How and Why I Became a Thrifty Mama


thriftyIt never fails. During the spring and summer months, as we drive down the street, my husband will turn to me, point at a sign alongside the road, and ask, “Is that a good one, or not?”

Garage sale signs. 

To some, they’re nothing but roadside distractions or nonsense, but to me, they are a brightly colored gateway to the possibility of turning someone’s trash into your newest treasure. You see, I have a theory about garage sale signs (that I will dive into another time) based on years of experience in this particular hobby.

Growing up, I always went to my grandparents’ house on Fridays. Our routine on those days was nothing noteworthy but consistent, nonetheless. We’d have grandma’s homemade southern-style breakfast and then go next door to get her hair done. There would be a quick grocery trip, all before heading to a local diner for some creamy mushroom soup (that I still desire).

However, during the spring and summer, also known as “garage sale season,” to some, we would get our shopping on!

This is where my aforementioned “sign theory” and love for garage sales began. Resting my head against the back window of my grandma’s Ford Taurus, I would excitedly point out signs along the road to direct us to the nearest sales. Each sale contained potential for fun or useful finds, usually, a little knick-knack or stuffed animal, but the point was that I never knew what to expect. The excitement and anticipation kept me wanting to come back for more.

Though secondhand shopping lost its satisfaction for me there for a while, several chapters of my life helped rekindle my love for it. Here’s how and why I fell in love with being thrifty!

Well, it all (re)started when I graduated from college. It’s no secret that teachers are underpaid, yet as I entered the field of education as a young twenty-something, I quickly realized that my classroom vision board had a bigger budget than my pocket. What started as a few Goodwill finds for some flexible seating in my classroom quickly turned into weekly garage sale trips in the summer with my teaching bestie to find new additions to our classroom library, organizational tools for our classroom cabinets, and so much more. It was an adventure. Sometimes, we even found things we did not know we were looking for, and they found good use in our classroom for the hundreds of students that sat in our desks at one time or another.

As time continued, I quickly found that this useful teaching hack could overlap with other aspects of my life, such as my wedding. Our vintage theater-themed wedding consisted of some antique actor and actress headshots in desperate need of a home inside gold frames. 

For those who don’t know, frames can be filed somewhere under rugs and throw pillows in the category of “Things that Are Unnecessarily and Ridiculously Expensive.” Therefore, I quickly jumped into action, scouring sales across the city for gold metal frames. I may have gone a little overboard (I still have a bin of gold frames in a closet), but the thrill of the hunt had me wrapped under its spell. Every sale – whether garage, sale, or rummage – had a variety of items, as well as conversations, to be discovered.

That’s right. I said conversations! One of the free bonuses (well, I think they can be a bonus) of these environments are the conversations you can have with the people you meet. I recall a neighborhood sale I attended years ago. 

A woman was at the end of the cul-de-sac, selling a handful of personal items along with a giant table full of beautiful, hand-knit scarves. We talked for quite a while on that cold September morning. What began as her telling me about how she learned to knit, since I have always wanted to learn, quickly dove into her asking about my wedding, as well as her sharing the elaborate details about her wedding years ago. 

Now, every conversation may not be as memorable as that one, but in the days of 2020, for example, outside sales were one of the few places I felt comfortable having any kind of real, in-person human communication. You just never know when someone could use a good conversation.

One of the biggest reasons, though, that I enjoy being a thrifty mama is that, well, mama-hood isn’t cheap! The closer my due date came a couple of years ago, the more panic I felt over being prepared for my bundle of joy. As soon as she was born, I quickly realized that babies do not need much or stay in a size for very long. I became frustrated with how expensive an outfit was that she would only wear once or twice. Pair that with a recently unemployed lifestyle, and I was searching for a better way.

Enter one of this city’s best-kept secrets: Whale of a Sale (Seriously, check it out here). Although I do and did find pieces of my daughter’s wardrobe at thrift stores, garage sales, and Facebook marketplace, this sale made my frugal heart soar. So many items in one place, and I was surrounded by fellow moms who also enjoyed being babes on a budget! Each year, I look more and more forward to this bi-annual sale, and each time, I come home full of pride and satisfaction about the deals I have scored.

While my creativity, my heart, and my pocket are grateful for my passion for thrifty secondhand shopping, I recently discovered an even bigger reason to do it: the environment. Again, just like teacher salaries, it is no secret that the increasing amount of waste we produce yearly is not sustainable. Sure, not every item or piece of clothing can be saved from the landfill, but I now know that so many items that I used to instinctively want to pitch could be used and appreciated by someone else – even if it is not for its original intended purpose (Check out this post, for example!). Similarly, I am willing to give items a second life in my home because that means it’s being used to its fullest extent before wasting away elsewhere.

So, while there are plenty of convenient ways to purchase items in this day in age, I still choose to seek alternative routes whenever possible. I am a realist, though, and I know this cannot always be the case for everyone. Yet, if you have ever wanted to dabble in secondhand shopping, I highly encourage you to try it out. You may just find something you really love: in the form of an item or even a hobby.

Not to mention, as my daughter gets older, this is something I am grateful to share with her. From thrift store trips to garage sales in the summer, I appreciate the fact that watching me do something I am passionate about can only strengthen our bond in the long run. Who knows, maybe one day, she’ll be the one pointing out the “good signs” for me as we drive along the road.