Most of the time, when shopping for clothes, you have to choose between quality and price. To further complicate things, a more expensive option frequently ends up being more frugal because it lasts longer, eliminating the need for a replacement.
Take the basic $10 white T-shirt, for example, that I’ve had to re-buy four times this past year thanks to holes forming prematurely. Instead of those four, I could have bought one better quality T-shirt for the same $40, if not less, that would have lasted longer and looked better, saving me both time and money. And yet, even knowing that, it’s still hard to justify spending $40 on a white T-shirt.
Luckily, a place exists where you don’t have to choose between skimping on quality and paying a higher price – the thrift shop! By letting the first owner pay a big sticker price, you can get the quality of the more expensive item for the price of the cheaper option: it’s the best of both worlds.
How it works
Thrifting is as easy as any other kind of shopping; you browse until you find something you want, pay, and go — with the sole difference being that most items never cost more than $20, with the exception of formal dresses and leather boots or designer bags, depending on the shop. And if you want to be a master of thrifting, it takes a bit more effort, but not too much more.
I’ve found most of my amazing deals by simply integrating thrift store visits into my normal chores. Three of my favorite thrift stores are located between my apartment and the grocery store, so once a month, I take extra time before food shopping to pop into one of the stores and take a look around. If you enter the shops with a strategy in mind, these stops should not take more than 20 minutes of your time. Having a strategy allows me to stay super-focused. I’ve done my homework to learn what each store does best, so I can limit my search to those sections of each store.
Moreover, the limited selection at thrift stores actually feels like a positive to me because I’m not spoiled for choice. Shopping for a black dress in a department store might require deciding among 50 potential buys. By contrast, shopping in a thrift store will likely only allow you to choose among a few black dresses in those three or four racks that fit your criteria. This makes it much easier to be decisive about what I bring into the dressing room (a huge time saver!).
How to avoid over-shopping
With so many great deals, it’s easy to go overboard. To minimize this, I stick to this rule of one in, one out: if I want to buy a new piece of clothing, I have to donate or sell a piece that I am not wearing or using. This prevents over-shopping, while keeping me mindful of space constraints in my small Brooklyn apartment. It also forces me to limit my shopping to things I actually need and not just what I think would be nice to have.
Admittedly, I do leave a little wiggle room for those rare, truly great finds — for example, this intricately beaded, gray dress by Sue Wong. Similar dresses by this designer cost upwards of $450, but with a good eye and a practiced thrifting technique, I snapped this up from the back of a second-hand shop for $85. While it did not accompany a donation, the idea of buying a unique piece that I will treasure for years is often enough incentive to get rid of something I once felt the same way about.