My Thrifting Secrets

As someone who believes in a simple, minimal, non-consumerist lifestyle, I love buying things second-hand. There are some tricks to it though. I’ve seen people on both sides of the spectrum: people who are either afraid to shop at second-hand stores because they think they won’t find anything good and people who overindulge in the “deals” and end up spending just as much on lots and lots of cheap clothes – that aren’t quite right – when they could have saved up and gotten a couple of high-end pieces they really needed instead. I don’t always get it right, but I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’ve learned a thing or two. I hope you enjoy!

Focus on depreciation.

Do you want to know a secret? Used clothes aren’t worth that much. As Frugalwoods mentioned in her post: How to Thrift Like a Rockstar, clothes depreciate so quickly, you often come out WAY ahead when you buy used. 

Check out her example from her kid’s closet:

TOTAL: $249.89

  • USED Land’s End Little Kids Waterproof Snow Bibs (size 4T): $5
  • USED Land’s End Little Kids Squall Waterproof Winter Parka (size small/4T): $3
  • USED Kamik Kids’ Snow Boots (size toddler 11): $5

TOTAL: $13

Total saved: $236.89


Even I was surprised! And I’ve been buying second-hand since before it was cool….

Clothing for adults is priced quite similarly. Often, the savings are even greater since adults don’t outgrow and wear out their clothes as fast as kids do. An adult can spend $5 on a $100 sweater and wear it for many years, whereas a child will likely get one, maybe two, seasons out of it.

When I thrift, I’m not necessarily looking for items from Target or Walmart with the tags still on. These will be marked up because they are NEW, but still made pretty cheaply. I’m usually looking for higher-end brands that have been worn and loved – and because they are well-made still have lots of life left in them! This way the depreciation is most in my favor.

I look for quality fabrics and strong seams. I look for details like good zippers and buttons that aren’t made of cheap plastic. These are the kinds of items that will last.

I also look for items that may have imperfections I know how to fix. I recently found a great wool coat for $10 that was exactly what I was looking for. One of the buttons had come off and the person who donated it had left the button in the coat pocket. Good news! I know how to sew buttons! I bought it, sewed it up right away, and now have a $10 coat that would easily have been $200 (or more!) new.

Have a plan.

Be familiar with what you already have and plan ahead. If you’re really gonna commit, make a spreadsheet or a Google Doc of your wardrobe and keep it on your phone. Update it when you buy something new. If there are any gaping holes in your wardrobe, identify those things and be on the lookout.

Thrift stores can be overwhelming and can take hours (for me anyway) to go through because there is so much inventory, and just one of everything. If I don’t have a plan, like “today I am looking for shoes and a coat” then I waste a lot of valuable time sifting through things I don’t even need. I’m also more likely to overbuy. If you’re trying to be frugal or minimal in your approach, sticking to the plan is important!

Be picky.

Yes, I said it. You CAN overbuy at thrift stores. If you aren’t picky, it’s easy to overdo it and end up with stuff you don’t need, and don’t even like very much. Especially if you’re new to thrifting, it’s easy to go a little crazy and grab up everything that catches your eye. It’s all so cheap! It doesn’t matter! I’ve literally heard people say this at the thrift store, and pile up their shopping cart. Clearly they are rookies. This is exactly what you DON’T want to do.

My big secret to thrifting is this: only buy clothes that you LOVE and that FIT. Love is a pretty generic term. I typically don’t know if I love an item until I try it on. Things don’t always run true to size.

Here’s my winning strategy: I scan the store for what I’m looking for, and take an armload of things to the fitting room. From these 10 or more items, I easily narrow it down to 1 or 2 things that fit, feel good, and feel like me.

In the fitting room, be honest with yourself. Is this the type of thing you actually wear? Is it who you are now or who you think you want to be? Buying that article of clothing that isn’t you doesn’t magically make you into your fantasy self. In fact, when I wear things that truly aren’t me, I feel like a poser. I then get rid of those things and start from scratch again. Try not to make this mistake. Try to be picky from the very start.

Sometimes after I go through my items there’s one thing left. Sometimes two things. Sometimes none. Yes, sometimes I walk away empty-handed. And that’s okay! It isn’t failure. It’s actually a winBeing picky helps me know what’s really a good deal. (It isn’t a good deal if you’ll never wear it!) Being picky is what keeps my wardrobe pared down. 

Know what fits.

Fit is the secret to looking like a million bucks on a shoestring budget. Fit is the difference between looking like you’re playing dress up and looking like the real thing. Fit + quality = everything. I know this is hard because some of us have bodies that like to change on us. I get it. I’ve fluctuated sizes a lot since having kids, losing a lot of weight by running and breastfeeding, then switching sports and building muscle in different areas. All the more reason to not overbuy or overspend.

It’s better to have a small wardrobe that fits you now, than a packed closet with things that don’t fit. Even if you have to revamp that wardrobe once or twice a year as the weight falls off or as you go through pregnancy and postpartum, focus on who you are today. That is who you are dressing. Not who you were yesterday. Not who you hope to become tomorrow.

Fit is what makes us feel good in our clothes. Fit is what makes our clothes hang perfectly on us. Fit is what helps us love the bodies we’re in – even if we’re not at our “goal weight.” Squeezing into clothes that are too small just makes us feel worse. Wearing baggy, stretched out clothes makes us feel sloppy. You owe who you are today clothes that fit today – clothes that make you feel beautiful.

Be patient.

A good wardrobe takes time to curate. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just like decorating your home can take years to get right, creating your wardrobe is an ongoing process. Treat it as such. The purchases I’ve regretted the most are the ones that I’ve felt pressured by a self-inflicted deadline.

It can be hard to be patient when you know there’s just one of something and the price is too good for it to last long. But if you’re not sure in the moment, it’s always better to walk away. Better to miss one opportunity than end up with a whole closetful of clothes you regret. The cool thing about thrifting is that even when we get it wrong, there is less at stake. I’d rather regret a $5 purchase than a $500 purchase. Still, I try to be patient. I try to remind myself that it’s only clothes. At the end of the day it’s not that big of a deal. At the end of the day, my family will still have something to wear. And for that, we should be grateful.

Take breaks.

Every now and then I take breaks from thrifting -and all unnecessary spending- to recenter myself on what really matters. I save a little money, but it’s not really about the money I save. Honestly, if my kid needs shoes, I will buy him shoes. It doesn’t make a huge difference if it’s this month or next month!

The breaks help me not get too addicted to the dopamine hit of finding a good deal or making an online purchase. The breaks help remind me that shopping isn’t everything. That a walk in nature or a little yoga is just as refreshing – and much more nourishing for my soul. The breaks help me be grateful for what I already have. The breaks remind me that my happiness doesn’t come from shopping. Just my clothes. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if paying full-price, or hunting for a bargain, this is a healthy reminder.

While I don’t recommend just shopping for the fun of it, if you actually do have a hole in your wardrobe, I would encourage you to buy used instead of new. It’s not only better for the environment, but you can get better quality items for the price of their “bargain” counterparts. This isn’t sponsored, but I do recommend checking out Poshmark when shopping online since the site is easily searchable and there is SO MUCH gently-used inventory! You can plug in the brand, size, and color of what you’re looking for, and chances are someone, somewhere is selling it. Sales are final and you do have to pay about $5 shipping, but in my opinion it’s a great way to “thrift” those really specific things you could never find in a thrift store. It’s also great if you don’t have the time to scour thrift stores and garage sales, but want to support the used market. If you decide to go this route, be sure to sign up with my code: EMILYSFILMS – we will both get $10 🙂 I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly glad I’ve learned multiple ways of buying what I need used!

What are your tips and tricks for shopping? Do you buy new or used? Online or in person? How do you decide if something is right for you? Thanks for sharing!


Add yours →

  1. Great find on the wool coat.
    “It’s all so cheap! It doesn’t matter!” I used to think this as well. Then I would just turn around and re-donate the items again. Silly!
    I have become much more picky when shopping at the thrift stores, too.
    Great tips!

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