Making Sense (and cents) of Thrift Shopping

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I love finding a great deal on something I need (or want)! I get real pleasure wearing an outfit that looks and feels great and not feeling “guilty” about it because it cost $10 instead of $50 or more! I think that even if we were millionaires, I’d still be hitting the thrift stores and derive a greater thrill from a bargain” find” than shopping at “exclusive” stores. (Of course that’s never going to be a decision I have to make! ha!)

The “thrill of the bargain” aside, if you’re not accustomed to shopping in these types of stores, it can seem overwhelming and even disappointing if you don’t find that “great deal” the first time you go. It can take some time and patience but you can also have an amazing wardrobe or find a fabulous household something for next to nothing.

Here are some tips to help make your shopping experiences better–and I say “experiences” because once you snag your first really great bargain, you’re going to get hooked and keep going back!

  • GO WITH A LIST BUT BE OPEN-MINDED - As with any shopping outing, you should have a purpose or reason that you’re shopping. What are you looking for? If you’re simply tossing stuff in your basket because it’s a “good price” and you take it home and never use it… IT’S NOT A BARGAIN. But if you see something that’s not on your list and you don’t really need it but you KNOW it would look great in your home or on you, well of course snatch it up (…and fast).

  • LOOK FOR QUALITY BRANDS (BUT DON’T IGNORE BRANDS YOU DON’T KNOW) - In any store that carries more than one brand, you know that there are some brands and labels that you just associate with quality and know will last. This still holds true at thrift stores. You can find high quality items that (seriously) cost a fraction of the original cost. If I see a sweater with a J Crew label I get excited (if it’s marked down enough) because I know it’s going to wear well. On the other hand, I’ve bought many clothes with labels I’ve never heard of and they have proven to be just as durable and enjoyable. And if the item isn’t in good shape or will require a large amount of money to fix, it really doesn’t matter what the label says…it’s not worth it if it ends up costing you more than you would have paid for new. (The other day I bought a leather purse that looked new and was as soft as butter. I didn’t recognize the label, but I did recognize the quality and how soft it was. I came home and looked the label up and saw that a purse similar to the one I just bought with a retail price of $80-$125…I paid $1.87! I was THRILLED, especially since I personally would never spend $80 for a purse regardless of who made it or what it was made of).

  • ALWAYS EXAMINE THE ITEM CLOSELY - If it’s clothes you’re buying, check for stains, rips, frayed cuffs or collars. If it’s already looking a little worn, pass on it. (Unless it’s something you KNOW you can fix for cheap AND that you’ll actually get around to fixing it). If it’s dishes, look for cracks, chips and stains. If you’re buying toys make sure it’s age-appropriate and something you can disinfect and clean (don’t buy stuffed animals you can’t throw in the washer). I carry a couple of batteries with me when I’m looking for toys for grandchildren because a lot of times the batteries in the toy doesn’t work but the toy does-if the new batteries still don’t turn something on, pass. Make sure you know the store’s policy on buying electronics and see if you can plug it in before you buy it to test it out.

  • TRY CLOTHES ON - You really need to try the clothes on because you can’t go by the size on the label. First of all not all sizes run the same, and second, you don’t know how the item was originally washed. I’ve seen clothes marked size 14 that a size 2 couldn’t fit into because it was washed and dried instead of dry-cleaned. The stores do have return policies where you can bring something back but it’s a fairly short time frame. If you have a busy schedule chances are you might not find the time to get back during that time… and now what are you going to do with it?

  • GET TO KNOW EACH STORE’S “SALE DAYS” - Many stores offer deeper discounts on certain days and some have discounts for senior citizens and military. Typically the longer an item is in the store, the lower the price will go. I got so obsessed with wanting the absolute best price I’ve passed on dresses I loved and cost a whopping $5.00 because if I waited, I might get it for $2.50! And there’s been many times I didn’t get the dress (or whatever) because it sold. So now, if it’s something I really want I’ll buy it right then. If it’s something I like but could live without, I’ll wait and see if it goes down before it sells.

  • THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX - I’ve purchased so many items that I end up using for a different purpose than what they’re made intended for. I bought a 2′ candle holder that we actually keep in the bathroom and put extra toilet paper rolls on (it works really well for the space I was working with). We have vases I use as candle holders, serving platters I use for jewelry holders, and one of my favorites-a magazine holder I use for storing my earrings.

  • GO OFTEN AND TAKE CASH - The more you visit a thrift store, the better feel you’ll get for how that store operates and the merchandise they tend to carry (and the better “finds” you might make since the merchandise changes so often). I suggest you leave the debit and credit cards at home if you’re on a budget because everything is priced so low, you might end up buying more than you should!

  • WASH AND STERILIZE EVERYTHING YOU BUY - You never know where something has been stored and for how long. Never buy a toy and give it to your child without cleaning it first. Don’t wear clothing without washing it first. Use common sense and clean everything. For toys that don’t contain batteries or baseball caps or any “household” object that won’t be ruined by water, run through the dishwasher. You can also make a mixture of bleach and water to clean something, or simply spray it down with Lysol.

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