How To Be The Best Thrifter Ever: Home Edition

How to find the best furniture and home goods in thrift stores

Sooo, you’re totally kicking ass with your super cute, unique, wicked cheap wardrobe purchased exclusively from the retailers of Goodwill and Salvation Army, right? Right. Now, how’s a girl going to work that thrifting magic on her home?

  • Know how to make simple repairs to furniture.
    This means that you can buy things that a lot of other people will pass up. Tighten the screws, reupholster the seats, repaint it, remove smudges or paint splatters, cover chips in wood, remove labels/stickers … it’s all pretty easy and you’ll feel wicked accomplished and smug when everyone coos over your $3 coffee table.
  • Keep a list of the measurements of the space you’re trying to fill.
    I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at remembering how big the space between my stove and counter is. $20 later I’ve just bought a table that’s 4 inches too wide. Lame.
  • Similarly, know what your car can hold.
    Or the number of a friend with a pickup truck. It’s a total downer to buy something at a yard sale only to discover you can’t close the trunk.
  • Repurpose!
    Because it bears repeating. A beautiful but rickety dining chair can become a bedside table, lovely old books can go on your wall, those sweet blue mason jars can hold your wooden spoons and that incomplete set of billiard balls would look great in a decorative bowl on your coffee table.
  • If you’re looking for even lower prices (and more adventure) try curb-surfing.
    Drive past apartment buildings at the end of the month, around college dorms as the school year ends or on large-item trash pick up day. You’ll have to be a bit more careful here – you don’t want to pick up anything infested with fleas/mold/yuckies … but you can’t beat a price of zero!
My most recently thrifted home scores include a 1950’s nine drawer dresser with starburst handles ($16!) and a giant Lucite clam shell for $3. What’s your best catch?

How To Thrift The Best Clothes Ever

Want to thrift the best clothes? Of course you do! Thrifting helps you save money and it's better for the environment. Click through for my best thrifting tips!

Thrifting is lovely, isn’t it? Finding all sorts of treasures for a pittance, stumbling onto a copy of your favorite book from Elementary school, imagining the former lives of all these things.

However, there’s a big difference between thrifting for fun and thrifting as your primary mode of shopping. Though it can be a bit trying, but I highly recommend it. My wardrobe contains the likes of BCBG, Banana Republic, and Anne Klein … and let me assure you, that has very little to do with my salary of $2.

8 ways to thrift the best clothes

Wear your best Thrifting Outfit

Some thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms. Some only have one fitting room for a jillion customers and if you’re shopping on a holiday or a discount day, you might have to wait 20 minutes to access a changing space.

Make it easier by dressing for thrifting. I like to wear knit leggings, slip on boots, and a camisole under a big, belted cardigan. That way I can take off my cardigan and try on clothes in some quiet corner of the store.

Know that size labels are a suggestion, not a rule

Learn to eyeball sizes and don’t get too hung up on what the tag says. I have second-hand pants sizes 4 – 13!

But I’d also add that – unless you’re an extremely experienced and productive tailor – you should stay away from cute things that don’t fit. Every thrifter I know has a pile of “this will be cute once I take it in”  and “this will be cute once I lose 10 pounds” clothes. You deserve to have a closet full of clothes that look and feel good today.

Learn how to spot stuff worth buying

Sure, you can buy a Target dress for $8 at Goodwill but it probably cost $25 new and someone else has already worn it. Fast fashion clothes pill, stretch, and wear out quickly. If you like them and they look good on you, by all means buy them! Give them a new lease on life and keep them out of the landfill! (Here’s how to make cheap clothes look fancier and nicer.)

It’s a personal preference, but I prefer to thrift items that will last forever.

Here’s what I’m always on the look out for
* Wool and cashmere anything
* Real leather anything
* Furniture made before 1965 (so much sturdier and longer lasting!)
* Almost anything that’s lined. It’s warmer and more flattering!

Keep an on-going list of things you are looking for

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of cheap clothes and buy a bunch of stuff you already have or don’t need. I find that shopping at thrift stores can actually be easier than shopping in normal stores because they are often organized by color and type of clothing (sweaters, and then divided by color) so you can pretty quickly see if they have the pink, long sleeved button-up that you’re coveting.

Keep a list in your phone of what you’re looking for and in which size. This will also prevent you from buying yet another cute thing that doesn’t really fit or go with anything in your closet.

Know what you can change/alter/repair

Can you hem things? Do you know how to dye things with RIT? And – more importantly – are you really interested in doing those things?

These days, the only ‘alteration’ I’m willing to make is removing pills from an otherwise PHENOMENAL item. I literally shave off the pills with a disposable razor!

Shop in the fancy neighborhoods

Or shop in the very non-rich neighborhoods. Stay away from the hip neighborhoods! I do almost all of my thrifting in the neighborhood where I work – a neighborhood which is almost patently un-hip.

But! This means that all the cute vintage dresses, 1960 purses, and vegetarian cookbooks are still there, because it’s not overrun with hipsters. Rich neighborhoods are good for fancy ‘work clothes’ and nice furniture.

Don’t limit yourself to the women’s section

The men’s section is full of cutely over-sized sweaters and the kid’s section has large boys’ blazers that will fit a petite woman. I’ve also found tons of amazing things in the Halloween section. One woman’s Halloween costume is another woman’s Date Night outfit.

Think about how you can re-purpose things

Love the print on that tiny skirt? Make it into a throw pillow. Mismatched cups become vases or votives, vintage records or books can go on your wall, an old children’s school desk can be your new end table, and that pretty patterned sheet could be your new curtains … or pillow cases … or dish towels!

Bonus tip! Before you look at the price tag, consider how much you’d be willing to pay

When something’s cheap it’s very, very easy to convince ourselves we need it. It’s very easy to consider something a bargain when it costs less than $15. But if you never use it, it’s a waste of $15! There are many times when I’ve thought “$7” and turned over a price tag that read “$35.”  But occasionally you’ll find things you’d pay hundreds of dollars for that only cost twenty bucks!

If you’re an experienced thrifter, pleeeeease leave your best tips in the comments so we can benefit from your knowledge!

P.S. How to make cheap clothes look fancy + How to wear any style (even if you’re broke, intimidated, or work in an office) 

P.P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

photos by crew // cc

Notes from the Road: NYC

One would think that if we left for Lima, Peru on Saturday at 8 a.m. we would be there by now. I should be on my third cup of coca tea by now and surrounded by my own herd of tiny llamas.

But I am not tucked in among loving alpacas. I am tucked amongst investment bankers and trophy wives at a swanky, swishy hotel in New Jersey. We landed in New Jersey after the first leg of our trip from Minneapolis, only to find our flight overbooked by six people. Which seeeeeems like it would be awful, but when you’ve got three months of wandering ahead of you, what’s one less day? Especially, when they give you each a $500 voucher for future airfare, a first class upgrade for our flight tomorrow, a room at a fancy place and heaps of food vouchers so I can indulge my cheese addiction in a new state? YES PLEASE!

After retiring to our giant room to inspect the complimentary toiletries and jump on the bed, we headed into Manhattan for an impromptu meet up with my favorite New Yorker and college roomie. We drove through Times Square, ate some yummo Mexican food, drank a bit too much bubbly red wine (who knew such a thing existed?) and cuddled Lulu the French Bulldog. We caught the train back to New Joisey at 1 am and have now slept in and lolled in bed watching cable on the giant TV.

Soon we’ll head back to the airport in the same clothes we wore yesterday. And we’ll be those people who get to load first when they say “We are now boarding all rich and fancy people.”

And it will be a lot of rich and fancy people and then us. The Mister in his zip-off hiking pants and me wearing skinny jeans and Eu du Bulldog.

Okay, see you in Peru! This time for real!

4 Fun, Themed Food Parties

Looking for a new theme for your next dinner party? Here are 4 to start!


We’ve established that we love theme parties, yes? But what is even better, I think, are parties in the theme of food!

1. Fondue Party

Our parents were on to something with these parties. A group of friends, cuddled around the table dipping delicious nibblets into delicious sauces? Yes please! Even better, you can surely find an entire shelf devoted to fondue pots at your local Salvation Army. There are heaps of different yummy fondues you can make – blackberry! butterscotch! chocolate! cheese, cheese, cheese! What you choose to dip is up to you, but traditional choices include angel food cake cubes, fruit, bread and roasted vegetables. Bee Gees soundtrack is optional.

2. Cheese tasting Party

I actually threw one of these in November and, lordy, but it was fun. And delicious. Here’s the deal: buy six or seven cheeses, the more obscure the better. Look up descriptions of the cheese online and make a worksheet of sorts listing all the descriptions. (If you’re sneaky like me, you’ll also include several bogus descriptions of similar cheeses to throw your guests off the scent.) Unwrap the cheeses (so there are no identifying labels) and serve each cheese with some sort of yummy pairing. You know, blue cheese with pears, Gouda with almonds, etc. Then your friends taste the cheese and try to match it to the appropriate description. Whoever matches the most cheeses/descriptions wins! Perhaps you could give them a can of squeeze cheese as a prize.

3. Miracle Berry Party

Have you guys heard of this amazing little fruit? It’s a tiny red berry from Africa that contains a specific and rare molecule that makes sour food taste sweet. What?! You can get the effect from eating just one berry and holding the pulp on your tongue for about a minute. Then you have the next hour or so to tuck into lemon wedges, pickles, vinegar, radishes, brussel sprouts – the more bitter and sour, the better. The berries are available online, though they are a bit spendy. Willy Wonka, eat your heart out!

4. 32 Flavors Party

Are you in love with Cold Stone Creamery? The ice cream shop that custom mixes the ice cream flavour of your choice, before your very eyes? Well, friends, there’s no reason you can’t do this at home – alls you is a chilled marble cutting board, several gallons of vanilla ice cream, some formidable forearms and 32 different kinds of mix-ins. Of course you can go the traditional route of Oreo chunks or strawberries or chocolate chips. But how about cinnamon? or pineapple/basil? or earl grey? or ginger? You’ve got 32 opportunities to go crazy! Have your friends bring mix-ins of their own choosing and vote on the best and weirdest flavours.

What’s the best food theme party you’ve been to?

photo (without text on top) can be found here

For the Love of Books!

My addictions are many, friends. Cheese, travel, furry animals. And books. I love them so hard! I have been known to read Dickens on the beach, to periodically gasp audibly while reading, to judge harshly anyone who doesn’t pick up on a Pride and Prejudice reference.

I am also a social networking nerd. So you can imagine my joy when I heard about Goodreads. It’s like facebook for bibliophiles! You can showcase all of the books you’ve read, rate them and even write reviews. You can befriend people you know in real life or people who seem to have the same taste as you. Then you can peruse their virtual bookshelves so you know what to queue up on that long inter-library loan list. So fun!

Are you keen to join in the book nerdery? It’s easy to sign up and we can be friends! Just search ‘Sarah von Bargen’ and I should pop up. FYI: my favorite books involve cinnamon peelers, heart broken families and a boy named Fish.

What about you?