Updated on 03.25.12

Hit Thrift Shops and Secondhand Shops in Upscale Neighborhoods (86/365)

Trent Hamm

One of my best resources for finding new clothes comes from going to the nicest neighborhoods in a metro area (in my case, usually Des Moines) and finding the nearest Goodwill or other secondhand clothing shop. That’s where I begin almost all of my clothes shopping.

Why do it this way? Simply put, people in nice neighborhoods seem to be far more likely to get rid of items for very minor reasons than people in other areas, and like most of us, they’ll simply find the closest place to drop those items. Thrift shops and secondhand shops in upscale neighborhoods are the beneficiaries of this, and they’re often loaded with wonderful items.

Hit Thrift Shops and Secondhand Shops in Upscale Neighborhoods (86/365)

Here are some tactics for getting the most out of these stores.

First, do some scouting. If you go to the Goodwill closest to the nicest neighborhood in your area and it doesn’t suit you, it does not mean this entire idea doesn’t work. Thrift stores and secondhand stores often operate on widely varying policies.

Start with that store in the relatively ideal location, but cast your net a bit wider. Look at all of the thrift shops near (or within) most of the nicer neighborhoods in your area.

What are you looking for? You’re looking for good quality and low prices. Finding a thrift shop or a secondhand store with a great balance of the two is well worth your time and effort, because it will be something you can draw on for a long time.

Second, widen your vision a little. Don’t completely disregard a secondhand shop because they don’t have the perfect item on the shelves at that moment. The wares at a good secondhand shop or thrift store rotate surprisingly quickly.

Instead, look for items that are close to what you’re looking for. Are there items in your size that you might not necessarily pick? Are there items in sizes close to yours that you might otherwise buy? Are there other items of interest in the store? Are these items priced reasonably considering they’re from a secondhand store or a thrift store?

These are indicators of the potential of the store to have items that you’d like to buy in the future, which I consider to be more important than items I want to buy right now. I’m more likely to go back to a store that has 50 items that are close to what I want than a store with two perfect items and nothing else.

A final tip: do this with a friend. Usually, social shopping is a bad thing, as people tend to talk each other into purchases. However, I’ve found the opposite effect is true when going thrift shopping.

For starters, if I have a friend that’s excited enough about thrift shopping to spend hours jumping into various thrift stores and secondhand stores with me, they’re not going to be the type that spends money recklessly. That person is going to be at least as conservative with their dollars as I am, which is just who I want to shop with.

Given that, the shopping companion would also make a strong second pair of eyes, helping you to see stuff that you might not otherwise notice. This is incredibly valuable when scouting stores, as every set of eyes helps.

Not only that, doing this with a friend makes it a social occasion (and a rather fun one) instead of just a shopping trip. A friend that is willing to pack some sandwiches and spend the day hitting thrift shops with you is going to be a pretty good person to hang out with.

There are fantastic deals all around. All you have to do is find them.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Carl Lassegue says:

    That’s a great idea! I live close to Boca Raton, FL and I’m going to check out salvation army and plato’s closet. Thanks Trent!

  2. Steven says:

    I won’t shop at thrift stores. Nope. I’m too uppity for that. I like my clothes to be name brand and brand new. I like wearing exactly what I want to wear, not what I had to settle on at the thrift store because they didn’t have what I wanted. Clothes and appearance are very important to me. How you look is the FIRST thing people use to judge you. And while your clothes might not define who you are, they help other people define for themselves who you are.

  3. Heather says:

    Shhhh! You’re giving away my secrets! :)

  4. Johanna says:

    Trent, you often talk about wanting to cut unnecessary negativity out of your life. So here’s a constructive suggestion. Next time you write this article, instead of saying “people in nice neighborhoods seem to be far more likely to get rid of items for very minor reasons than people in other areas” – or, like you did last time, “people in the rich part of town often have more money than sense” – you could instead say something like “people in the rich part of town can afford to change their wardrobes more often, so their thrift store donations usually have plenty of wear left in them.”

    See the difference? Instead of skewering people for being insufficiently frugal for your tastes, you could acknowledge that they’re “simply” spending their money (which they probably have plenty of) in ways that bring them fulfillment. And that means you have nice things to buy at the thrift store, so everyone’s happy.

  5. Johanna says:

    Comment in limbo (as expected).

  6. Yankeegal says:

    I love, love, love, thrift stores! I have only a few brands I like and have had no trouble finding a vast, lovely wardrobe.
    How exactly does one tell if the clothes on someone are gently used or not? No one I know judging by the compliments I get.

  7. Icarus says:

    This is very true. In chicago a very upper middle class and upper class neighborhood called Lincolnd Park has some of the best Salvation Army stores in the city. The consignment shops have good stuff too but terrible prices.

  8. Brian says:

    This is a great idea. I live in Tampa and the Salvation Army store near Bayshore has a lot of nice, lightly used items.

    Also, I’m a huge fan of the new comment moderation. I’ve been a lurker here for years and the riff raff from J, D, and others was getting old. Keep it up!

  9. Emma says:

    #1 How does Trend justify spending” hours jumping into various thrift stores and secondhand stores ” if he previously stated that separate washing of a nice sweater was too time consuming?
    #2 Use hand sanitizer between thrift shop hopping and eating sandwiches, in a car presumably.
    #3 Those stores are designed for a really needy- ex. domestic workers in those well off neighborhoods, not for a clever and well to do, frugality hobbyist.
    #4 “spend the day hitting thrift shops with you is going to be a pretty good person to hang out with.” That must be a post Facebook type of activity.Time!
    #5 A friend from work shopped for her brother in need at one of those stores in a very nice area. Both ended up with bed bugs. They moved with her to her new apartment.( the bugs) It took her a year to eliminate them.
    #6 Whatever you do, avoid forcing your spouses to do the same and do not buy them thier clothes at Salvation Army stores. It creates negative feelings and eats up from your dygnity. Sort of an outcast vibe- good and new clothes are for others, more worthy.
    Unless your spouse likes to do it for fun.
    #7 Careful with children. They do not live in a vacuum but in a social setting. Everything has its limits.

  10. Misha says:

    “Simply put, people in nice neighborhoods seem to be far more likely to get rid of items for very minor reasons than people in other areas, and like most of us, they’ll simply find the closest place to drop those items.”

    This is not simply put AT ALL.

  11. Steven says:

    @Misha: I wanted to say something about that statement as well, but just couldn’t find a good place to start. Trent’s disdain for the “rich” or people who live in “nice neighborhoods” is obvious with the trash he talks about them on a regular basis. Just as people look down at frugal people, so to do frugal people look down on others who have different value systems. It’s tired.

  12. Izabelle says:

    Actually, some of my best clothes come from thrift stores. I don’t buy every time I go there, but when I do find something I like it’s usually high quality and original. Thrifting does NOT have to mean looking shabby!

  13. Andrew says:

    This isn’t always true–in the western suburbs of Boston, where I live, there aren’t very many “upscale” consignment shops for clothes.

    In this area, the prevailing ethic among the affluent is that buying lots of clothes, and then discarding them quickly, is unacceptable. In fact, looking frumpy has been the default position for close to 100 years now. Both the academic and the entrepreneurial cohorts seem to never, ever throw anything out.

    Trent’s belief that higher incomes and frugality are incompatible is absurd.

  14. Gary says:

    I personally am not a big fan of thrift stores with the exception of one or two items. I found a couple beautiful paintings and pictures from the local goodwill store. I bought a great picture of an old world map that one of my friends asked if he could buy it off of me. It cost about $10 and I did need to clean the glass, but wow what a great deal. Thrift stores are like garage sales, sometimes you get lucky, but don’t hold your breath.

  15. Shannon says:

    I will not shop in thrift stores, no matter how upscale the neighborhood. Why? Because I have *never* found quality clothes there. They all look worn, at best. Further, being short and fat, I have a difficult enough time finding clothes that fit me in a retail store. When I go to a thrift shop, my options narrow considerably.

    I will, however, check out cosignment stores, especially cosignment stores geared towards short and fat people. There is a huge, unstated difference between cosignment stores and thrift stores. There are cosignment stores that cater to neiche markets and the quality of the clothing tends to be in closer to like new or new. I’m willing to pay a few bucks more to have a greater chance of success in a shorter amount of time.

    Further, when I go to cosignment stores, I bring trash bags with me. The tags are removed from the clothes before I even get in the car. The clothes go in double bagged trash bags, then straight into the wash (on hot) when I come home.

  16. kc says:

    Simply put, we have too much stuff and are looking for an extra deduction.

  17. Liz says:

    Wow, snobby bunch that won’t shop in a thrift store. And a contrary bunch, that will make fun of Trent for buying a $200 pot, but insisting that thrift store clothes are not good enough for them, that new clothes will only do!

    I don’t knkw where the idea comes from that thrift stores are only for the poor. When I was in my local Goodwill, I did not see any signs saying “not for the middle class”. I *did* see the signs detailing all the programs that Goodwill industries could support thanks to everyone’s purchases. But I guess it is up to the poor to support these programs through their purchases?

    Btw, I just picked up a new-to-me handbag at the local Goodwill for $10. The retail cost of this bag when new was $1200. It is an excellwnt quality leather bag that will last me probably 20 years, (it is already 8 years old, and hardly shows any age).

  18. David says:

    I am familiar neither with the term “cosignment store” nor the term “consignment store”; but whereas I can conjecture what the latter might mean I have no idea what the former might mean (unless it refers to a store in a neighborhood so dubious that checks signed by a single person are unacceptable).

    Meanwhile, it seems to me that Trent’s advice is good for exactly the reason Johanna gives: stuff disposed of by the rich at knockdown prices is likely to be better than stuff disposed of by the poor. It is not actually true that Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway said to one another that “the rich are different” – “they have more money”, but si non e vero, e ben trovato.

  19. Sandy says:

    While on Honeymoon in January, my husband and I wandered into a second hand shop. A picture in a frame caught my eye, so I bought it – it was $18. To cut a long story short, it turns out to be an original watercolour, done by one of New Zealands best artists, and is worth around $600. So yes, shopping in second hand shops can REALLY pay off!

  20. Roberta says:

    Amy Dacyzyn (The Frugal Zealot) pointed out that you have to have a different mind set when thrift store shopping. If what you need is a a long-sleeved white button-down shirt in your exact neck size and sleeve length, you may strike out. You have to be more openminded in looking, and then you may find things you need. My son loves the 25 cent paperbacks, for example. If he decides after reading one that he doesn’t want to keep it, I can drop it off again the next week with anything else I’m donating. I found a Villeroy and Boch tea cup and saucer – for $1.50 – which is so pretty I leave it out for display when I’m not taking a quick tea break. I also frequesntly find things like kitchenware, used picture frames and cookbooks – for $1.00 or so. Found a used slowcooker for my son to take to college – has worked for 4 years now. The two biggest things I find are – many people don’t want to be bothered to donate items – they dump them with the trash, or many of the women are so weight-conscious that the clothes are really tiny – size 0 or 2, for example. So on Mondays, which is trash and recycle day, the neighborhoods here are patrolled by guys with pickups and trailers scouting the trash piles for usable discards – saw a complete outdoor set – chairs, tables, umbrellas etc last week. The owner told me later her husband was tired of it and it wasn’t worth cleaning so they bought a new set. And if I ever lose 60 pounds or so, I’ll be able to find all kinds of very expensive name brand clothe, LOL.

  21. Jessica says:

    Shopping at thrift stores is one way my family saved enough money to pay off our mortgage in 6.5 years on modest incomes.

  22. MARIA says:

    I spend a few lunch hours every other month or so browsing a couple of thrift stores in the area. I usually don’t go in looking for anything specific but have found many great deals. My most current finds – very cute “scrap” compost bucket for the kitchen $1, longaberger basket $2 ( sold on ebay for $43),BRAND NEW TAG ATTACHED coldwater creek shirt $1.50, Easter egg holder .25
    Every thing I have ever purchased at t-stores has been either brand new or in extremely good condition. Maybe you just need to have an open mind when you go in and not look for something specific.

  23. Gretchen says:

    Thrift stores, generically, are not the bargain or the easy find they were even a few years ago.

    It’s a lot more digging with fewer rewards then before thrifting was trendy.

    This is true of clothes and of “stuff.”

  24. Adrian says:

    Wow. Some interesting comments here, but I have to agree with Trent, I travel to LA just about every 3 weeks or so for the last 3 years and got into the habit of doing exactly what he suggested we all do. I’ve found Donna Karan designer clothes with the tags still on them, brand new brooks brothers suits, shirts and ties in several of the thrift stores. I’ve seen Ralph Lauren Purple label shirts for $70 dollars(retails for $699).

  25. Barbara says:

    My job requires that I dress VERY professionally (go to court a lot) and I buy at least 50% of my wardrobe at Goodwill. I promise you that no one ever suspects that I didn’t pay top dollar for them because I am picky and I know which shops sell higher quality clothes. I will admit that I am petite and I find a lot more brand new women’s clothes (still with tags) in the smaller (size 4 or 6) sizes so I may have an advantage.

  26. DannyD says:

    For those saying thrift stores are meant for poor to shop in, the retail stores income funds the charity’s services for those in need. The retail side of the house is not intended to be exclusively for those in need. Goods are donated then sold & those funds are used to help people in need. This has been explained publicly (I think by Goodwill) as a result of complaints about high prices in the thrift shops. With walmart/target pricing so low people are finding they can buy new for the same or less than thrift stores. Furthermore people running ‘vintage stores’ both on line & B&M scour thrift stores for items they can buy low & sell high. As with any business this demand may cause prices to rise & supply to go down. So buy all you want & feel good about it, you’re helping fund the charity, not taking away from those in need.

  27. It’s also good to know that many thrift stores have regularly scheduled sales. My local Goodwill offers 1/2 off on certain items every Wednesday and the sale lasts for a week. One week it might be pants, another week it might be dresses. Plust they always give a 10% senior discount.

  28. jackowick says:

    It’s nice to see people once again taking things way too personally on a general advice blog.

    I go to thrift stores all the time. I don’t care how you phrase it, going to ones near a rich neighborhood is great. I don’t see why people are offended by this unless they feel they are being slighted. Sorry, it’s very common for “da rich folk” to throw out great items for no real reason.

    I find it fun to find a thrift shop in another town/state while traveling. This ties into the fact that thrift stores have a very dynamic inventory, go often or a repeating basis and you’ll find great stuff.

    Would I buy pants/button down shirts at thrift? Personally, no, but outwear and accessories yes.

    Tee shirts can take a beating in the wash though, so I allow myself to buy tees. But it’s my opinion, which is what this column provides.

    I have zero guilt about going, despite the slanted and judgemental comments that the stores are for “the poor”. If I drop $20-50 there, it’s going right back into the store, and I’m in many cases paying the wages of a low income earner, helping them with job stability. That’s not some condescending elitist comment, that’s just how economics work.

    But in general, I really do not like the turn to negative criticism by the comments on this site anymore. IT’S AN ADVICE COLUMN, AND NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU OR DIRECTED TO YOU PERSONALLY.

  29. Tom says:

    Can someone refresh my memory? In The Millionaire Next Door, doesn’t Stanley say that millionaires don’t spend a lot on clothes? That seems to fly in the face of the thesis that the best clothes are in the highest income areas.

    Overconsumers throw away good clothes, right, not just wealthy neighbors.

  30. jim says:

    This is good advice. Shopping at thrift stores is obvious and solid way to save money. Shopping at the thrift store in the rich people neighborhood is a good tactic to find better quality deals.

    Of course there are various limitations to thrift stores and some thrift stores are a lot better or worse than others.

  31. Izabelle says:

    There is a HUGE difference in election and quality between the chain thrift store in my wealthy-ish neighborhood and the one from the same chain in the inner city area where I used to live.

  32. MARIA says:

    #29 Tom
    The millionaire Next Door would never live in an “upscale” income area. The Millionaire Next door lives a few neighborhoods area and drives to the “upscale” area to purchase clothes at t-stores.

  33. Camilla says:

    While I suspect a rich neighborhood is better than a poor neighborhood in the same urban area, the quality of thrift shops doesn’t track with income across the country.

    The Goodwill store near Youngstown OH, that I visited has much better stuff than any of the thrift stores in the Boston area that I’ve found, most of which are quite dismal. Likewise I vacationed in Albuquerque and came home with an armload from a well-stocked Goodwill branch.

    I’ve been reading about quilters who buy up men’s cotton shirts and make quilts out of the fabric. Comparing notes on the list, I think the North East is just spectacularly bad for thrift stores. Men’s shirts are $4 at my Goodwill, coming down to $2 if you catch a sale (but selection is poor), while quilters across the midwest seem to have $1 as the upper limit of what they’ll pay for a shirt, but regularly come home with several-for-$1 bargains.

  34. Misha says:

    You know, sometimes people also get rid of clothes that are new-with-tags because the clothes were gifts that didn’t fit or didn’t match the recipient’s style. It’s not always a case of “buying stuff and wearing it once or never”.

  35. jim says:

    Camille is right. Goodwill is ran regionally. So the Goodwill stores in one corner of the country won’t be ran similarly to those on the other end of the country.

  36. jim says:

    You might also find new clothing with the tags still on at a thrift store is that local retail stores will occasionally dump their excess stock they can’t sell on charities to get a tax write off.

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