Natti Gilbert

Article Summary:

Tips for successfuly thrift store shopping. Get some great items and save lots of money.

Thrift Store Shopping

In the last year, our family of five has changed dramatically. My eldest grew from a size 12 in girls to a 3 in women’s sizes, and my sons went from an 8 to a 12 and an 18 months to a 3T. Basically all three at the same time outgrew almost everything that they own. We didn’t have the money to buy them all new clothes including jackets. The prices for new clothes can be outrageous and it’s ridiculous to overspend when a rough-and-tumble child will only get them dirty. I decided that I would get them used coats for spring and winter coats for next fall.

After going to only two used stores, I succeeded in getting my daughter 4 new jackets, one son 2 winter coats and 2 jackets, and the other son 2 winter coats and a jacket. All of the coats were in very good to excellent condition. Many of them were namebrands including Columbia, Reebok, Below Zero, Bike, and the Limited. The total cost for this was $49.48. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without buying them from a thrift store. I can’t even fathom what the cost would have been if they were bought new. The kids and my husband were ecstatic. In order to do this, I first went through their closets with them to donate their coats that they had outgrown. I asked them about favorite colors and unacceptable colors or styles. It took me a couple of hours to do this, but not much more than it may have taken to buy them new. Definitely worth the trouble and time I spent.

Over the years, I have been able to buy most of their clothing and occasional pairs of shoes at thrift stores. By keeping a basic list of their needs and my husband and my needs. When I go thrift shopping, I don’t approach things the same way as I would if shopping at the mall.

1. I keep a list of what we need and want for clothes, toys, household items, etc. This keeps me focused and not spending too much buying things that we don’t actually need. Since women’s clothing outnumbers boy’s and men’s clothing by at least twice as much, it is easy without a list to buy too much for my daughter and not keep trying for the boys. I also try to plan ahead a few months with seasonal items like bathing suits and boots.

2. I have already gone through the stores in my neighborhood to find the ones that have the best selections for different items and the best prices. You can go to your neighborhood stores or online sources and browse until you get a feel for what is available.

3. I have identified sales days and marked them on my calendar. One store has dollar day on the first Wednesday of every month.

4. I go to the thrift store and literally walk down the aisles and look at what is available on my list and what is the price. (A price book is helpful here, because sometimes new prices aren’t too much more. For example Payless shoes on sale are about the same as thrift store shoes.)

5. I go through a section like boys pants. I select every pair of pants that is the right size and anywhere near acceptable. After I get to the end of the aisle, I look through what I have selected and keep what I want to buy and put the rest back on the rack.

6. It can be time-consuming but the thrill of getting a nearly new or new item for really cheap keeps me going back. To save time, sometimes I bring my children and husband and put them to work looking for certain items.

7. I like thrift stores better than garage sales, because they are organized and have larger selections. I usually only go to garage sales for fun, because it is frustrating to drive around all day and end up with purchases you don’t need and not finding what you do need.

For successful secondhand shopping:

  • Go potty before you go, because secondhand stores often don’t have public bathrooms.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
  • Eat before you go.
  • Make a list of what you are looking for including sizes, colors, etc. If I am trying to match something, like a coat to match a skirt, I would bring that skirt with me to the store. I usually let the clerk know so they don’t try to charge me for it.
  • I keep a list for used store purchases like a grocery shopping list. When someone outgrows a pair of shoes or pants, I write down that item on the list and the bigger size to start looking the next time I go thrift shopping.
  • Look carefully for stains, rips, etc.
  • Take the time to try clothes on and test electrical items. It can save you a lot of hassle trying to return items.
  • Many stores have strict or no return policies. My favorite local store will let you return an item for in store credit only within 30 days with receipt and tag still attached to item.
  • Watch for store specials, sales, and coupons. Ask the clerks, if you don’t see any posted or advertised information.

Nattie Gilbert is married to Jeff and they live in Longmont, Colorado, with their three children Alicia, Michael, and Dalton. In addition to family, school, and writing, Nattie works fulltime as a book editor for

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