Some of you may swear by Salvation Army, and I used to love them before Community Aid moved in - other people really like Goodwill, Volunteers of America, Purple Heart - the trick is the management. The reason I love Community Aid is it's always kept clean, it's well stocked with all sizes (kids especially), and they make a real effort to only put out things in good shape, so I don't have to spend as much time checking for damage on clothing. In your area, the store that does that might be Goodwill. Either way, this is my favorite thrift shopping trick.
Once a week, our store runs a 50% deal - everything is 50% off for the day. Pretty awesome. But about once a year they run a Dollar Day promotion - all the clothes marked down to a dollar! So when I know Dollar Day is coming, I do a quick inventory of the family's clothes. What do we need, what size is everyone now, what DON'T we need, and write it all down.
I know, Dollar Day is cheap - you could get a mountain of clothes and not sweat the price much - but if you pay to take something home that doesn't fit, you then have the hassle of figuring out what to do with it. In general, I've found that buying dresses and skirts a little bit too big is safe - they're easy to take in. Shirts have some flexibility, but you don't want to look like you're stuffed into it or swimming in it, so find a decent size range you can play with. Pants are the hardest to find, since everyone is shaped so differently and pants will cut off your circulation or fall right off if they don't fit right.
So the second step is what I consider pretty smart. The dressing rooms are closed on Dollar Day, so go and find your favorite, best fitting pair of jeans. Write down the brand, size, and cut - I love Old Navy jeans for this, because I know I wear a size 10 Sweetheart cut, the styles (Diva, Sweetheart, etc) are embroidered on the back inside waistband, and they're common enough that I can usually find a few pairs. If I feel adventurous, once I've found the first pair of jeans that I know will fit, I branch out by holding the "sure thing" pants up against other pairs of different brands. Obviously, you need to be aware if one pair is stretch denim and the other is "standard" denim or other non-stretchy material - they will fit VERY differently.
|Credit to http://www.newdressaday.com|
For the kids, sizes are pretty much standard unless you have a skinny or plus sized kid. Then you just have to worry about what's needed, and what's available in the right size.