Tales of a Thrift Store Mom



My love affair with thrift store shopping has been burning deep inside since I realized I could buy weird, soft, old t-shirts from Goodwill instead of “borrowing” them from friends or finding them in the lost and found. I’ve been in love with a vintage, quirky t-shirt since the late 1990s, and I would probably still wear one every day if I didn’t have to pretend to be a grown-up at a semi-professional job all week long.

I lost touch with my thrift store roots for a number of years, and then I had children. My kids are hard on their clothes. Jeans only survive for a month or so without new holes in the knees. Shirts are constantly getting holes and stains. Suddenly, my thrift store urges came back stronger than ever. The stores and their great deals were waiting for me with open arms.

I mainly buy clothes when I shop at thrift stores, and overwhelmingly, the clothes are for my boys. I love that I am able to transfer my love of strange t-shirts onto my lovely boys and bask in the satisfaction of buying a Star Wars Lego t-shirt for my son who is obsessed with both. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the amount of items I’ve found for myself and others – things I can wear to work and church even! I get so much satisfaction in bragging about my good finds, especially to my fellow thrifty friends, and I’m often asked where and how I find clothes (disclaimer – I am not a fashion conscious person, so this type of shopping works for my very simplistic wardrobe).

So without further ado, here are my suggestions for thrift store shopping.

Not everything is a good deal.

Just because you found it in a thrift store doesn’t make an item worth buying. For example, I was looking for a particular style of vase, and I found one at a local thrift store for $4, then I saw the same thing NEW at Dollar General a few days later for $3. Thrift store shopping is becoming more mainstream, which means prices tend to go up. Remember, unless it still has tags on it, you are buying second hand, so don’t be fooled into paying too much!

Try things on.

So I bought this cute pair of coral pants, and they were perfect for spring. I did not try them on because I knew the brand and size fit me just right. I got them home to find out they had been hemmed for someone shorter than me. I was able to salvage them (hello capris!), but that is not always the case. Just because you are familiar with the brand or know the size does not make anything a sure bet. Some people get rid of clothes that have shrunk in the wash, for example, which would make the perfect shirt in your size the perfect shirt for someone a few sizes smaller than you. Trust me, find a dressing room if you can.

Inspect everything.

Remember, people often donate for a reason. You don’t want to get home with green-checked button-up shirt for your son to wear for Easter only to find an old ink stain on it once you are home (not that this has ever happened to me…).

Plan ahead.

I rarely go thrift store shopping looking for anything in particular, but I have a basic knowledge of what we have and what we need, so I can stockpile a bit. Try to buy clothing out of season (it’s often cheaper that way). This is incredibly easy to do with children, and it often makes me feel like a boss when I can easily locate another pair of jeans when the old faithful jeans are suddenly too short or the have a hole in the knee AGAIN.

sale sign at Northside Neighborhood House
Sale sign at Northside Neighborhood House.

Even thrift stores have sales!

Some of my favorite thrift stores have regular deals where a certain color of tag will be half price or a particular rack of clothes is $1.

Try not to spend more than you could reasonably get back.

I’m not a haggler nor do I re-post things on online yard sale pages regularly, but I do consign clothing for me and my boys. I always plan on breaking even or coming close with items I buy secondhand.

Have a plan for items you can’t use.

It is not always feasible or timely to try everything on, but I usually know who I can give something to if I don’t need it or can’t use it. Thank goodness for family and friends of varying sizes.

Be on the lookout!

I don’t regularly shop at Goodwill, Salvation Army, or even America’s Thrift Store. I know they have good items, but I prefer smaller stores. You probably have more thrift stores near you than you realize, so be on the lookout for them! You can always use a resource like this as well to find something close by.

Now I must brag. Here are a few of my recent finds.


Thrift CollageTop left: Vineyard Vines half zip pullover for $1 (retail value $55)

Top right: Black peeptoe canvas wedges for $4 (retail value $40+)

Top middle: (Ok, so I do still buy t-shirts for myself because I can’t help it) I heart Hanson t-shirt $1 (retail value priceless)

Middle left: Sperrys and Toms $3 a pair (retail value $50+ and 30+, respectively)

Middle right: LL Bean backpack with my son’s initials (hubby found this one and was quite impressed with himself) $5 (retail value $40)

Bottom left: bright pink Converse sneakers for my baby niece 50 cents! (retail value $20+)

Bottom right: Star Wars t-shirts for my Star Wars obsessed children (retail value priceless)


Now it’s your turn to brag. What’s your best thrift purchase? Where do you find the best items? Do you have any tips and tricks to share?


  1. Before going to Disney where I knew I would be bombarded with merchandise, I shopped thrift stores and yard sales for like-new Disney clothes. Each morning the boys got a new to them t-shirt to wear in the park. Not once did they ask me to buy clothes and we got out there with three sets of ears and Aladdin swords. Score!!!!!

  2. I need to get back to thrifting more! I HATE taking my kids shopping and rarely have a chance to go without them, but you are right about the boys going through pants like hot cakes. I was bummed when they moved the Northside Neighborhood store from right across the street.

    I would give you $20 for that Hanson shirt. ?

    • I loved that one too! Both locations are great, but that one had a great convenience factor for me too. Luckily the Northshore area one is convenient to work for me!

      Hanson is not for sale. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else wearing it. Also, it has been washed so many times that it is starting to get pinholes. Just don’t mention it to Bryan – I think he would probably pay you to take it! 😉

  3. I’ve shopped around at Goodwill and found some smaller treasures, never clothes sadly, so I’m going to try and find some smaller local thrift stores! Hopefully I can find some cute, affordable clothing like you mentioned. Thanks for sharing these tips!

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