12 Smart Thrifting Tips To Buy Cute Clothes On A Budget

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woman thrifting

Thrifting is one of the best ways to find amazing pieces of trendy clothes to add to your wardrobe for an inexpensive price. From vintage Levi jeans to oversized button-up shirts, the thrift shop is home to many clothing items you would see on sale at Urban Outfitters for over 50 dollars.

It can be hard to know how to thrift and navigate stores with confidence — many of them are large and have no real organized sections. Clothing is just kind of scattered throughout the store; all of the sizes and types of clothing are rarely grouped together.

When you go thrift store shopping, you can easily become overwhelmed by the mass selection of used clothing, accessories, shoes, and even home decor.

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There are a lot of different ways to go about shopping at a thrift store — some people just head in with no real plan as to what they can discover, while others map out a clear outfit or vision in their heads. When it comes to making the most out of your thrifting experience, make it a mixture of both.

Don't expect to find a vintage Gucci dress, but be on the lookout for certain styles you want to add to your outfit arsenal.

What is thrifting?

At its core, thrifting is going shopping at places where you'll find gently used items at discounted prices. These can include thrift stores, garage sales, or flea markets.

The idea is to grab second-hand items that you will use for your own style and life.You can thrift all kinds of items, including furniture, art, clothes, and trinkets.

Generally, you avoid department and name-brand stores. Going to the clearance section of those stores will get you new items at discounted prices, but it's normally not as consumer saving-friendly as thrifting is.

Luckily, you can save big bucks while thrifting. Here's how.

How To Thrift On A Budget

1. Research thrift stores in your area.

Before going to your nearest Goodwill or Salvation Army, look for other thrift stores in your area.

A lot of the more local thrift stores are smaller, more low-key, and have a larger selection where you can find better pieces of clothing. Although some stores might look old or seem like they don't sell anything new, rummage through the racks and you may just be surprised.

Pro tip: Thrift in small towns instead of big cities. They normally don't get enough donations to stock the store so the product is shipped in from bigger cities in surplus. More selection with half the competition!

2. Make a vision board and have it on your phone when you shop.

Before you head out on your thrifting adventure, look on Pinterest or Instagram for outfit inspiration. Thrift stores get overwhelming very quickly and it's better to have an idea of what you're looking for; if not, you may just be wandering through the aisles for a few hours.

Maybe you want to find an oversized button-up to wear as a bikini cover, or maybe you want to add a few more college tees to your closet. Either way, having a vision board will help you with a place to start digging.

3. Shop every section of the thrift store.

Never leave a section behind! For example, the men and kids sections have awesome pieces, especially the men's section.

If you're looking for anything oversized or baggy, the men's section is for you. When it comes to dress shirts, tees and flannels, the men's section is the key to all of your closet needs.

The kids' section is also great if you're looking for cropped items. When you think of a kids' section, you may wonder how on Earth anything would fit over your head, but you'd be amazed.

The kids' section ranges in sizes from toddler to middle school age. Look at the larger sizes for tops that will fit perfectly with a pair of high-waist denim jeans or skirts. The girls' kid section is also a great place to find athletic shorts, usually name-brand. (I have found a lot of Nike running shorts in the little girls' section, just keep your eyes peeled!)

Another section that may feel a little awkward to shop in at first is the lingerie section. Ladies, if you're looking for a silky dress or top for layering, this section is a gold mine. You can find really cute, vintage-looking slips for under five dollars.

It may be a little awkward, but as long as you wash your items before wearing them, nobody will know it's thrifted.

4. Give customizing your clothes a try (it's easier and more fun than you might think).

You may see a shirt you really like but think it's too big. Instead of ditching the shirt, think about different ways you could crop or cut it to make it match your style.

When it comes to cropping a shirt or even a hoodie, all you need is a marker and a pair of scissors. You can turn an XXL shirt into a cute, baggy crop that everyone will ask you about — just tell them it's a one-of-a-kind vintage.

Along with cropping items, you can also turn them into completely different clothing pieces. Take a pair of high-waist jeans and turn them into shorts. Turn an XXXL hoodie into a two-piece set.

There are so many different ways to upcycle clothing pieces and make them your own. Use your imagination and get to snipping.

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5. Look for sales (yes, thrift stores have sales) and see if you're eligible for a discount.

A lot of thrift stores have tag sales, which means certain colored tags allow you to save some money. Look for a sign at the front of the store or ask a sales associate what the sale color is for the day.

Then, when you search through the racks, try finding pieces with that tag color to save a little bit of extra coin. Also, many thrift stores offer special discounts for military or students, so bring your ID for an extra percent off your purchase.

6. Look through the accessories last.

Once you have your clothes picked out, look through the accessories section. Maybe you will see a certain gold necklace that will match perfectly with a shirt you found or a belt that will cinch in the waist of an oversized dress.

The accessories can add fun and unique flair to some of the basic pieces you picked out.

7. Bring your friends along.

Having someone who knows your style go with you to the thrift store can make a world of difference. Your friends will be able to tell you what pieces they think you could revamp or pull off and which pieces might be better suited for someone else in need.

Either way, having company will make the experience way more enjoyable.

8. Remember to donate your old clothes.

If something doesn't end up fitting you right or maybe your closet is overcrowded after your shopping experience, think about donating clothes back to the thrift store. Someone may really be in need and would love to have clothing you hardly wear anymore.

One of the best feelings is purging your closet of all your unworn clothes, throwing them in a box, and donating them to a thrift store or shelter in need.

9. Remember that vintage clothes run small.

If you have found a vintage piece that you absolutely love and would go great with your wardrobe, keep in mind that the sizes often run small. So, be sure to size up. Vintage is in the sense that the article of clothing is much older than the 1980s.

10. Shop for the off-season.

The best way to thrift is to buy clothes for the season you aren't in. If it's summer, buy winter coats. If it's winter, buy cute skirts or shorts.

People normally donate their previous season's clothing, allowing a good selection for the next season ahead. Some thrift stores will even put clothes that aren't in high demand on sale, making them super discounted.

11. Give yourself a time limit.

While it may seem like a good idea to spend the entire day at the thrift store, setting a time limit ensures you won't get sucked into the rabbit hole of pop culture nostalgia.

Thrift stores are filled to the brim with old items that bring back memories from your childhood and that can distract you. Giving yourself a time limit puts urgency into your mind.

You only have so many minutes to find what you're looking for before getting out. This also prevents you from spending all your time in one thrift store when there are plenty more you can visit in the day.

12. Dress appropriately.

Not all thrift stores have dressing rooms so you need to plan ahead. A good go-to is to dress in layers or put on a dress, depending on what you're shopping for. Wearing a tank top means you can quickly throw tops over it, or wear a dress if you're looking for pants, skirts or jeans.

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Carlie Fox is a writer and former contributor to YourTango who covers astrology, pop culture, and relationship topics.