Thrift store shopping has long been a necessity for those with limited resources, but these days it’s embraced by people of all economic levels. Not only is it a dependable way to save money, but it’s fun. Where else can you find a Liz Claiborne skirt (new, with tags) hanging next to one from Wal-Mart? For the same price. If you have ever enjoyed treasure hunts, it’s time to give thrift store shopping a chance. Here are some tips to get started.
Have a plan but don’t stick to it. Know what items you need. If you need khakis and a jacket, don’t forget to look for them. A plan can make the visit feel less overwhelming. But sticking to a plan at a thrift shop is missing the point. If you have blinders on, how will you notice the Ann Taylor dress or the painting that would look perfect above the piano? One plan to stick to, however, is buying only clothes that fit. Even the best deal on your favorite brand isn’t a good deal if the item will just stay in the closet.
Buy artwork. This sounds like crazy advice, because the most popular genres in thrift stores seem to be Creepy Clowns. But wait. Look at the frames. Even the most laughable painting may be in a perfectly respectable frame. The framed picture at a thrift store will often cost far less than the price of a picture frame at a conventional store. Before you go, take an assessment of photographs and other pictures you’d like to frame. Then bring a tape measure with you to see if any of the frames are the right size. Also, I confess that I have a secret fantasy of finding a lost Van Gogh painting or an original copy of the Declaration of Independence tucked behind a cross-stitched girl with balloon. You never know.
Shop the sales. As if the prices aren’t low enough, many thrift stores have regularly scheduled sales. Many Salvation Army stores have a half-price day, and Goodwill Retail Stores often have a discounted day for senior citizens.
Get new stuff. That’s right. Not everything at thrift stores is used. Retail stores like Target regularly donate unsold goods or products in damaged packaging to thrift stores. Ask the sales clerk if those donations arrive on a particular day of the week.
Think “potential.” If you sew, look at clothes, table cloths, bed sheets and other linens as fabric. A dress in a style you would never wear might be made with a gorgeous fabric that would cost far more to buy in a fabric store. Is that table really beat up- or does it just need to be refinished?
Teach your children well. Bring your kids with you and give them a few dollars. Let them see what they can buy with those few dollars. Give them the same amount in a conventional retail store so they can see the difference. Encourage them to find unusual, funky clothes and to mix and match. This is the biggest money-saving tip of all, because you might end up with a teenager who puts together unique outfits from a thrift store, rather than one who insists on shopping at Hollister or Neiman Marcus.
Bring your camera and have fun. Thrift store shopping doesn’t have to be just about saving money. Take some time to look at the oddities on the knick-knack shelf. I’m not saying you should purchase the pig sitting on the ear of corn or the Buddha piggy bank that talks when you drop in a coin (although I’m not saying you shouldn’t). But take a look and imagine for just a moment the stories behind these objects. Happy hunting!