I love thrift stores. Thrift shopping is one of my favorite things to do. And thankfully, the boys seem to enjoy it too. It doesn't hurt that we usually cruise the toy section first so they each have something to hold and keep them entertained while I peruse the aisles. Thrift store shopping is like a game, or a treasure hunt. Discovering the diamond amongst the lumps of coal. For best results, go often. Inventory is turning over every day so there's always something new. I've been on days were I toured the whole store and left empty handed, and I've gone on days where I filled my cart with treasures. It's hit or miss, but it's worth going often. My favorite thrift store has a half off day on the last Tuesday of every month, so I'm there at least monthly. I find like new items, new-with-tags clothing for the kids, and really cool vintage items on a regular basis.
In addition to finding cool stuff, it can't be denied that thrift shopping is a very frugal endeavor. I buy about 99% of clothes for myself and the boys at thrift stores. I rarely spend over $1.99 for a shirt or pants. If you know what to look for you can often find designer clothes for pennies on the dollar. I routinely find Gymboree and Children's Place for a dollar or so, and have even found boutique clothing like Hanna Anderson. In years that I don't have the time or inspiration to make them, I can find great Halloween costumes there. And as I mentioned in Sweater: Deconstructed I never try clothes on at the store, but for $.50 I can afford to make a few mistakes. In general about 75% of what I bring home works really well for me.
I also look at items in the thrift store as raw material for crafting. I get wool sweaters and felt them for longies and diaper covers, I use vintage or jersey sheets for fabric to make clothing and hand bags, I refashion clothing items into something new and different. And if I find something that just doesn't fit and isn't worth my time to alter, it goes right back into the donation box and I take it back to the thrift store next time I go.
Thrift shopping is not only good for my personal pocket book though. It is environmentally friendly and good for the community as well. Buying used not only saves me money, but it keeps things out of the landfills, and it decreases the demand for new manufactured goods helping to limit factory emissions. When I declutter I have little time to take pictures and list things on craigslist or deal with a garage sale, so any usable items I'm getting rid of go to the thrift store. I probably could make a little money trying to sell some things, but it saves so much time and headache to donate, and I feel good about giving. A lot of thrift stores support charity causes, so the money I spend there goes back into the community. Proceeds from Good Will go toward education, training, and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness, and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Last year, local Good Wills collectively provided employment and training services to more than 1.1 million individuals. Salvation Army provides toys for kids at Christmas, coats for the homeless, food for the hungry, help for abused women and children, care for the elderly, and many other social services. Volunteers of America (my favorite thrift store here) provides services for children and families, developmental disabilities, elderly, emergency services, employment training, health care, homeless, housing, and much more. Be sure to check into the thrift stores in your area to see how they give back to the community.
Some of my best finds at thrift stores include a Thomas the Train play mat for my 3yo, a like new pressure cooker, some terrific clothes including an emerald green cotton/lambswool sweater and an 8 gore long skirt that fits perfectly and is very flattering, a spider costume for my 1yo for Halloween that was like new, some great vintage sheets, and every year I stock up on cookie tins for giving home made candy in.
If you've never stepped into a thrift store, I strongly encourage you to give it a try, you never know what you might find. And if you already shop at thrift stores you can feel good knowing that you are not only saving money, but are doing a good thing for the environment and the community.