The Best Way to Save Money: Thrift Stores

Saving money while taking care of all your other bills challenges nearly everyone. However, admonishments to stop buying lattes and eating avocado toast demonstrate how the promoters of most money management articles are out of touch with issues facing real people. So instead of telling those of us deciding between medications, rent, utilities, and gasoline not to have or do anything to relieve the stress of constantly treading water, here's some genuinely actionable advice. To help you pull up to the starting line of life, start shopping, operating, or providing merchandise to thrift stores for money. 

The Best Way to Save Money: Thrift Stores

image of an empty wallet for The Best Way to Save Money post

As of August 17, 2021, also known as National Thrift Store Day, over 25,000 not-for-profit, resale, consignment, and for-profit resale shops exist in the United States, employing nearly 125,000 people and generating between 15 billion USD and 24 Billion USD annually. In addition, curated clothing reseller ThredUp predicts used clothing sales will top S77 billion USD by 2026.

How Much Should I Save Each Month?

When Senator Elizabeth Warren worked as a bankruptcy professor, she taught her students to use the 50/30/20 rule. Warren advised her students to use 50 percent of their income for rent, food, and utilities, 30 percent for discretionary expenses, such as clothing, entertainment, and other flexible budget items, and 20 percent toward savings. In contrast, financial advisor Dave Ramsey does not recommend saving a set percentage of income until after you have a $1,000 emergency fund, pay off all debt, and save three to six months of expenses in case of job loss, illness, or other catastrophes.

However, Rich Dad, Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki advises savers against parking money in a standard savings account. Taxes, inflation, and risk avoidance all take bites from your nest egg, so put your money into a 401K, Roth IRA, or a money market account instead. That way, your money works for you, not the other way around.

Getting Started

With fewer people using cash, looking in couch cushions or under car seats will not cut it. So instead, you might ask yourself where to find the first $20 of your road to financial freedom. If you want to pull a nest egg out of thin air, hit your nearest thrift shop. At first, you will find two main ways to save: when you buy clothes and accessories for yourself and your family and when you pull enough outfits together to create and sell a curated collection. Although your clothing dollars stretch significantly farther, selling clothes, especially as curated collections, will grow your nest egg faster, with less effort, than nearly anything other than your regular job.

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What Are 5 Tips for Saving Money at Thrift Shops

Acquaint yourself with the typical price of your favorite clothing items and accessories. Then, any time you see them on sale for as little as 10 percent off, place the difference between the two prices into your clothing envelope if using the Ramsey savings system. Better yet, add that money to your 401K and let your employer match your contribution if you follow Kiyosaki's advice instead.

  1. Learn Price Points
  2. Buy Low
  3. Take Advantage of the Tag System
  4. Buy out of Season
  5. Buy Larger Sizes

Learn Price Points

Take your cue from The Price Is Right: scour traditional stores, catalogs, store ads, fashion magazines, and the websites of your favorite designer labels. Learn the price points for your favorite items before and without discounts, coupons, or seasonal sales. That top price sets a ceiling above which you need to refuse to pay.

Buy Low

Finding your favorite designer labels for pennies on the dollar feels like winning the fashion lottery. For example, in 1989, a pair of Z. Cavaricci jeans, with its silver label on the back pocket, usually sold for $85 at mall stores such as J. C. Penney, Macy's, or Jordan Marsh. In 2017, designer James Cavaricci attempted a revival, charging $225 to $245 for a 500-piece, limited edition anniversary collection. The anniversary edition jeans currently sell for as little as $5 today, but anything below its original price would seem fantastic to the right buyer.

Take Advantage of the Tag System

Nearly all secondhand goods stores use a system of colored tags to help keep track of prices and make it easier to rotate stock in and out of season. Some have a different colored price ticket for each day, while others also have a separate label for each week or month. Usually, via a sign at the front of the store and announcements every hour, management will communicate which tag offers the highest discount. Comb the racks by this price label first, in your size range. Then, try on everything if your store has a changing area. Return whatever does not fit back to their original racks.

Once you cull what does not fit, combine shirts and pants, tops and skirts into outfits. Check tags if multiple tops look great with the same pants or skirt. Please select the items whose labels reflect the most significant savings between competing items and the most considerable difference between its original price and the thrift store's price. Remember, at this point, your total overall savings matters the most.

Buy out of Season

Unless you need to wear your secondhand come-ups today, buy clothes out of season. Square footage in thrift stores always runs short, so off-season items receive insane discounts. Consequently, shop for coats at the beginning of summer and sleeveless shirts in winter. Also, out-of-season shopping makes that attractive silk shell top an even bigger bargain. When topped with the right wool jacket, that shell could make the difference between landing a new job with higher pay and being ghosted after your latest interview.

Just ask author Tressie McMillan Cottam, whose collection of essays, Thick, includes the story of an interview she observed. Her supervisor eliminated a prospective employee for wearing a cotton shell blouse instead of a silk one. Cottam's essay detailed many occasions where the suitable garment or accessory helped someone barge past gatekeepers to get better-paying jobs or seek assistance.

Buy Larger Sizes

Whether you tailor clothing yourself or pay the two to five-dollar charge at a dry cleaner or tailor shop, buy larger sizes. Despite decades of keeping too-small garments in our closets in hopes of losing weight, purchasing small wastes money. Instead, free yourself from someday syndrome. Cull those ill-fitting items from your closet, put pieces together as outfits, and use that stock to take the next step: Opening a consignment store of your own.

Second-Best Way to Save Money: Open a Consignment Shop

If you start with what you already own and charged based on all the knowledge you've acquired from learning how to buy low at thrift stores, you will then be able to sell at a profit that will support you as well as or better than your current job. Next, mix and match until you find a look that resembles your favorite fashion magazine's latest spread. Next, list it yourself, or allow a curator such as ThredUp, Poshmark, or the less well-known Vestiaire Collective to sell your collection for you. Vestiaire Collective gives you 80 percent of the purchase price once they authenticate the garments, the buyer pays, and the buyer's payment processes.

Poshmark pays you via direct deposit, which takes two to three business days, which does not include any intervening weekends or holidays. You may request up to ten payments from your available balance every 24 hours. ThredUp, on the other hand, does not make direct deposits into your regular bank or credit union account. Instead, they will deposit your earnings into a PayPal or Stripe account. Your payments take 24 to 48 hours to reach PayPal, while Stripe earnings may take up to three days as an established seller and as long as a week the first time you request a payout.

Reinvest your earnings into new outfits and curated collections to keep money flowing into your savings. Whether you choose to fund your 401K, or IRA, open a money market account, or find some other investment, take Robert Kiyosaki's advice and make your money work for you.


Ultimately, the best way to save money shopping at thrift stores requires a little sweat equity. Occasionally, items may require mending a seam, sewing on a button, or replacing a zipper. In addition, some clothing will need washing, patching, disguising holes and stains, and possibly even ironing. Stretch your dollars even further by looking along the outer walls of the store for the grab bags filled with sewing supplies, embellishments, zippers, and buttons you need to make everything look appealing.

Listing items for sale takes time, and you may wish to consult a professional copywriter for SEO-optimized descriptions or hire a photographer to photograph the collections you curate once your thrift shop business takes flight. Set a percentage of your thrift shop income aside after each sale you make to cover expenses for these business-growing services.


United States Census Bureau: National Thrift Store Day

IBIS World: Thrift Stores in the US -- Employment Statistics 2002 -- 2026

Dun and Bradstreet First Research: Used Merchandise Stores Industry Profile

United States Census Bureau: National Thrift Store Day

ThredUp: 2021 Resale Report


Money Under 30: How Much Should You Save Every Month?

Ramsey Solutions: How Much Should I Have in Savings?

Business of Fashion: Z Cavaricci Makes a Comeback

The New Press: Thick

Vestaire Collective: Start Selling

Poshmark: Selling: How to Redeem My Earnings

ThredUp: Finding Your Earnings and Cashing Out