12 Ways to Stretch Your Shopping Dollars

stretched dollar
Spending less and saving more seem to be a common theme among New Year’s Resolutions this year, but with a family that seems to be growing faster (quite literally) than our income, it’s never easy.  We have two teen daughters going through their adolescent growth spurts and it seems like every time I turn around, someone’s outgrown their clothes.

Thankfully, I am a die-hard thrift-store shopper.  If someone at my house needs clothes–or other things–our first stop is ALWAYS the thrift store. Our second stop is the clearance rack.  I grew up with hand-me-downs and thrift-store clothing so I don’t have an issue with it.  I learned the great secrets of thrift-store shopping from my mom who was so good at it she gave lessons.  With three daughters (and a son), it has saved us a fortune in clothing costs alone.  If you were to visit my house, you’d be hard pressed to find more than one or two pieces of furniture bought new.  I am proudly a “Secondhand Rose.”

Thrift-store shopping is like a treasure hunt.  If you’re willing to spend a little time, you can shave hundreds, or even thousands of dollars off your annual clothing and household goods budget. But you need to be disciplined and you need to pay attention.  Even at pennies on the dollar, the dollars can add up in a hurry.  Todays post is about clothes.  While some of these tips apply to any bargain shopping, they are specifically aimed at getting the best clothing bargains.  If you want to know more, we can talk about shopping for other things in another post (like how I did all my Christmas shopping at the thrift store).

Be flexible & be alert.

You aren’t necessarily going to find the very best of everything or exactly what you want.  Occasionally you can find brand-new clothes, but it is rare.  But sometimes, you can find some pretty incredible stuff if you are paying attention.  Target sells their end-of-season, beyond-the-clearance-rack merchandise to the Goodwill, at least in our area, so sometimes you will find brand-new Target merchandise for pennies on the dollar.  Some days you won’t find anything you need or want.  Other days, it will feel like you won the lottery.

Carry a tape measure and make a list of your family’s clothing sizes.

When in doubt, measure.  Also, check the return policies at thrift stores and secondhand shops before you buy.  Goodwill offers limited refunds, Salvation Army has an exchange policy.  Thrift, consignment & second-hand stores all vary—many shops have an “all sales final” policy.

Know what you’re looking for.

Where I go depends on what I need.  When my oldest needed a dress for a wedding, we chose to focus on consignment shops since they are often more likely to have high-quality, current fashions, including formal wear.  We found a great selection of newer formal and semi-formal attire at the consignment shops nearby.  Shop with a list, whether you are shopping for clothing, household goods or food (yes, there really are outlet groceries).  Shopping without knowing exactly what you are looking for can cost you a fortune.

Check your purchases carefully BEFORE you buy them.

Check to make sure all the seams are intact, that the zippers zip and that the buttons are there.  Check over the clothing for holes or tears.  Look for stains; if you aren’t sure whether you can remove a stain decide whether the price makes it worth the risk.  Wear clothes that are easy to try on clothes over, like a body suit—some thrift stores do not have dressing rooms (most of the big ones do).  Clothing size labels are not always accurate; I have clothes in my wardrobe that range from size 4 to size 14, sometimes even in the same brand.  Women also like to cut the size labels out for some stupid reason.

Choose quality over price.

When thrift shopping, look for better name brands.  Some brands hold up much better than others, especially in children’s clothing.   If you have a choice of two similar shirts and one is a name brand in good shape for a dollar or two more, it will be a better bargain than the cheap shirt.  Well-made clothing and other household goods hold up much better and last much longer than the cheap stuff.  The name is not always the only reason it costs more.  Don’t buy store brands of stores that are known for their poor-quality goods. You can download a list of brands I’ve had good luck with here.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount

If a garment needs a slight mend or has a stain you know you can remove, ask for a discount.  Many stores have a standing policy of offering a discount only if the customer asks.  The worst they can say is no, but if you don’t ask, they can’t say yes.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  (This doesn’t always work well in thrift stores—this applies more to discount stores and department stores).

Go hang out at the mall from time to time, especially if you plan to shop for teens.

It’s a good way to see what’s in style and what things are selling for at full retail.  This gives you a benchmark for bargain shopping. Another way to know what’s in and trendy and to know prices is to browse the Sunday sale ads.

If you see it and you like it, buy it now.

It won’t be there tomorrow.  Sometimes it won’t even be there an hour later.  Thrift stores operate on a definite “you snooze, you lose” policy.  Be on your toes.

Know what the regular retail price is.

Some stores that claim to be bargains are not.  Some of their stuff is as high or higher than a regular retail store.  I’ve found many “outlet” stores that carry goods I can buy cheaper on clearance in a department store.  Also, beware of “going out of business sales.” These are often run by companies that come in and mark up prices so they can mark them down 30-, 40- or 50% and end up being more expensive than they were to begin with.

Learn to read the care labels.

If you absolutely hate to go to the dry cleaners, that gorgeous $3 dress isn’t going to be a bargain if you never get to wear it because it’s always waiting for the cleaners.  Ditto if you hate to iron.  If it’s a garment that’s going to have to be ironed every time you wear it and you think an iron is just a laundry-room decoration, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by buying 100% cotton clothing.

Look for specials.

fistful of dollars, moneyGoodwill, Salvation Army & Savers frequently offer additional discounts.  Different colored or dated tags are 50% or 25% off on certain days.  Some stores have half-off everything days.  Get on their e-mail or Twitter lists to keep up with the specials.

Shop out of season.

Summer is the best time to buy school uniforms and winter clothes.  Buy summer clothes in the fall and winter.  Out of season clothes tend to be marked lower at the thrift stores.  Right now is the premium time for spring/summer clothes. As soon as the weather hints of warm they will be more expensive and possibly harder to find. Start looking for Halloween costumes by late August or early September.  By the middle of October, they are all expensive and picked over, even at the thrift store.

Oh, and by the way, give back.  When your kids have outgrown all those clothes or you’ve grown tired of your wardrobe, give the items that are in good enough shape to be worn again to your favorite thrift store.  But please, don’t give them trash.  They can’t sell clothes that are thrashed, ripped or badly stained so don’t run up their garbage bill.


Are you a thrift shopper? What are your best savings tips? Share them here so we can all save a little more this year.


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