Some people are afraid of thrift stores. Maybe your mom used to drag you to Salvation Army to buy scratchy double knit bell bottoms when you were a kid. Maybe you think they're dirty or smelly, or full of only broken, worn out stuff.
It's true, you can still find some gnarly clothes at the thrift store, and yes some stores are kind of icky.
But most of them aren't. Goodwill is one of my favs. It's generally pretty clean and well organized, and it's often times where we look first, when we realize we need something, before we head off to Target or wherever.
There are a couple of "rules" that I might suggest to a newbie thrifter.
*Try not to take the kids along, especially if they're young. They'll run out of patience before your done looking. (Because it does take a while to search through what's available.) Believe me on this one...
*Try to allow yourself enough time. It's not Macy's or Barnes and Noble, after all. You're going to have to dig through piles of books, and racks of clothes.
*Don't go to Goodwill on 50% off day, unless you like that Black-Friday-at-Wal-Mart scene. It is nuts. You'll save a few bucks, but lose a few hours waiting in line, and probably some of your sanity. Not worth it.
*Take some hand sanitizer. Even if the store is clean, you're still talking about stuff that's been hanging around people's garage or storage shed for a while. Hand sanitizer will make you feel better.
*Wash everything when you get home. Clothes are obvious, but don't forget dolls, Legos, everything. (Ok, this might not be strictly necessary, but I'm kind of a germaphobe...)
So now, you may be asking, is it really worth it then? I'd say yes, it is.
If I were buying only new clothes for my kiddos, they'd have a modest sized wardrobe from Target or Ross. By buying at thrift stores, I'm able to buy nice, brand name clothes, for much less than that. I'm frequently able to resale these same clothes later, and get my money back. (No, I'm not a label snob, but clothes from the Gap, and Zutano, and Hanna Anderson really do wear and last longer than clothes from Wal Mart.) Last week, I picked up a like new, designer sweater coat for V, that retailed for $75 for $5. L got a pair of new looking cords from the Gap for $1.99. (Also if wearing "used" clothes gives you the heebie jeebies, consider this: that shirt you purchased at the mall was probably tried on several times. Technically speaking, it's "used" too...)
If I were buying only new toys for the kids, they wouldn't have many. New toys are expensive, and the kids cycle through them so quickly. By buying at thrift stores, I'm typically able get things the kids are interested in at a fraction of the retail cost. My son had been eyeing a Thomas the Train Lego set for about a year at Target. It's around $50. I recently found the whole set for $5 at Goodwill. When he's sick of it, I can sell it for at least five bucks, and get him something else. I am also forever finding new in the package, sealed toys, games and craft kits for a couple of dollars.
Finally, If I were only buying new books, the kids wouldn't have nearly as many of those either. By buying at the thrift store, I'm able to pick up new books, old classic books, craft books, and (new,)workbooks, for between .35 and .75 each. I LOVE to read, and this is huge for us.
Besides buying less in general, the other way to save money is to find the same stuff at better prices. Thrifting allows us to find the same stuff at better prices. Better than retail, better than a good sale, even better than clearance sales. Not quite as good as free, though... ;)