Stylish on a budget: 10 tips for thrift shopping

Thrifted dresses

In today’s world, pressures about the way we look can feel overwhelming, especially with the advent of Instagram, Facebook, and other social media channels. We know that the Gospel teaches that what truly matters is what’s in our hearts, but we also know that our bodies are gifts from God and there is goodness in wanting to present our best selves, both inside and outside.

So how’s a girl to present her best self without spending too much time or money on her appearance?

Here’s one answer: thrift shopping!! Buying clothing and belongings secondhand is a great way to be stylish on a budget, and it comes with some stellar bonuses including saving money, finding more unique pieces, and recycling clothing to reduce waste.

Here are 10 tips for your best thrift shopping ever:

  1. Become a treasure hunter. Thrift stores scare lots of people away because they are disorganized–but use this to your advantage!! It often takes some digging to find the best pieces, but your prizes will be worth the work. Wear some plastic gloves to avoid germs and broken glass if needed.
  2. Don’t buy just because it’s cheap. It’s easy to rationalize purchases when they are just a few dollars, but that purchase is still money out of your pocket. Resist the urge to buy something just because it’s cheap. That way, you can save your money for something you’ll really want or need down the line, and you’ll also be able to better define your style by making sure each purchase is really worthwhile.
  3. Look for both classic and unique pieces. You can find great name-brand items while thrifting, so keep classics (jeans, sweaters, church dresses) on your list. Also make sure to try on pieces you wouldn’t usually wear, like a cape-style coat or a sequined dress (both items I’ve found!). Buying a new style secondhand is a great way to try it out without spending much money.
  4. Ask for a discount. Like many retail stores, thrift stores mark items down when they’ve been in the store for a while. Be brave and ask the checkout clerk for a discount or a price check, especially if you can see on the tag that the item has been in the store for more than a couple weeks. I paid half the listed price for a piece of kitchen furniture since I noticed the date on the tag and asked for a discount.
  5. Don’t shut out higher-priced items. In general for thrifting, you shouldn’t pay more than about 25-30% of what an item would cost at regular retail. However, some nicer quality or designer items are priced higher than others at thrift stores and these might be worth paying more if you know you’ll love and wear them (like a leather jacket I bought and wear frequently). Think in cost-per-wear terms– if you think you’ll wear a more expensive piece (still much cheaper than retail!), don’t discount it just because of the higher price tag.
  6. Shop outside your regular size or section. Thrift shops are chaotic, so pieces often get placed in the wrong section. Additionally, lots of vintages items have a different sizing system than modern sizing. Shop smart by looking through all or several sections of the store, not just those that are usually your regular size. Don’t forget about checking the men’s or kids’ section either.
  7. Inspect before buying. Many items at thrift stores are in perfectly good condition, but some have tears, stains, or other flaws. After you’ve narrowed your finds to those that fit best, inspect again to make sure your finds don’t have any defects you’re not willing to fix. If there are tears or stains, make sure you’re willing to spend a little elbow grease at home to mend them (Pinterest has tons of tutorials for fixing stains and other issues). Avoid buying anything that smells like smoke or chemicals or has noticeable pet hair on it.
  8. Shop the easy visuals first. Since thrift stores are generally disorganized, the stuff claimed first is often the easiest to see (shoes, bags, furniture, etc.). Do a quick scan of these areas first to ensure you have a better chance of claiming something before jumping to the racks of clothing and stacks of books.
  9. Come prepared. Digging to find gems while thrifting takes some physical work, so come prepared! Make sure you’re hydrated and have eaten something recently. Wear a crossbody-style bag so your arms will be free. Bring hand sanitizer and know the location of the nearest restroom (not all thrift stores have one available for public use).
  10. Be smart about your surroundings. Thrift stores tend to attract a mix of interesting people, including some eccentrics. Make sure to take a friend or parent with you, especially if you’re going to a new neighborhood, and never leave your purse unattended.  I’ve never once had a negative experience or felt unsafe when thrift shopping, but it’s best to always be prepared (see Matthew 10:16).

One final thought: your individual worth is never tied to the clothing you wear. We know that the Lord judges on the heart and not on the outward appearance, and we should ultimately do the same. However, keeping our bodies clean and beautiful and modestly dressed shows respect for God, ourselves, and others, and that’s an image we should always be proud to present.

What are your best tips for dressing appropriately on a budget? What makes you feel beautiful, inside or out?


Author profile

I'm a 20-something currently living in St. Louis, MO along with my husband (a medical student) and puppy (an aussie-corgi mix). By day, I work in policy and communications at a university; by night, I enjoy reading, thrifting, and building community, especially with other women. I believe relentlessly that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

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  • Michelle Lehnardt
    April 25, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks Megan. These are great tips. I started thinking about cost per wear a few years ago and it really changed the way I shop. Some things are worth the money when you know you’ll wear them 200 times, but a $5 shirt is a bad deal if you only wear it once. I just can’t always tell which is which ahead of time…

  • Jacqueline White
    April 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Such great advise Megan! I also love sharing (swapping clothes with friends and sisters within a family). My daughters will ‘give’ something they no longer want to their sister and then see it 6 months later and want it back because it seems new. 🙂 Good for you for figuring this out in your 20s!

  • S. Ayodele
    January 3, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I enjoyed reading this post; very helpful and light-hearted. I also love it is inspired by dressing in a way that pleases God.