How to Shop at a Thrift Store

Kids are expensive, so is their stuff. While kids grow like weeds; their clothes and toys do not. So how can you provide material things for your child without going into bankruptcy? Buy used! I've been thrifting for about 15 years and I still can't get enough. Now that I have children, it's even more of a thrill because I'm thrifting with a purpose rather than just as a hobby. We've saved thousands of dollars through buying items used or trading with other parents. If you're eager to save money but intimidated by the huge stores with racks of weird looking clothes, I've broken down the essential tips for successful money saving experiences:

Tips for Thrifting
  • Know your child. If you're child(ren) already hate shopping, DON'T TAKE THEM WITH YOU. A thrift store is not like Target. It is a time commitment and can be full of temptations for short-legged, sticky-fingered creatures like children. Personally, I think it's absolutely worth paying a babysitter so you can have the time to really evaluate what you're looking for.
  • Pace Yourself. Thrifting can be like a road trip - keep a full stomach and empty bladder! If you go into the store hungry and irritable, you've already lost. You should plan to spend at least 1 hour in the store so you can really dig and find great bargains.
  • Location Counts. If you're searching for something in particular, location will determine what you will find. Affluent neighborhoods yield higher quality and more current items. Older neighborhoods have fantastic vintage items. Southerners love Vera Bradley. Yankees love leather. Young neighborhoods have children's items, etc.
  • Dress appropriately. Not all thrift stores have a dressing room, and the thrift stores that do have dressing rooms are usually packed with other people. With that in mind, it's easiest for the person trying on clothing to wear slim fitting pants, a slim fitting top, and slip-on shoes so one can try things on over existing clothing.
  • Know your brands. You may be surprised how many high-quality brands end up on the racks of a thrift store. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit like me, there's also a better chance of re-selling the item later if it's a recognizable brand.  I bought an Oilily dress for Joanna for $.75 at Goodwill. She wore it about about 6 times before outgrowing it. Because of the brand, I was able to sell the dress on eBay for $12!  But be careful - selling on eBay can be very hit and miss. Major brands and professional sports team apparel are more likely to sell, but there are no guarantees.
  • Discount Days. Some locations offer discount days. Our local Salvation Army takes 25% off every Wednesday. The DAV has $5 bag days where you pay only $5 for whatever you can shove into a bag. Call ahead to see what kind of discount your local thrift store offers.
  • Go with your gut. If something catches your attention, check it out! If it's fabulous but too big, it can be altered. If it's adorable and too small, you could use it as something else. A skirt, little apron, scarf, etc. Check out New Dress A Day for some incredible before and after photos. The things she comes up with range from simple to genius.
  • Most things can be fixed with some TLC.  Plastic toys are easy to clean. I tend to stay away from battery operated toys because the battery can be corroded by the time it ends up in the thrift store. In terms of clothing, if you can patch a hole or create a hem, you can turn many things into a functional piece of clothing. If something has a stain that doesn't come out, you can dye it to a new color.
  • Smart Phones are your friend. If I'm looking to make an investment or check to see if something has all of its parts, I always use my smart phone to do some research. Below, you'll see a photo of an espresso machine below that I bought for $12. It's an older model from the late 1990s, but it was unused. The gamble paid off because it makes wonderful coffee and lattes.
  • Have fun! Thrifting is best enjoyed as an adventure with others. If you can, try to go with others that aren't your size otherwise you may find yourself fighting over bargains. Especially shoes.
  • Espresso
    My $12 Krups Espresso Machine is my favorite thrift find to date.
    Gap Maternity Dress for $4.50 / sold later for $64.00 on eBay
    But what about Yard Sales?
    I have two different strategies for yard sales. Either start early or start late. If you start early, you'll get first dibs on the good stuff. If you start late, you'll get the best prices but it will be picked over. Your strategy will depend on whether you are looking for something in particular or if you're going for fun.
    • Start Early. Early can mean 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., depending on your local yard sale culture. Some yard sale listings will have a time and some may even say "No Early Birds.".
    • Start Late. Late can mean 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I usually prefer to go later so I can snag better deals. More often than not, people are so tired of staring at their possessions that they'll give you many items for free! I can't count how many children's clothing and toys I've received for free when all I really wanted was a lamp. Did I take the free stuff? Of course I did! If its free, its for me.
    • Bring more cash than you think you'll need. If you think you only want to spend $40, bring $100. If you only want to spend $100, bring $200. You may find a great piece of furniture that you didn't expect to find. You don't want to ask them to hold it while you run to the ATM - chances are that if they have another buyer, they won't hold it for you. (Nor should they!) If you end up with extra cash at the end of the morning, hide it in your freezer for a rainy day.
    • Location Counts. Just like with thrift stores, the neighborhoods determine what you will find. Kids items, vintage, high end goods, etc.
    • Check Craigslist. Nowadays, most families no longer list their yard sales in the newspaper - they use the internet. Craigslist is my go-to for yard sale announcements. Some even include photos of the items.
    • Always ask for a deal. If the sticker says $5, ask if they'll take $3. The worst thing they'll say is no.
    • Bundle Bundle Bundle. If you're getting more than one thing, ask for a lower combined price. Like I said before, the previous owners want to get rid of their stuff as quickly and as economically as possible. They will usually take the lower price just to see it go.
    • Just like thrifting, keep a full belly and an empty bladder. If you're hungry, you're already off of your game.
    • If the kids are selling lemonade and cookies, buy them. This isn't really a saving money rule, but its just a good thing to do. Those kids worked hard. They deserve the $.50 and a $4.50 tip.
    • Plastic can be washed. Below are photos of my most recent yard sale finds. Little People brand toys can go for $20 to $50, depending on the models. I snagged the doll house for $2 and Noah's Ark with the animals for $.50. The Mega Blocks in the back can retail for $35 and I paid $7. All of them were very easy to clean and my little girl LOVES them! The other photo is her 2-sided play kitchen that we bought for $40. The former owner even gave us all of the food and kitchen accessories for free because we were helping her clean out her house.




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    So what are your favorite finds? Did you get them at a yard sale? Thrift store? Retail store? Be sure to share about it in the comment section!