Thrifting: the No. 1 reason I can vacation multiple times a year

The secret is out: thrifting, that’s my big money saver. Now, most of you are here expecting to read about travel. Well, here’s the scoop, thrifting is one of the top reasons I’m able to travel the world multiple times a year.

Doctors probably would diagnose me as a shopaholic. I grew up in a household where my mom loved to shop and I inherited that thrill of browsing price tags. For years I visited big department stores and full-price retailers buying my clothes, housewares and entertainment, such as books and board games. The reality was, I couldn’t afford it. I was never happy with what I bought either. One day when I popped into a thrift store with my sister, it dawned on me: I’ve been shopping wrong all these years.

How much do I actual thrift? 

Now, 80 percent of the things in my home are thrift store finds. That doesn’t mean my home or how I dress looks dingy. I simply choose to spend more time finding high-quality items for less. For example, last week I bought five brand new Target tops with the tags still on them for a grand total of $11.08. That’s including tax! It would nearly impossible able to find one top at Target for that price, let alone five.

If I were to buy everything I’ve scored at the thrift store for full price, I’d be spending at least 10 times more a month on shopping. Here are some real numbers, in May I spent $100 dollars thrifting. That $100 helped me renovate my bathroom décor and completely renovate my summer wardrobe — over 20 new pieces. In comparison, I spent $36 for one article of clothing at a full-priced retailer such as Target, Express, American Eagle, etc.

Now here’s where the savings come in, I devote all the money I save from buying secondhand and funnel that into my travel fund. For years, I’ve given myself a budget each month for clothing and entertainment. In this budget, I calculate for items that I want or need. For example, in May I wanted to buy a new dress for a wedding and a pair of colorful heels as a reward for completing a new project. I gave myself a budget of $100 for these two items. I ended up buying both of these items for $15! The remaining $85 I deposited into my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico. If that doesn’t create dollar signs in your eyes, I don’t know what will.

Inspired? Here’s how you can become a thrifty gal too!

Know what your local thrift stores have to offer

Not all thrift stores are created equal. I’ve found that certain thrift stores specialize in certain items or how a better inventory than others. For instance, if I’m looking for home décor I visit the thrift store on 2nd Street because I like their selection better and the prices are incredible, but I don’t visit that same store for name-brand clothes.

Once you’ve figured out which stores are best at what, capitalize on it. When you’re looking for a new pair of heels, visit the second-hand Mecca for clothing before the thrift store that is catered more towards your grandmother’s style.

Once you learn where to find the best products second-hand, it’ll be easier to find items used rather than purchasing them all new. 

Assess your shopping habits

I have another confession, I’m nowhere near a minimalist. To me, that’s OK. I like to own dresses in different prints and fabrics and more than two pairs of jeans. That makes me happy. I realized though, if I want to have a vast variety in my closet, I have to dedicate myself to finding good deals at thrift stores.

Also, lose the urge to go overboard. At first, seeing designer jeans and dresses for a fraction of the cost may cause you to go into a buying frenzy, but resist it. What helps me is playing the would you rather game. Last week, I was walking in the mall with a girlfriend and we walked past a boutique with this season’s cutest romper. It was on sale for $68. Though I was tempted to buy it, I decided that I would rather go snorkeling for an additional day in the Caribbean versus owning a romper that I wear a handful of times.

I also play this game at thrift stores. While looking at a stack of tops of $5 each, instead of snagging the entire stack, I’m picky. I look to see if I have anything similar already in my closet and if I’d actually wear these tops for multiple occasions. Even though these tops are $5 a piece, buying an entire stack could clock me in close to the $68 mark, the same price of that romper I lusted over at the mall.

Create a monthly budget

Easy as that, right?

Stick to that budget

Whenever I’m debating whether I need to buy something, I think of other purchases I’ve made that month. Does this item bring me as much joy as those other items I’ve bought and worn since? (A little trick I learned from Marie Kondo.) If not, it goes back on the shelf. Recalling previous purchases I’ve made helps me stay on budget, and realize that I’m over splurging.

Become a pickier shopper

One of the cons to thrifting is that some items are damaged or need repairs. Fully inspect all items before bringing them home. Many thrift stores now only have an exchange policy. Realistically this means that you won’t get your money back, so ensure that you’re bringing home a good quality piece.

Learn when are your store’s sale days and seasonal sales

Just like department stores, thrift stores also host holiday sales. For instance, my local Goodwill hosts holiday says for virtually every holiday. Veteran’s Day, Independence Day, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, you name it, there’s probably a sale for it.

Beyond that, there are promotions held throughout the week. At Goodwill, Thursday is Kids Day where they receive an extra 10 percent off their purchase. Throughout the week different departments in the store are also discounted. 

Furthermore, many stores host their own manager specials to get rid of “old” inventory. My Goodwill has had a manager special for the past three weeks on brand new, Target brand clothing. Nearly all of the clothes were in perfect condition, some still had the Target sales tag attached. The best part? All of these brand new Target clothes were $2 a piece.

Certain days of the week a certain colored tag will also go on sale. Sometimes all items that color are 50 percent off, or marked down to $1.99. There’s usually a calendar at the checkout area that will advertise these sales. 

Use Coupons

Yes, you read that right. Even thrift stores have coupons. How you get these coupons depends on your store. At some larger thrift stores, you can receive a coupon when you donate. Larger stores in my area that provide coupons are Goodwill and Savers.

The Goodwill coupon is 25 percent off your next purchase of $100 or less. Some exclusions apply, such as it cannot be applied to furniture or used on red tag clothing. At Savers you can receive a coupon for 10 to 30 percent off your next purchase, depending on how much you donate.

What’s great about these coupons is that you can use them during sale times as well. For example, my store had a Memorial Day sale where blue, green and yellow tags were all 50 percent, on top of that I received 25 percent off my entire purchase, yielding major savings.

What’s also great about these coupons is that there is no limit to how many you can receive. To receive a coupon, it states that you must donate at least a small bag full of items. At my local store, I’ve been able to donate even just one or two items and receive the coupon. Every time I visit the thrift store I bring a few items to donate. Whether it’s a few tank tops or a kitchen appliance, I’m always guaranteed a coupon that I can use on that day’s purchase.

A new coupon that Goodwill has been honoring are coupons via text and coupons posted on their Facebook page. There usually based around a holiday, but they are usually for 20-30% off your purchase, which is a lot of money back into your pocket. 

Scour all sections of the thrift store

This is the biggest mistake many people make when they visit a consignment store or thrift shop. They neglect certain areas of the store because they don’t need anything there. Well, from experience I’ve found brand new tops with the tags on stashed in the kitchen aisle. I’ve scored brand new heels hidden in the jeans rack. These items were probably neglected there for a reason, but I wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t browsed all sections of the store. You don’t have to be completely thorough, but just quickly peruse an area.

This also applies when you’re looking at items that are out of season. You may be thinking, it’s mid-summer, I’m looking for dresses and skirts. Well, so is everyone else. These are going to be the areas of the store that are picked over the most and the quickest. You’re actually going to score the best finds if you look at the other sections that are out of season. Just last week I found a bright orange trenchcoat for $2 and a zip-up rain jacket, brand new from Target for another $3. Neither of these items I’ll wear this season (winter), but I have them ready for springtime!

Learn when your store restocks

I cannot emphasize this enough. Knowing when new merchandise is gracing the shelves is key to being the first to find the best deal. Most store stock periodically throughout the day, but there are times when they complete overhaul a section and change out merchandise. For Goodwill, this is on Thursday. This is when the put out a larger selection of a colored tag that will go on sale this week.

Take second hand into your own hands

This is an area of second hand that most people don’t dive into. There’s been a surge of Facebook garage sale groups, where members can list items to sell for whatever price they see fit. The only drawback from this is that you have to list the items, store them until they are sold and you run the risk of never selling your item. I opt to post items for sale on Facebook and Craigslist when it’s a larger item and worth money. A good example of this is furniture, especially if it’s in mint condition and it possibly an antique. If it’s a top that years old and it isn’t “in style” anymore, I rather donate it to Goodwill and get the coupon.

Another way to purge yourself of unless items, but gain some “new-to-you” ones is a swap. The most popular kind of swap are clothing swaps. You invite other people and everyone brings a bag full of clothing, or whatever items you agreed to exchange. You set them all out and you shop other people’s bags taking what you’d like to wear. It’s a toss-up whether you’ll find something you like or in your size, but it’s an opportunity for your friends and family to have first dibs on some of the clothing that you cherished and loved.

Learn how to negotiate

This is harder at larger thrift stores such as Goodwill and Savers. At my local Goodwill, they have a policy that says, when an item is marked, that’s the final price. Regardless of the condition of the item. They rarely negotiate the tag price.

At other, smaller stores you might be able to negotiate a price. Say you find a 12-piece china set for sale but the items are priced individually. Instead of buying it per piece, say that you’re willing to take all the pieces if they give you a few dollars off the total. Sometimes thrift stores are interested in this because it guarantees a larger sale and also frees up more room on their shelves. This also goes for items that are damaged. If you think an item is priced too high, you can always ask if they will take a few dollars off because it’s broken, chipped, or has a hole in it.

This technique works best at yard, rummage and garage sales. In West Virginia, I asked a gentleman, who had a large frame without glass and a back to negotiate on price. I shaved $5 off the purchase and got the frame for $5 instead. I also try to negotiate on items that I’m going to use in a DIY project or need extensive repairs. That was my reasoning behind asking half-off for the frame. No one was able to use the item as is, and I planned and reusing it to make a jewelry holder. Most times, owners just want their junk gone and are willing to sacrifice a few bucks to do that.

Are you ready to thrift? 

At the end of the day, material things don’t matter. They bring you happiness in the short term, but cannot compete with travel experiences. But in between trips, you need to find those little nuggets of joy. Sometimes that’s found when you’re wearing bright red, Mary Jane pumps that remind you of the 50s. Ultimately though, swimming in a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico while stargazing will always out beat any pair of shoes or dress that I’ll buy.

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

24 thoughts on “Thrifting: the No. 1 reason I can vacation multiple times a year

  1. I love thrift shops. Aside from the obvious reasons to save money. This is also a place where I really get to find unique stuff especially for my Christmas village and collectibles.

    Also, agree with the other tips you mentioned, it is very important for us to be smart shoppers. I make sure I make the most out of store discounts, coupons and store sales days.

    1. I definitely agree with you, Clarice! I think that the stark uniqueness and the possibility of not being able to find an item like that is the greatest appeal to me. I have an eclectic collection of clothing, homeware, etc. primarily purchased second hand and that’s precisely why I love it!

  2. Wow! what awesome strategies and tips for thrift shopping! I can’t say I do a lot of it and that’s mainly because I don’t have the patience to go through the “bargain bin” section or I get overwhelmed are all crammed into one place. But in saying that, when I do find something on the cheap, the feling is awesome! They do this stuff so much better in the US. I got introduced to Ross in Hawaii (is that considered a thrift shop?) and my of my. We go some crazy bargains. Coupons is not something we have in Australia but I know its such a huge thin gin the US and people rely on them heavily.

    1. Hi Amy! Ross isn’t exactly a thrift store. It’s definitely a bargain retailer though, which is always a score! I’d say what makes the two different is that a thrift store sells mostly second-hand items, but Ross doesn’t. I still think Ross is a great option! I also love that thrift stores do not feed into fast fashion or contribute more to our planet’s waste. Things we should definitely be thinking about. Thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks for your tips. I’ve tried most of them but some were new for me, so that’s great! Planning is one thing, sticking to the plan is another (much harder) thing.

    1. Hi Per! Yes, sticking to the plan is the hardest part about thrifting — or shopping in general! It’s OK to deviate, but it’s keeping in mind that our consumption of goods drastically impacts the health of our planet. The more we shop, the more resources were consuming. I think that has definitely helped me stick to a plan better and even transition towards a minimalistic lifestyle. Thanks for reading!

  4. That’s one interesting perspective 🙂 Personally, I’m the exact opposite of a shopaholic but I too have a nose for good bargains. I know all the places where I can get a good deal for certain items and even when I don’t I research before going anywhere. That’s how I afford to travel too 🙂

  5. This is an awesome article. Im totally sharing it on Facebook 🙂 We are thrifters as well. My entire wardrobe and basically our whole apartment was purchased from thrift shops. The price is definitly a perk, but we also love the idea that we are being eco-friendly. So much junk is sent to the landfill every year…but alot of perfectly good stuff is also sent there. Why cause manufacturers to cut down trees and use more natural resources, when there are already so many perfect items already in existence? You know?

    1. Thank you for sharing, Cecilia! I definitely believe that buying secondhand is a great way to curb our eco-footprint. I think fast fashion is another trend that is severely impacting our environment. This is why I also love second-hand fashion as well. I’m so thrilled that you also support thrifting. Thanks for reading!

  6. Personally, I do not have a lot of patience of looking through multiple stores or spending hours in a store to find a good deal. But thankfully I am not a shopaholic and I am quite minimalistic in my dressing. So I guess that works for me! For a person who loves to shop, your tips are extremely useful and I love how you manage your love for shopping and travelling while doing justice to both!

    1. Hi Medha! Yes, being a minimalist definitely helps curb your environmental footprint as well. That is one of the main reasons that I also love thrifting, other than saving major bucks. I’d definitely give it a try sometime even if it’s just a small step such as browsing housewares.

  7. This is such an interesting take and perspective into saving money! I’m defintiely a minimalist, and if you look in my closet, almost everything is black, white, or grey, so it’s really easy to mix and match my pieces. And all that money saved from not shopping all the time – you guessed it – goes to travel. For some reason the idea of thrifting home goods never surfaced in my mind, so now I’ve gotta go look into that!

    1. Hi Diana! Being a minimalist is definitely great as well. I’m a lover of patterns and textures, but I do not sport a neutral color palette like you do! If you have a homebase, I would definitely look into thrifting your homewares because that is a great way to decrease your environmental footprint as well!

  8. That’s an awesome post! I’m a thrifter too. Sometimes I think 10 times for something of a small value, that my mom or husband would get pissed off! Hahaha… But then, they know, its that habit of mine that helps me splurge on few things that I love!
    I do buy a lot of 2nd hand stuff but as you said, not on clothing! Most of my kid’s toys and books are handed down. Whether new or old, they’re gonna get bored of it in a couple of days!

    1. I’m definitely very savvy with my money and that definitely means being critical about each purchase. It’s important to know whether spending even just a few bucks is worth it. I much rather by a coffee abroad for that price than an item I’ll never use. And honestly, small purchases do add up. Thanks for reading and happy thrifting, Bhushavali!

  9. Wow thats a very interesting take on thrift stores. We do not have that concept here in India so maybe I cannot really benefit from it directly but it seems very interesting to know how there can be strategies even for buying in thrift stores. Thanks for a very cool read!

    1. Hi Rishabh, if you do not have thrift stores in your area it easy to adopt the same model. Essentially, you want to be smart with your purchases and save for travel. This could mean not buying clothing that will be out of style by next season or splurging on something that’s name brand. Happy travels to you!

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