter while waiting for the school bus.
Finding children’s genuine leather shoes is not easy though. Year after year, I pretty much have to hunt around for these. Again, it’s even more difficult if you need more than one color or style for different kids. Sadly, most children’s clothing stores sell synthetic shoes only. And local department stores are pricey for leather shoes, at $50 and up, which I wasn’t prepared to do. The past several years I’ve found that eBay is my best bet for cheap but good quality children’s leather shoes, to my surprise. I only buy from sellers who offer a stock of genuine leather shoes in a choice of sizes that are either New With Tags or New in Box. There are too many random individuals passing off used items as new on eBay. Check the seller rating carefully. Also, read item descriptions carefully.
Unless your child is older and can handle gloves him or herself, mittens are the way to go! Unlike gloves though, mittens are a lot harder to find, but I can help you there. If you can find waterproof mittens locally, by all means do so where you can try them on. However, I noticed these were hard to find in-store (gloves were easier though).
I got my kids’ mittens from Amazon.com last year, and these will probably still fit this year. You’ll want at least one pair of waterproofs for snowy or rainy days, plus a separate pair (waterproof or not) for everyday or temporary back-up use. Bonus: waterproof mittens are useful year-round if you ever take your child to the ice skating rink. Another issue is sizing: sadly all too many online sellers do not provide much sizing information regarding mittens. I found that reviews helped me immensely here.
In cold areas, you’ll need more headgear than just the hood on your child’s jacket. I like to use the style with the ear-flaps that connect below the chin (shown in my pic at top of page). This gives your child’s ears better protection from frostbite. However, this style of hat (known as Aviator Hat or Bucket Hat) is not easy to find! And like mittens, hat sizing can sometimes be difficult to determine from online sellers, and again reading customer reviews helps.
If you can shop in-store locally, this may be a safer bet for you fit-wise. As with mittens, aviator/bucket hats were not easy to find in-store. The good news: For kids aged 6 to 10 or so, once you find the right hat, you can probably get away with the same hat for several years if the fit isn’t too snug to begin with.
Yes, sunglasses are a winter item! Without them your child has a lot more chance of suffering snow-blindness in winter playing in the snow, than of sun-related eye damage in the summer.
Here it is critical that you get good sunglasses with a decent UV rating. Sunglasses in my opinion should always be something you have your child try on – it can be difficult or impossible to buy suitable ones online. Know that local stores often forget to replenish their stock of sunglasses in winter! In this situation, keep a good eye out for sunglasses when you’re out and about.
Children’s sunglasses can be especially hard to find compared to adult ones, but again it’s more important that your child has something ready and available for their safety, than the “perfect look”. For beyond the preschool years, go with a narrower-fitting women’s frame if you can’t find children’s sunglasses. Gas stations, pharmacies, “big box” discount stores, and supermarkets are great places to look. Again check the UV ratings, and have your child try them on in-store before buying.
Last but not least, snug-fitting pajamas are a great winter item. I like the really close-fitting style (for boys or for girls) that are PJ’s by night and can do double duty by day as a long-sleeved undershirt and/or long johns for really cold weather. They also make bedtime easier: no buttons to deal with.
You can find this style of pajama at The Children’s Place, Crazy 8, Carter’s, OshKoshBGosh and Gymboree. Check reviews carefully for fit – the style is quite snug-fitting so if in doubt go one size up. We’ve bought ours exclusively from The Children’s Place, but only because it’s always happened to be the cheapest option at the time we’ve shopped. I’ve always had them last through at least two kids and usually still be in good enough condition to pass down to a younger cousin.
The bottom line: You can prepare your child for winter at a cheap price point! Remember, some items may last for more than one season. Getting more for your money can be a whole lot of fun!