Buying Picture Frames from Thrift Stores Saves Me So Much Money

I remember watching “The Price Is Right” at my grandma’s house when I was young and being constantly aghast at how much things cost. Living off an allowance of $2 a month, I was always lowballing the guesses. Nowadays, my salary and general understanding of capitalism has increased, yet I still sometimes find myself shocked by certain price tags. One such culprit? Picture frames.

I love to make wall art out of postcards, photos, and art prints, but having each one professionally framed would seriously break the bank — a simple frame plus matting can easily run $50 for a relatively small print. And buying frames off the rack or online, though cheaper, can still very much add up, especially when searching for nice-looking or non-plastic finds. That’s why my favorite way to buy frames is and will always be from thrift stores.

Here’s the thing: Thrift shopping for frames is a treasure hunt, not a lottery ticket. Finding a frame that fits the size and look of your art takes time, a careful eye, and the willingness to try multiple stores and wait for a while. Because I’m very much a slow decorator, I don’t mind the wait at all and finding the right piece in the end always feels like kismet. I tend not to retouch the frames very much, but it can also be a fun opportunity for a DIY, especially if you’re building a gallery wall and prefer a uniform look (a quarter of paint can go a long way on an inch- wide perimeter).

I’ve spotted great frames at flea markets and thrift stores, and my main tip is to leave no stone unturned. Lingering is the fun of secondhand shopping anyway, so just be extra thorough. I check the bins or racks where they keep frames, scan the walls for hung works of art, and visit the art section for any pieces I may be able to repurpose. My most recent scavenger hunt was a home for a print I bought from Society6 by a lovely artist called Sandra Poliakov. I didn’t want a dark frame that would be bolder than the colors in the print, and I was hoping for a gold frame that would match the mirror in my living room.

Lo and behold, propped against a wall in my local Goodwill, I saw an antique-looking (probably just tarnished, but I like the look) gold frame with thick, cream-colored matting and a pretty mountainscape painting behind the glass. Eyeing the $7.99 price sticker I triumphantly brought it to the cash register. All it took to use was a quick swipe of glass cleaner, cutting the paper from the back of the frame to free the print (which I donated to my local little free art supply library), and replacing it with my own. One day, maybe I’ll remember to carry a small measuring tape with me to upgrade from simply eyeballing frame dimensions, but luckily the size — and price — were just right.

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