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6 tips for thrift store shopping: Get your goods secondhand

Shellie R Warren is a full-time freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. Since pursuing a career in writing in 2000, she has been published in over 40 publications, including The Tennessean, All The Rage, Upscale, Women's Health & Fi...

6 thrifty shopping tips

I have found the secret to thrift store shopping! Last week, I went to a party with the most fabulous pair of 3-inch, tan, leather heels complete with a felt red-and-tan flower on each buckle. (Can you tell that I really loved those shoes?)
Now, just so you won't think that I'm exaggerating about just how fabulous they were, everywhere I turned, someone was commenting on how much they liked them. As a matter of fact, one of my girlfriends loved them so much that I left the event with her flip flops while she left in my GenE.R.ation heels. 

Of course, I could have played it off like they were hundred dollar imports, but I didn't. I guess it's an occupational hazard that comes with being a thrift store/yard sale/Goodwill shopper, because for every compliment I received it was not a "thank you" they got in return, but an "I got them for three dollars!" response!

See, that's the thing about getting a deal -- it's not so much what you get that brings you joy, but how much you paid for it!

So, in honor of all things frugal and fabulous, I decided to provide you with six tips on how to shop at a thrift store/yard sale/Goodwill/Army Surplus store without looking like it (we'll save consignment shops for another time). Trust me: The only thing you have to lose is your pride... which brings me to Tip #1:

1. Check your ego at the door.

I have high-end bourgie friends who, in my eyes, waste a lot of money, because they are more concerned with braggin' on the places they shop rather than the items they purchased. Not to knock mainstream shoppers (which is what I call people who shop in the mall), but to this day, it's hard for me to understand the logic in paying $50 for a knockoff 80s dress or $300 for a pair of shoes. In my mind, all I can think is, "I could get an authentic vintage dress for $10, and some used pumps for about $25," which would free me up the cash to get even more clothes than my diva sisters.

So, if you want to learn how to thrift shop like a pro, the first thing you need to do is release any pre-conceived ideas about thrift store shopping. No, it's not just for those who can't afford to shop anywhere else. It's also for stylish economizers who know better!

2. Go early in the day.

Most thrift stores get in new items on a daily basis -- so if variety is your spice of life, the earlier you go, the better. Also, if you're looking for accessories, you may want a clerk to point you in that direction first. People have a lot less patience going through piles of clothes than a line laid out of shoes, purses and belts.

3. Know what you are looking for.

Just like shopping at Target -- if you're not careful, thrift store shopping can be really addictive. There have been so many times when I have gone in just to "window shop" and came out with three or four bags of stuff because everything was so cheap.

It's been my experience that one of the biggest mistakes any person can make is not having a purpose behind their purchases. If you need a dress for a wedding, know that before you start shopping. If you want a new/another purse, know that before you start shopping. Oh, and allot a budget ahead of time. Buying ten pairs of shoes that you don't need is just as bad as spending $500 on a pair that...well, you probably don't need, either.

4. Schedule in some time (1-2 hours should do it).

I will say this: One huge benefit to shopping in a department store is that you can often find the same things in bulk. If you like a certain black, empire-waist dress, you may be able to find a size 6 and a size 10 on the same rack at any given time. However, if you are thrift store shopping, you get one shot at what you like, because 99 percent of the time, there is only one of everything. (The upside to this is that you won't see your twin walking around.)

Another challenge you will encounter while thrifting is that because there are so many different designers on one rack of pants for instance, most clothes are not true to size. By this I mean, if you are used to getting Gap jeans, you can pretty much bet that a size 12 will always work for you. However, in a thrift store, a size 12 can range from everything to an 8 or 14, based on the cut and fit.

For both of these reasons, you must make time to really sift through what you want and then try what you want on for size. Also, because it is used clothing, you need to take a few moments to carefully inspect the object of your desire for holes, spots or tears. In other words, if you want to "run in real quick to pick up something," thrift stores are not for you.

5. Dry clean everything.

I don't care if you saw it in Macy's or at Goodwill, a frumpy article of clothing automatically looks cheap -- which is why I think a lot of people steer clear of thrift stores. What a lot of people don't know is that shops like these get items shipped to them by the tons, and so there is no real time to make things appear cosmetically suitable -- they are too busy making them cost-effective. But don't let the wrinkles or even "old" smell fool you. If you like it, get it. A little dry cleaning takes a "diamond in the rough" dress a long, long way.

6. Shop with like-minded buddies.

When using the above six tips, don't, under any circumstance, go thrifting with your bourgie friends. If this is your first or second time ever stepping foot in a thrift store, either go with a thrift store expert or go at it alone until you develop an eye and confidence about doing it.

Once you've gotten a few compliments on what you have on from the divas in your life who have no clue that you betrayed them by ditching Nordstrom for your neighborhood thrift store, you will be able to break free from feeling that you are "settling" by opting to get so much more for so much less.

READ MORE! The art of thrift store shopping
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