Back To School With Garage Sales And Thrift Stores

School starts on August 20th, and although I’m still wondering where the last five years went, I’ve got pretty much everything we need as far as school clothes.  We’ll have to do some supply shopping once we get the list from our son’s teacher, but that should be a pretty quick trip for things like tissues and crayons.  As far as clothes, shoes, and outerwear, we’re all set.

Here’s what we’ve gathered from thrift stores and yard sales over the past year:



For all of that, I’ve spent about $45.  The backpack is from REI (made for a kid, so it’s smaller than a regular backpack and will be perfect for school), the shoes are Reebok, Gap, and Keen (the Keens were an awesome hand-me-down from a friend.  We make sure we pay it forward by giving the best of our outgrown stuff to another friend with a son younger than ours).  Most of the clothing is from Gymboree and Gap.  The coat is New Balance.  Everything is in excellent (basically new) shape.  We’ve got several long-sleeve shirts, several t-shirts, a couple golf shirts, several short-sleeve button down shirts, three pairs of jeans, two non-jeans pants, and three pairs of shorts.  More than enough for a school year, and it’s all size 6 – 7 (our son just turned 5 in May) so it will easily fit him throughout the year.

If we had purchased all of this stuff new it would have easily been a few hundred dollars.  $45 is a lot easier on the budget, and it was fun – sort of like a scavenger hunt.  Roughly half of the clothing came from one yard sale, when we finally hit the jackpot and found a sale where the family had a little boy a few years older than our son, and a penchant for high-end clothing.  The rest was gathered here and there over the last year (planning ahead is an essential part of being able to get nearly everything you need secondhand instead of having to pay retail at the last minute).  Some came from half-price sales at Goodwill, and the rest is from garage sales.  Nothing cost more than about $3, and some of this stuff was 50 cents.

It definitely took more time to find all of this stuff used than it would have to just go to the mall and buy it all new.  But since I buy pretty much everything for our household secondhand, the time is well spent – I find all of the stuff we need by going to garage sales about once a month in the summer, and Goodwill about once or twice a month all year round.  I plan my garage sale trips around neighborhood-wide sales, either in our own town or in the nearby city, so it takes me a few hours but I’m able to hit numerous sales in one morning.  Goodwill trips take about an hour.  It probably works out to less total time shopping than the average person, because I spend no time at all browsing around in the mall or places like Target.  So although the total amount of time spent shopping for school clothes for our son was longer than it would have taken if I had bought them new, that same shopping time was also used to get everything else our household has needed over the past year.

Have you finished your back-to-school shopping yet?  If not, there are several Saturday mornings between now and the middle of August… happy garage sale shopping!

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  1. says

    Nice haul :) I’ve been doing something similar for myself and slowly building up a collection of “nice” clothes I can wear to work when I (hopefully) get a job next year. It does take time but it’s surprising what you can find.

  2. Helena Berg says

    Nice! My in-laws’ neighbor has a daughter a year older than mine, and the mom is a shopaholic who loves to dress her daughter nicely. I make very sure I am at her house first thing every year at the neighborhood yard sale. :) Here’s hoping I luck into a similar connection for my son!

  3. frugalbabe says

    I got the following email from a reader named Julia regarding this post:

    “I love the way you get all of your things from thrift stores, etc. I would like to do the same but have run into a few problems. ONE: We live in a resort area and the consignment shops tend to have high-end designer items with thrift prices $100 or more, so that is no real bargain. TWO: The few “real’ thrift stores are, how shall I put it, a bit skanky. We have no “name brand” thrift stores in our rural area, such as a Goodwill store. Do you have any tips on vetting thrift stores?”

    Good questions Julia, and I’m sure other readers have similar situations. We live in an area with particularly good thrift stores, but I know that’s not the case everywhere. It may be that the thrift stores in your area aren’t great, and if that’s the case, you might want to stick to Craigslist and yard sales instead. Especially in a resort area, you might find that yard sales are a great source of high-end stuff. When it comes to thrift stores, my best advice is to just dive in and check them out. Go on a day when you’re not pressed for time, and wander around for a while to get a feel for the place. Don’t be put off by your initial impressions, especially if you’re not used to thrift stores. I’ve been in some truly dark and dingy thrift stores over the years, but I’ve found that some of them have great bargains – just a reminder to not judge a book by its cover! Some stores are very well laid out, with a clean and welcoming feel. Others are cramped and dark and it can be hard to find what you’re looking for. But you might find that the latter turns out to be a treasure trove once you know your way around it. In towns with more than one store, you might want to visit all the thrift stores you can find and spend some time walking around. You may find that one store has particularly great deals on clothing, while another is much better for housewares. Once you know which stores are good for which items, you can plan your shopping trips accordingly, depending on what you need.
    Especially if you’re not used to thrift stores and secondhand shopping, remind yourself to go into the store with a spirit of expectation, scavenger hunting and fun! Even stores that seem “a bit skanky” might turn out to have some great deals on stuff you would otherwise buy new. Have fun with it!

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