He Says/She Says: Thrift Stores


In the He Says/She Says series, we discuss financial topics where we agree to disagree.

After Johnny and I had been dating for a few months, I found out the cold, hard truth about most of his clothing: it had been carefully hand-picked from the thrift store. Admittedly, he was a well-dressed guy. I loved his laidback style of soft T-shirts, worn-in pants, and a pair of Vans (not from the thrift store). But a couple months into us hanging out, he started suggesting quite regularly that we drop by the thrift shop.

Initially I saw no harm in this request and readily complied. But then I started seeing a whole new side to Johnny. Once we entered the thrift store, he became a different kind of animal. Dare I pretend to hip and say he entered “beastmode.” He’d meticulously rift through any and every clothing item that was size “M” with a precision and focus that I could only wish for. I’d wander off for a few moments and then return to find a pile of clothes already draped across Johnny’s arm and a grin on his face.

And me? While 75% of Johnny’s clothes were from thrifting, exactly zero of my clothes were. Pre-marriage and pre-budgeting, I was quite particular when it came to what clothing could be allowed a hanger in my closet. I had the mindset that buying new, quality clothing was worth the cost because it would last a long time.

And then once we got married, I found out Johnny’s deepest, darkest thrift-store secret: he didn’t just buy thrift store clothes for himself. He sometimes bought and sold them to other people, too! One such example is classic baseball shirts. Before I even met Johnny, he started collecting and selling vintage baseball shirts, and to this day, we have several of them in storage (AKA in a bag on the floor of our closet, taking up precious space). He refuses to let me deliver them back to their home (the thrift store) because of their “worth.” And his closet is jam packed with vintage thrift store finds that he rarely wears but that he cannot part with because they’re one of a kind. He values his thrift store shirts over his new (never before worn by a stranger!) clothing we buy. And if I ask him why he loves a second-hand shirt, here are just a few of his usual responses:

  • “Jo, just feel how soft this shirt is. It’s already worn-in for me!”
  • “I really don’t think I’ve ever had a shirt fit me this perfectly.”
  • “Just think if this shirt could talk and the story it would tell… where it’s been, the people who have worn it. Wouldn’t it be awesome to know its backstory?” “No. But I’d be interested to know how many times, if any, it’s been washed.” 

Apparently, this guy also has a few things to say about his love for thrift stores in his current #1 song in the US:

A few months ago I began feeling a teensy bit of love toward Johnny’s thrift-store T-shirts when I was very pregnant and none of my own shirts fit anymore. I was dying for something comfy to wear, but as soon as my swollen pregnant fingers touched one of his thrift shirts, Johnny became protective over it.

“Joooo, you’re gonna stretch it out!”

Luckily, all it took was me offering to go spend money on actual maternity shirts before he was much more open to me stealing from his side of the closet.

What makes Johnny love shopping at the thrift store so much? I can’t speak for him, but I think the main reason is the money saved. And a close runner up is the feeling he gets when he stumbles upon a great find. It’s like a treasure hunt of sorts, and he has found that one perfect wardrobe item among the hundreds of stretched out, worn out, and never-shoulda-been-worn pieces of clothing. “Come to me, perfect T-shirt. You have been chosen. Say goodbye to your inferior rack mates. I will take you to a place where you will be respected and loved. A place where you’ll be safe.” That’s what I imagine Johnny’s internal dialogue is when he captures the elusive perfect thrift tee.

As we’ve been married longer, we don’t go on thrift-store shopping sprees quite as much. But when we do go, I’ve started really enjoying looking for treasures in the home section for items such as dishes, frames, and other bits and baubles. And Johnny has expanded beyond just clothes shopping to looking for vinyl records. I don’t think I’ll ever quite love the thrift-store clothing section quite like Johnny does. For now, I’ll get my clothing-deal fix from the sale rack of my favorite stores.

So, do you thrift? Did that music video hit home for you like it does for Johnny? Like me, are there any items you’d rather get new (like clothing), or are you with Johnny on this one?

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  • Reply Elle March 8, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I like shopping at thrift and consignment stores for tops,purses, and vintage/classic style dresses. I usually like to get my jeans new and I actually have found some with the tags on at the thrift store. I agree that the treasure hunting aspect of it is fun.

    We grab some of our baby girl’s stuff at the neighborhood consignment shop and have gotten some cute outfits dirt cheap. Since she outgrows clothes so quickly, it’s nice not to go broke keeping up with her.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      We haven’t tried out baby clothes shopping, but that’s a great idea! I can’t believe how fast babies grow out of clothes. We are still surviving on clothes we’ve been given, but the time’s gonna come very soon when we’re gonna have to start buying Baby Girl some clothes. We’ll have to see what our local consignment shops have to offer!

      • Reply Ann April 13, 2014 at 7:04 pm

        Oh you MUST check out the baby clothes at the thrift store! I usually end up paying a dollar or less on an item. I also make a note to only buy baby clothes on 50% off days, as it’s easy to go overboard when the clothes are so cute and tiny. It’s extremely satisfying to come away with name brand clothes originally costing upwards of $30.

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies March 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

    I love the video, but totally can’t relate. Thrift stores have too many choices for me and I don’t like to shop in them unless I’ve got a tour guide. I’d be willing to give it a shot if they were open more normal hours, though. As it is, working normal business hours there aren’t many hours that the thrift stores are open when I’m not at work. Maybe Sat 10-3?

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      You’ve definitely gotta have patience to find the treasure among the junk. Johnny’s much more patient than I am. 🙂

  • Reply Emily @ evolvingPF March 8, 2013 at 8:23 am

    My husband loves to remind me that before we started dating I had never been in a thrift store! I didn’t even really know they existed. Neither of us buys clothing there, though (we actually rarely buy clothes at all) – we’ve just bought dishes and household items. I feel weird wearing clothing that I didn’t buy new – I don’t even borrow or lend clothing and never have. We did buy a couple “ugly sweaters” for a Christmas party from a thrift store but haven’t touched them since.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 8:40 pm

      The thing that’s nice about thrift stores is that they’re full of so much stuff that you’re bound to find *something* you like there. If sounds like you and I appreciate the same kinds of thrift store stuff! 🙂

  • Reply Johnny Moneyseed March 8, 2013 at 8:51 am

    100% of our baby’s clothes clothes are from the thrift store and they are by far the best dressed kids in daycare. We love the thrift store, we bought 26 articles of clothing and a George Foreman grill for $65 this past Monday.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      Wow! That’s quite a deal. We haven’t been to the thrift store since Baby Girl was born, but I’m interested to check out their baby clothes now!

  • Reply Brian March 8, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I don’t go to the thrift store myself but I have dontated a lot of clothes to them. I don’t have a problem with them and they would probably fit my style, but I get by with clothes people get me for birthday/christmas. I think his thrift store addiction is fine as long as he isn’t rocking used underpants… or socks…. both those seem gross. Also is there a better feeling in the world than putting on a brand new pair of socks? If I were stupid rich and wanted to waste money I would wear a brand new pair of socks everyday!

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      As far as I know, Johnny has refrained from both underwear and sock buying at the thrift store. And I really don’t mind his addiction… it leaves more clothing money for ME!

      I don’t think I’m as enthusiastic about new socks, but I sure would love a new pair of shoes every day. 🙂

  • Reply Michelle March 8, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I shop at both. I like “trendy” thrift stores where most of the things are recent styles or classic styles. I also like buying clothes new.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      What are these “trendy” thrift stores you speak of? I don’t think Johnny and I have any of those near where we live!

      • Reply Michelle March 8, 2013 at 10:49 pm

        We have a ton where I live! There’s Avalon Exchange, and some others stores which have nicer brands that are carried at ShopBop, etc. I can’t think of all the names of the stores (they’re mostly local stores) because I have a horrible memory haha

  • Reply Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle March 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I used to buy most of my clothes at thrift stores but my community is experiencing a wild outbreak of bed bugs that shows no signs of slowing. I am terrified of bed bugs.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      Yikes. Yes, steer clear of bed bugs! When we lived in NYC, I was always paranoid of bringing them home from the movie theater with us.

  • Reply Kasey March 8, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I love buying my books from thrift stores, so much cheaper. I also love a good garage sale. Especially a neighborhood one where you can go to 20+ all in one area. If/when I have kids that’s where their clothes/toys will come from. Spending full price seems like a waste.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm

      Oh, good call! I LOVE getting cheap books. Our baby girl is on the brink of enjoying being read to, and I’m suddenly in need of lots more baby books. I think we may just have to swing by a thrift shop this weekend and get some!

  • Reply Roo // NiceGirlNotes March 8, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Your husband and my husband could probably be buds.

    When I met Jack, he would go into Goodwill, take note of some of the $4 shirts he liked, and then…

    HE’D WAIT FOR THEM TO GO ON SALE. On sale, Joanna! At Goodwill!

    (I’ve never had luck with clothing at thrift stores or even at TJ Maxx + Marshall’s. I do well enough with online codes and coupons to save me the hassle of rifling through those crazy disorganized racks.)

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      Oh no! Johnny used to do that, too!! I’d completely forgotten about that. I must have repressed such a horrible memory.

      You’re totally right… our boys are one and the same!

  • Reply debtperception March 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I haven’t thrift shopped for clothes because there’s always zilch in my size. I have a hard enough time finding clothes that fit at regular stores and I hate shopping because of that. I love when my sister or best friend have hand-me-down clothes they’re getting rid of, because I love free things and know they’ll likely fit.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      I agree… hand-me-downs from sisters and friends are the best! One of my best friends in high school got a new wardrobe every year, and I got to go through her clothes before she took them to the thrift store. They were like new to me! 🙂

  • Reply Chaney March 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I LOVE the thrill of the hunt at thrift shops. Although I don’t usually shop for clothes much, I have found a few Lily Pulitzer dresses at one of my favorites for less than $10 each (heck you could sell ’em on Ebay and make some money that way!). I typically stick to the homewares/furniture sections, and try to avoid the impulse buys :).

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Wow! That’s awesome. Sounds like you’ve got a great local thrift shop in DC. I swear big cities have the best… NYC had some sweet ones. I’ve yet to be able to find a good furniture find at a thrift store, but I really hope to some day!

  • Reply Lacy @EarnVerse March 8, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I don’t thrift at all anymore. It was great when I was in college, but once I started working I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. The thrift stores around us were either t-shirt and 80’s prom dress heavy, or overpriced ‘vintage’ that ended up costing more than going and buying quality new, but on sale. Now that we live in NYC it is even worse with most of the stores offering really overpriced merchandise. Add on the cost of alteration or repair and it just gets to be too much hassle.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      Yeah, it’s all about whether your area has a good shop. Our closest thrift shop in NYC was way overpriced, too. But we ended up finding a few great ones, so keep an eye out! 🙂

  • Reply Melinda Gonzalez March 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I love love love thrift stores. My family always laugh because they say I have such good luck at thrift stores. The truth is I just shop so much at them I am bound to find good stuff.

    The best part is I know no one else will have the same outfit. I can usually combine different pieces to make it look trendy, but different. It’s a lot more fun this way.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      The success you have at thrift stores definitely has something to do with how much you go. I know Johnny would love to go more often than he’s been able to lately!

      You’ve also gotta have that fashionable eye to be able to see the good pieces among the junk pieces. It sounds like you’ve totally got that!

  • Reply anna March 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I don’t go to thrift stores for clothes, but I’ve had some luck with purses. Your take on Johnny’s internal dialogue is hilarious. 🙂

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:28 pm

      Oh, I’ve never thought to check out purses! That’s a good idea!

      Unfortunately I think my take isn’t actually that far off from what goes on in Johnny’s head. 😉

  • Reply Chris March 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Haha, I love thrifting. I hit the thrift store when I’m trying to come up with a costume for parties. I always find the best stuff! In college when I was broke all the time, I would go and get dress clothes so I could look good for formal stuff. I got a pair of dress shoes and a bunch of ties!

    And plus they have the most random clothes there that you could never find at any of those “other” stores. I seriously found a shirt that said Jagger Swagger on it. IT WAS THE COOLEST SHIRT EVER.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      Johnny has gotten many a tie at the thrift store. I’ve been surprised at how many cool ones he’s found!

      That Jagger Swagger find is unreal. It still wouldn’t turn my head, but Johnny would lovingly take that sucker home in a heartbeat.

  • Reply JMK March 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    When our kids were little and growing through things quickly, I popped into the thrift stores every couple of months to donate some items and picked up some new things. Since the selection doesn’t always include just what you need at that moment I got into the habbit of buying things a size (or 3) larger than they wore and waiting for them to grow into it. This proved much more effective. The advantage of buying used kids clothing is that it’s already been washed several times and the shrinking is already done. Nothing more irritating than buying something new for a child and finding it shrank so much in the first wash or two that it no longer fits. They grow out of things fast enough without adding that problem.

    Thrift stores are a great place to get kids dress clothing. At the rate they grow the dress or shirt/tie they wear at one holiday or occasion won’t fit by the time they have an opportunity to wear it again, so a lot of worn once clothing winds up in thrift stores. Since you child will likely also only wear it once, why would you invest a lot in it?

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      That’s a great idea for kids’ clothing. A few other commenters have recommended buying kids’ clothes second-hand, too, so I’m sure Johnny’s gonna be all over us doing that! I may have to be sneaky if I want to get Baby Girl new stuff. 😉

      And I have already been burned a few times with our girl’s new clothes shrinking after the first wash. Grrrr. It would be nice not to have to worry about that!

  • Reply eemusings March 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Oh, I’m HUGE on secondhand shopping! T is a huge guy and finds it basically impossible to shop in normal stores, let alone secondhand ones, however.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      I don’t have any legitimate excuses for why I don’t buy clothes secondhand like T does. I just like new clothes! 🙂

  • Reply Newlyweds ona Budget (@NewlywedsBudget) March 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    MY MIL would never be caught dead in a thrift store find bc she thinks its beneath her. But she has complimented me a few times on pieces I’m wearing, and I tell her I bought it at the thrift shop and her jaw drops! A worn in leather jacket for $18, a turquoise long dress for $8, a black sheath for $8….I have some great pieces.

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm

      Haha, that is awesome. If you’re willing to put in the legwork, you can definitely find some quality pieces at the thrift store. If someone else were willing to do it for me, maybe I’d be more open to it. 😉

  • Reply JW_Umbrella Treasury March 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    My husband and I both LOVE thrift stores. His mom is actually the one who got me hooked. I love the thrill of finding something of great quality at a great price. My husband has a whole closet full of Brooks Brothers dress shirts, and almost all of them were from the same thrift store (there must be someone in our neighborhood who’s my husbands size and keeps donating nice stuff). But my husbands favorite thrift store find is a soft plaid shirt that is so old it was made in “Siam.” He wears that thing every chance he gets!

    • Reply Joanna March 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Johnny’s in need of some new dress shirts and has been for a while. They’re expensive little buggers. We’ll have to take a trip to our thrift shop before taking the plunge and buying new ones!

  • Reply Allison March 9, 2013 at 2:16 am

    I have a love hate relationship with the thrift store. We have an amazing Goodwill near us where I have regularly scored pristine skate/surf brands as well as GAP and Mini Boden items over the past 6 years while shopping for my 2 children. I’ve even scored hardly worn Levis and Volcom denim for my husband.

    Me however… I have yet to fins those oh so perfect pair of jeans for $8. I’ve tried maybe 6 pairs now but they sag, bag and bunch. At this point I completely see the value in a $40 pair of levis that fit like a glove. But the good news is that I don’t even have to feel bad when I wear a hole in the knees while playing with my kids on the floor. So the $40 pair is for outside the house and the $8 ones, inside.

    Patience and regular visits are the key for me at least. I keep a list of the kids’ clothes I’ve already scouted in the off-season (mainly Target clearance) which is neatly stashed away in bins in the meantime. This way I can refer to my list while thrifting and not overbuy. I really like this way of shopping because the quality of clothing that my kids are wearing is great at prices we can afford. We plan to indoctrinate the kids early on the virtues of the thrift store so that they’ll never grow to be embarrassed about it 🙂

    • Reply Johnny March 11, 2013 at 12:38 am

      Haha. I love your last comment. The sad reality is that I somehow stumbled on thrifting, because there was no way you’d catch my parents in a Goodwill. Their loss, my gain. And our Baby Girl will know her way around thrift shops better than the mall. 🙂

      Ya know, I’ve never had great luck with pants either. Even if the size is right, there are so many other factors that go into it being the right pair of pants. So I’ve resorted to $40-$50 Levi’s the last seven years or so. But almost all of them are still going strong, so they’ve been well worth the cost.

  • Reply debtperception March 9, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I saw this on my FB news feed today…thought I’d let you all know the dangers that could be lurking in your thrift store finds 😀


    • Reply Johnny March 11, 2013 at 12:41 am

      Hahaha. That’s amazing. At this point, I’m basically the devil himself. Joanna’s calling the exorcist now.

  • Reply Michelle March 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I love thrift shopping, but I used to hate it when I was younger. It is amazing the number of brand new/almost new items that I find at Goodwill: BCBG, 7 for all mankind, Ann Taylor/Loft, Banana Republic, The Gap (found a black leather jacket). The key is to only go on 1/2 off day which is usually 2 Saturdays a month. But, I do love the new clothing, new shoe smell. Sigh.

    • Reply Johnny March 11, 2013 at 12:45 am

      That new clothing smell is overrated… but it’s definitely a lot better than the smells in Goodwill. 🙂

      If Joanna doesn’t jump at the chance to score those brands at our thrift shops, I don’t know what will.

  • Reply Laurie @thefrugalfamer March 10, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I’m with you here, Joanna. I feel a bit snotty about it. honestly, but I’m just not ready to buy used clothes, especially when I can find new stuff on clearance for cheap if I keep my eyes open. That being said, I keep hearing all over the place about the great deals you can find at thrift stores, and my curiousity is definitely increasing about these strange and wonderful places. 🙂

    • Reply Johnny March 11, 2013 at 12:52 am

      Strange and wonderful they are! And the rush of finding something is almost as good as the actual article of clothing. Give it a shot, Laurie. And even if you don’t find anything, there’s no question you’ll find some awesome duds for those four kiddos.

  • Reply Jennifer March 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    I’m liking this post a lot…and I’m kind of the same way about thrift stores when it comes to clothing, but do love hunting for house trinkets. 🙂 And I may or may not still be rocking out to the video right now. B-)

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Glad this post gave you an excuse to rock out, Jennifer! House trinkets from the thrift store are totally acceptable (and sometimes downright awesome) because you don’t have to wonder who was wearing them before you!

  • Reply Wolf Scott June 7, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Thrift shopping is a great way to pop some tags if you only got $20 in your pocket! Love the song, too

    • Reply Johnny June 23, 2013 at 11:01 pm

      I listen to that song way too much. The rest of the album ain’t too shabby either.

  • Reply Kelly C. June 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    That song, ugh! I think it’s made thrift stores popular again, have you seen the jacked up prices lately???

    • Reply Johnny June 23, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Haha, right? I actually think they’ve gone up a lot since I first started thrifting. I used to be able to buy shirts for $0.50 — at most $1. I’d turn Lacoste and vintage t-shirts around on eBay for pretty good money. And then everyone else started doing it, too. That’s when I think thrift shops got smart and started hiking up prices. Lame.

  • Reply Suzann December 31, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I just found your blog-it is great. I am in Houston-Blue Bird Circle thrift shop and the Charity Guild
    Shop. I find great housewares, Lenox and Fostoria crystal and have even found Karastan
    rugs. Clothing not so much. Before I retired, I traveled a lot with my job–I love the thrift
    shops in DC. Another great place for shopping thrift is the main street in Menlo Park ,CA.–and around Carmel CA.

    • Reply Johnny January 5, 2014 at 10:46 pm

      We’re planning a trip to Northern CA soon, so I might have to give those shops a try. Thanks for the recommends, and thanks for dropping by!

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