Frugal Shopping at Thrift Stores, Vintage Boutiques & Consignment Places

by Guest Blogger on 2011-07-222

If you’re going to shop as frugally as possible, where would you go? Some of us who like our stuff “new” tend to visit outlet stores. Over in California, we have a great spot where people converge and go on shopping sprees — Gilroy, California, known for its garlic festivals. They’re also known for outlet malls and stores. But there are even cheaper options out there if you don’t mind gently used merchandise. Let’s take a look at some great places for your frugal shopping trips.

To many, the words “thrift store” immediately conjures up images of grim, musty stores filled with racks of grim musty clothes and shelves of grim musty junk, places where only students and those with personal finance problems would dare to shop!

Whilst this may be true in some cases, there are plenty of thrift stores out there that sort the gems from the junk and the real bargains that can be had. And, given the state of the economy, we could all do with securing a real bargain or two!

Inside A Thrift Store

Unlike most retail outlets, a thrift store is one that relies on donations to keep its stock replenished.

Whilst this means that most things that you can buy from a thrift store will be in used condition, which is a major deterrent for some people, some stores will actually carry unused items that are as good as new. And the best thing about thrift store shopping is that most items, even the new ones, are sold at a fraction of their original price, so bargains are everywhere!

However, this is not always the case, and some stores prefer to deal in “vintage” as opposed to “thrift” — and vintage doesn’t always mean cheap!

Vintage or Thrift?

The most noticeable difference between vintage stores and thrift stores is the price, as those that deal in “vintage” often source more exclusive pieces and charge a premium for this. This is because unlike thrift stores, vintage stores or boutiques purchase most or all of the items they sell from vintage fairs or flea markets and then sell them for a profit. Furthermore, true vintage items should be at least 30 years old, and are often in better condition and are more exclusive than items sold in thrift stores.

How Consignment Stores Work

There is also another type of store that deals in both thrift and vintage, and that is a consignment store.These stores are places where people can sell their used items and the store owners act as a dealer, selling the goods and taking a percentage of any money made.

And, just like vintage boutiques, items in consignment stores tend to be of higher quality and are often cleaned and laundered before they are put on display. By contrast, the quality and condition of items in thrift stores tend to vary greatly.

The Digerati Life says: I love consignment stores. I have purchased many of my home interior design pieces and furniture accessories through such stores. The one of a kind, unique nature of these items adds to their character, which makes them all the more intriguing and attractive. Plus, some really gorgeous items can be picked up for so little!

How To Shop Thriftily

Shopping at thrift stores, or vintage boutiques and consignment stores for that matter, is a completely different experience from shopping at regular retailers. For example, when you shop on the high street, you can be very specific about what you want, but because you can never be sure about what will be in stock in a thrift store, it could take you forever to find the exact item that you are after.

So if you’re planning a visit at these specialty vintage or thrift stores, then it is best to go in with an open mind and a loose idea of what you want. In fact, it is the unpredictability of what you will find in such a place that makes it a wholly unique and enjoyable shopping experience. As new items are usually coming in and going out on a daily basis, you have to snap up what you can when it’s available, as you may never see that item again!

Since inventory changes so frequently, it is worth making regular visits to thrift stores. It is also a good idea to find out which days these shops take in new stock so that you can be around to find the real quality bargains.

Thrift stores also tend to cluster together in areas with high footfall (traffic) and low rent, so it is best to shop around to find the best bargains. In addition, different stores can often take in different types of stock, particularly those that are attached to particular charities, so shopping around will give you a better chance of finding exactly what you are looking for.

When shopping for clothes in thrift stores, it is important that you try on any garments before you buy them, whenever possible. This is because sizes change between brands and also change depending upon how old the item is: a size 8 from 1981 can differ greatly from today’s size 8.

Similarly, if you are shopping for electrical items — a vintage video game system, for example — then you should always plug the item in and test it before buying.

Online Thrift Stores and Auction Sites

Another way to thrift shop is to visit one of the many online thrift stores, vintage boutiques or auction sites. The main advantage of online shopping is that you can search through online inventory or a product catalog pretty easily and you’re therefore much more likely to find something you really need or want much more quickly.

However, you can’t try on or try out anything that you purchase, of course, and so you have to take the vendor’s word for the quality of the items you buy. That is why you should only purchase items that contain pictures, a comprehensive description to illustrate their exact condition and a full set of measurements (if applicable).

Here are three online sites that you may be interested in checking out:

  • – Quality online consignment store where you can both buy and sell clothes and accessories.
  • – A high end, designer fashion consignment store with free shipping to U.S. customers.
  • Once in a Blue Moon at – Online thrift store selling everything from children’s clothing to original art work.

The Golden Rule of Thrift Shopping

Thrift shopping can be hit and miss at the best of times but there is nothing quite like the feeling of finding a vintage item that you’ve been after for a long time. How exciting it is when you’re able to grab yourself a real bargain!

So, when shopping online or perusing the endless racks of clothes in thrift stores or vintage boutiques, try to enjoy the process and have fun doing it! I sure will.

Author Bio: Robert Fox is a freelance writer, author, and editor for He writes for many personal finance & lifestyle publications online.

Created August 1, 2007. Updated July 22, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Analise August 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I love the idea of shopping at online thrift stores; it just makes sense to find the same deals on the web that you’d go searching for in antique alley. I personally prefer to shop with great deals and online discounts at big names stores that I know, but I think I’ll have to start brushing up my vintage couture shopping skills.

By the way, you don’t see the adverb form of “thrift” that often, so props for using it. 🙂

sophie August 30, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I love thrift shopping! But I would not buy anything vintage online. If it was made a long time ago, chances are, the sizing will be different then what we are used to now. Trying things on in stores will ensure the right fit.

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