guest post: thrifting with kids–tips & tricks from moms

This past Memorial Day, Mary and I went on a thrifting binge, and at it seemed like at every (crowded) store we stopped at, we encountered children of all ages in various stages of meltdown-dom: Some were crying, others were screaming, a few were in full-out tantrum mode.

After my headache subsided, I started thinking…how on earth can you keep your sanity as a thrifting-loving mama?

So, I called on some experts: Mom pals of mine who love to thrift, rummage and flea. As a non-mom, I loved hearing what works for them, and have definitely filed away some ideas for (way far away) future use. For the lovely mamas out there reading, I hope you find their tips helpful!

Thrifty Mama #1: Andrea

In addition to being a treasured friend, my girl Andrea is as close to a domestic Wonder Woman as you can get. Besides being an amazing cook, her beautiful home is full of sweet vintage finds; spoils from her many jaunts to the flea market with her man, Jason, and their five-year-old Hank. Here are some of her tips…

Start ’em young: We bring (and when he was younger, brought) Hank everywhere; thrifting, antiquing and in the summer, to flea markets almost every weekend. “Don’t touch!” was something he learned at a very, very young age!

Bribery works: Find something your kids enjoy getting and use that as a reward. We can get Hank to do almost anything for a toy car, and flea markets and thrift stores are loaded with them. If he behaves, he knows he can pick out a few and that works like a charm for us. Thrift stores also have a lot of kid’s books, so he looks through those while he’s in the cart, giving us time to look around. Now that he’s older, and starting collections of his own, it’s really fun watch his vintage collection grow, and seeing what oddities he picks out.

Keep ’em comfy: We like to go to flea markets pretty early in the morning on the weekends and sometimes Hank doesn’t want to go just because he’s tired. We found if we bring along his wagon, so he doesn’t have to walk, he’s much more apt to want to come along…willingly!

Know your child: When they’re young it’s easier to lug them around everywhere in their carrier, but as they get older, you have to work around their nap schedule and moodiness. You can sometimes coax them into going, but there are days they just want to be at home. The more fun you make it and the more often you go, the more they’ll enjoy it.

Mom #2: Kara, Golden Age Design

My mom took us garage sale-ing every Thursday growing up—I remember peering out the hot backseat of the car, looking for…who knows what! From a young age, she instilled in me the wisdom that things don’t have to be new to be special. Now I have my own munchkin and he not only has one parent who has a passion for vintage, but two! (Poor guy.) The most important thing I’ve learned is if my little man isn’t happy, no one is happy, so I’ve come up with some ways to make the thrifting experience enjoyable for all.

Snacks! A hungry kid usually isn’t a gas to be around, so I make sure I have plenty of yummy goodies stashed in my purse. Some favorites? GoGo Squeeze Applesauce (best invention EVER), Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks, Cliff Fruit Twists, organic baby carrots and a good ole standby, raisins. If we need to each lunch on the road, Subway is a good place to stop. Whole wheat bread, veggies, milk and apples make a thrifting mom rest a little easier.

Entertainment! The iPhone has been life-changing. There are so many great educational apps sure to impress your little one. I have a 2.5 yo and here are his favorite games: Tozzle, LunchBox, BabyFirst. Another way I keep him content is bee-lining for the toy section at the thrift store. I let him pick out a toy he gets to play with while we’re there and he’s usually thrilled. (I always keep Wet Wipes in my purse to give his selection a little bath before he gets his paws on it.) Also, before I go out for the day, I make sure the car is plum full of toys and books. We listen to the Current and do lots of car dancing. Keeping the car ride light and fun, especially if you’re garage sale-ing and making lots of in and out stops, is key.

Essential Gear! (1) Sunglasses. For some reason L thinks it’s really cool to wear his while mom and dad are wearing theirs. (2) Layers. The day can easily turn from 65° to 85° without much warning. Keeping kids cool + comfortable is always a plus. (3) Our BOB jogging stroller has been a life saver when we’ve hit the flea markets. It’s easy to maneuver, L is comfy in it and you can hang bags on it. Win, win, win.

Mom #3: Mary Beth, Top Drawer Vintage

One of my favorite activities, pre and post-parenthood, has been thrifting! I could go on and on with reasons why I love thrifting, but I’d rather give you some tips I’ve learned about shopping with my 15-month-old son, David.

My #1 Rule: Don’t set your kids up to fail! Work around your child’s schedule and take them out when they have a full tummy and are well rested. If nap time is at 1:30, thrifting anytime after 12:30 seems like a rotten way to spend a wind down.

Include your kids in your thrifting experience: Point out all the different items, colors, price tags! Let them understand why it makes you happy and why it is exciting. Help your kids learn from their time out of the house and interact with them so they can not only just be your shopping buddy, but a fun experience you can have together.

Timing is everything: I prefer shopping in the morning because that’s when I have the largest chunk of time, but that can vary day-to-day. (Going in the morning also allows me to take advantage of the slow times at the thrifts.) By the time David gets up from his afternoon nap around 4 p.m., we have a smaller window before it is dinner time. After David’s afternoon nap is a perfect time for a walk—possibly to a garage sale? (When we garage sale I often go on Thursday mornings to avoid the rush of the weekend.)

Are you a thrifty mama? If so, what are some of your secrets to success?


11 thoughts on “guest post: thrifting with kids–tips & tricks from moms

  1. Kids are all grown now and now we all thrift together. One of our favorite Sunday afternoon things to do.

    When they were small, they always got to pick out somethings on their own with an allowance I’d give for the day.

    They loved it so much that when my oldest turned 11 she asked that for her birthday fun she and I go thrifting and she could get anything she wanted within reason. It was one of our best memories.

  2. I have four little ones who have all enjoyed thrifting from the start. It has always been refered to as “treasure hunting,” giving thrifting an exciting apeal for them. One of my most used lines with them has become “look only with your eyes.” They all enjoy the experience, some more than the rest, and it’s one of our favorite passtimes. Some choose to go home with a small treasure every time and others will wait patiently for that one grand one that is only stumbled upon every so often. Most importantly, actively engage with them during the hunt!

  3. What a treat to see my beautiful daughter and grandson on your blog. ( Andrea and Hank ) Hank is an old pro when it comes to antique and thrift shop ettiquite and learned early to ask if something was “spensive” or not, especially when it came down to buying a toy car.

  4. Pingback: Lovely Links: 6/10/11

  5. We call thrift stores “op-shops” here in Australia, but in our house we call them “toy shops”. My son still doesn’t know there are actual toy shops out there. I agree, start em early and they will grow up loving the whole process, especially when they realise the wealth of cool toys and books they can find. We started with a local church hall op-shop which used to be open only on Thursday and Friday mornings, and once my little guy was toddling around he used to go play in the toy corner with a couple of other kids, while we mums did our shopping. It was a regular playdate for them, and a built in time limit for us, so it did in effect work around the naptime schedule etc. I was in a big Savers yesterday and there was a woman pulling a sleeping toddler around in the plastic basket, I applaud her ingenuity, but I did feel a bit sorry for the kid dragged around like that with clothes piled on top of him, and she did accidentally tip him out on a couple of occasions. I guess in her case she was just too desperate for some op-shopping, and maybe he is a “runner”!

  6. Bribery is my #1 go-to. I’ve been taking my now 7-year-old son out to our fabulous local Sally Ann and Goodwill for a few years now with lots of success.

    1. The bribes: They don’t have to be big, and they’re always the same – He can choose a couple of books or videos while I look for skirts or jackets or scarves, and then we go out for lunch together at Mr. Sub.

    2. I always keep the shopping short, and each trip I only hunt for one type of item.

    3. Every now and then I throw in a trip when only he looks for something, and I tag along – it’s only fair, right? It gives me the experience of tagging along while someone else shops – and he’s a lot more decisive than I am.

    4. We always drop off a box of stuff ourselves!

  7. Hi, I’m here via an AlreadyPretty link I think. I have three boys, ages 9, 6, and 4. I used to get away with thrifting with the 4 year old when he was still young enough to just sit in the cart and be content to hug a “new to him” stuffed animal as I rolled him up and down the aisles. But for me, much past age 3, and heck, even 6- well it can be really hard to keep them from running wild, so I don’t take those two anymore. The shops without public restrooms and without carts are best to avoid when you have your kids in tow. I’ve even made a point to rate/review my local stores from a parent’s perspective over at

    Also I think it is important that, as mothers, or really anyone… if we happen to get a chance to have some blissful thrifting time to ourselves, to NOT JUDGE if there are rowdy and/or upset children in the store. We’ve all been there and at times I’ve gone out of the way to give the mother a sympathetic smile.

    Yesterday my 9 year old and I had a nice time out at Goodwill. He had $7 of allowance and was thrilled that he was able to pick something out and still have money to buy a toy when we went for groceries later. He loves poking through junk, so it was perfect. I WAS a little anxious he might accidently knock something off the shelves, but he did good. I’m looking forward to him being my thrifting buddy more often.

  8. If you ask my 3-year-old son if he wants to go to the thrift store, he always answers, “Yes!” and usually follows it with “I like thrift stores!” He likes thrift stores because while we’re there, he gets to play with someone else’s toys and books while he’s in the cart and, if he’s good, he can get out of the cart while I try on clothes. He also *loves* when I find something for him – like a jacket – that he can try on and model in the mirror. So basically, make it fun for the kid(s), and that solves just about everything!

  9. We usually go straight to the toys and pick out GOBS for my girl, Kit, to play with in the cart while I shop. I then set a timer and know that I have about half an hour to 45 minutes before boredom/tantrum strikes. At the end, we pick out only 2-3 things for her to buy. I call it the toddler tax. If you want your toddler to be good while you shop — you gotta pay up. I’m a meticulous thrifter and I have to look at everything, so I automatically say to myself that I’ll only look at tops and dresses that day and just turn a blind eye on everything else.

    I only go if Kit is in a good mood and Nora (my baby) is ready to nap. I agree – don’t set them up for failure.

    We only go in the morning. Besides that is when the stores are stocked, the sales staff is in a fresh and good mood.

    I will also never leave without a full iPhone battery and plenty of Backyardigans and Yo Gabba Gabba episodes to watch.

  10. I love my kids, but thrifting is MOMMY TIME. I don’t get to do it too often (probably good for my wallet), but that is ok. I don’t expect the little guys to enjoy the way I shop. I am a marathoner, like I will be dehydrated and starving and I just won’t stop. It takes me hours to get through a Goodwill. I have two girls, so I hope they catch my disease when they get older and we can enjoy the experience together. In the meantime, daddy let’s mama go thrifting now and again so she don’t LOOSE HER EVER LOVING MIND.

  11. Cheerios…Cheerios…Cheerios! :) …I’m not sure if this would work for an older child, but at 9 months old, may daughter is content eating Cheerios and testing out her motor skills.

    I have started her young. She can usually sit still while I shop, but there have been times where I could sense a meltdown and that was due to it being past her scheduled nap time.

    As long as I have snacks and toys, she is content. Hopefully this will last….

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s