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My Thrift Store Shopping Failure

Salvation Army thrift storeI absolutely love getting good deals. In fact, that’s one reason we ended up in so much credit card debt years ago. I bought lots of stuff I didn’t need because it was a “good deal.” Now I’ve learned to shop only for things I do need and value,  but I still love the rush of finding what you need on the cheap. One of the best ways to do that is to shop used. While we were in Las Vegas recently, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try big city thrift store shopping, but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Thrift Store Wins in the Past

I have had some major success at thrift stores and yard sales in the past. When I first moved out west, I brought my dog and whatever fit in my car. While it is somewhat liberating to own only enough stuff to fit into a vehicle, I do appreciate things like a bed, chairs, and dressers. so I furnished my first small house with finds from thrift stores. We still have some of that furniture in our extra bedroom. It’s really good quality if you can see past the surface dings and cracks.

When I used to be on the Humane Society board, we had two huge yard sales every year and had tons of stuff donated. Since I always helped set up, I got first dibs on the goods. I found all kinds of treasures over the years, including a huge bag of like new Gymboree clothes in my daughter’s size, new bath mats, a whole set of matching dishes, and a really nice bike jersey that I sold for a profit on Ebay.

Well, I’m not on the board anymore, and we live in a small town where thrift store shopping is very limited. Even the consignment store rarely has many good quality kid’s clothes. If only we lived in a bigger town. … I just knew in Vegas, we’d hit the jackpot.

I Can’t Find Any Tags To Pop!

Normally Jim would not go near a thrift store. He is a little weird about used things, but a friend told him about scoring some great golf clubs at a Vegas thrift store, so off we went. Instead of  blindly shopping for deals, we were specifically looking for golf clubs, school clothes and shoes, and rugs. We found two huge thrift stores, a Goodwill and a Salvation Army. With Macklemore and Lewis playing in my head, I went in to “pop some tags.”

To our disappointment, there were no good golf clubs, only junky worn out stuff in our daughter’s size, and the only rugs for sale were lime green. Now if I’d needed a piano, VHS movies, or an umbrella, we’d have been in business. I guess to find what you are looking for, you have to go to tons of stores, possibly on multiple visits with the hope that someone dropped off what you need at at the time you needed it.

The Problem With Thrift Store Shopping

The problem with thrift store shopping, at least for me, is that I don’t want to devote the time to find what I’m looking for. Perhaps if I lived in the city and could run by every weekend, I’d find that diamond in the rough. As it stands, we only get to a major city maybe every 4-6 months and we don’t want to spend all our time seeking out thrift stores. Maybe I could find shirts or shoes for $1 if we did, but I’d rather take an hour and go to Children’s Place and Payless and know I could get in and out with what I came after. At the outlet mall,  I found lots of clearance shirts for $2.99 and a new pair of PE shoes for $10, not thrift store prices, but I still had most of my day to do other things.

The other problem with being a chronic thrift store or yard sale shopper is the tendency to buy things just because they are so cheap. I can’t tell you how many people bought crap at my recent yard sale just because it was cheap, even saying things like, “I have no idea what I’m going to do with this” or “I really don’t need another XYZ, but I can’t pass it up.” Good for the seller, but really just a cheaper version of spending money on stuff you don’t need, which is something I try really hard to avoid.

Failure Does Not Mean Giving Up

Just because this attempt at thrift store shopping was a failure doesn’t mean I’m giving up on it completely. If I find a store when we are in a city, I’ll stop in if I need something. I’ll still look through the kid’s clothes every time I drop off things at the consignment store. I will go to ski or sports swaps when we need equipment, but I am not willing to spend my weekends going from yard sale to yard sale or store to store in search of perfect bargains. I don’t frown on anyone who does, but it’s just not for me.

How is your luck with poppin’ tags? Any tips for a thrift store failure?


Image: Flickr: Creative Commons



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head about buying stuff you don’t need just because it’s cheap and having to spend too much time looking for what you do need. In these days of minimalism, those aspects are contrary to our goals. But l do love the thrill of finding a good bargain though. I wonder what facet of our makeup makes such an activity release such a surge of pleasure in our body. It’s a strange but true phenomenon.

    • There certainly is a chemical reaction of some sort that happens when you go shopping. That’s why I try not to go too often.

  2. Thrift stores can be awesome for home good I’ve found. But, for other things like clothes especially, it just isn’t worth the time to sort through mountains of stained up trash! I would rather shop the clearance rack at my favorite store and save myself time and hassle!

    • I love finding nice things on clearance. I got my daughter a pair of rain boots that had been $39 at Gymboree for $7.99. I bet I can sell them on Ebay for $10 when we are done with them too.

  3. We love the idea of shopping at a thrift store, but have really found that we won’t put in the time to find the deals. We do much of our clothes shopping at a local co-op consignment sale that’s here in town twice a year and finding stuff on sale/clearance as well.

    • There is a chain consignment store I like called Once Upon a Child, but the closest one is four hours away:(

  4. The time associated with thrift store shopping drives me batty, especially their hours of operation which are typically just M-F 9-6 with limited hours on Saturday mornings. Sorry, I am not willing to give up my Saturday mornings to dig through thrift stores on the off chance of spotting something I need. And I’m at work all the other hours! I can’t imagine thrift store shopping much until we are no longer employed.

    • That’s why I can’t do yard sales. Saturdays are the only day I let myself sleep as late as I want. I’m not going to hop up before dawn to go looking for treasures.

  5. I shop in Vegas Goodwill’s all the time. I live in Vegas, sadly. Sometimes there are great bargins there. Other times there is nothing. I keep going because there are great buys when you do find what you are looking for.

    • Maybe I should give them another try when we make it back again. It’s so hot, at least thrift store shopping gives you a cool place to be in.

  6. I don’t do much thrift store shopping but I know Michelle from The Shop My Closet Project has a lot of success. If I need something like “new” furniture or household item, I usually tend to look through Craigslist because then I can shop from the comfort of my home and not have to spend time weeding through stuff (junk) I’ll never use.

    • I do that with Ebay. There is something pretty sweet about typing what you want and what size and then there it is.

  7. With thrift stores, it’s just about being at the right place at the right time. It’s definitely helpful to go in with a list, but if you do’t get what you need, I wouldn’t consider it a failure. Instead, I would just look at any items you did find as a bonus.

    You just never know what they’re going to have. One time I went in and noticed how many awesome kids toys they had, and made a note to talk to my wife and see what would be OK to get down the line. Next time I went in, the toy selection was dismal and there was nothing appealing at all. It’s hit or miss.

  8. I have wasted a ton of money on thrift store sweaters and dresses— I convince myself I’ll alter them to fit better/not look like an ’80s tragedy, and then I never get around to it. My rules for thrift shopping now are to 1) only get things I’m already in the market for (so no buying old CDs if I’m only there to check out kitchenware), and 2) stop buying things that don’t fit!

    • I think that would be a real temptation, getting something cheap and thinking you’ll fix it up. I think lots of my yard sale customers fit into that camp.

  9. I try to hit up all the thrift stores in my area and make a mental note of what they have. Some stores have loads of furniture, a great selection of maternity clothes, small appliances. Other times I pick where I go because of cleanliness and organization!

    • One thing I can say about the two stores we went in was that they were clean and organized. The ones in our area are kind of dirty.

  10. Another good alternative is Craigslist, esp for larger items like furniture and appliances. We furnished just about our whole house by being patient, consistently checking, and then scoring great deals when they finally came along. You still have to spend a bit of time, but you can do all the searching from your computer. The drawback is that it can also get quite addicting! 🙂

    • I can see how you would get addicted. I was looking at cars for my mother in law and spend a few hours without even realizing it.

  11. You’d love the thrift store scene in New York! I find thrift stores a bit overwhelming for clothing shopping, because I don’t want to take the time to find what I’m looking for (like you mentioned). They’re often disorganized with things stacked/piled/hung haphazardly around the shop. But, I don’t really like shopping much anyway, so it feels like compounding an already unpleasant situation with another. Now for furniture, second hand just seems the way to go!!

    P.S. I’d never heard of “pop some tags” and the VHS is totally going to make a comeback. 😛

    • I should not have heard of it, but somehow I heard that song last year and it gets stuck in my head all the time. I normally don’t listen to hip hop at all.

  12. I have found some great deals at Thrift Shops; however, it definitely consumed a lot of time and I typically go where there are a cluster of shops (like NYC) where I know I am bound to find something. I have found some similar quality deals, though, in what I call “thrifty shops” like Marshalls or TJMaxx and it takes me a lots less time to find them and you don’t have to worry about stains or wear and tear.

    • I like that name. We love those type stores. It can still be hit or miss but there is much more to choose from.

  13. “The problem with thrift store shopping, at least for me, is that I don’t want to devote the time to find what I’m looking for.” This is exactly why I don’t go to thrift stores if I’m looking for something specific. The ONLY exception is for Halloween or party costumes, in which case I think it’s a great idea. Otherwise I’m simply not willing to sacrifice the time it takes to hunt down something that you may not even end up finding.

    • I got a great hippie costume at a thrift store once, green polyester bell bottoms and a big red shirt with a huge collar. I think it was actually from the 70’s!

  14. I admit that I’m not a huge fan of thrifts stores, mainly because it is so hit or miss. Time is one thing I regularly lack so just being able to go to Target to outfit the girls may cost a bit more but I save time. It equals out in my mind! I am, however, regularly shocked when people show off their thrift store or consignment finds. There are definitely diamonds to be found; you just have to have the patience to find them. And patience is something I lack again. 🙂

    • I have a friend who got a Coach wallet that looks like brand new at a thrift store for $10. I usually am not that good at looking or just have bad timing.

  15. I think it can be a bit difficult to not get crap you don’t need sometime whether it be a thrift store or a regular retailer. At least the damage on your wallet is smaller at a thrift store! But if you are trying to find a specific item it can be a pain. I was looking, each time in a thrift store, for a large used pot to make laundry soap in (cause I wasn’t going to buy new for that!), I found one at $6.00! Great deal, but I had to be patient for like 3 months as well.

    • Cookware or containers would be an excellent thing to buy at a thrift store. I’m not sure I would have been that patient though.

  16. I love thrift stores but I’ve began to realize that I don’t keep my thrift store items in that good of condition compared to buying items from retail stores. That’s a con of buying items from thrift stores in my opinion. It’s usually a hit or miss when I go to the thrift store.

  17. Yeah, you have to keep looking…kind of like shopping on Craig’s list. A saying my mom uses popped into my head (as it does often) – “It’s not a sale if you buy something you weren’t going to buy anyway…”

    • Your mom is a smart lady. I really was tempted to look through all the dishes and had to remind myself we do not need them.

  18. That’s sometimes the way I feel about travel hacking… It takes too long to save, and when you save you are not really saving as much as you think when you factor in your time.

  19. I tend to like garage sales more than thrift stores. Too much stuff is overwhelming to me.

  20. I do love a good thrift store, but, I agree with you that purpose-shopping usually doesn’t pan out. We live in Boston, so we have a pretty good selection of thrift stores and we’ll often pop in and browse for deals. We usually don’t buy anything, but when we hit on a deal, it’s usually pretty awesome. When I need a new dress for an event, I’ll start thrift shopping 6 months or so in advance to maximize my chances of finding something, and so far, I’ve had good luck. But, at the end of the day, it’s still money being spent, so if we don’t need it, we don’t buy it! I wish we had more garage sales here ’cause I do find even better deals there!

  21. I like checking out yard sales and thrift stores from time to time, but more often than not I walk away empty-handed. If I think, “I have no idea what I’m going to do with this”, I put it back, even if it’s a quarter. I am trying really hard not to bring anything into the house that doesn’t have a purpose. If I can’t picture what I will do with something, to me it means I don’t need it. It took a long time to get to this point but I hate the feeling of having too much stuff and that’s where that was born from. In fact, I’m sure I donate more to the thrift stores than I buy, which isn’t a bad thing.

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