A Thrift Store Christmas

In these hard times, shopping at the thrift stores may be that the only way some of us will be able to afford a Christmas for our families. So here are some ideas of what can be done with thrift store bargains to turn them from "Trash" to "Treasure". My biggest tip is shop early and often. Try to find out when your thrift store restocks and try to buy when things are on sale. Of course, if you find something you really love, try and remember you will be buying for less than retail.



Electronics: We all like buying the toys in the stores that make noises and have flashing lights. A lot of these can be bought at the thrift store but you are always taking a chance that they don't work so here are a couple of tips to make sure that you don't get one that won't. Always carry a small screwdriver with you to check the battery compartment, You are looking to see if there is a lot of corrosion in there or if there are old batteries in that are dead or leaking. If it looks clean inside, chances are it will probably work with some batteries. If there are old batteries inside that are dead, chances are it will work, just remember to get the batteries out as soon as you get it home. If it has just a little bit of corrosion from batteries, this can be cleaned off with a little baking soda water or a small wire brush. If you decide you don't want the toy, please put the battery cover back on. Thrift stores are pretty lenient on letting you do this but not if you don't put the covers back on. Carry 3 to 4 C and D batteries with you, then you can "test drive" the toy. This tip can be used on any electronic toy or appliance in the store.


Plastic Animals: These toys, especially the big plastic horses can be restored to next to new condition with a little spray paint made for plastic. The big plastic horses could also be made into a carousel horse by adding ribbons and ribbons roses to decorate it with. Drill a hole through the back and you can even add a dowel for the pole. The plastic paint is guaranteed to not chip or peel.

Board Games: Some thrift stores tape their games shut so people don't open them and take pieces out. My tip for buying used board games is if you can, buy two of the same game so if you are missing pieces from one, you can make up for them with the second. Also a old chess set is something that you might want to buy as the pawns can be used for the "marker pieces" in every game, including Monopoly. Some of the game companies have sites on the internet where you can buy missing pieces also.


Books: These are a great bargain for adults and kids alike. Some people write their names in the books or if it was a gift, Aunt Mary might have put in a dedication. This can be covered with a large mailing label and then you can identify the book as your child's or put in a dedication to your Aunt Mary. If they wrote all over the inside front cover, it can be covered with one of the many beautiful scrapbooking papers that the craft stores have. Just cut the paper down to the size needed and spray mount it in to the book.

Stuffed animals that look new can be jazzed up with a new ribbon or go to the children's department and try to find a little dress to dress them up with. A plain bear decorated with a small crocheted scarf in your daughter's high school colors and the felt numbers stuck to the bear's belly for the year she graduates might just tickle her fancy. A Christmas bear can be decorated with old Christmas ornaments that have be taken apart.


Dolls: What would Christmas for a little girl be without a doll? Believe it or not, you can restore Barbie or a baby doll's hair but that will have to wait until my next article, where I will be giving complete directions for restoring dolls back to a playable condition.

Bicycles: Bikes that are in fair condition can be fixed up with a new chain and some new tires. Buffing compound can sometimes bring back the paint job on a bike but not always. You can always spray paint it if not.


A lot of designer stuff shows up in thrift stores so it pays to know your designers. Carry in your purse a list of everyone's clothing sizes so when your shopping you will know what will fit and what won't. Also remember that unless you find something that is in new shape, that these clothes have been washed before and will not shrink.


Check the clothing over very well. If it is missing a fancy button, you might not want to buy it because finding a replacement will be impossible. If you don't mind changing out the buttons for something new, buy it especially if it is a expensive sweater that you know someone will love.

Jeans can be decorated in so many different ways, You can add lace to the pockets, you can add fringe to the bottoms, applique lace doilies to them or trim with the new beaded trim that comes attached on a ribbon. Always check the zippers. Same things goes with women's shirts, you can always decorate them. Check out the great selection of handbags also these make great gifts for teens.

Creative Packaging

This is a great place to look for baskets and tins. It is also the place to look for things that you can fill with candy or anything else. Mugs can be filled with candy or hot chocolate packages or for kids with crayons or markers or colored pencils. I love to buy Christmas plates that used to be in a set but now there are only a couple or three left. They make great trays for Christmas goodies. I also look for glass trays or silver plated ones if they are not too damaged, to use for Christmas goodies too.


Fill a beautiful crystal wineglass with chocolate kisses or pair a couple of wine glasses together with a good but cheap bottle of wine or sparkling cider. This is a great gift for people without kids. Thrift stores also sell Christmas stockings that you can redecorate or, if in good shape, leave as is and fill with small gifts for co workers and friends.

Basket Fillers

This is the place to find all the things you could use to fill baskets for your friends and family. Two champagne glasses and a bottle of wine and some crackers and summer sausage put into a basket with a little bit of shreds or Easter grass can be a great gift for newlyweds. Cookies cutters and a couple of character cake pans for the baker in the family. On ThriftyFun, there are a lot of basket ideas. Take a look and you will find many ideas that you can use by just buying the "ingredients" at the thrift store.


Christmas trees and wreaths can be bought at the thrift store and can be redone to suit our style. You are going to pay a lot less for them than you would at Walmart.

Happy Hunting!

About The Author: Debra Frick is a mother of 5 and a grandmother to 8 grandsons and one granddaughter. She is a published author and poetress. Recycling and saving money are her passions. She also loves crocheting and cooking. She is also a pet rescue volunteer and has many pets of her own.

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December 5, 20071 found this helpful

Thrift shops are also good for decorative items - I have a little piece of African carving for a gift, and a marble lion statuette. There are often ethnic things - and framed watercolors or paintings. I just got a 19th C. colored lithograph framed for $7 at Salvation Army! It doesn't matter if you have gotten these things at a boutique or antique store or thrifty shop! There are people who work as "antique pickers" who go through exactly the same yard sales and thrift shops as you do to sell on to dealers. Beat them to it! This hunt is often good at places where retirees are downsizing and in out of the way places, where the pickers fear to tread! And as for these gifts, the more eccentric, the better! My brother STILL has the preserved piranha fish I gave him almost 40 years ago!

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By Nellio (Guest Post)
December 5, 20070 found this helpful

If you start earlier in the year, you can shop at Yard Sales too. They often have even better bargains than Thrift Stores.

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By Carol in PA (Guest Post)
December 5, 20070 found this helpful

I do not agree with you that we are living in hard times. I am 61 years old and living on a fixed income. The economy has hit record highs in the past several years. Of course, since the economy is cyclical, once it has hit its high, it will then start to go the other way. That was started with the raising of the minimum wage which I learned in graduate school economics class never helps anyone. Manufacturers and retailers just raise prices to cover the added expense.

I appreciate your article about thriftiness, but I have lived through the 1970's and know what hard times are like. If you can't make it now, you'll never make it.

BTW, I counted the number of tv commercials for diamonds last night and there were six of them. People don't buy diamonds when the economy is bad. (rofl)

Warm regards,

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November 3, 20180 found this helpful

What's the purpose of your comment ma'am!? Are you literally arguing over whether or not the cost of living is astronomical compared to incomes. Because I promi side you that your rent in a 2 bedroom 1.5 bath trailer was not 1095 a month with all do respect. Also a new pickup in the 70s qas not 50k and a g alon of milk was not 6 bucks! This site is to encourage individuals who are not living the cush lifestyle to find easier and more cost effective ways to still celebrate and enjoy the holidays! You cannot possibly compare today's costs of daily life to those of yours in the 70s! And clearly YOU are NOT living in rough times if you can afford to watch your cable all night and count diamond commercials! OTHER PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE THE SAME LIFESTYLE AS YOU AND WON'T EVER HAVE THE SAME LUXURIES YOU DO. HOW NAIVE ARE YOU TO THINK THAT BECAUSE YOU MAY NIT STRUGGLE THAT NOBODY DOES! CARRY ON WITH YOUR FAIRYTALE LIFE

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December 5, 20073 found this helpful

Thank you Debra for your good ideas. Christmas can be overwhelming when there are children and money is in short supply.

I am still cranky over feedback I read in the Christmas section (Gifts) on another part of this web-site. Several teachers complained about the quality of gifts they had received in the past from their students...they didn't want apples, toiletries, knick-knacks, etc. What they wanted were gift cards and certificates to restaurants, Starbucks, movies, and the like.

As a teacher, I strongly object. It's the thought that counts. Buying a teacher an expensive gift or even any gift is not, nor ever should be, an issue for parents. A small rememberance, a card, or even nothing is completely appropriate.

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December 5, 20071 found this helpful

I always buy my son's teacher a gift card to a bookstore, like Borders or Barnes and Nobel. I agree that it is the thought that counts but, if you have a class of 20 kids and teach for 10 years, that is a whole lot of knick knacks. However, there are some families that cannot afford to give much so they do what they can.

I would certainly rather have a thoughtful handwritten card than something cheap just bought to "check me off the list."

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December 5, 20071 found this helpful

I'm sorry Carol, but you're wrong. We are living in hard times and have been for quite some time. I too lived through the 70's, and yes, they were hard, but that doesn't mean that it isn't as hard today. My husband and I, along with our 2 children are living on slightly more than $1000 a month. Compared to the 70's, we'd be rich. However, rent is now $850 a month and doesn't include anything as opposed to the $250 a month it was in the $70's. If we were the only ones having this problem, then there wouldn't be as much assistance available such as food stamps, food pantries, heating assistance, etc. Yet there are people that are being turned away because there isn't enough to go around for all who need it.
I'm not sure what planet you're on, but in my planet there are people working full time jobs making minimum wage and living in their parents basements until they are 35.
I find your condescending comments offensive. As a matter of fact, if you were correct in your assumptions, there would be no need for this website. I suggest you spend your time elsewhere since you believe that all that frequent this site have no reason to be here.

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November 3, 20180 found this helpful

Thank you Jenn! My God yes!!!! Exactly! If CAROL dones't agree or need the website and have the money to buy new 100% of the time, kudos to her. However, I'm 30 and working a full time plus job as well as 2 part time jobs equaling 80-100 hours a week and still use thrift stores, coupons and garage sales (as well as sales fb sites etc) to get by! And am very thankful for this site as well as others on life hacks and cost hacks! I didnt live through the 70s cleandrly but am glad to see that i am not the only one who sees the ignorance and irreverence to this very informative and useful article!

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December 5, 20070 found this helpful

I hope I won't offend anyone by my remarks but as a Christian, I celebrate Christ's birth even though it may or may not have happened on that day. The celebration is the important thing and the attitude in our hearts. I have strong personal feelings against the commercialism that crept in many years ago. I don't believe God sent his son to freeze his little hiney in that manger so the world could go head over heels into debt. I do not go in debt for gifts and all the grown ups on my list know not to expect anything but undying love and the knowledge that I am here for them no matter what the emergency. I do buy for my granddaughter because I enjoy that and so does she. That way my fixed income is not shattered and we can eat come January.

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By Debra Frick (Guest Post)
December 6, 20070 found this helpful

Hello fellow posters,
I wrote this article to help the millions of people who are having hard times. I too lived through the 70's as a young family with two children. As more people have their homes foreclosed on and many young families face not having enough to eat I felt this could give many a voice of hope. I too am a Christian and hate all the commercialism around Jesus' Birthday but this is a problem many have faced through out the years.

My mother who lived through the depression had it hard too and their were not the resources we have now on homemade gifts, thrift store bargains and helpful government programs. Thank God for sites like this one where many talented people take the time and effort to share their talents and knowledge to help us all live in a thrifty world.

As for diamonds, if I could I would tell every jeweler to donated a couple hundred to feed the hungry in our country. I did not mean to offend anyone! But I personally know the heartbreak of a small child who did not get a gift at Christmas and how it made them feel.

So to all of you who have extra money in your pocket to blow I challenge you to adopt a mother working on minimum wage and barely making it and provide a Christmas for them or a working family where Dad got laid-off just in time for Christmas and see your hard earned dollar pay off. The gratitude and heart felt love will be the thing that brings you the most joy and a big thank you from me to all the people who will work at the soup kitchens this Christmas and the others who will donated coats and hats to kids or the children who give some of their abundance to others who have needs. Debra F

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December 6, 20070 found this helpful

Well said!! I agree with "jenntaker". Fortunately I don't have to work outside my home, but if I wasn't thrifty, I would. I keep busy with my grandchildren, my church and volunteer in my community. I find great ideas here to help stretch our income and to help others. I am grateful for the opportunity to share.

Carol, many economic issues have changed since "graduate school" in the 60's (I was there. And in the 70's I was a stay home mom raising a housefull of children.) There have been many changes in the last forty years. Sounds like you are lucky enough to "have it made" for your retirement. Others weren't so lucky, think Enron, etc.

You will probably be able to maintain your own private health insurance? If not, then you will probably join us on Medicare, that great, well run, government subsidy for the vast unwashed.

Anyone spending enough time in front of the T.V. to watch six diamond commercials in one evening needs to get a life.

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December 6, 20071 found this helpful

My god this is post is all about me lol! i live in the thrift stores. i have furnished a big farmhouse with all thrift store and curbside antiques and treasures. i love finding things. it is the thrill of the hunt, and bagging a treasure! i don't really shop there though for the kids at Christmas, because since i am not overly spendy all year on toys etc. i let them have new things within reason that is!

i also make them contribute to boxing things, they no longer need play with etc and donate them or pass on. only fair, bring in and take out policy. lol works well this year we are not rich by any means. My kids no longer believe in santa i am bummed as they are 9 and 10 only! big bummer for me almost if something in me has been squashed, and a dumb hubby who when asked repeatedly if there is a Santa gave in and admitted i wanted to crack him with the fat mans jolly old sack myself! lol

we have decided to donate to a few of the things we can walmart and the thrift have gloves and hats cheap so we will donate a few pairs to the trees around here. we are donating to the veterans home. most of the stuff they need is so small it is dollar store stuff and i feel saddened i read an article saying a lot of the homeless people are actually vets! how cruel is that? served our country fought for us and now have no home! so we are making care pks and seeing if family members wanna add to it!so we do what we can here and there.

due to our recent move i am not working right now, big bummer. so theres not much extra spending money for me but that dollar sure goes a lot farther at a thrift store. this year i told mom as my present, she always gets stuff, just do thrift store certificates! i rarely shop anywhere else except for walmart. thats about it! merry Christmas
happy holidays to everyone! may you have a best new year ever
kim Ü

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December 6, 20070 found this helpful

o and i wanted to add to that post i am a preschool teacher and i am saddend at the lack of happiness on a teachers part who gets a cute trinket from a child i love any and all the stuff i get!!! i even let my kids put some in their room to display it is the thought!!! i feel so sad when i walk in a thrift store and see something thee r that is personalized or someone put great care in and they just shucked it off!!! i would rather have something someone took the time and heartfelt thought they put into something for me!! this year i am making snowmen for our kids teachers and i hope they like them this is what kids wanted to do although i am doing almost all the work!! lol i have a vase a preschooler made for me a few years back and all summer i keep it filled with flowers and i always remember stephanie the lil girl who gave it to me i called her stephanini!!!! plus anyway when you get a certificate to a teacher store are you really gonna get something for you not me i always give to the class!!!

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December 10, 20070 found this helpful

Some thrift shops also have days where certain types of items are further marked down. I know the Goodwill sometimes has a discounted colored pricetag of the day.
I love shopping at the thrift store--it's about being creative, the hunt, and recycling.

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November 11, 20080 found this helpful

I do this all the time. I even buy name brand items (handbags and figurines) from thriftstores and sometimes I am lucky enough to sell them for really good mooney on ebay.

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July 31, 20090 found this helpful

I have volunteered for the last few years at a hospice thrift store in Florida. When I am putting merchandise out on the floor for display, I think what an inexpensive way to set up for parties or wedding receptions. We have so much crystal and so many champagne flutes for sale for 25 to 50 cents each. For a very low cost home wedding we sell only wedding dresses that have been cleaned and boxed. All sorts of DVD's etc for less than $1. I could go on but before I go to a store I check out the thrift store first. The thrift store I work in has strict policy about clothing they put out. nothing stained, 'pilled' ripped,no soiling of anykind.

The girls that volunteer to do the pricing are very strict on that. We also have what we like to call a 'quality control' person out on the floor in case something slips past the aging eyes of some of our volunteers, this person can just go through the racks and remove items that were missed. Our clothing is never there for more than a month. After that it goes outside and is sold for $1 a bagful. That's a great bargain for quilters and rag rug makers. All our clothes that we can't put on sale are re-cycled. Nothing goes to waste.

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