Guess what this post is NOT going to be about. It is not going to be about what kind of wonderful deals you can get on a pair of shoes that are normally $400 for a mere $200. That is not a true shoestring budget, people. That is a little less than half my grocery budget for a family of 4 for a month. So, that's not what you're going to find here.
One of the few good things that happened during the "Great Recession," was that for a little slice of time, some of the magazines began thinking a little more creatively (which is how we frugal-living artistes perform on a daily basis!) and shared ideas on how to stretch your dollar just a bit more. And I do mean a bit, because Seventh Avenue's meaning of a bargain and mine are galaxies apart. I don't begrudge them that; they represent inspiration and fantasy. I just don't like that what magazines normally feature as "bargains," I call "indulgent-splurges-that-are-just-not-going-to-happen-in-this-homeschooling-mom's-lifetime-with-two-girls-who-would-like-a-college-education."
A more realistic budget for my seasonal shopping looks more like $100 or less... and that's for everything for me! My girls each get roughly the same amount and that usually takes care of everything for 6 months or more. Obviously, we don't need to be rebuilding wardrobes from scratch every season and now that my girls have pretty much stopped growing, their wardrobes are more static, similar to an adult wardrobe.
But clothes wear out and styles do change in spite of efforts to limit trend purchases. And it's simply fun - if you like clothes and feel like they are an extension of your personality - to find some fresh pieces as spring moves to summer and fall to winter. So, what is the answer when you have, as my long-time, dear friend, Susan says, "champagne taste on a beer budget"? Well, my friends, the answer is:
Thrift stores seem to be more popular and more accepted than ever. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area where we live we have a number of large, chain thrift stores including Unique/Valu Thrift Stores, Savers, and Goodwill. In addition to these, there are smaller, independent operations around the state as well. Each of these are very large, well organized and clean. Of these stores, Savers is my family's favorite, because they are always bright and clean, support local, nonprofit agencies, have a lot of dressing rooms, offer membership cards with specials for members, and offer a 20% discount on your shopping every time you bring in a donation of any size.
And now, as someone who has shopped the majority of her wardrobe at thrift stores for over 20 years and who does not really think that a T-shirt for $20 is a "good deal," I give you 10 ways to get the most out of your thrift store shopping spree and get that spring wardrobe on a dime!
1. Know Your Body
Before you consider what you are going to add to your wardrobe this season, it is important to know what kinds of styles flatter your figure the most. Just because wide-legged pants or maxi dresses are trending doesn't mean that the style is going to be for you. I, for example, over the years, noticed that I never ever like the way a regular, crew-neck T-shirt looks on me when I put it on and yet it looks so good on so many other people. The t-shirts they give out for participating in the 5K or for the big day of volunteering, etc. are just lost on me, because I never wear them. I have always felt better in a V-neck or U-neck or boat neck styled shirt. Likewise, I just can't get button-down oxford shirts to look good on me, because the collars are just too high. I never really thought of myself as having a short neck, but it must be a little bit shorter, because the illusion I am always trying to create is one of added length and openness. It wasn't something I was doing consciously for a long time, but I eventually figured it out when I began noticing which pieces in my wardrobe made me feel good when I put them on and which ones didn't. Likewise, when you understand what flatters your body the most, you can be more selective and save yourself some money by not picking something based on the style, pattern or fabric that you like and instead sticking with what you know works for you.
2. Know Your Colors
Knowing the colors that flatter your skin tone the most is another good way of choosing pieces that you'll feel good wearing. That said, I have a few colors that I like to wear that aren't necessarily "my season" (you'll know what I mean if you've ever analyzed your colors using a season technique), such as charcoal gray, but for the most part, I know to steer clear of pastels of any kind, for example. Many thrift stores organize their clothing by type (long or short-sleeved or sleeveless blouses, long-sleeved knits, short-sleeved knit tops, jeans, skirts, dresses, etc.), then by size, and then by color. I really like that they organize by color because I can head for exactly the colors I am looking for and also avoid those colors that don't look good on me, saving both time and money.
3. Find Your Style Inspiration
This is my favorite step! A couple of years ago I was trying to reassess what my style was. I am now a woman in my 40's and I simply don't dress the same way I did 15 years ago. I had some clothes in my closet that at one time I really felt good in, but now I just didn't. I don't mean physically - though that can obviously affect you too. I just mean that there are times in your life when you have a style shift, as when college students need to shift their dress from comfy sweats to something more professional when they begin their careers. No matter how cute your favorite comfy tee and yoga pants look on you and even if you can still "pull it off", unless you are a professional dancer, you're going to need something different for day-to-day. For me, it was moving out of a more artsy phase and into something more classic and elegant that I wanted. Obviously, some women continue to love and really rock the bohemian look, but I just didn't feel myself in that style of dress anymore.
So, I went to Pintrest and just began building my style board with images that I liked. I didn't think too much about where I would wear something or if I could afford something or if it was practical for my life. Instead, I was just after a certain look that I admired, whether it was "in" or not and even though I didn't know exactly what it was yet. Eventually, I began noticing trends. Certain colors and pieces began to repeat themselves in the images I was choosing and there were some interesting surprises too! These were things that I began to add to a list of items I wanted to find when I finally went shopping. Some of these things were completely new to me. Blazers, for example, are something that I admire, but they are not something I have ever had in my wardrobe before. I still haven't found the perfect one for me yet, but I remain on the lookout for something nice that flatters my shape, my height, and my coloring.
Now I make this a regular practice and it's really fun! Yes, Pintrest can be a time suck, but in this instance, the time you are putting in will actually pay you back in the end, because you can prepare a list of specific pieces you want to look for when you begin your shopping. And this is important, because there are many fun and beautiful pieces to be found at thrift stores and you need to stay focused if you want to get the most for your money! You want to stick to things you really need/want to add to your wardrobe. If you do decide to buy something on a whim, you're going to need to decide what piece from your list you are going to eliminate, because you also need to...
4. Know Your Budget
And stick to it! Take a calculator along (most of you already know that there's one on your cell phone, so there are no excuses!) and keep track. Whether your budget is $50 or $100 or $200, keep those pieces you find that mean the most to you and put the rest back. It's just clothing after all. Most of us have more than we need already, so keep things in perspective, remember your priorities, and stick to your budget.
5. Know Your Thrift Stores/Plan Your Route
Most of the time I easily find everything I am looking for at one place. But if I have the time and if I don't find everything I'm hunting for, I plan my shopping in a route that will take me to my favorite store first and then the rest in order of the least distance and on my way back home. I try to be prepared for each store too, with donations, for example, if that equals a discount or making sure I have my membership card with me or a stamped card that adds up to a discount according to the number of purchases I have made in the past.
Okay, that's enough for this post. Now we're prepared and next time we'll actually GO SHOPPING!