I’ve heard people say lately that thrift stores have gotten so expensive that they’re not even worth shopping at any more. While I agree that thrift store prices have gone up quite a bit in the past few years, I still think they’re a great way to save money, and I’d say thrifting easily saves our family hundreds of dollars every year. I know one of the main frustrations with thrifting is that it can sometimes feel like you just don’t find anything, but if you go regularly, say once a month, and know what to look for, you can save a bundle. It helps to know what items you’re going to be able to save the most money on at the thrift store, so I’ve compiled a list of the things I almost always buy at the thrift store.
1. Winter and snow gear. Outfitting just one child for winter can be super expensive, even if you’re shopping at discount stores like Walmart or K-Mart. Snowboots will be about $30, snow pants at least $20, and a good winter coat another $30. That’s at least $80 per child, not counting gloves and hats. Sure, you can get this stuff for less during winter clearance, but if you forgot to buy ahead and you’re heading into winter, all the gear can be a huge investment, especially for things that might not get tons of use. That’s why I always buy winter gear at the thrift store. I can usually find boots, snow pants, and winter coats for about $5 each, which is much less than they usually sell for even on clearance. So I figure I’m usually saving at least $60 per child on winter gear alone. (These boots were priced at $6 and $5)
Anytime I’m at the thrift store I check for boots, snow pants, and coats, and I buy anything that looks good even if I don’t have a child in that size this year. Because styles for these items don’t really change, I can keep snow things for years if needed. If you don’t have room to stockpile, just keep an eye out for the sizes you need. I’ve found if you’re willing to hit up the thrift store a couple of times during summer and fall it’s not hard to round up everything you need in the right sizes. (This winter coat, which is quite a bit heavier than it looks, was priced at $5)
2. Bags, backpacks, and lunch boxes. Supplies and prices of different items will vary from thrift store to thrift store, but I’ve had great luck buying purses, backpacks, and computer bags at my local stores. Since so many women love buying new purses and bags, lots of them end up at thrift stores hardly used. If you’re not worried about a name brand, it’s a great place to get gently used purses for under $10.
You can also get great deals on nice backpacks and lunch packs if your kids aren’t too worried about having a character on them. I often find great quality, never used backpacks with a company logo on them – someone received it free from the company they work for and promptly donated it. My son picked one out a few years ago with a small health company logo on the front – it’s a great size with lots of extra pockets and has held up through two school years already – for $4! Since school started this week I hit up the thrift store and got 4 insulated lunch boxes for $1 each, meaning I spent $4 total instead of almost $50.
I’ve also found a couple of nice neoprene laptop bags/sleeves for $2 or $3, which is a savings of at least $15 on buying them new.
3. Kids’ shoes, specifically types that get grown out of before they get worn out, like church shoes, baby shoes, and summer sandals. I don’t buy our “main” shoes at thrift stores – we buy new for things like tennis shoes that will get worn over and over. But shoes that aren’t worn nearly as often, like church shoes, are a great buy at the thrift store. I have 4 boys and I don’t think I’ve ever purchased church shoes new for any of them (I know, I’ve just revealed that I’m embarrassingly cheap, but there you go). Plain black Sunday shoes run at least $20, even at Walmart, so when I find ones at the thrift store that are gently used for $6 instead, I always buy them.
I also bought my daughter’s shoes from the thrift store almost exclusively for her first few years. Babies’ feet grow so quickly that lots of tiny shoes are donated still in a great condition. You’ll find more for girls than boys, for obvious reasons
Even shoes that look a little grungy can often be restored to like new condition with a toothbrush and toothpaste. I always wipe down the insides of shoes with a paper towel doused in rubbing alcohol to make sure everything’s clean.
4. Lounge wear and sportswear. I get clothes of all types at thrift stores, but it can be a lot of work to search through the rows to find things that look good and fit right. However, when it comes to loungewear, the fit is usually easy and appearance isn’t quite as important, so it doesn’t take as long find items that work. Pajamas, especially flannel or fleece pj pants and t-shirts, are easy to find for just a few dollars, which delights my kids since they have an insane love for pjs. Same for sweatpants, hoodies, t-shirts and sports shorts.
5. Toys. You can find LOTS of toys for babies and toddlers at the thrift store for jut a few dollars each, which is great because it means you can buy the toy, let the kids play with it for a few months, and then just donate it right back when they’re tired of it. Any plastic toys I buy get sprayed down with a bleach-based cleanser in the sink or tub, then rinsed and wiped 10 minutes later, just to make sure they’re clean. We don’t usually buy plush toys at the thrift store, but if we do the rule is that they have to go through the washer and dryer first. (This leapfrog drum was priced at 75 cents – we bought one just like it new a few years ago for about $18.)
If you’re lucky, you can sometimes find bags of Legos or Megablocks for just a few dollars – those things are like gold! Don’t forget to check out the board games as well – we’ve purchased quite a few for around $3, instead of $20-$30 new
By buying items from just these 5 categories at the thrift store, you can save hundreds of dollars per year. Here are some other things I’ve had success saving money on at the thrift store:
- frames: thrift stores sell photo frames (especially large sizes) for much less than you’d pay retail
- pillows: pillow forms are quite expensive – you’ll find scores of throw pillows at the thrift store for $2 or $3 each. grab a few that look like they’ll go through your washing machine just fine, then add your own pillow covers
- furniture: if you’re willing to refinish items, you can score amazing deals on furniture
- fabric: if you sew, you should always check out the bedding aisle. Sheets give you yards and yards of fabric for just a few dolls each. I also buy men’s t-shirts (usually just a dollar or two each) and use the knit fabric for skirts, leggings, or tops for my daughter
- all sorts of miscellaneous items such as luggage, filing cabinets, coolers, life jackets, bikes & trikes, etc.,
Now, all thrift stores aren’t created equal, and because inventory changes rapidly thrift store shopping can be frustrating – so I’ll be back next week with how to save money at the thrift store pt. 2: how to get the best deal on the things you want.
Let me know what you like to buy at the thrift store in the comments!