The Delicate Art of Thrifting with Immigrants

When immigrants arrive in a new country, they have a lot of needs, including the need of “stuff”—everything necessary to make a house a home. We’re talking beds, a couch, chairs, a table, kitchen supplies, eating utensils, grocery staples, school supplies for kids, weather-appropriate clothing, etc., etc., etc.

Finances may well be very tight for many new immigrants (though this is not always the case). I know from experience, though, that moving to a new continent and needing everything at once is definitely a strain almost any budget! Savvy shopping is a must.

But how can a newcomer be a savvy shopper? It’s difficult because at the time that they have these big needs, most immigrants don’t have inside knowledge of where to get good deals. That’s where you come in.

Here are some tips for helping immigrants get a bang for their buck in several budget-friendly shopping venues:

  1. Thrift stores

Over at the Loving the Stranger Advisory Council Facebook Group (partner with us on Patreon if you’d like to join the group!), we’ve had a lively discussion on the differing views of immigrants towards thrift/secondhand stores.

Immigrants from some cultures love them—one of my good friends from Taiwan always amazed me as she started from scratch and bit by bit feathered her nest with beautiful, affordable thrift store finds that made her home one of the coziest I’ve ever seen!

Immigrants from some other cultures, on the other hand, have an almost visceral reaction against buying items secondhand—there is a stigma that doing so means you are living in abject poverty, and there is the risk of catching diseases from the previous owners.

How will you know how your immigrant friend feels about this kind of shopping option? Well, as usual, if you don’t know, just ask! Also, if you’re a thrift store enthusiast, invite them to come along while you shop for something (showing that you think thrift stores are fine!) and tell them what good deals you can get on items that are nearly good-as-new. Then let them decide whether they feel comfortable buying things for themselves!

  1. Dollar stores

These modest stores seem to be popping up on every corner, especially in rural areas. There are treasures to be found, especially small kitchen tools, cleaning tools and supplies, and home goods from towels to trash cans.

  1. Discount/Overstock Stores

These stores have different names around the country (Big Lots in the Southeast, Marden’s in Maine…comment to let us know the name in your area!), but they have one thing in common: they are an excellent place to find new things at great prices! Look for kitchen appliances, furniture, and home goods galore, as well as rotating overstocks of other kinds (you won’t know what they have til you go!).

  1. Super Walmart

This is an obvious but helpful choice, especially after you have combed through the less expensive options with immigrant friends, or when there is an urgent need and your immigrant friend does not have time to spend going to several stores. Nearly everything is in one place, and by taking your immigrant friend there, you are killing two birds with one stone, as you can shop for home supplies and groceries all at once at an affordable price point.

These are the four options I generally use when helping immigrant friends to get settled and buy the things they need on a budget.

Comment to tell me what I missed! Where do you like to shop with new immigrants?


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  1. I managed to persuade the authorities in international student housing to allocate me a closet in one of the dorms. Students who were returning home would leave usable pots, pans, china etc. there, and new arrivals could pick them up, with some idea of where they came from. I kept the place organized and clean, and had the key to the room. It worked well.


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