The Art of Thrift Shopping

Think back to your middle school and high school days. Were you overly concerned about what you wore? Did labels matter to you? Did you just have to have a pair of Guess Jeans? (If you weren’t in school in the 90s, I have absolutely no idea what brands have been hip – please enlighten me.)

Labels and brands mattered to me. I wanted to be in style like my friends, and the mere thought of shopping at discount stores sent shivers up my spine. My ideal shopping experience was at the mall and department stores. (I truly hope the Lord gave my parents an extra measure of grace while they were dealing with me and my fashion preferences.)

Then I grew up – and started buying my own clothes. Once I had my own part-time jobs as a busperson and grocery store cashier, I realized how hard you had to work for a little bit of money. And all of the fancy brands cost a LOT. When I finally could buy my own wardrobe, I realized my mom had been right (gasp!) – discount stores were great. So I stuck with them for years and discovered some amazing bargains, especially on the sale racks.

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My thrifty discovery

I discovered a completely different way of shopping when I was pregnant. Knowing that we would soon become a single-income family and knowing that we would soon have another person to dress and provide for, I didn’t want to waste a bunch of money on maternity clothes. They were just for nine months, right?

Here’s the crazy thing I quickly learned about maternity clothes – you can easily span three sizes throughout a single pregnancy, just by the way your body grows and changes. My inner cheapskate refused to spend the money on three different sizes of new maternity wardrobes. No way.

I borrowed some clothes from my best friend – and then I tried thrift shopping for the first time in my life.

Remember how I had loved shopping at the mall in my youth? I wasn’t super thrilled about walking through the doors of a thrift store. But I was thrilled when I walked out of the thrift store – with a HUGE bag of like-new maternity clothes for $30.

That shopping trip permanently changed my shopping patterns. I became a green shopper without even knowing it – I didn’t care about the thought of recycling clothes through my second-hand purchases. I just wanted to save a ton of money.

I was able to buy gently used clothes in my favorite brands for a fraction of the price.

My thrift shopping didn’t stop with maternity clothes. I bought adorable outfits for my new baby. When I lost my pregnancy weight and needed some fresh mommy clothes, I’d take $5 or $10 and buy a couple new-to-me outfits.

I have loved thrifting. Finding great deals always has brought a thrill, but somehow thrifting magnifies it. Like a $110 3 Sisters jacket I found for $9.99 (pictured below). Or a $150 evening gown I bought for $8. Or a pair of like-new Limited dress pants I bought for 25 cents.

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How to thrift

If you haven’t tried thrift shopping, you must. Here are 4 suggestions how to get started:

1. Scope out your area thrift stores.

Find out where the stores are around town.

Go inside and see the quality of clothes they offer and the prices.

Check if they offer discounts. Some stores have special discount days, other stores offer different discounts, and some stores host sidewalk sales.

Learn what forms of payment you can use. Is it cash only? Are certain credit cards allowed? How about checks and debit cards?

See how the merchandise is arranged. Are clothes separated by color? Size? Or both?

Discover if they accept donations, or if they act as a consignment shop – you may be able to sell the clothing you don’t want anymore.

2. Know what you’re looking for.

Before you go, make a list of things you need to look for. Think types of clothing and what seasons you want to shop for.

Also think about what colors you prefer. When you’re faced with racks and racks of clothing, it’s easier to have an idea of what you look good in – and what you’d like to buy.

3. Get ready to shop.

If you know you’ll have children with you, mentally prepare yourself for a shorter browsing time. If you want to spend a while looking, try to go without children.

Before you buy anything, check for buttons, zippers, rips and stains.

Also check the washing instructions. Since I shy away from dry cleaning (for ease, as well as environmental and budgetary reasons)  I try to only buy things I can wash at home – especially because I wash and dry my thrift store purchases as soon as I get home.

4. Set a limit.

Decide ahead of time how many clothes you really need. Limit yourself to what you can carry – or, if you’re shopping for your entire family, what you can fill in your shopping cart. Set a financial limit. Then have fun! You never know what you might find.

What’s your favorite thrift shopping strategy? What have been your favorite thrift store purchases?