How to Buy Christmas Gifts at the Thrift Store

by | Dec 1, 2019

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It’s not secret that I love the thrift store. It seems to come up a lot in conversation “where did you get that”, “how can you afford 5 kids”, “what do you mean you bought 7 sweaters yesterday” you get the idea. As someone who’s practically an expert, I’m going to tell you why you need to thrift gifts this Christmas.

Something that’s always frustrated me about second hand shopping is the way it’s frowned upon for gift giving. In my house we give the kids second hand gifts all the time and it’s become normal for us but giving used gifts to family and friends still seems like a pretty big faux pas. The trend of upcycling has helped this effort tremendously but there are still many people who turn their nose up at offering a used book or vintage bowl. Crazy!

Why You Should Buy and Give Thrift Store Christmas Gifts

This year our family has committed to a mostly used or home made Christmas. For the kids’ teachers we’re shopping for gently used books for the classrooms and doing a mini tray of homemade cookies (trays were also thrifted!) As for my mom, I’m always looking for vintage items to add to her collection. For the kids, well, kids stuff is incredibly easy to find. They definitely won’t be doing without.

Thrifting Saves a Lot of Money

A ridiculous amount of money. I love giving so if I can give a thoughtful, nicer gift for the same price as the cheap crap I would have been able to pick up on my budget I’m incredibly happy. This was the biggest motivation for me to get started thrift holiday shopping but I am learning that it’s not all about the money.

Shopping Used Helps the Environment

By recycling this holiday season you’re saving the environmental costs of production for that item, producing less packaging and waste, and keeping that product out of the land fill. In the month before Christmas household waste increases by 25% so it’s important that we take action to reduce our impact on the environment.

It’s Good for the Kids

Not only are we cutting down on excessive consumerism and teaching them important values of appreciation, we’re also encouraging them to use their creativity. My daughter loves to give gifts. After explaining that we are trying to make a lot she got right to work on an ornament for grandma out of her shell collection. They’re not exactly going to get a less, but I hope they are able to appreciate that a gift doesn’t have to come in a fancy box. And that stuff we worked hard on means more.

Some of Your Money May Go to Charity

Although not true for all thrift stores, even the definitely for profit Value Village donates a portion to specific charities. I find their prices too high, but I will shop when they do bigger sales or when I have a coupon. Smaller thrift shops are usually better in terms of both pricing and where your money goes, so check out your local area.

It Makes for More Interesting Gift Giving

Sure, we sometimes have stories about how we had to fight off a crazy person for the last Turbo-Man, but mostly it’s “I went to the store and it looked cool so I bought it”. Or I”ordered it online.” Sometimes we are not as thoughtful when we’re just trying to choose a gift because “we have to get them something.” I find that used shopping requires us to really consider the person and their interests because of the selection in stores. You also have great conversations about the item, especially vintage ones.

Hopefully by now you’re convinced to at least do some thrift store shopping for Christmas so what now?

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How to Thrift Christmas Gifts

  • Start early. Starting during garage sale season is best but even starting now is better. You may need more time to select gifts.
  • Shop often. Thrift stores are constantly getting in new items and changing out their inventories. If you can’t find what you’re looking for keep trying.
  • Watch for sales. Even second hand places have sales and sometimes you can get really great deals. Subscribe to newsletters or Facebook pages to keep on top of it.
  • Look online for inspiration. There are lots of blog posts out there to give you ideas for thrift store items and projects.
  • Start small. Keep it within the family, or just your kids or spouse, or whatever your feel comfortable with. If you enjoyed it, add in more people next year.
  • Let everyone know what you’re doing. If you’re worried about people looking down on used gifts (as society tends to do) make sure you broadcast you’ll be buying from the thrift store this year. Cite this or the hundreds of other articles online supporting your decision.
  • Ask for thrifted gifts. Encourage others to get comfortable with the idea of giving and receiving but requesting (but not demanding) that gifts purchased for you are recycled. Be specific when asked what you would like, but still broad enough to make shopping possible. For example: “I really like vintage tablecloths, I saw quite a few at Goodwill last week.”
  • Donate what you don’t need. It’s important to give back to the thrift stores to keep the recycling cycle going. So, when you’re ready to get rid of something, don’t toss it – donate. Sometimes they give you a coupon too.

Places You Can Buy Second Hand Christmas Gifts Besides Thrift Stores

I really like thrift shopping but you can’t always find everything you want. Thrift stores are also not always accessible to people, and there might not be any good ones in your area. Here’s some other places I’ve had great luck finding gently used items for Christmas gifts:


Etsy is one of my favourite places to thrift Christmas gifts – it’s full of vintage and unique items that I can’t get anywhere else. For example, we bought vintage alcohol ads to hang in our dining room. I also grabbed a bunch of old records for my partner last Christmas on there.

Etsy can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s plenty of inexpensive one of a kind finds out there that will have a way bigger impact than a more expensive gift from the store.

Facebook Marketplace

I’m not a Facebook fan, but I can’t argue with how much buying and selling goes on with the marketplace feature. I’ve managed to get lots of kids’ clothes, toys, and even freebies from our local freecycle. I find more people are putting items on marketplace over donating them nowadays; even free stuff.

Just be careful of scams around the holidays.

Garage Sales

You’ll have to plan ahead, but I’ve definitely done Christmas shopping at garage sales over the summer. Toys that kids will still play with come Christmas (eg. Tonka trucks, hot wheels, puzzles, board games, etc) are all great buys at yard sales for a fraction of the new price.

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