How do I clothe four children (and us) on a modest, single income, as well as decorate my house in vintage, eclectic style, keep a well-stocked craft room and wood shop, and give unique, interesting gifts to family and friends? I'll tell you my secret: thrift shops! Used clothing, consignment and antique shops offer a treasure trove of bargains for the savvy shopper, but they can also be overwhelming or a clutter-collector's temptation. Let me share a thrift-lover's shopping secrets with you.
1. Shop Often, Buy Seldom
The transient nature of thrift store inventory means that you need to stop in to look for new items every so often. I have found that every month or so works well. I look for items that I did not notice last time, or things that look like a really good deal. I like to go when I have some time to browse, as the new items don't immediately jump out, and it's easy to miss things among the general items.
2. Keep Your List Specific, but Flexible.
I often look for children's clothing or household supplies, so I definitely go there with something in mind. I don't want to come away with $40 of stuff I don't need, as that steals all the benefit of thrifting! So, I go in with certain things that I plan to get. Still, I keep an eye open for something I might buy soon anyway, such as fabric or craft supplies, or gift items. I never know what I'll find, which is part of the fun!
3. Thrift First, Then Shop
There is an item I can almost never find in thrift stores: little boys' jeans. I think little boys in general wear out their jeans to the point that they never make it to a second owner via thrift stores. So my rule of filling in my shopping list is to look at thrift stores first, then shop elsewhere. For instance, if I am looking for summer clothes in the next size, I check the local thrift stores (many in my town are within walking distance, even) and get what I can there. I also keep an eye out for the next season's clothes and sizes. What I can't find, I then go buy new at a discount store. Last of all, I'll buy a few nice, new things for each kid, so they have some “good clothes” to round out their wardrobes. Sometimes, they are more excited about the thrift-store clothes than the new ones!
4. If It Won't Be There Next Week…?
There are times when an item looks like a fantastic deal, or it's something I've always wanted (Tiffany Lamps, anyone?) or there is some other reason I have my eye on something, but can't decide if I should get it. I vacillate between buyer's remorse and kicking myself for not getting something I wish I had. My test has become this: “If it won't be there next week, will I be sad or relieved?” As in… if I wait to buy it in order to think about it some more, and someone else snatches it up, will I be sad or will I not really care? Answering this question helps me determine whether I should get the antique treadle sewing machine, or the pair of vintage ski poles that look like an superb deal.
5. Give Back
Most thrift stores help the community, but they depend on donations to maintain their inventory. One of my favorite thrift stores in town, run by local churches, also helps unemployed community members get back on their feet, runs a food program and assists needy mothers and children. Donating our own used clothes, toys, household items, books and other items helps this store to continue giving back to our community, as well as de-cluttering my own house! It's a win-win, if you ask me.
They also welcome individual expertise. I happen to know something about musical instruments, so I was able to tell a local shop about a lovely wooden clarinet that had been donated. Most shops are grateful for information about antiques, collectibles, or even local history or curiosity items. I enjoy chatting with the employees, who often have interesting stories about the items in their shops.
Thrifting is a great way to stretch your dollar, or experience the adventure of finding treasure. Do you visit your local thrift stores? Share your own interesting finds or shopping tips in the comment section.