I’m a little late in getting my Back-to-school shopping blog out. I still can’t get used to the fact that schools start in August and not after Labor Day like when I was in school (a few decades ago)!

Even though I’m a little late, I think you will love this blog!

Over lunch a few months ago with my cousin, Judy Gorchinski, and her daughter, Christina, the topic of money and school shopping came up. This was not unusual considering my profession, but as Christina shared how she and her daughter shop for back-to-school clothes in thrift shops, I was awe struck. As she described her experiences, I found it so interesting that it caused lots of bells and whistles to go off in my mind. On the one hand, I’ve always steered away from thrift shops, especially for clothes. I’d get super triggered at just the thought of shopping at the Goodwill (remnants from my childhood poverty and deprivation). I’ve had many clients for years who’ve spoken about their great “finds” at Good Will, and though I was happy for them, it was still off limits for me and I surely never recommended it to my clients. On the other hand, I knew that what Christina was describing was quite a special experience that she shared with her daughter, Clarissa, and it gave me new perspective and insight.

Christina was totally tuned in to her daughter’s needs, and once her daughter saw how far her dollar could go when “thrifting” (not to mention finding unique clothing items none of the other kids would have!), compared to the “high-end label” shopping, her daughter was totally on board for their thrift store back-to-school experience. So, as I contemplated during the last two weeks about reposting my blog from last year, “Five Tips to Survive Back-to-School Shopping”, I just knew I had to ask Christina permission to add her story to my blog. She not only agreed, but sent this lovely email describing not only her experience with her daughter, but also shared the context from which her thrift store shopping habit stemmed.. I hope you’ll enjoy Christina’s story as much as I did.

Dear Karen,

So, when I talk about thrifting with my daughter, I suppose the context of where that habit came from matters. It wasn’t just because I was a novice teacher who was trying to figure out how to pay bills and students loans and keep my child in shoes. I marched to the beat of a different drum as a teenager, and wanted unique, offbeat items to create my high school/20-something identity. I found a great thrill in searching through racks and racks of the castoff choices of others to find the coolest poet blouse, or a beat up pair of combat boots to pair with a little plaid dress. The 90’s were a forgiving time for thrifting, with the grunge and goth scenes encouraging young people to go ahead and get weird.

Before I even realized what had happened, my daughter no longer fit into (or wanted) the 5$ shirts from Target. She wanted to cultivate her own look, to have things that no one else did, and to have variety (lots and lots of clothes) in her closet. Teenagers have very little interest in minimalism. I also realized that my daughter really, really liked to shop. One day, after a mall trip that was for shoes, but ended up full of disappointment when she realized I couldn’t afford the 300$ Ralph Lauren jacket she had tried on, we ended up across town at a thrift store. She halfheartedly flipped through a rack of sweaters, and pulled one out that had a rainbow down the sleeves, exclaiming, “Oh my god! That’s actually cute!”. Then she looked at the tag and realized the sweater was only 6$. Her eyes lit up when she realized how far her back to school clothing budget would go. Not only did she carefully evaluate every item on every rack, but she went through them twice. When we left, several twenties lighter, she was carrying 3 massive bags of clothing. She had lace trimmed tank tops, embroidered jeans, hoodie style jackets, flippy little skirts, a scarf with the Barbie logo on it, and on, and on. We got home and she spent hours picking out the perfect outfit for her first day of high school (Acid washed skinny jeans and an ombre tank top, total cost $13) and hanging up her treasures.

Do I wish I could have set her loose in Nordstrom or any number of the cute boutiques that dot the streets of midtown Sacramento? Sure I do. I’ll always wonder if she would have enjoyed a fancy shops and lunch experience more, and the guilt of parenting creeps into even the most confident among us. However, Clarissa has learned how to price check when I show her 60$ and tell her that’s all we have for groceries for the whole week, and finds as much delight in sparkly flats from Payless Shoe Source as she does in Macys. My student loans are paid, and I have generous amounts of room to breathe in my budget these days, but we still hit our favorite thrift stores every August as part of our back-to-school ritual, and we enjoy a taco from the hole-in-the wall taqueria down the street just as much as the Michelin star restaurant I treated her to in Vegas.

In the end, I think she still loves thrifting because we learned to turn our economic disadvantage into something fun. She still revels in having items that no one else can, and delights in the victory of finding the perfect dress for $11 instead of $110. Having options now is great, but I realize that my guilt was minimal about what we did to get by because I have given her tools to survive. I sincerely hope that she experiences financial stability and a wealth of joy in her life, but when times get tough, I know that she will still keep the joy in periods of famine and see the success in the experience and the journey.

I hope this gives you something useful. It was actually really interesting to write about this experience and uncover some truths.

Sending love,


As I review the “Five Tips” that I outlined in last year’s blog, I can see that Christina and Clarissa’s shopping trip met the criteria for all of my five tips.

  1. Look honestly at your situation and make a plan. Christina was honest with herself and her daughter about their finances … no $300.00 Ralph Lauren jacket. Check!
  2. Determine your childrens’ needs. Clarissa had outgrown Target $5.00 T-shirts. Check!
  3. Ask your kids about what’s important to them, then watch for and shop sales. Clarissa likes lots of variety, loves to shop, and got her clothes at great prices. Check!
  4. Plan a successful shopping trip. Make in FUN! The fun continued many hours after the shopping as Clarissa spent several hours putting outfits together. Check!
  5. Don’t give into pressure – shopping within your means can be a good lesson for children. If Christina would have ignored her values and pulled out the credit cards to shop at the mall, she would not have been able to say that, “When times get tough, I know that she will still keep the joy in periods of famine and see the success in the experience of the journey!” Check!

I’m so appreciative of Christina and Clarissa sharing their story. My hope is that it will be an inspiration to others to be creative in meeting their needs in ways that are within their financial constraints and that work for them.

I’d love to hear stories of how families are dealing with shopping for their or their family’s needs without “harmful spending”.

If you have a hard time identifying and meeting your needs, check out my Healing Deprivation Membership Course. This membership is the most cost-effective way to work with me at only $27 month.  https://www.financialrecovery.com/healing-membership/


September 7th, 2017 by Karen McCall