Thrifting Basics: Why You Shouldn’t be Scared of the Thrift Store

Ohhh…back to school shopping. The dreaded price tag attached to that can send a momma reeling. With two school-aged kids of my own, I know this feeling all too well. There isn’t room on my budget spreadsheet (yes, I have one, and it’s glorious in all its nerd glory!) for $200 worth of brand new jeans that will come home with grass stains which I will no doubt flip out about…deep breaths…if spending that kind of money stresses you out as much as it does me? Welcome to Thrifting 101, with Alicia.

I’m going to teach you the joy of thrift shopping & (hopefully) take the stigma out of it for you. Trust me when I say it’s a game changer & your bank account will thank me for my services.

We’ll start slow so you can catch on quick…

1- No Distractions (with a necessary exception): You will need ample time to browse. Thrifting can be very overwhelming. If you are going in for back to school shopping you’re likely looking for a great variety of things- pants, skirts, shirts, shoes…it can be difficult to concentrate. When possible, leave the kids behind. If you must take them, stick to one aisle. Look at the shirts only, or find shoes that fit (if you’re worried about foot fungi, antibacterial sprays are your friend- apply liberally!). It’s like the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees”…there’s a wide variety of “trees” in a thrift store.

2- Inspect Your Selections: Check for pilling of fabric, look at all seams (especially armpits & wrists), open & close all zippers, snap all snaps, count all buttons. There is the odd chance that a retailer will give you a discount if you point out that a button is missing, but most of the time you may have to say a sad goodbye. In my opinion- if it’s not a Must Have item that you certainly could not find anywhere else…leave that damaged item behind. It often isn’t worth the cost or time to fix.

3- Don’t Touch Everything: This seems counterintuitive, “but Alicia, if there’s so much merchandise, shouldn’t I be looking at everything to make sure I see the best fit?” NO! If you’re a rookie, this will burn out your brain. Instead, slowly let your eye scan the rack for a pattern you love, a fabric that stands out, heck- even a length that you’re looking for. It can be too easy to grab everything that you think might work…this is the quickest way to hate thrift shopping.

4- What You Are Buying is What it Will Look Like: One of the things I love most about thrifting is that the clothes are all previously washed. If anyone is going to shrink the sleeves on that $60 sweater? It wasn’t you. You are looking at that shirt the way it will come out of your dryer. Is it wrinkly? If you don’t love ironing, don’t buy it. (and if you do? Hit me up, I’ve got a whack load!) Does that ruffle fall funny? Chances are you’re not going to fix that.

Which brings me to my next point;

5- Use Ultimate Discretion: Your success as a thrifter does not come from how full your bag is…it comes from the quality merchandise you can get for a significant discount.

6- Think Outside the [Retail] Box: I often browse first to find a pattern that catches my eye…often it’s something that I find kinda weird. But I pull it out from the pack, I consider it, I wonder what it would look like with a chunky necklace, a belt around the middle, a little more style. You would be surprised at how influenced you are by a retail store’s marketing. How the mannequins are dressed will influence what you buy because you think it looks nice. Things are grouped together on racks in the hopes that you will buy Piece A, Piece B & maybe these accessories at the counter together. You have to do this work by yourself at the thrift store, and it is work. To start out, buy 90% from your comfort zone (things you normally gravitate to), 10% of things you want to try. Keep your receipt- thrift stores allow returns too!

7- Look Outside the Size Ranges Noted: Just like different brands fit & size differently, thrift stores often have loose interpretations of “small” or “size 5/6”. And, grabby gusses will often move things around frequently.

8- You Don’t Have to Buy in Complete Outfits, but You Can: It’s not the way I shop. I buy separates because I know my style. Most of the things I buy naturally go together because I am attracted to similar things. Take a look in your closet before you go, you don’t need 17 button down shirts in jewel tones. At first, it may be harder to place together an outfit from six different spans of racks, don’t stress. Pick pieces you can work into an existing wardrobe staple.

9- Pay Attention to Pricing, but Don’t be Ruled By It: Thrift pricing is all over the place, if you think the price is high, it’s completely subjective. Trust your instincts but have an open mind. If the material is good, if you think you won’t find it somewhere else, if you’re totally in love with it? Buy it. It likely won’t be there tomorrow. But don’t be swayed too much by an emotional connection (it’s a real thing, trust me). They’re just clothes and next week there will be a replacement love for you.

Mostly you want to be sure you’re shopping smart, taking a few more precautions & opening your mind to a few more options. But the savings are real. Every region is different, so I don’t want to start giving pricing guidelines, but I would venture to say that I spend around 80% less than retail on all clothing purchases since…drumroll please…September 2010. My family is dressed well & we save money. It does take a little more brainpower and planning and time, but it’s infinitely worth it. See if your thrift store has a loyalty program, a discount card, sign up for weekly emails with coupons- if you’re already saving money, save a little more.

Have any questions for me? I’d love to hear them! Have any tips to add? Please! ADD THEM!

About the Author:

Creative, high-strung overplanner meets handsome, patriotic superfan. Married 6+ years, they proceeded to build an army of estrogen: three daughters in six years. Alicia rides the hormone train over on her blog Life With Ladies. She’s a fan of the overshare, and hopes that one day her daughters forgive her for writing letters to them all over the internet. She can be found @mrshiggison on Twitter and Instagram (infamous for #urinaledition) and come like their Facebook page for more ways on how to probably not give advice to your kids. Allegedly.


2 responses to “Thrifting Basics: Why You Shouldn’t be Scared of the Thrift Store

  1. Daniela Pueyo Grand

    Great post. This is the way I shop too and I totally agree with the tips given here! Don’t forget consignment stores too, you can even make money out of your old clothes!


  2. Pingback: Here, There. And around.

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