4 Ways to Improve Your Thrift-Shopping


Guest post from Beck of B-FLAT Christian

Well, it happened to me yet again.

One morning, I breezed into the office to pick up my mail, as I always do. As I thumbed through the envelopes, my colleague said:

“Wow, what a great outfit! Where did you get that dress?” It had a flashy geometric black and white design, and hit me mid-thigh.

“Believe it or not, from Goodwill,” I answered, smiling.

“WHAT? How much was it?” my colleague fired back.

“$4.50.” (I love that part!) I twirled so she could see the front and back of the dress.

“That’s amazing. How about your boots?” (My colleague was clearly astonished.)

“They were $6.50,” I said, trying hard not to sound too smug. “Also from Goodwill.” (They were a velvety-soft black suede with small kitten heels — a real find as I’d seen a similar pair in an expensive catalogue for around $250.)

“That’s it? You mean to tell me that everything you have on cost around $10? Why can’t I find those things at thrift stores when I’m looking?” she asked dejectedly.

This is a question I am asked time and time again.

As an experienced thrift shop shopper (some have even referred to me as “Thrift Queen”), I realize I do have certain strategies for finding great bargains.

If you’re a patient and dogged shopper, just follow these simple secrets to great bargains for next to nothing — including name-brand items.

1. Don’t look for a specific bargain.

That’s right. If you walk into a thrift shop looking specifically for something (a teapot, say), you more than likely won’t find it.

My best acquisitions have been when I have not been looking for anything in particular, and just happened to stumble across the exact thing I never knew I needed!

2. Stop in frequently.

Staff at thrift shops are constantly restocking shelves and shifting around merchandise. I usually check out my thrift shops about once a week to see what might be there.

Many thrift shops have certain items on sale just like normal stores, especially at the end of a season. Think ahead, keeping in mind what you or your family might need in the next few months.

3. Take your time.

If you’re a busy working mother, time is a precious commodity indeed. Any type of shopping takes time, but this is even more an issue when shopping in thrift stores.

Some stores are organized by sizes (I call these “Size Stores”), so you can peruse all of the size 10 womens’ pants. Others are organized by color or type of clothes (I dubbed these “Type Stores”), rather than by size; you can therefore shop for all of the women’s’ jeans, for example, but they will have to look through all of them to find your size.

Focus is necessary in such an endeavor, and is probably best done when you are not in a hurry, or when it’s time for your baby’s nap.

4. Check merchandise carefully.

Most thrift stores have a return policy posted, but it is best to ask the cashier what the store’s policy is before you buy the item. Some stores will grant a complete refund for returned items, while others will grant store credit.

Other stores will not accept refunds at all on personal items, such as bathing suits, intimate apparel, hats, or shoes. Find out before you buy so that you are not disappointed if you can’t return it.

Since most of the items in a thrift store are second hand, check carefully for any tears, scratches, holes, stains, or anything else that needs fixing. If it is an item of clothing you are trying on, look at it closely in the mirror from all sides. Take off the item, and check all of the seams in all hidden places, such as under the arms.

Why buy at a thrift store?

For me, the answer is much deeper than getting a deal or paying a certain price.

Of course, shopping at a second-hand store usually is cheaper than buying new, especially as far as clothes are concerned. Children’s clothes can be outrageously priced, and since my kids are constantly growing out of clothes (or destroying them by falling out of trees, spilling ketchup on them, barfing on them), continually buying new clothes is an expensive endeavor.

It simply makes more sense to buy something slightly used that my child can wear without complaining, “I spent twenty bucks on those pants! I can’t believe he tore out the knees again!”

Another reason to buy at a thrift store is that it helps the environment by recycling. Instead of throwing furniture, clothes, curtains, or housewares into a landfill, donate them to a local thrift shop.

Making any type of donation to a charity is tax-deductible, so ask for a receipt from a staff member, and when it’s time to do your tax return, make it part of the receipts you have saved throughout the year. You get extra space in your closet or attic, while the store makes money by selling your items.

Even more importantly, most thrift stores use their profits to benefit a certain organization. The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries International, and the Humane Society have respect and recognition throughout the United States and the world. I love knowing that what I’m buying contributes to a cause.

I leave the store knowing I’ve helped others in my community who are in need of assistance, whether it goes toward getting a dog spayed, or helps provide someone a way out of poverty or addiction.

Finally, getting a good deal can be uplifting — and FUN! Searching through racks of clothes and finding just the right item has become almost a game for me.

Many times, I leave empty-handed. That’s fine, because I know I’ll be back again, and I’ll find the perfect coat, sweater, pajamas, mixing bowl, or end table.

Beck Lister is an associate professor of music at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA, where she teaches voice lessons, vocal literature, vocal pedagogy, and diction. In her spare time, she is a chauffeur for her two teenagers, is a dedicated Thrift Shopper, and blogs about the joys of being an ordinary Christian at B-FLAT Christian

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