Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saving Money at Thrift Stores

Shopping at thrift stores did not come naturally to me. When my husband and I were dating, he loved looking for what I like to call fashion treasures at consignment and thrift stores. He would be so pleased when he found high quality items in great shape for next to nothing. Eww, was all that came to my mind.

My opinion changed after we held our first yard sale. While I was trying to make a few dollars, I observed the shoppers. Who goes out and buys all this used stuff? As I had more yard sales and did more people watching, I learned a few things. These shoppers were young parents trying to give their little ones nice things while staying within their budgets. There were students getting ready for college and elderly people looking for arts and craft supplies. I also saw collectors and independent shop owners. They seemed more like me than I expected, although I don't know what I really expected. The most striking customesr imaginable were the couple that showed up in a very lovely convertible and purchased a few art pieces and an old candy dish. The lady wore the most exquisite emerald ring I'd ever seen based on all the years I sold fine jewelry.

That is when it hit me: Wealthy people have money because they don't spend it all. They make smart financial decisions. Once I figured that out, I was hooked. I, too, could spend less in some areas so I could spend/save/invest  more in others.  I think being so picky from the beginning helped me make better choices when I shopped second hand.
First, I take my time. Thrift store shopping takes longer because there are no returns. You are stuck with what you buy. I look over housewares carefully searching for any damage or missing pieces. I inspect clothing for stains, working zippers, missing buttons, and name brands. I'm not a brand snob, but I recognize certain brands as being more durable or made with higher quality materials. Before I purchase anything, I mentally make a note of what I can wear the item with. Even, if it's a $4 designer blouse, it is no bargain if it won't go with anything already in my closet. Being a label reader also helps you spot the difference between a pretty teacup and a pretty, Royal Dalton teacup.

Second, I buy with a purpose in mind. I never get something with the idea it's such a great deal I can figure out what to do with it later. That wastes time and money and I can't spare either. Recently, I stopped by the thrift store with the idea of getting a vase. They always have zillions of flower shop-style vases and not all of them are the generic clear ones. I found a cranberry frosted one with very simple, clean lines. Overflowing with grocery store flowers and a free, on-trend ribbon I already had at home tied around the middle made a lovely get well gift. My friend actually asked which florist I used. Score! A gift that looked like it cost $24.99 that really only cost $7. You have to love that!  You should always keep your eyes open for opportune purchases but that should never be your priority.

I also shop with the intent of repurposing an item. I recently found a thin, vertical shelf. I'm not exactly sure what its original use was, However, with some new paint and hanging in my closet, it is my new, space friendly nail polish rack.  That pretty teacup, Royal Dalton or otherwise, could be turned into a scented candle for a hostess gift.  If my intention is to find a soap dish for the bathroom,  you can bet I'll be giving a glancing at all the housewares: shallow candy dishes, single cup saucers, you get the idea. Imagination goes a long way in these kinds of stores.

It's important to know I don't do all my shopping at the thrift store. I still purchase things at other places and I love doing a little online purchasing, too. However, second hand shopping helps me fill in my creative gaps and keep my budget under control. That always comes in handy when I have a ton of neighbors that I want to give a little something to at Christmas. A bargain holiday cookie plate with some homemade snickerdoodles  wrapped in pretty celophane and a darling bow will put a smile on a neighbor's face. I like to think of those purchases as 'embellishments.' The treats are the gift, the container is the embellishment. The recipient ends up getting two gifts and that's never a bad thing.

I am so glad my husband taught me how to treasure hunt. I rarely buy anything but when I do, it's a great deal on a great item. Following these tips keeps me within my budget and without a load of junk I've carted home just because it was cheap. It also feels pretty good to look around and realize I've made some positive additions to my home and wardrobe (and to a friend) for very little impact on my wallet.

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