thrift shopping tips

By the time my youngest was born, I realized that making sure all of my kids were clothed in seasonally appropriate clothes that fit them was a part-time job requiring more than a full-time job paycheck. My kids were barely making it through a season before growing out of the clothes I had just bought them, and the piles of clothes they’d outgrown were much higher than the piles of new clothes waiting to be worn.

I had always assumed that thrift stores were full of worn-out clothing that smelled like someone else’s house with stains to match until a friend taught me otherwise. Her daughter was always impeccably dressed. She wore brands of jeans I can’t afford to buy for myself with chunky sweaters layered over ruffly tops. And as most moms know, kids clothes are too expensive to layer, unless you’re sending your kids out into a snow storm! One day, after my friend’s daughter came running out of kindergarten in the most adorable dress, I finally asked my friend where she found such cute stuff. That’s how I learned about a local resale store that I’ve shopped at ever since.

In recent years, I’ve honed my thrift-shopping skills, and now I’m letting you in on some of my best secrets. Follow these tips, and you may never have to pay first-hand prices for kids’ clothes again.

  1. Follow the money. We all live near that one town where all the money resides. My absolute favorite thrift-shopping tip is to find a resale shop in the richest city near you. You will be AMAZED at what you will find. I’ve found designer clothes with the tags still on them, $300 snowsuits for under $20, and dress clothes that have never been worn for incredible prices. My favorite shop is 45 minutes away, but it’s well worth the trip once a season.
  2. Buy one-time-wear essentials. The stuff we hate spending money on—those items our kids wear maybe once or twice—these are the best things to find at a resale shop. If you’re looking for a holiday dress or winter boots, head to your closest thrift store in November. Need summer gear? Go right before Spring Break. You’ll find loads of seasonal items, many of which have never been worn, just like the ones hanging in your kids’ closets.
  3. Scan for coupons and punch cards. Most thrift stores will post coupons in your local newspaper or city newsletter/magazine. Some have punch cards at the counter or special sale days for certain items. Thrift stores can only keep items for so long, so they need to offer deep discounts. They’d rather sell for bottom-dollar before they have to purge unsold goods.
  4. Find out where unsold items go. Almost all resale shops have more inventory than they will ever sell. I always feel better supporting a shop that donates their unsold items. Throwing away perfectly good clothing and household goods that have not been sold is such a waste when there are so many people in need.
  5. Try not to impulse-buy. When I first started thrift-shopping, I bought like crazy just because things were so inexpensive. You all probably know what happened next. My daughter picked exactly one of the dresses to wear six days out of the week, and the rest of the pile quickly landed in our own to-donate stack of goods. Ten outfits at $20 isn’t that great of a deal if your opinionated toddler is only going to wear one of them.
  6. Spend time searching. The trick to thrift-shopping is finding a store or two that you like and sticking with them. In order to narrow down your choices, you’ve got to commit to digging through a few to determine whether or not they’re worth your time. Pack your patience and your hand sanitizer, and check out the racks you’d most likely frequent to see if they have decent-quality clothing at prices that make buying second-hand worth it.
  7. Expand your horizons. The more I’ve thrift-shopped, the more I’ve found to thrift shop for. Whenever my kids need a costume for anything, the first place we go is the thrift store. I’ve made fairy wings out of someone’s sparkly purple curtains, and our dog’s bed is a $5 kid’s comforter that I bought in its original packaging.

Whatever you’re looking for, I swear you’ll find it in a thrift store. Spend time searching for your favorite shop, and remind yourself that wandering the aisles might take a while, but the money you save will completely justify buying a latte on the way there and one on the way home.

Photo: Getty