How to live on less: A guide to thrifting

WinkIvy says:

If you’re trying to live on less money and you are not yet acquainted with the joy of thrift store shopping, let me introduce you. Reader, meet thrift store. Thrift store, meet reader. Now that y’all know each other, let me give you some good tips on thrift store shopping.

The first rule of thrift store shopping is you do not talk about thrift store shopping* don’t let that shopping end up costing you more money. It’s very easy to pile up a big bunch of bargains and realize you’ve overspent your budget. So go in with a firm budget in mind, and do not spend over that amount of money, no matter what.

Find out when the sales are at various thrift stores and hit the stores when the sales are. Additionally, find out what thrift stores are in town and go to all of them to get a “feel” for what they are and what they’re like. Some consignment stores are rather expensive, others are really well priced. Same with thrift stores. Some are beautifully organized and are easy to find your way around in, others are horrid messes.

Try any items of clothing on before you leave the store. Many thrift stores have limited return policies and besides, using gas to return that item within the time frame allowed isn’t very thrifty. 😉

Make sure any items you buy are things you will actually use or enjoy. Don’t just pick something up because it’s super cheap.

In addition to the regular thrift stores, there are outlet stores (Goodwill, for example) that sell stuff by the pound or bag. You go and look through giant bins full of stuff and sometimes you can come up with the most amazing bargains EVER.

I know our readers have other great thrifting tips, let’s hear them!

*Sorry, I watched Fight Club the other night, it’s sticking in my brain.


  1. mom, again on July 16, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I worked in a restaurant that had a dress code of casual, but collared shirts. Polo or golf shirts depending on where you live. Being not a tiny woman, I found I could get men’s brandname shirts (Lands End, LL Bean) in more than good enough condition for my purposes. For the price of a new woman’s shirt at the dept. store, I bought enough shirts to get me through the week without having to run a load of laundry. Being very good brand names, the fabric was tough enough for some heavy duty cleaning attempts, though if one did reach an unwashable state, it became a gardening/car work shirt for my husband.

    my very best purchase ever was a pair of brand new Salvador Ferragamo loafers, plus cedar shoe trees, in my extra, extra wide size, for $2.50. I’ve had them resoled twice for about $8 total spend, and worn them almost 15 years.

    the sad lesson i learned from this, though, is that if I could afford high end brands, I’d find more shoes that fit properly. (helpful people: pls. don’t advise the ‘wide’ shoes at the local cheap shoe store, those aren’t wide enough. usually a ‘D’, i need ‘EE’).

  2. Urban Frugal on July 6, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    I have seen some really great items, such as Madame Alexander Dolls, Effanbee and Jaeger and full skeins of wool, as well as Red Heart yarn. Often I can find assorted silver items. There have been times when I don’t buy anything, but it is just like shopping at any other discounter, you have to look to find things.

  3. Miss Genevieve on June 14, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    My thrift store trick is to go the stores located in the more well-to-do {or sections of} towns. The selection is better and so is the quality of the goods you find there. It may cost a bit more in gas but, it is well worth it for the real deals.

  4. […] How to Live on Less: A Guide to Thrifting. Ivy from Home Ec 101 is a bit of a thrifting pro (actually, she’s kind of a pro at a lot of stuff). Her readers have also chimed in with a lively discussion on the topic. […]

  5. meghan on February 23, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Thrifting is a little like Fight Club — I don’t talk about some of my special thrift stores…

  6. MarieLynn on February 10, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    For some reason I have thrift shop karma. Whenever I need something they just happen to have it in stock the next day.

    Recently, someone stole my daughter’s new snow pants at school, they were 85$ pants. On the same day I found a suitable replacement pair of lined waterproof pants for 1$.

    I see the nice woman who works at the local store get haggled all day over 25 cents by people who seem to buy to re-sell. I NEVER give her a hard time and she always gives me a good price anyway.

  7. Red Icculus on February 7, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Awesome article, but this site is broken in Firefox.

  8. Badbadivy on February 7, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    For those who are seeing this page incorrectly, we do know and are working on it. The problem is, we ALSO use Firefox and it looks fine on our screens, even doing a hard reload and even when we clear our cache. So, if you could send a screenshot of what you’re seeing to us at we would LOVE IT.



  9. dwindle on February 7, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Off the subject, this page doesn’t format correctly in Firefox, and the “recent readers” block sits on top of the text. Don’t know if you have any choice in the matter…

  10. Moose Hollow Farm on February 5, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    My brother used to manage 8 of the Goodwill stores in MA. One trick he did was to keep a dressmaker measuring tape with him. He had the tape marked at 1/2 the waist measurements for all of us. That way when you look at a skirt or pair of pants, you just measure the waist as it faces you. it should be 1/2 your waist measurement. He’d use that as a guide to buying for us.

  11. Thrift Shop Romantic on January 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Half of my home decor came from thrifts– though some of it with a bit of a crafty upgrade.

    There are great pieces of small furniture to be found– some of them might just need a facelift with paint or a new cushion– so look at the bones of the furniture– the lines– and see if the shape is pleasing. You might end up finding yourself a piece you’ll love.

    And regarding glassware, if you don’t need a full set right away, but find a few dishes of one kind you like, consider buying them and putting them away. I’ve ended up building really nice vintage dish sets by thrifting over time.

  12. JanB on January 26, 2008 at 9:28 am

    I buy glassware at thrift stores and paint flowers on it with enamel paint and resell it at an art shop. I made $87. this month and the glass sells for pennies.

    I buy about 85% of our clothes at thrift stores. Last week I found a beautiful dress and wore it to church and got so many compliments. It was a buck fifty.

    I also donate all of our stuff that we don’t need right back to the same store. It supports a local center for kids with no homes.

  13. Ann at mommysecrets on January 22, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    I’m so glad that Meredith from commented above. She posts frequently about her super-great-finds from thrift stores and garage sales. I love reading about her treasures and learning from her repurposing tricks!

  14. Dawn on January 22, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    I was able to get a great deal on a sewing table at a thrift store once. I think it was $15 to $20. Which may seem like a lot but it folds into a small end table size cabinet and folds out to twice that with, the machine can fold down right inside the desk. Saves room and was a great deal!

  15. Jasi on January 22, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Once you become a regular at a local thrift joint and know which day they do inventory and put out the fresh stuff it can really feel like Fight Club.

    Rule # 6 That adorable mid-century, Malibu Blue cocktail table is not worth a trip to the ER. Let the deceptively sweet old lady with the stiletto in her cane have it.

    For reals, learn the inventory day, make friends with other hunters and play fair. Being sweet (or human) comes back to you.

  16. Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on January 22, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Trying on is especially important since sizes have changed over the last decade or so. I find that, especially in pants, I fit a 10 some things and up to a 14 in others. It does make picking things out a challenge sometimes!

    But hey, part of the fun is the thrill of the hunt.

  17. Amy on January 21, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    I am addicted to thrift shopping and I will never go back to the regular way of shopping.

    One tip that I could add would be ask if they offer frequent shopper cards or if they have a membership club. Our local Goodwill has a Booster Club that is $5 for the year. You get a coupon for one day out of the month and you get special fifty percent off days that the other shoppers don’t get discounts on. Consignment shops often offer stamp programs where you can get a percentage off or you can get better deals when you bring your items in. Definitely ask- it can’t hurt!

  18. kim on January 21, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I find pieces and parts of my dishes all the time. It’s the Pfaltzgraff Heritage pattern that has been produced for 15 years. I normally pay 25-50 cents an item instead of $8-10 at the mall 🙂

  19. Liz on January 21, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I love thrift store shopping! I buy most of my clothes and furniture there. It’s especially great for sweaters, coats, and dresses.
    Here’s what I tell people that go with me. Watch your purse-lots of people get ripped off in these places because you are focused. Check the zippers and buttons and armpits. Those tend to be the places where there is damage. Be ready to dig. The stores that are horribly organized are the ones that you can find the best deals in. Also go through your cart when you are all done and figure out what you really need.
    One of my best deals ever was a pair of italian leather boots I found. I bought them for a dollar fifty because I loved them. I went online later and saw that they retailed for $250, and I loved them more!
    And finally, give back. When the clothes don’t fit or are wearing out, donate them back. It’s good karma.

  20. Meredith from Merchant Ships on January 21, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Oops, I meant that you can get clothes for 99-cents on Wednesdays and Sundays at the regular Goodwill stores in Middle TN, not just the outlet.

    This calendar also makes the outlet pickins’ even slimmer.

  21. Meredith from Merchant Ships on January 21, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    I wish our Goodwill outlet still did clothes by the pound–now they want a pricey 99-cents+ per garment. (Not such a good deal when you can get that price on Wednesdays and Sundays.)

    I say learn the sale days and shop only then for the best bargains.

  22. Badbadivy on January 21, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    I have, to an extent, I meant to mention that in the post. Back when I wasn’t working, I’d buy only name brand clothing for my kids at consignment stores and thrift stores and then when they grew out of them, I’d sell them on Ebay, usually for more than I paid for the stuff in the first place.

    I don’t really have time to deal with all that now so I generally give outgrown clothing away. The key is to know your brands and know what stuff is worth on Ebay.

  23. Early Retirement Extreme on January 21, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    In my experience the thrift stores that are a little bit out of the way but not too far out of the way are the best ones in terms of quality vs price.

  24. Unruly Duckling on January 21, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    I’m curious to hear if anyone has had luck reselling thrift store buys for a profit, for example, on Ebay.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.