Thrift Store Shopping Success

Shopping at thrift stores makes good sense.  It diverts waste from the landfill, giving new life to discarded but otherwise perfectly useful objects.  It (usually) saves money with steep markdowns on items comparable to their mall-bought counterparts.  It supports the somewhat subversive idea that we don't need more stuff - and lets companies know (indirectly) that we don't support their excessive manufacturing of the same cheap crap.

So - if it saves money and the environment - why doesn't everyone do it?  

Unfortunately, second-hand shopping can't seem to shake the stigma of being for "poor" people.  
"I can't find anything in that mess!"  
"It smells funny."  
"It's all junk."
(all of the above have come out of my own husbands mouth)

I've said before that my family treats thrift store shopping like an NCAA Division I sport.  If you aren't hitting at least 3 Goodwill, you might as well just stay home.  My most recent thrifting experience with my parents was a smashing success.  I came back to Hawaii with a suitcase full of Ann Taylor cashmere cardigans, JCrew t shirts, Banana Republic dress slacks, and beautiful Ecco shoes.  All this and more for less than half of what I paid for one bra at Victoria's Secret in the Mall of America.     

Here are some tips for getting the most out of second hand stores:

  1. MAKE A LIST!  This will prevent you from feeling completely overwhelmed in the face of all those choices.  The more specific the better.  If your list (like mine) says "lightweight striped sweater" then head straight for your size on the sweater rack and look for stripes.  Having a list eliminates a lot of useless browsing (and many unnecessary purchases).
  2. KNOW THE SALE SCHEDULE!  I wanted to hit Goodwill the moment I got off the plane.  But my mother, being better versed on second-hand Seattle, informed me that it would be wiser to wait until the next day, when certain color tags were on sale.  Major outfits usually post a calendar.  For smaller joints, like the local church shop, ask the volunteers about upcoming sales or special events.
  3. KNOW THE RETURN POLICY!  If you can easily return items, then buying questionable items might not be a big deal.  If there's a no return policy (usually the case with consignment stores) then seriously scrutinize your purchases (and for godsakes, try it on!)
  4. HIT MORE THAN ONE STORE!  You might not find everything on your list at the first store.  But that doesn't mean it's a lost cause.  Don't run to Wal Mart in defeat, try another store, maybe in a different part of town.  Unless you need that item right now, this exercise in delayed gratification will probably do you some good.
  5. BIG CITIES = BIG CHOICES!  As a general rule of thumb, I find it easier to thrift for specific things in larger cities.  I can poke around the stores here on this rather small, underpopulated island with limited success, but am almost guaranteed to score the same elusive item in a mainland metropolis.

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