How to Shop Smart When Buying Used Clothing

Make a budget and a list before you head to the thrift store.


 Getty Images

When it comes time to buy new clothes, you’re probably accustomed to scouring the internet or local stores for great deals and discounts. Although finding clothes on sale can certainly save you a lot of money, the savings aren’t likely to come close to the deals you can get when purchasing pre-owned clothes.

Picking up used clothing is not only great for your wallet – it’s also good for the planet because you’re reusing an item that may have otherwise been tossed away. But before you head to the local thrift store, there are a few simple considerations you should keep in mind to ensure that you get high-quality clothing at low prices. Check out the following tips that will help you stay smart while shopping.

Create A List And A Budget

Just because you’re planning to shop at a store where the prices are significantly lower than the department stores, you can’t abandon the smart shopping techniques you’ve established over the years. You’re likely to find more than a few great bargains at the used clothing store, and you don’t want to make a lot of off-list purchases just because the deals are better. That could cause you to blow your budget and possibly spend even more than you would at a department store.

Therefore, ensure that you take a list of the items you’re planning to buy with you when you visit the used clothing store. In addition, set a budget of how much you’d like to spend and stick to it. Throwing in an extra shirt that costs $1.00 may not sound bad, but if you do that five times, that’s five dollars wasted.

Check out Multiple Stores

It’s possible you’ve driven past a Goodwill or Salvation Army store, and maybe you assumed those were the only places to shop for used items in your town. But a quick Google search might reveal that you have multiple options where you can pick up pre-owned clothes. Check out the reviews of the thrift and consignment stores listed and then determine which you’d like to visit. Try and stop by a few of them to see which stores carry more of the clothing styles you like to wear and then focus more of your research on those shops.

Your next step is to find out when these stores have discount days.

Yes, believe it or not, even thrift stores have sales and deals, and many of them pick a particular day each week when items are discounted.

For instance, perhaps your local Goodwill offers everything in the store at half-price on Tuesday mornings before 11 a.m. Evaluate the store’s offerings during sale days and standard days to find out if the inventory is better or worse during certain times, and whether the deals are worth shopping.

Scrutinize Clothes for Defects

When you shop for pre-owned clothing, it’s important to scrutinize each garment for defects, such as stains, holes or tears. You should also give them a good sniff, because some smells are difficult to get out of clothing, even with the strongest effort. Once you’ve inspected the clothes that interest you, be sure and try them on. You never know if the clothes have been stretched out or shrunk by the previous owners, and it's worth some time in the fitting room to find out.

Look at Labels

Although you may not be a label snob when purchasing new clothing, it’s a good idea to check labels when picking up used clothes. Since someone has already worn these garments, they need to be durable to withstand a second life, and that’s why it can be helpful to pick up brands that are known for their long lifespans. Clothing featuring tags from discount retailers may not hold up as well during a second go-round, so you may want to gravitate toward brands you've tried before and that have held up well.

Wash Upon Purchasing

This may go without saying, but when you pick up used clothes, you should wash them as soon as you get home from the thrift or consignment store.

Many of these items will have been washed before the original owners donated them, but you have no way of knowing that, nor do you know how many people have tried them on during their time at the second-hand shop.

Therefore, clean everything thoroughly upon purchasing, and if the clothing labels allow it, use hot water and a heated dryer.