A Thriftier Way to Dress

By Kevin M

If you’re serious about reining in your household expenses, shopping in thrift stores is an option that needs to be investigated. Thrift stores offer an opportunity to buy clothing for pennies on the dollar compared with the cost of retail. Shirts $2, pants $4, typical! If you work in a business where mode of dress is a major issue, or you have a family who seem to burn through clothes with each turn of the seasons, saving money on clothing could be a major boost for your budget, and thrift stores are the perfect place to do it.

The Basic Setup

If you’re new to thrift stores and accustomed to the shopping experience provided by mall stores and prime retailers, they can be a bit of shock. Usually they’re set in shopping centers that are best described as less than prime, and the stores tend to have something of a bare bones look. This is of course as it needs to be; in order to offer the lowest prices, thrift stores cannot operate in triple A space. But if you can get past the store’s appearance there are true bargains to be had.

Thrift stores are dominated by clothing, but usually have sundry items in the back or corners that can include books, decorative pieces, furniture, and entertainment equipment. Though the arrangements can look a bit haphazard there is an order to it. Racks of clothing are separated by personal status (men, women, girls, boys, toddlers, etc) and, within each section, are arranged by type (pants, shirts, coats, etc). They are segregated by color, not by size as is typically the case with traditional retailers.

If you’re looking for prices, that hand written numeric scribble you see on the tags IS the price. Oh, and they do have fitting rooms.

Significant Benefits

The most obvious advantage is that you can purchase clothing at a much lower cost than at traditional retailers saving potentially thousands of dollars each year. The reason thrift stores can do this is because the merchandise is donated. Charity run thrift stores, such as Goodwill, collect donated clothing from the public, sell it in their stores and use the proceeds for charitable purposes. But as there are many charitable organizations collecting clothing these days, many raise funds simply by selling the merchandise to private thrift stores, eliminating the need to maintain a sales organization.

Thrift stores offer an especially generous advantage in regard to children’s clothing. Kids need clothing more frequently than adults either because they grow out of what they have, wear it out faster or tend to be more fashion conscious. Volume is a major driver in buying clothing for kids. Fortunately, the same factors affect most families with kids, with many people putting the clothes out for charity collection when they’re no longer needed. As a result, much of the children’s clothing in thrift stores is quite obviously barely worn. If your children are young and growing out of their clothing in a matter of only weeks or months, you will save quite a bit buying second hand versus new.

The vast majority of articles for sale are second hand, but most would fit under the classification of gently used. However, you can find some items that are brand new. My wife recently was able to purchase a pair of Liz Claiborne pants for under $5 and they were new–even the retail tags were still attached. Brand new the same article would have been well over $50.

Many items offered are brand name. Geography may play a part here; since merchandise is largely culled from local donations and clothing drives, there does seem to be a greater volume of brand name merchandise offered by thrift stores located in higher end areas, so even if you live in a more middle/lower middle class environment it may be well worth the time and gas to take a drive to stores located in the higher rent districts.

Finally, though most patrons probably don’t think about this, there are environmental benefits to shopping in thrift stores. Any new item you purchase requires natural resources to produce; by buying second hand you are, in effect, buying recycled goods. While many people participate in recycling projects in the disposal of goods, it is an equally significant contribution to be an end user of recycled products. Any product which is re-used reduces the demand for natural resources.

Some Things You May Need To Be Aware Of

Thrift stores are very much hit or miss. Most items are one of a kind. If you find the perfect shirt, blouse or pair of pants, but it isn’t in your size, you will have to look for something similar. It will be difficult to set your heart on buying a specific outfit in a thrift store since there is an overwhelming chance that either it won’t be in stock or it won’t be in your size. As such, it’s probably best to arrange your shopping trips as periodic rather than item specific, and plan on accumulating clothing on a continuous basis.

Put together a list of several thrift stores, and plan on making the rounds once or twice a month, or what ever your schedule permits. Go through all of the merchandise in your section of each store to find items that appeal to you. Go ahead and buy what you find, the prices are so low you won’t regret it later. Shopping in this way will also cut down on the cost and stress involved in large shopping sprees like back to school.

You need to be aware that thrift stores typically have a no refund policy, and since most items are second hand, you must be sure to check all articles thoroughly before paying.

Despite the obvious advantages of shopping in thrift stores, there are certain items I can’t conceive of buying second hand. Underwear is one, shoes are another, but you could probably come up with your own list. Moral of the story: don’t plan on severing your ties to mainstream retailers completely.

Saving money always makes me feel good, but if shopping represents a form of entertainment, and you genuinely enjoy the shopping “experience” you get at the mall, thrift stores can leave you a bit empty. Traditional retail stores focus not only on product selection, but also on ambiance. Product arrangement, store colors, customer service, music and even aroma’s are established to create an environment that just makes you feel good. So do as much shopping in thrift stores as you can–saving a ton of money in the process–then head over to the mall and enjoy the ambiance, and all the more since you won’t be paying for it.

2 Responses to A Thriftier Way to Dress

  1. I repaired clothing for years and sometimes still do. I have bought used clothing and other things at yard sales and estate sales. It takes some time but if you are patient, a good deal for something you need often will present itself. I bought nice bath towels at an estate sale once for $1 each… an elderly lady had died, and her family was selling everything including the house. I got a deal. I bet the towels at retail were $8 each if not more. I admit it felt strange at first, but I got used to it after saving so much money.

    If you always pay retail for things, you are probably spending more money than you have to.

  2. Your comment reminds me that thrift (of any sort) is more of an attitude adjustment than anything else. Once you cross the threshold into thrift and realize what you can save, the normalness that accompanies buying retail tends to fade and rather quickly at that.

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