Maximizing your thrift store thriftiness

By Mir
October 4, 2006
Category Quick Tips

A lot of folks go shopping at Goodwill or Salvation Army for hidden treasures which can be unearthed and sold on eBay for big bucks. If this is your sort of thing, good for you. Enjoy. I find that for the average person, that’s generally a bigger hassle than it’s worth; you won’t often find many (or any) items that will turn an appreciable profit once you factor in the time to scavenge, take pictures, write up your auctions, and deal with buyer questions. Again—there are people who do it and do it happily.

But for a busy mom, say, who’s trying to save time as much as money, buying beyond what you or your kids will use is a waste. Right?

Not necessarily.

The trick is to reap greater financial benefits without spending any more time. eBay is a huge time suck. The financial rewards can be great, but it’s a gamble, and there’s no way to get the time back once you’ve put it in. So. What to do?

To utilize the following you need to have two things:

1) A catch-all thrift store (such as Goodwill or Salvation Army) where you would be shopping anyway. (This is about greater gain with little effort. If you’d be making a special trip, don’t bother.)

2) A better-class consignment store where you normally shop; preferably one that pays at a higher rate if you’re willing to take payment in store credit.

Have both of those? Good!

I have a nearby Salvation Army that I hit every couple of weeks. There’s always a tag color where everything’s a dollar, so I’ll go in looking for only that color and am usually able to pick up some stuff for myself or the kids dirt cheap.

Here’s the secret: I’m not going to make a ton of money picking up clothing there and selling it on eBay. Believe me; I’ve done it before, and other than the occasional discontinued Hanna Andersson mint-condition item, what I recoup is peanuts compared to the aggravation. I don’t bother, anymore. However, it doesn’t take me any longer, in my regular shopping there, to pick up every name-brand, good-condition, in-style, in-season clothing item I come across that’s currently a dollar and toss it into my cart.

I don’t know about your Salvation Army, but at mine? Everything is pretty much thrown together. Other than the fact that all the kids’ stuff is in the same general location, that is. So in order to find jeans for my son or pajamas for my daughter, I have to comb through all the racks, anyway. While I’m doing that, if I come across a great item for a buck that’s the wrong size or gender for my kids? Into the cart it goes.

The next time I hit the high-end consignment store, I sell them the stuff I picked up at Salvation Army. I paid a dollar apiece, and they will sell those items (depending on what they are) for anywhere from $4-$20. My account is credited half that, so I have the potential to make a $9 profit on a piece.

Extra time spent: None.
Extra effort spent: None.
Extra trips made: None.
Extra money in my account where I buy most of the kids’ clothes: And how.

I average about $15/trip when I go to Salvation Army. Sometimes it’s mostly clothes to keep, sometimes it’s mostly stuff to sell; usually it’s about an even split. Between that and consigning stuff that my kids have outgrown, I have never, in over six years of shopping at my local kids’ consignment boutique, paid cash there. I always have money in my account. And that’s handy, because about 80% of my kids’ clothing comes from that store.

It requires a bit of attention to your local store’s trends (you have to know what brands/styles are popular), but other than that? There’s nothing to it.

(Don’t get me started on my other pet topic, which is “Who are all these people throwing out brand new clothing from the Gap and Aeropostale??”)


  1. Wow, what a great idea. Beautiful in it’s simplicity. I’m going to do that!!! Thank you, O Pretty One!!!

  2. Who are these people throwing out the brand new clothing? Me! When my twins were babies, people gave us adorable brand name stuff in the wrong sizes all the time and I was too tired to return them. I figured by the time I got a two year old and two babies to the store, I wouldn’t be able to return anything anyway, so I considered donating them to be a very kind thing to do, hoping that someday karma would pay me back for it.

  3. Around here (Columbus OH) there are goods to be had at the Ohio Thrift thrift stores. They’re for-profit so they’re better organized than VOA or Salvation Army and I make it my policy to only buy good labels there. (Why pay two bucks for a Target shirt if I can get it for about that much on clearance at Target?) My daughter’s wardrobe is chockfull of Hanna, Mulberri Bush, Land’s End and even Oilily. And then I pass it on to my sister’s daughter and she sells it when they’re done with it. We also hit the little church thrift stores in the tony neighborhoods for good finds. Finally we have no pride — we are happy to accept hand-me-downs from our higher income friends with good taste. The big kid (soon to be 10) is now costing me money because it’s hard to find used boy clothes that haven’t been worn to death but at least I’m saving on his sister.

  4. Brilliant. You are absolutely brilliant.

  5. Very cool, Mir. Thanks.

  6. Brilliant! I will have to do this.

  7. awesome idea! I will be doing this! 🙂

  8. Oh great, now there will be competition. I always feel brilliant when I consign something I acquired used in the first place. The thrift stores where I live are annoyingly expensive in general, but I have made a little profit this way. It also makes me more willing to gamble on buying ahead for my kids– if it doesn’t fit in season or they don’t like it when its time comes, then I know I can always consign it.

    But I have often wondered the same things– 1) why don’t more people do this thrift shop/consign thing? and 2) why don’t more people consign used clothes? As to the latter, I have heard several explanations: 1) too lazy to consign and therefore it’s just easier to donate, 2) would never think of putting used clothing on their kids; therefore unaware of consignment opportunity, 3)misunderstanding of the value of a donation tax deduction, and 4) don’t need the cash much and want their used stuff to go where it might be most appreciated.

  9. The Salvation Army and Goodwill where I live sells crap. Honestly. I cannot stand that place.
    I get a headache when I walk in. The smell of moth balls has never appealed to me.
    Wow, i sound bitter. New subject:

    I shop at the local thrift shop. It’s owned by the Catholic Ministries and I have a weakness for cute ‘seasoned’ ladies! There’s always $1 days and the store is super clean and organized.

    I almost passed out from joy on my first visit there. Everything’s sectioned off by sizes, types of clothing, etc…

    Well, thanks for this post Mir!!!!!! As always you’ve hit the jackpot cuz you’re so pretty of course 🙂

  10. “Who are all these people throwing out brand new clothing from the Gap and Aeropostale?”

    Generally, Gap and Aeropostale. If you watch for a location near certain stores, you can often find really great things in the Goodwill from the brand, for free. I used to live near a Goodwill in Toronto near an IKEA, and anything that had been in ‘As Is’ at the IKEA for a month went to the Goodwill. When a manufacturer in Cambridge, MA, had a Nerf contract, all misruns, mispackages, spare parts off the floor, etc., wound up in the Central Square location. Brand new, and if you watched for a month you could put together an astonishingly good Nerf arsenal. I know two locations near Lands End locations that get a lot of brand new end of season stuff from them. An Atlanta store I used to go to (I’ve lived thriftily in many areas) used to get stuff donated by Home Depot and Turner all the time (tv show promotion items galore, which were a hot eBay item).

  11. So amazingly simple and convenient! Now, why didn’t I ever think of this myself? lol

  12. When I try to find the one-dollar items at our Salvation Army, all I find are the out-of-style men’s pants in a size 50 waist with a stretched-out waistband. Guess I just don’t have the patience (or what I call “the eye”, as my sister can find good stuff on a rack I JUST looked at). I’m too easily distracted by the good stuff that’s NOT on sale that week.

  13. I sold and bought successfully at consignment stores when my kids were young. Once they passed middle school, our things didn’t sell well, no matter how good the quality. So…we make sure we get a receipt for every donation and deduct it on our taxes. And I shop the upscale consignment for my professional…um…teacher clothes.

  14. I got a pair of JCrew jeans worth $60 for $3 at a thrift store. Dark wash, mint condition.

    I just wish I had the TIME to go shop now!

  15. I have been buying second hand for many years now, I cannot imagine how much I have saved over the last few decades…thousands I am sure. I had a few tips to make your shopping abit easier, I hope!! First, eat a good meal before you go, be patient, you might have to look through many racks to find what is right for you…know what colors are best for you or who it is you are buying for, if it’s a yucky color, I promise, you will not reach for it in the morning when you’re dressing. Make sure that the fabric of the garment is tough, what I mean is that it will keep it’s shape, this is especially true of dresses, I find… nothing says thrift quicker than a droopy dress… hope this helps!!!! The only things I buy retail are; Panyhose, underwear,and shoes, and I think I look quite well…….Have fun!!!!!

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