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If you have a family we don't need to tell you how much money it costs to clothe them. Keeping your family in clothes can be especially expensive if you have kids – that are always outgrowing their stuff. As of 2012, the most recent year for which this information is available, the average American family was spending more than $600 a year per person. If yours is a family of four that’s $2400 and this was nearly 5 years ago. You can just bet it's gone up fairly substantially since then. While clothes are a necessity, it is an expense that can wait. You do not have to spend so much on it so you can use that money on something else - like paying off your debt.
Thrift stores, yes thrift stores
The best way to buy clothing cheap that you probably don't know about is thrift stores. Yes, thrift stores. That's the best place to update your wardrobe regardless of the season for the least amount of money. Spring has just about sprung and summer is on its way. But what could you do to make the most out of your thrift store shopping?
Start with no expectations
The best way to maximize your thrift store shopping is to approach it with no expectations. It's usually possible to browse aisles of bottoms, tops, dresses and more. So don't begin with some particular item in mind such as a new blouse, skirt or shirt. Have a flexible attitude so that you can browse through everything. Yes, we know that sounds like a chore. But you really need to go through the entire store to update your wardrobe. The odds are that you'll find the store is not very well organized. You might find that women's apparel is mixed in with the men's or that a blazer made for a man could be a better fit than jackets found in the woman's section. You just never know. Begin by giving the entire store a quick once-over. The rapper Macklemore doesn't just sing about thrift stores. He shops them regularly and recently said that of the more than the 3000 purchases he’s made in these stores the best have come from sections that weren’t even meant for him.
First hit the hot spots
There's something else you probably didn't know. Thrift stores have hotspots. You can spot newly stocked racks when employees put them out on the sales floor. You should check these out first because the best goods and the items that are most in-season are usually the first to go. Another hot spot is the racks right outside dressing rooms. This can be a virtual gold mine for in-season clothes and items that are in the best condition but are there because they didn't fit someone else.
Don't just buy clothes, accessorize
Let's say that you’re browsing your nearest thrift store but aren't doing very well. If you're not having much luck finding an outfit don't stop there. Go through all the accessories. You might be able to find a cute spring purse, a skinny belt, a light scarf, a gently-worn watch or a few wrist bangles just sitting there waiting to be grabbed up.
Examine everything carefully
Maybe this goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway. Make sure you closely examine whatever it is you’re thinking of buying in a thrift store. If it's ripped, stained, overly worn or discolored you probably won't be able to fix it. And you won't be happy wearing it. On the other hand, if you believe the problem can be fixed, then go for it – assuming the cost to repair it won't trump your thrift store shopping bargain. For example. If you were to find a great looking pair of pants with a ripped knee this is something that could be patched at a very low cost. On the other hand, a grease stain down the front of a summer dress is likely to stay there forever.
Choose kids clothing, popular labels and maternity clothes
It's not a closely guarded secret that some brands hold up better than others. If you find something you like check the labels. One of the best ways to freshen up your child's wardrobe is through thrift store shopping. Kids stuff is typically not worn out because they outgrow them and, of course, pregnancies last only so long. If you're in the expecting way thrift stores can be a good place to score some great-looking maternity clothes at a fraction of what you would pay for them new.
What to avoid
Just as there are some things it makes sense to buy in thrift stores there are some things to avoid. You should probably never buy used underwear and socks due to health and sanitary reasons. You should also stay away from hats, boots and shoes for the same reason.
When to shop thrift stores
While there is no ideal time to shop thrift stores it’s a good idea to talk with some of the workers there to find out when new inventory arrives and when sales are scheduled. If there’s a thrift shop fairly close to where you live, you might make a habit of visiting it often so you could learn its schedule. And, of course, some of the best bargains surface when items are out of season. You might be looking for some spring or summer clothes but could score some really great buys on winter wardrobe updates, too.
We understand that some people would have a really hard time shopping thrift stores. If you just can't bring yourself to do this but are not adverse to the idea of wearing gently used clothing you could go to Swap.com and connect with 500,000 other people looking to trade items such as clothing, books, electronics and jewelry. When we last checked Swap.com had 1.5 million items to choose from.
If you have kids that are outgrowing their clothes check out the website Thredup.com. This site is designed to help you get rid of the old clothes and find used ones that fit.
Finally, the online websites RueLaLa, Gilt.com and ShopItToMe offer designer clothes for women, children and men at 40% to 70% off. If you were to shop these websites as well as a couple of nearby thrift stores you should be able to cut your clothing budget dramatically.