Winter boots for little ones on a budget

By Mir
September 18, 2007

Um, I mean, when you’re on a budget. Not your little one. Because that would just be weird. Moving on….

The very pretty Jean writes:


You are so wise, so pretty and have so much great advice (and ITA with you about bacon…yyummmmmm) So, I have a question. I know you no longer live where it is cold and where you need boots, but so many of us are still facing the long cold winter ahead. I have a 3.5 year old boy who grows faster than I can even tell you. I don’t know from year to year what size she he’ll wear so I always miss out on end of season sales. What’s the best place to look for decent winter boots without paying a small fortune? He’ll only wear them a few times in a season and I hate to spend a lot for that short a period of time.

Ahhh, winter boots for tiny ones. Have you ever noticed that they seem to cost just as much as their (much larger) big-kid counterparts? They’re one of the things that I truly hate to spend the money on. It can feel like such a waste. Still, you can’t exactly toss your kid into a snowbank in his sneakers, I suppose.

Just to be clear, a few caveats: Jean says that her son will only wear these boots a few times, so I’m not looking for best-of-the-best quality here. If you live in seriously snowy climes, and/or your child does winter sports, then you must go for a quality boot, absolutely. I’m talking Sorels, Kamiks, Columbia, LL Bean, etc. But in this case, that’s not an imperative. Also, the “right” thing to do here varies by age and family situation. To wit: a 3.5-year-old doesn’t merit as nice a pair of boots as an older kid, and a kid with several younger siblings merits nicer boots than an only child (because you can pass the boots down and get your money’s worth out of them). So keep all of this in mind as the “rule” by which I’m playing.

The very best way to get bang for your buck here is to buy ahead at the end of season sales, as Jean mentioned. In her case (and I understand this doesn’t help for this year, but just tuck it away for future reference!) what I would’ve done—in fact, what I often do with my own kids—is pick up multiple pairs of boots at the end-of-season sales. So, let’s say he wore a 7 in the spring. If I were you and I happened upon Target’s 75% off clearance, I would’ve picked up three pairs of boots in sizes 7.5, 8, and 8.5. When winter rolled around, I’d figure out the right pair for him and then sell the others to my local consignment shop, giving me credit towards other clothes he needs. Simple enough.

(When we left New England, I bought clearance Target boots for my kids for the coming winter. Had we stayed, those boots wouldn’t be sturdy enough for everyday use, but for our Christmas visit they’ll be fine, and I paid $5/pair.)

Given that this option is already lost to you, I’d say your second line of defense is to go thrifting. If you have a local kids’ consignment store, start there. If not, any Goodwill or other thrift store may yield a pair of good-quality boots that stuff have plenty of wear left in them. As you say, he’s only going to wear them a few times. I do not buy used shoes for my children most of the time (because regular wear will actually mold the footbed to your particular foot shape), but for something like boots where you buy them a bit large and wear extra socks, I make an exception.

Your third option is to sleuth around online and do some price-matching. For example, these dinosaur boots in blue are currently $18 at Amazon, but at Zappo’s they’re $37 and over at Endless they’re $38.95. If you can find the same size/color at Amazon and one of those other stores, you can price match and get them for about $15. (I’m using those boots as an example, but you may be able to find other deals.)

This isn’t going to be a huge savings, but you may want to consider looking at the boots available in the Land’s End Overstocks; the past-season colors are much cheaper than usual, and as these are pretty high-quality boots, you’ll be able to resell them for close to what you paid if he doesn’t wear them much. Just a thought. (Shipping costs are a concern, there, but if you’re like me, there’s always a few things you can find for yourself while you’re shopping Lands’ End!)

And I know someone is going to suggest eBay, but I can tell you right now that for something as heavy as a pair of snow boots, shipping will kill even the greatest deal. I’d skip it for something like this.

Readers, have more ideas? Hit us!


  1. Know anyone with older kids? I have borrowed winter boots and parkas and things like that from a friend. She didn’t mind a few more wears, and I gave them back so she could hand them down to her sister, who has kids younger than mine.

    I also have to second thrift store/consignment shop. We once got a great pair of Sorels for a school camping trip for $12. They looked brand new.

  2. Do you have a Kohl’s near you? They seem to have 50% off sales on boots multiple times in the fall. I usually get my daughter’s boots then (generally around $15-20 after discount.) The Totes brand generally holds up, even if they aren’t the warmest boots in the world.

  3. I ALWAYS get boots at consignment shops or yard sales or those church sales. The absolute WORST time to get them is right after the snow hits, get them ahead of time like in October, November. Some consignment shops will have left over stock from other stores. This way, you can try them on too. They run the whole spectrum in quality from cheapo walmart boots to boutique boots. I know one year I got my 8 year old son at the time brand name Columbia boots for $2!!! Last year I found two pairs of Lands End boots (one in an 8 another in a 9 toddler) again, worn once or twice, for $5 each… So, that’s my recommendation.

  4. If you get an L.L. Bean credit card, everything from there ships free (no minimum). I’ve seen boots there for, like, $11, at the very beginning of winter (when it was still technically fall), in colors they decided not to offer after all or something. That’s what I would do for THIS year, since you’re stuck. For the future, though, what I’d do is what _I_ do, which is to have so many children you can buy the 75%-off clearance boots for $5/pair at Target in every single size and be sure SOMEONE will get some use out of them.

    You could also see if there’s a Freecycle (mailing list for things people are offering/requesting for free) in your area and request boots–there’s a chance someone has a pair lying around in the right size.

  5. I do the thrift store, etc. route just like Melissa, but I pick up winter boots, whenever I spot them, year round. And I get them in any size I think might fit my daughter sometime in the future. At $2 to $6 a pop, I figure that even if there are one or two pairs that end up never fitting her, I’ve still paid WAY less than buying new, and I’ve got lots o’ boots stockpiled for future winters to save me the last-minute hassles!

  6. Yeah, so here’s a related jokie:
    My first grade daughter and her friend both needed new boots as winter approached. The friend got in the car one morning and finally had gotten her boots. “Tina,” I commented, “I see you got new boots! Where did you get them?”

    “At the store,” she answered.

    “Which one?” I asked.

    She began looking at her new boots and after a pause said, “Both of them!”

  7. I’m with you, Mir — I buy multiple sizes. Like last spring when the Land’s End boots were all $4-5 at Sears? Let’s just say we’re set for quite a few winters. 🙂

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