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I think everyone has a super power. One of mine is the ability to find incredible deals on gently used or like-new footwear in our local thrift shops. There was a time when I could wear any shoe, regardless of style. Heck, I even wore heels when I was younger. Now, it’s all about orthopedic comfort and not about the looks. I don’t care if my shoes look “cool” anymore. My tootsies need more support and shoe structure. But shoes which offer that are expensive! Quite honestly, I could not afford to buy new the kind of footwear my feet need.
My greatest thrift shoe purchase to date is a pair of slip on orthopedic-style shoes with Velcro closures. They have a great deal of support, and yet they feel like slippers. I can wear them with thinner socks in the colder seasons. These days, I am wearing them with very thick wool socks! New, these shoes are around $280. I got them at my favorite thrift shop, gently used, for under $32. I am actually wearing them right now, as I write!
These are unprecedented times, and many people are facing challenges with their employment and personal budget. I am sharing tips on how to buy gently used footwear at thrift shops in the hopes that it may help someone find a quality pair of shoes when they need them.
These are the tips I use, and I think you’ll find them beneficial as well…
Know the store’s refund, return and exchange policy.
When you go to the thrift shop, it is good to ask right away about their return and exchange policy. The thrift store in the big city near me does not give any refunds. They will only offer an exchange. Therefore, it is important to shop carefully in this store. You may find that the thrift stores in your area have a similar policy.
Do you qualify for any discounts (or do your friends?)
Many of the local thrift shops offer discounts. On Tuesdays, seniors get 30% off. Not a senior? If you are in need to some footwear, perhaps you could bring a senior friend with you to help you save more.
Today, I went shopping at a thrift shop that has a different kind of sale: blue and yellow price tags were 50% off. The tags indicated the time of arrival in the store. This kind of sale allows the store to keep moving merchandise. I made the rounds of the store looking for my target items. I made a point of looking for blue and yellow tags and saved big in the process.
Bring suitable socks when shopping.
Right now, it’s winter in Canada. All I wear are super thick, pure wool socks. However, if I am looking for some running or dress shoes, I make sure I bring the right kind of sock with me so that I can try on my shoes and ensure I get a good fit.
Check the sole.
The sole is the first thing I check on any shoe or boot I’m interested in. This is a quick way to gauge how worn the shoe is. I want good life from the shoes I buy, so I will only buy very gently used or like-new ones. I avoid any signs of uneven wear, as I feel this could affect my feet in a negative way. Are you looking for a running shoe? Try to bend the sole of the shoe and give it a flex. If it feels flimsy, it is likely worn out or too poorly made to give good support.
Don’t be shy! Walk around the store wearing them!
If I find a pair I like and the sole is good, I immediately try them on. Then, I continue shopping! I have never had a problem from store staff doing this. If you are concerned about how this could be perceived, you could certainly ask permission first. I have saved myself from a few pairs of uncomfortable shoes this way, and I have also found many gems.
Know your brands.
There is a big difference between a fast-fashion “disposable” shoe that you would find in a discount big box store and a high end shoe with a replaceable insole. The former may not last a season. I have high-end shoes which I have owned for many, many years that haven’t shown any sign of quitting. What kind of shoe are you looking for? A dress shoe? A sandal? You need to be able to identify which brands are higher-end brands.
There are a few ways to learn brand names in your target area. One is to go to a local high-end shoe store, either in person or online and do some quick research. If you have a memory like mine, write these down and bring the list shopping with you…..or text it to yourself on your cell phone.
Another way is to look at the pricing in the thrift store. Our local thrift store has gotten quite savvy at identifying high-end shoes. They are now pricing these shoes at right around $16 per pair. High-quality winter boots are now closer to $32. If a shoe is very high-end, they only put one of the shoes from the pair out and a sticker is slapped on it that says “Ask for mate at counter.” You could also ask the staff at the thrift shop about which shoe and boot brands are in demand and high quality.
Ask fellow thrifters for their advice.
Some of my friends and family are fellow thrifters, and some aren’t. If you have less experience with thrifting, and you live in a town with more than one thrift shop, ask around. In our small city, one thrift shop is great for shoes and boots. The other one never seems to have any quality items at all and their prices are always high.
However, that shop is the best for baby clothes, having a much larger variety and much lower prices. I loooooove to talk about thrifting and what I know about the stores. If you don’t know anyone who thrifts, start with the staff in the store and maybe even some of your fellow thrifters. You never know what you might learn.
Don’t buy anything broken.
Unless you are a cobbler yourself, just don’t do it. I recently found a pair of high end hiking boots which fit me very well. However, one of the eyelets had broken on the right boot. Oooooooo! I wanted boots like this. But they were only going to get worse. The right boot just didn’t tie up right. Don’t get attached to a brand name or a color at the expense of fit or function.
Frequent browsing and/or patience can lead to better deals.
I live about an hour away from the “best” thrift shop for shoes and boots. I go to the thrift shop whenever I’m in that city. I browse the shoe section patiently. I don’t really need anything right now, but if I see a pair of my favorite brand of shoes for a good price, I buy them in a second.
I recently bought a great pair of running shoes for my skipping workouts. I didn’t find them right away. I was patient, and it took several trips to the store. I think I tried on around 5-6 pairs before I found the perfect pair.
If the shoe fits….
Some people I know say they would never purchase footwear from a thrift shop. Have you ever done so, or could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty tips offered here? Do you have your own tip you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!