Teaching Kids the Art of Thrift Shopping

We have been experiencing a block of insanely beautiful and warm weather here recently, and I suddenly realized Emily’s Spring/Summer wardrobe is severely lacking. Since she is built similarly to a bean pole, I tend to have a difficult time finding pants that fit her. Thankfully, shorts and skirts are much easier. So I brought her along for a little Thrift Shop 101 lesson. Here are some things we covered so far:

  1. Donation — The girls’ room was due for a thorough cleaning, and we used a bag to store unused or old toys for donation. I started doing this with her when she was about three years old or so, so by now she knows the drill. I explained to her then that instead of throwing these toys in the garbage, we could bless some other little girl or boy with her things by donating them to the thrift store, and she may find other new-to-her toys that she might enjoy playing with more instead. I let her carry the bag into the store and give it to the person behind the counter. Hearing her say, “Excuse me, I want to donate this” just makes my day.
  2. Pride — There is no shame in shopping second-hand. It is good for the environment, and it reduces waste that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. Plus, there are real bargains to be found! Shopping at a thrift store should be done with as much pride as donating, since you are passing on the virtues of buying second-hand with your children.
  3. Purchase with Intention — This is true for any shopping we do, but for some reason I find myself asking Emily these questions more while we are thrift shopping. Do you have room for it? Will you play with it, or use it often? Is it in good condition? Do you really love it? If the answer is no to any of these, don’t buy it! Be picky about what you allow into your home.
  4. Inspection of Merchandize — Check clothing to make sure no buttons are missing, that there are no stains or rips, and that any zippers are working. If the piece can be mended relatively easily, and it’s a good deal otherwise, I will usually go ahead and buy it. I do try to inspect merchandize to make sure I won’t get any “surprises” when I get home.
  5. The Element of Surprise — One of my favorite Emily quotes from today was, “At the thrift store, you never know what you might find there!”. This is the fun of it. You may not find exactly what you intended to buy that day, but you may find something else equally as charming — for a bargain price!

Do you ever visit the thrift shop with your kids? I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your stories with us!


  1. sunnymama says

    Great post! Nearly all of our clothes, toys, books and most everything else comes from charity shops (I think that’s our equivalent of your thrift stores). I started working as a volunteer in a charity shop when sunnyboy was 5 months old and have been taking him to work with me ever since. We both love working there and I think it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a parent. Sunnyboy has grown up charity shopping and has first hand experience of the wonderful surprises and treasures that can be found. Whenever we see something we want but can’t afford he immediately says we’ll look for one at our shop!

  2. Val in the Rose Garden says

    We too, are avid thrift store shoppers. I love finding things second hand and rarely have to go find clothing at a retail store for my children. Those times became quite a bit more frequent after Alex was 8 years old. For some reason, preteen boys no longer take care of their pants. lol!


  3. aprilfoolwed says

    I used to be a HUGE thrift shopper when the kids were really little. I have been finding that, as they get bigger, it’s harder to find great things for them. I still go and look, and occasionally find something great – but most trips to the thrift store are without my kids and for my own enjoyment.

    That said, I think my kids have learned all the wonderful things you listed a long time ago. 🙂 We donate ALL THE TIME! We also have that constant “Goodwill” bag in the closet.

    I actually much prefer yard/garage sales – and I am thrilled that the season is upon us now! I think my kids look forward to “yard sale day” all week long!

  4. Mama King says

    We love to visit kids consignment shops at sale times. It is amazing what you can get at the “end” of the season. Which is really in the beginning to middle of the season. We have a few great ones that sell clothes, book, videos, toys, and gear… Terrific post. I like the part about buying with intention and the surprise element.

  5. Just today we vistied a thrift for summer shorts. My oldest loves to go. I got such great deals, afterwards I couldnt stop smiling. =)

  6. Rachel@oneprettything.com says

    I just love this, what a wonderful lesson! I’ll be linking.

  7. I have an easier time finding clothes for my kids at second hand or consignment shops than I do at thrift stores. However you can often pick up a toy you know your kid won’t play with for long at a thrift store and not mind the expense.

  8. @ sunnymama — Your little boy is so lucky to have such a great mama. How great of you to volunteer at the charity shop (or as we would say, thrift shop) and let him experience it first hand. I love that idea!

    @ Val in the Rose Garden — I know what you mean. Almost all of our clothing and furniture was bought second hand. You can find really nice things there, and I think it’s more fun!

  9. @ aprilfoolwed — Oh yes, I remember going through that phase as well. When Emily was about 2 or so, it became very difficult to find things in that size. I think it’s because the kids wear out the clothes so much at that stage. I find it much easier now that she’s a bit older. Love the Goodwill bag in the closet idea!!

    @ Ally — That is fabulous!! Congrats! 🙂

  10. Nightowl Mama says

    You ladies actually SHOP at the Thrift Store?? My friends whouldn’t get caught dead in there. Me on the other hand I hit 4 different Thrift stores a month. Goodies. Markdowns from Target that were just donated are my favorite especially the month of January. I need me some Thrift shopping friends.

  11. Nightowl Mama, you have come to the right place! 🙂

  12. @ Rachel — Thank you so much for linking, and for stopping by today! 🙂

  13. suddenlyfrugal says

    My daughters did a portion of last year’s back-to-school shopping at Goodwill. Also, I wrote a post on 10 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping, if you’re interested. Thanks.


  14. I love going to the thrift store. C is too young to really appreciate it, but she likes looking at the toys! My gal is also a beanpole (at 2 years old!), so we never want to spend much money on pants that she’ll grow out of in a couple of months!

  15. Dara Squires says

    We do almost all our shopping at the thrift store. I even pick up some of the kid's Christmas presents there. We live in a small city and there's only one thrift store so sometimes we don't get what we need, but like you noticed Valerie, other times we do get what we WANT. And when my daughter finds yet another "dancey princess dress" for only $3 or $4, how can I say no?

    One tip I'll add for toy shopping at the thrift store is to bring along a utility screwdriver (the kind with all the different bits in the shaft) and a range of batteries. A couple of times we've picked up a battery-operated toy the kids have been eying at their friends houses for a real bargain only to get it home and discover that it doesn't work at all.

    And when you're donating please remember to remove the batteries from any toys you put in there. One leaky battery can ruin an entire bag or box of donated items. One non-working toy because of battery compartment rust can really dissapoint a child too!