I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggageMacklemore, Thrift Shop
One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up
Before we discovered Dave Ramsey and realized our debt was shackling us to decisions we had made years earlier, we were not immune to paying retail prices for our clothing.
But once we sat down and did a budget, and soon after entered our Debt Destruction phase, we recognized that we just didn’t have enough money to go around.
Luckily for us, we were already pretty set in the clothing department. Neither of us were big shoppers to begin with, and fashion blogging was never going to be our go-to lifestyle brand.
Well stocked as we were though, seasons change and clothes wear out, so it’s nearly impossible to completely stop buying clothes altogether.
But $40 for a shirt and $50 for a pair of jeans made our budget all broken and dead inside.
I’m not one to say whether those prices were outrageous or fair, but if our budget had a say in the matter (and our budget always has a say in the matter) it would tell us to pack it up and go home because nobody’s buying any clothes today.
Thrift Shops – Not as Cool as When You Were In High School
When we discovered used clothing stores and thrift shops, it wasn’t in high school when we could make a fashion statement out of our audacious choices and frugal skills.
Instead, we were young college-educated working professionals.
We were the ones who were supposed to be able to afford the latest fashions at the trendiest retail stores.
We were the ones making more money than we had ever made before, with more disposable income and more “buying power” than our parents had at our age.
That’s who we were supposed to be.
And we pretended to be that for a little while.
Our early salaries may have been generous compared to our parent’s income at our age, but trying to rid ourselves of credit card debt and student loan debt was taking a significant toll on our perceived “buying power”.
No, when we discovered thrift shops, resale stores, and used clothing, it didn’t feel awesome.
It felt poor.
Buying at Thrift Shops vs. Buying Retail
Part of the reason it felt poor was the pure contrast of thrift store shopping vs. the retail experience we were accustomed to.
In thrift shops, it was all bad fluorescent lighting, dirty tile floors and racks and racks of remarkably mislabeled clothes.
Retail stores, on the other hand, were filled with gentle lighting and soft carpet. The precise rows of clothing conveniently – and accurately – grouped by style and size, fit perfectly with the soft rock being pumped in from hidden speakers.
Retail shopping was a much nicer experience, and an experience that we certainly felt like we earned, nay, we deserved. We worked hard and the least life could do is repay us with a gently-lit oasis of nicely organized clothing outfitted on appropriately svelte and faceless mannequins.
Didn’t we at least deserve that?
The Price of Convenience
Clearly, we didn’t deserve it.
Beyond just being nicer, the retail shopping experience was also way more convenient, and there’s always a price to be paid for convenience.
If we did deserve the extravagance and pleasure of shopping at retail stores, then we equally deserved the 70 to 90% price gouging we would receive on the way out the door.
The Value of Inconvenience
It was, in fact, the inconvenience of thrift shops that provided all the value. Here are just 3 ways we saw that manifest in value.
1. Not a Popular Hangout
None of our friends were shopping at thrift shops. In general, this meant thrift shops were less popular and often less crowded.
Few people were in the thrift shop just to browse or hang out.
Resale shops are a place of business, not pleasure, and most customers are looking to get in and get out. That more accurately fits our own shopping style.
2. The Best Deals are on the Wrong Racks
The fact that clothes were constantly mislabeled or on the wrong rack or in the wrong section meant that those who treated a thrift shop like any other retail store would often miss the best deals.
Thrift shops reward the patient.
There is a hunting aspect to thrift shopping that just isn’t really required at a retail store.
At a retail store, it’s more about finding the right style that we’re looking for.
But at a thrift shop, it’s all about finding the best bargain – gently used clothes in great condition that look good and cost 75% less than their retail price.
Due to the general disarray of the clothing items, often the best bargain would be the shirt or pants that we would find in the wrong section where everyone else missed it. Searching is part of the process, and searching rewards the patient.
3. There is More Variety Among the Used
Retail shops generally sell a few specific brands. That’s what their customers want.
But thrift shops carry…well…whatever brands come in the door. If you’re looking for a pair of jeans, forget 3 or 4 brands to choose from. There will be 20 different brands, many of which you’ve likely never heard of!
That may be off-putting to the retail crowd, but it turns out some of my favorite clothes have been bargain finds at the thrift shop that I simply never would have found in any retail store.
I love it when my wife comes home from a shopping trip and shows me the “new” clothes she bought for me. (She has always dressed me better than I’ve dressed myself.)
Never have I looked at what brand the clothes were. I tried them on and if they felt good and looked good, that’s all I needed. Who made the clothes was completely irrelevant to me.
For example, I just recently got rid of a sweater that has been one of my favorite sweaters for close to a decade.
It was a thrift store find that my wife brought home.
It wasn’t in the greatest condition when I got it. It looked like it was a few years old, but it felt great!
Maybe it felt great because it was a few years old. Who knows?
All I know is that it cost less than $10 and I wore it for 10 years. That’s not a bad return on investment.
But Used Clothes Are Gross
Some people tell me they don’t want to wear used clothes. I find that funny because all the clothes they are wearing right now are used.
New clothes only exist for one day…and then they become used clothes.
Used clothes only become gross if you never wash them, and if you never wash your clothes, you have other issues that simply cannot be addressed on this site.
But here’s a scenario you might understand.
Right now, you probably have that one shirt or dress or pair of jeans that you’ve only worn once, but you didn’t really like it or it didn’t fit right.
Now it’s been sitting in your closet for 5 years and you know you’re never going to willingly choose to wear that item again. But you can’t bring yourself to get rid of it.
Until you eventually have a cleaning day and you’ll finally grab that item and some others and haul them down to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army or clothing donation center of your choice.
In that mix of goods is your one item that is practically brand new, but is now going to be put up for sale in a used clothing store for a fraction of what you paid for it. (Or a fraction of what the person who gifted it to you paid for it.)
When I’m in the thrift shop, this is the item I’m looking for. It’s not always in there, or at least I don’t always find it, but every now and then I do.
Finding that Polo shirt or Nike shorts that look like they are brand new, are in my size, and have a price tag of $6, that’s the pot of gold right there.
Not because the brand matters, but because I know those are quality brands and I know how much those brands sell for at retail.
A while back I was shopping at the local thrift shop for a few items in preparation for our trip to Costa Rica. I walked out with 3 shirts and 2 pairs of shorts for $20.
In my haul, I found a nice pair of grey Nike golf shorts in excellent condition that would retail for around $50.
I paid $6.
And that was the most expensive item I purchased.
Have I Mentioned We Have 4 Kids
How do you feel about your kids wearing used clothing?
Yeah, us too.
We have been extremely blessed that my sister had her 2 boys before my wife and I had our firstborn son.
My sister and bro-in-law have gifted us with mountains of hand-me-downs that survived their first boy, then their second boy, and now have arrived in our home as “new” clothes for our son Jacob.
Jacob has rarely ever worn a truly new piece of clothing. (And when he has it’s almost exclusively thanks to his awesome grandparents!)
But then we had our daughter. Then another. Then another.
There were no older girl cousins. What were we going to do?!?
Thrift Shops to the rescue.
At retail, kids’ clothes can often be just as overpriced as adult clothes.
$30 for an outfit my kid is going to outgrow in 6 months? NOT IN MY HOUSE.
The resale shop has provided an abundance of clothes for our girls.
And many of these used clothes have survived all 3, saving us loads more money.
We literally have tote boxes full of clothes, labeled by age group, just waiting for the next child to enter that stage. (My wife is an excellent organizer!)
I have no idea how much money we’ve spent on clothes for our kids, but thanks to my sister and the thrift shop, I know that number is likely MUCH lower than the average family.
It turns out our kids don’t care if their clothes are used.
At least we’re doing something right in our parenting.
Conclusion – Thrift Shops Are Pure Gold
Whether you’re trying to reduce your spending to save money, destroy debt, or invest to build wealth, thrift shops are pure gold.
It took me a little while to get over the stigma of shopping at a thrift shop for gently used clothing, but I think that was more my frustration with our debt making us unable to go shopping “like regular people”.
But I quickly discovered that new clothing instantly becomes used, and for the price of that 1 new-clothing day, I was paying a 70-90% premium.
When we were buried in debt, we just couldn’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes.
Admittedly, thrift shops aren’t as fancy or as well organized as retail stores, but that actually opens up opportunities to get an even better bargain.
Thrift shops reward the patient.
And I can’t even imagine how broke we would be today if we paid retail for every item of clothing that our kids have worn. That’s insane!
Now, I’m not going to say that shopping at thrift shops is the biggest reason we were able to reach FI and retire at age 40.
But I’m also not going to say it’s a coincidence that on my last day of work, the day I retired, I stopped by the thrift shop on the way home to pick up a few items for our summer vacation.
Do you shop at thrift stores? Have you ever found something awesome in a resale shop? Share your thrift shop experiences in the comments.