Frugal Living Tips: Goodwill Shopping

One of my favorite things to do, beyond offer my blatantly stupid opinions on things, is to shop at thrift stores like shopping at Goodwill. You can find awesome stuff at super-cheap prices. Like kids clothes, which is rad, because they grow. so. freaking. fast.

When I first announced that I’d be moving from Casa de la Sausage to Casa de la Aunt Becky, one of the pieces of advice I heard repeatedly was “get thee to a thrift store,” tho it may have been more, “thrift stores, yo,” or “you moron, shop at thrift shops.” Also, “eat more artichokes.”


Y’all had me at “shop.”

Especially when I can find awesome bargains. At thrift stores? You can get AWESOME stuff for dirt-cheap.

Because I had Super Teala and her boyfriend Brian in from Texas, I figured, “what better way for them to see the Chicago sites than to tour the one thrift shop in town?” (also: I am clearly not a good friend). I begged them to go to Goodwill with the promise of Chicago-Style hot dogs at the end. Hey, if you can’t bribe ‘em, join ‘em.

Goodwill is one of the only thrift shops in my area, a mere five minutes (in wild traffic) from my current home, and one of my favorite organizations to donate my used – and no longer needed – items. Their mission falls far more in line with my beliefs than does the Salvation Army, but that’s another post for another day.

I hadn’t been thrift store hunting since I got married, mostly because I proceeded to pop out children and then because there weren’t any worthwhile ones until recently, when a Goodwill store opened up nearby.

We walked in, entirely uncertain of:

a) what we were looking for


b) what we’d find

which is half the fun of going to Goodwill.

First, we noted the delightful racks of Halloween costumes – everything from a darling child’s Snow White dress to an absurd 80’s number replete with zippers, denim, and strategically placed holes. We spent a good long time examining that particular item, and to be frank, days later, I’m still perplexed by the thing.


frugal living tips shopping goodwill

Anyway, down to the good bits and what I learned from my Goodwill shopping expedition (and believe me when I say that it WAS an expedition AND an adventure rolled into one dusty trip):

Goodwill Shopping Tips:

Do not attempt shopping at a Goodwill store on the weekendsespecially three-day weekends. Not only is Goodwill more crowded, it’s filled with out-of-towners who, transfixed by the possibility of a deal, will think nothing of shoving their over-sized carts into the back of your legs as you examine an item.

Prepare to be overwhelmed: walking into Goodwill was immediate sensory overload. Which is why I suggest taking a trip to Goodwill section by ever-loving section.

Expect the unexpected and embrace it. While I’d walked into Goodwill looking for some kitchenware (specifically some glasses with which to drink my diet Coke), I walked out with a handful of dresses and some tiny ancient promotional Welch’s Grape Juice glasses. Also: two fedoras.

Be prepared that the items you find may be in sad shape. When I moved, my realtor explained that some people can’t visualize a space decorated with their own stuffs. The same goes for Goodwill shopping – while you may not see the value in an item, it may still be there (and no, I don’t mean in a “lookit this priceless antique I bought” way.)

See things for their potential and remember – not everything has potential. While I can use CLR to get the lime stains from the glasses I bought, there’s not much I can do with a Precious Moments knock-off figurine beyond set it on fire.

There are a LOT of one-of-a-kinders at Goodwill, and I don’t mean of the special snowflake variety. I saw very few sets of dishes, for example, so if you’re going for kitchen stuffs, embrace the mishmashed look.

Consider Goodwill shopping a competitive sport. Because the items at the store rarely occur in pairs, expect that you’ll be pushed, pulled, shoved and run over by other patrons trying to make sure you don’t steal their special deal from under their noses. Wear a small purse and some tough shoes to withstand the jostling.

Consider The Goodwill Experience free entertainment – since going to the movies costs a kidney and a half, the Goodwill store is a great place to people watch, gaze at the weird items people once owned (there were a ZILLION fondue pots there), and giggle at some of the extremely outdated items.

Do not buy anything at Goodwill that’ll take you longer than 3 hours to clean. I saw a half-dozen of those foot spa things there, and I cannot imagine the amount of bleach I’d have to pour into it to feel comfortable enough to soak my feet. I’d rather use a bucket.

Join the Goodwill Club – and no, I don’t mean, “be nice to your neighbors” (although you should be anyway). Goodwill, like many stores, offers an incentive program for those who shop there. It’s a nice way to encourage repeat customers as well as give you actual discounts on your purchases.

Location, location, location: like any realtor will tell you, the most important thing for any home is the location. Same goes for Goodwill. Because Goodwill relies upon donations, as you can imagine, the items in affluent areas will be higher-end than those found in less affluent areas. Find a Goodwill store.


What are your suggestions for thrift store shopping?

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16 thoughts on “Frugal Living Tips: Goodwill Shopping

  1. Pingback: An Open Letter to Artichokes - Mommy Wants Vodka

  2. I once got two pairs of Bruno Magli shoes at Goodwill. Some anti-fungal spray and heel-caps later, I had beautiful Bruno Magli shoes. For almost nothing. My suggestion: treat Goodwill shopping as a competitive sport–a marathon. Go when you can spend some time digging through all that stuff to find the gems.

  3. Take friends, and have a competition to see who can find the tackiest (best) thing! I have been shopping more and more at thrift stores, and sometimes it pays to go through rack by rack, because you never know what you’ll find.

    • Contact a local church They are nalomrly glad to take them off your hands! That way next year when it comes Christmas time they are able to give them to needy families in your local community!Or maybe even try your local domestic shelter or homeless shelters .they are always happy to have such sweet donations.God Bless

  4. Another good thrift store is Amvets. When I lived in northern Virginia, it was my favorite place to shop. Cheaper than Goodwill for most stuff, too.

  5. I’m changing jobs next month, and needed to come up with some business casual instead of scrubs. On a whim, I hit up the local goodwill- Some utterly awesome fat girl cleaned out her closets. I found 6 pairs of lane bryant pants, a lane bryant dress, some tops, a pair of shorts, and some clothes for my kiddo. All for less than 60 bucks. (The pants alone would have been over $240.00 new.) Bonus: It was half-off-most tags day. I’ve got some minimal alterations to do, but it was cheaper even than going to the JCP outlet, which was my original plan.

    Thrift stores FTW.

  6. Pingback: Shit I Found Saturdays - Mommy Wants Vodka

  7. Have you discovered the goodwill ( website? It is soooo much better than eBay or and even yardsellr. I have scored some rockin items for my eclectic home at prices half of what I would have paid at other sites. Plus, where else will you find a vintage Hulk Hogan tshirt to make into a throw pillow.

  8. Know your clothing sizes/measurements. There is usually not a dressing room in thrift stores (or at least not the ones I’ve been in) and if there was I’m not sure I’d want to try things on before I took them home and washed them. I’m terrible at this, and also at the “eyeball and guess” method, so I just prepare myself to re-donate 1/3 of what I buy when it turns out to not fit. I’m okay with this as I’m usually paying at most $1.60 for a pair of pants.

    • Women who shop at Filene’s in NYC wear leggings and a thin cami so that they can try on the clothes in the aisles, because there were no fitting rooms.

  9. My op-shop/thrift tip is Tupperware. That shit is hella expensive, so when I see it cheap, I do a little happy dance. Best of all, there’s a lifetime warranty, so even if it’s damaged, as long as it’s due to wear and tear, you’re not actually buying a ruined product, you’re buying a will-be-replaced-with-a-brand-new-one product.

  10. Pingback: Halloween On The Cheap - Life On The Frugal SideLife On The Frugal Side

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