Cosplay on a Budget: Goodwill Outlet Stores

Cosplay is an expensive hobby, but we are creative people. Us cosplayers know that there are hacks out to achieve cosplays on a budget.

My number one cosplay on a budget hack? Thrift stores. But, I’m talking the mother of all thrift stores: Goodwill Outlet Stores. This is where I have bought wedding gowns for less than $10 and pounds of clothes for less than $2/pound.

Goodwill Retail Stores are the first place that donations go. But what about the donations that no one claims? These items are then sent over to a Goodwill Outlet Store where they are sold by the pound. (Items that don’t at these outlet stores are then sent

Goodwill Outlet Stores vary by location, but the most common way that items are sold at these special locations is by the pound. (Yes, clothes sold by the pound.) They also offer shoes and houseware items at a highly reduced price.

Shopping at a Goodwill Outlet Store

Shopping in a Goodwill Outlet Store is very different from shopping at a Goodwill Retail Store. Merchandise is stored in giant blue bins that are brought out one by one. Items are typically sorted into their category. Clothing will all be in one bin, shoes all in another bin. But men’s pants are mixed in with women’s shirts which are mixed in with baby clothes. You will have to sort and dig through these bins to find the gems!

Meanwhile, you are sorting and digging with other people who are also looking for cool stuff.

In my experience, the blue bins are lined up in rows throughout the store. After a bin has been on the floor for awhile and picked through, someone will announce last call and the bins will be removed, filled up again, and brought back out onto the floor.

See a bin with an orange cone on top? Not so fast! These bins are new to the floor. When new bins are released onto the floor, everyone will line up, but no one can start shopping until a worker gives the word.

But once they say “Okay you can start.” It’s utter chaos.

As far as shopping carts, Goodwill Outlet Stores use trash bags and carts that resemble a garbage can. Be sure to keep an eye on your cart. It is not uncommon for people to swipe nice stuff from your cart if they see something they like and you walk away from it for too long.

How I Survive the Goodwill Outlet Store

My Mindset

You have to be in the right mindset to go to the Goodwill Outlet Store. It’s part exploration/adventure, part ambitious/adrenaline, part no pressure. Usually when I arrive at the Goodwill Outlet Store, I do a quick walk around. Sometimes by the time I get there and browse, I realize I’m not really seeing what I’m looking for, or I don’t want to dig through bins that day. I let myself off the hook and I leave.

My Method

I carry stuff in my hands. The garbage can carts kinda freak me out. (I know they aren’t garbage cans but they remind me of them so much that the concept puts me in a bad mood.) I only buy what I can carry. Or if I’m really having a great day, I will cave in and grab the cart and keep it attached to myself at the hip for the whole shopping trip.

After my brief walk-through and I decide to stay, I get digging. Some people bring gloves with them to dig through, but I always forget. I try very hard to be respectful of other people around me. For the most part, people aren’t looking for the same things we are looking for as cosplayers. I have (thankfully) never had to fight anyone in a Goodwill Outlet! And I really go out of my way to making sure that will never happen. Try not to put the things you just digged through onto the piles of other people’s dig through.

I also always avoid the newest bins. Again, people are usually fighting over different stuff than I am looking. Once the initial chaos and everyone has looked through it, I casually walk over to the same bin, find things I like but without all the craziness.

I also try to learn the quirks of each individual Goodwill Outlet Store location. When I used to travel on a regular basis, I hit every Goodwill Outlet Store I could find. Some specialized in medical equipment, while others were better for housewares or clothing. And some Goodwill Outlet Stores were downright dangerous. In a few Goodwill Outlet Stores for example, they had signs throughout saying “Be careful of broken glass at the bottom of bins. Don’t cut yourself.” (Needless to say, that’s one of the times I did not stay to look around.) Other Goodwill Outlet Stores are in interesting areas of a city, so I also was careful then.

Overall, Goodwill Outlet Stores present a great opportunity for cosplayers that are looking to find some general cosplay items on a highly reduced price.

Curious to know where the nearest Goodwill Outlet Store is? Here’s where I look:

They have the best complete list out there!


Now, get out there and happy thrifting! ❤

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