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When You’re a Thrifter, Repairing Can Cost More Than Replacing

My two children were very fortunate to receive (used) cross-country skis, boots and poles from their aunt and uncle for Christmas. They had never tried cross-country skiing but quickly fell in love with the sport. My daughter loved it so much that she spent hour-after-hour skiing in circles around our house. She also went on a couple of cross-country outings at a local park. Sadly, on her most recent adventure, the bottom of her ski boot separated from the top. She was so disappointed and wanted to run right out and buy a new pair of ski boots.

Why pay retail? Bargain ski boots.

Um, no, I told her. It’s just not as fun to plunk down lots of money when I knew I could find what she needed for much less. Plus, new cross country ski boots cost anywhere between $55 and $155.

After consulting some skiers, I decided repairing the boots was not an acceptable long-term option since they were likely to come apart again once wet. So I proceeded with my usual Plan B – look for them at thrift shops. Surprisingly, luck was on my side. In a matter of days, I had a found an exact replica of my daughter’s ski boots – in fact, ones that fit better – for a grand total of $.99. I even found a second pair a couple of weeks later, which I set aside in case we need them next season.

I doubt I could have found a container of Crazy Glue for as little as $.99. Sometimes it makes more sense to replace an item with another used item than to try repairing it.

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Bag Day Bounty

The contents of one single thrift store bag on Bag Day.

My favorite thrift store recently introduced a new promotion – bag days. Every Monday, shoppers can buy a large plastic bag – about the size of a tall kitchen garbage bag – for $7.00 and put as many pieces of clothing and linens as they can fit in it. They’ve been holding bag days for a few weeks now and I hadn’t gone because I wasn’t convinced that was a good deal. Clothes at the store are normally $.50 each, so I’d need to fit at least 14 items to break even. But I decided it was worth checking into, as a sort of shopping experiment.

I spent about 90 minutes in the store, sifting through the mounds of unsorted clothes, and was able to find some cute outfits. I wasn’t keeping close count as I tightly rolled and placed each item in the bag, but I was pretty sure when my bag was half full that I had at least 14 items in there. So I continued.

Only when I got home was I able to count up my haul and determine if it was a good deal. Yeah, it was a very good deal. I got 36 items for $7.00. Among the finds are a pair of linen Chico’s pants, several Gymboree shorts, shirts and capris, an Orvis knit top, three wool sweaters, a Fresh Produce ruffled top, two linen girls dresses and an American Eagle sweatshirt in perfect condition.

I may have to add Bag Day to my calendar on a more regular basis!

Best Use of 10 Minutes

If you’re like me, whenever you have a few extra minutes and are in the vicinity of a thrift store, you go in to snoop around. Well, today I happened to have 10 minutes to spare in between appointments and was passing by one of our local Volunteers of America thrift stores. Somehow I knew it would be worth my while.

I always make note of the 50% off color-of-the-week, which this week is pink. Everything with a red tag is $.99. I hoped I might stumble on some hidden gems with red tags.

I found a white Dolce & Gabbana button down shirt with a red tag and a wool multicolored Gap sweater, also with a red tag, total cost for those – $1.98 – but the shoes really caught my eye. I found a couple pair – one for $3.99, one for $6.99 and a pair of Pradas for $15.99. That’s usually more than I spend on previously owned shoes, but, heck, they were Prada.

My score of the week, and it's only Monday!

So imagine my surprise when the cashier charged me just $.99 for them. I gave her a questioning look and she explained that they had last week’s $.99 color tag (orange), so she gave them to me for $.99 “to be nice.” Remind me to shop there on Monday afternoon again.

TIP: Similar Brands are Often Found Together

Some thrift shops are very well organized, even down to size and color matching, as one of our local Goodwill stores is. While this level of organization can speed your hunt for bargains, it also disperses groups of similar items. I’ve discovered this can be counterproductive.

Let me explain:

The thrift shop I frequent is on the much-less-organized end of the retail spectrum. Shoppers have to dig through piles and sort through whatever pants, shirts, dresses, socks, sweaters and coats have been lumped together on each table. Although the digging does take time, I’ve found a phenomenon I call “the vein” – as in a vein of gold that miners often hit when digging through hard rock.

When I’m thrifting, I’m generally looking for upscale housewares and clothing, which is gold to me. So when I’m sifting through mounds of clothing and find a brand I like, I will dig deeper in that same area because I am more likely to find something else from that brand in the same spot. It’s as if the people placing the clothing put similar brands together. So if I pull out a Tahari jacket, the skirt is likely nearby. Or a Janie and Jack outfit will generally point me to other Janie and Jack duds.

During my last shopping outing, I hit the mother lode of Abercrombie & Fitch shirts. I’ve never found so many at one time, but on this trip, I think I pulled out at least a dozen, all in one spot.

These are just 7 of the Abercrombie shirts I found on one thrift shop table.

So my tip for today is that when you find an item you love, continue looking in that same spot, rather than heading to another area of the store. I hope you strike gold, too!

TIP: The Best Shopping Days are Upon Us

From now until late February, thrift shops will be flush with merchandise. As consumers spend the last few days of the year cleaning out their closets in search of tax deductions, you will likely have the best selection in the next few weeks than at any other time of year. The more people donate, the fuller the shelves and racks become in your favorite thrift shops. The more the racks overflow, the better the shopping for you and me.

In addition to everyday items like clothing and household goods, you will probably see an abundance of holiday decor, toys and furniture, as folks make space for the gifts they received (or bought for themselves) during the most recent holiday season. So if you have the storage space, stock up on seasonal items you can use next year, as well as special items you can tuck away and give as gifts.

 

TIP: Look beyond original function

Pottery Barn's glass dome inspired me

A couple of years ago, I spotted a glass dome in a Pottery Barn catalog and fell in love. The particular one I saw was filled with colorful ornaments. It was very simple and elegant, I thought. So I began hunting for a similar dome or two.

This holiday season, I really ramped up my search and even contemplated paying $29 for a beautifully-shaped apothecary jar, which I planned to fill with ornaments. But something held me back. It wasn’t exactly the dome I was after, so I kept looking.

My $.99 dome

Then yesterday, at my favorite thrift store, there on the shelves were two cheese domes, complete with wooden bases, for $.99 and $.69 (not sure why they were different prices).

I didn’t really want the base, but I loved the round glass shapes and brought them home and cleaned them up.

Both now sit on my dining room table, full of gold ornaments, for a total of $1.68 plus tax.

My bargain cheese dome, filled with ornaments

TIP: Great Wrapping Idea

This Parents magazine idea for gift wrapping is terrific for thrifters.

Parents magazine sent out a link to an article on “23 Clever Wrapping Ideas” today and one idea, in particular, caught my eye.  Nearly all of the suggestions were crafty and cute but one stood out as the perfect wrapper for a devoted thrift shopper like myself.

The Santa’s belt concept is high impact, easy to implement and inexpensive. Use red wrapping paper around your package, or really any color, and then strap a leather belt around it as your trim.

I’m headed out tomorrow to grab as many leather belts I can find, given that they are usually in the 10-cent price range and I still have a bunch of gifts to wrap. Certainly much cheaper than grosgrain or wire ribbon!


Pay pennies for new-to-you clothing and housewares

Imagine being able to buy pricey, but gently used, name brand outfits for your kids from Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister or North Face for a small fraction of what they cost new. You'll even spot furniture, silver and glassware for your home for less than a meal out. Or find something for yourself from Chico’s, J. Jill or Lilly Pulitzer and pay for it with the change from the bottom of your purse. Those are the kinds of deals to be had at thrift shops.

If you get a thrill from finding fabulous deals at thrift shops, consignment stores, and resale outlets, I hope you’ll visit this site often. You’ll pick up proven tips for saving even more on your thrift shop purchases, find the latest thrift shop news and information, learn about items you might not have thought to search for in thrift stores and get a look at photos of my best thrifty bargains.

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