What $50 Can Buy You At Three Different Types of Thrift Stores

As a kid I was obsessed with the idea of back-to-school shopping.

How could I not be? All summer long you hear ads for upcoming fall trends, and eventually Old Navy commercials of kids doing kick flips in their new attire take over your television.

The problem was that a whole new wardrobe was a dazzling thing I'll never have (please feel free to sing-read to the tune of A Whole New World).

Brand new clothes cost a pretty penny, especially when you're not the only kid in the household. While brand new clothes have their shiny appeal, you can find just as trendy articles at local thrift shops and secondhand stores.

Rack of thrift store jackets

(via Shutterstock)

I visited three different types of secondhand stores to see what $50 of back-to-school cash could get me at each. I decided to try out a traditional thrift store, a higher-end secondhand store and a classic vintage store.

For optimal new-year wardrobe, scroll below to see how I got thrifty:


Pre-Shopping Tip

Before I began my shopping spree I decided to sit down and jot out certain items I should be on the lookout for and which ones I should avoid. Things to avoid could be certain colors that scream summer, certain patterns that you already have in surplus (for me this is stripes—everything in my wardrobe is striped) and pieces that aren't season-appropriate like shorts and tank tops.

My must-get list was as follows:

  • Pair of jeans
  • Short sleeve tops with zeal
  • Long sleeve shirts for layering
  • Knit sweater
  • Season-appropriate dress or skirt
  • Statement jacket

This past summer I destroyed a few pairs of my old jeans by cutting them off into shorts and ankle-length pants, so I knew I needed a brand new pair that I could dress up or down for any occasion or weather.

The rest of my list was intended to include items that could mix and match for optimal usage.

With that list as my guideline I was ready to get my shop on.


The Goodwill

I started at the Goodwill because it has the lowest price point of the three stores, so I knew I would get the most for my money there.

As a pro-tip, I usually try to hit up Goodwills that are located in trendier neighborhoods. The one I went to is on Hollywood Blvd. near the neighborhood of Silverlake in Los Angeles. For those of you unfamiliar, this is a very hip area of the city. By going to these locations, you have a better chance of finding top brands and can potentially snag some high-end clothing for a steal.

I was a tad overwhelmed walking into this store because it is quite big and has a large selection of everything. I came in with a goal of grabbing at least one article per item on my list, and oh did I succeed.

At this type of secondhand store I really like to go for their jackets and coats. Sold brand new, these are some of the most expensive articles of clothing on the market and so you can be limited in your back to school shopping if you desire to get one or even two different jackets. Guys, I walked away with three, in addition to my other buys.

Four jackets: plaid blazer, embellished athleisure track jacket, denim jacket and purple velvet blazer

Thanks to the consulting advice from my co-worker and style guru, Allison, I knew what kinds of jackets to be on the search for this fall. I grabbed a collegiate plaid blazer, an embellished athleisure track jacket, as well as a great denim, while also being very tempted by this deep purple statement velvet (which Allison also admits to having an affinity for and phobia of… yes, you read that correctly). Though I had to put one back, so goodbye velvet dreams.

When shopping at Goodwill I tend to look for statements in the outerwear or bottoms categories and basics when it comes to tops. I find that often the shirts at Goodwill are covered in designs that I don't really care for, although I was able to find a couple cute pieces.

Two t-shirts, one striped and one that says Ciao Bella written like Coca Cola

(Okay okay, so I broke my no stripes rule just this once)

I was also excited about this basic white denim skirt which was basically a blank slate for any and all of my DIY dreams. I'm not sure if I want to dye this skirt, embellish it with patches and hand-stitched embroidery, or all of the above.

White denim short skirt

With the last of my money I grabbed this very My So-Called Life grunge-inspired dress cira the '90s and some basic but cute long-sleeve wear.

'90s grunge style short sleeve dress

I had a hard time parting with the ampersand sweater but it was a must in order to come in at budget.

Four long-sleeve pieces: an ampersand sweater, a grey knit sweater, a flannel that says 'hipsta please' and sweatshirt that says 'seniors'

All together, that's ten items for just a couple dollars over budget, thanks to the marked down color-of-the-day items. While your dollar goes a lot further at this store, you do sacrifice a level of quality because the clothes are less gently used than at our other destinations below.


Crossroads Trading Co.

If you aren't familiar, Crossroads is similar to Buffalo Exchange in their level of secondhand store. Here you'll find gently used clothing from contemporary brands that were sold to the shop rather than donated. This ensures top quality, care and style. But it also means that the items are higher on the price scale.

I knew that my dollar wouldn't go as far here so I had to be very deliberate about the articles I chose. Most items at this shop are between $12 and $25 but they also have clothes marked "half off," which can bring down the average.

Denim is expensive, there's no doubt about it. While at Goodwill you may be able to cop a trendy pair of jeans if you look hard enough, whereas at Crossroads the selection is ample. I knew I needed to get my everyday jeans with a unique wash at this location so I was willing to sacrifice a chunk of my budget for a good pair.

As I continued to search I realized that many T-shirts and tanks were the same price as larger items like dresses and blouses, so I decided to forgo the search for basic tees and decided on a few great pieces. After all, you can always find plain V-necks and tanks for an affordable price at Target, so why spend my valuable thrifting bucks on those buys?

Four pieces from Crossroads Trading: checkered long-sleeve button up, tank top, long sleeve dress and a pair of jeans

This dress is season-appropriate as we move into the fall color palette and weather, while still maintaining that '90s grunge vibe I love so much.

The long-sleeve button-up has peekaboo shoulders taking this checkered basic up a very stylish notch. It's also long enough to be versatile, acting as a dress if worn with tights or a long shirt paired with tight jeans and boots.

I grabbed this tank with zeal (see above shopping list) because it had a very cool style. I wouldn't wear it solo, but instead layer it under a flannel, leather or denim jacket.

Sigh, I was only able to grab four items for, again, just a couple dollars over $50 but I was much more in love with each of these four than any that I found at Goodwill.

If quality is your game, then this shop is for you. However, if you're looking for quantity, then a store more akin to Goodwill would be your one-stop shop.



Squaresville is a one-of-a-kind shop, so don't attempt to search for it in Maps… unless you live in the L.A. region. Of the three secondhand stores, this one is filed under "vintage" which gives it a whole different vibe.

Exterior shot of Squaresville vintage store

The price point here is both on par with Goodwill and higher than Crossroads, depending on the item. Because we're dealing with vintage clothing here, authentic pieces can be quite pricey. Thankfully those items don't really fall into our back-to-school shopping list.

This store is much smaller than both of the previous places but it's also my hands-down favorite shop in the city. You can always find great styles here that span an array of decades while still staying on trend.

When it comes to back to school shopping, go vintage if you're looking to make a statement. Choosing retro clothes is more of a fashion risk but the major bonus is that you can wear real clothes from the era rather than Forever 21 lookalikes. Plus, if someone sneers "what are you wearing?" you can always retort, "it's vintage," and sound super cultured.

Without further ado, this is what $50 got me during my spree at Squaresville. I decided to go with a plaid jumper, a simple but cute black jean skirt, and a white button-up with bell sleeves.

Squaresville haul: black jean skirt, plaid jumper, long white button up

Unfortunately, my dollar didn't go very far this time, though if I had selected T-shirts, I would have walked away with more items. I decided that when shopping vintage, you want to get something that has style and authenticity of another era.

Each of these items are versatile and can be paired with many different outfit options, which is important when you're only looking to buy a few articles.


Before you get started on your thrifty back-to-school shopping, click HERE for even more tips and tricks for getting the most out of your shopping spree.