Saturday, January 11, 2014

To Thrift or Not To Thrift?

As anyone who knows me in real life can tell you, I am the biggest cheapskate alive. Besides the fact that I am super poor (thank you, student loans!), I was raised in a very thrifty, money-conscious family. My mom is a consignment queen and raised my sister and I to be equally as thrifty. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this is not always a good thing—I cannot justify buying anything full price and frequently scour the internet to find my shiz on the cheap.

Especially since I moved out of my parents house and into my own apartment, my thrifting has gotten a little out of hand. I kind of have to cut myself off from going to the thrift store since I ALWAYS buy at least two or three things EVERY SINGLE TIME I walk through the door.

I may have the fashion sense of a bridge-dwelling troll, but I like to think I’m able to put together some cute thrifted outfits. People are usually surprised by the quality of things I find at thrift stores, since they seem to have a reputation for being too second-hand for anybody who can afford not to shop there. Furthermore, my apartment is furnished at least 75% with thrift store finds.

Records, placemats, seat cushions, basket, and book all from Savers

My favorite spots:

1.     Savers. Hands down my favorite thrift store. If you can handle the occasional pee spot in the dressing room and crabby employees, Savers on Lake Street is the place to be. On Monday, you save 25% with a Savers Club Card and 20% on Tuesday with a student ID. Seniors also save. The vast majority of my thrifting gold comes from Savers.

2.     Arc’s Value Village. Not only does this store benefit a good cause (ARC), they always seem to have high quality brands and items in good condition. They also have 50% off on certain color tags most days of the week.

3.     Goodwill. There are several Goodwills in my area, and I have to say, they are pretty hit or miss. The closest Goodwill to me is very small and has limited inventory. I find that if I go to Goodwill, I often leave empty-handed (not necessarily a bad thing).

Last weekend's success. New TV stand. A few nicks but in great shape and I'm too poor to care about a couple small scratches

There are some things that I never buy at a thrift store, and some things I only buy if they are new/still have tags on it. If you buy these things second-hand, I don’t judge you, it’s just my personal preference to buy these things new.

-Cookware without matching lid

-Bathroom accessories (think soap dispensers)
-Athletic shorts (CHECK THE CROTCH. Gross but necessary. Lots of ladies don’t wear undies when they work out)

I thought I’d share some of my thrifting rules, since I’ve discovered that there are certain tricks-of-the-trade that have given me the ability to spot a good product and determine if it’s worth it or not.

1.     Go often.

Although this may seem bad for the pocketbook, and sometimes it is, this is the only way I have any thrifting success. I have several friends who go to the thrift store once because they see my success, but they don’t find anything good on the first try and never want to go back. Part of the reason that I go so often is because I have a better chance at scooping up the Patagonia vest or Nine West heels if I go a few times per month. You also pick up on some of the trends of your thrift store of choice if you go more frequently, and then can plan on certain days where they have good deals. For example, I really only go to Savers on Mondays since I get 25% off everything. Also, many thrift stores have some kind of punch card deal, so the more you shop, the more you save. 

2.     Watch for high-quality brands.

Figure out what brands you like or which high-quality brands show up frequently, and be prepared to pounce. The brands I always squeal internally for include: The Northface, Patagonia, Nike, Gap, Loft, Steve Madden, Lucy, Lululemon, Ann Taylor, Nine West, Frye (I wish) etc. I think I have found something from all of these brands at the thrift store in the last few years (except a pair of Frye boots…the ultimate find). I find a lot of Target and Old Navy brand things as well, which if they are not too worn, can become wardrobe staples.

3.     Only buy it if it fits you.

Seems obvious, but if I had a dollar for every time I bought something cute that I LOVED that didn’t fit me right or at all, I could afford to buy my own thrift store. Especially with second-hand clothing, make sure it fits you NOW, as you are, since it is unlikely it will magically change shape in the wash. Since you are likely to justify many thrift store purchases with, “but it’s SO cheap!” keep yourself in check with fit.

4.     Smell everything, especially furniture.

Unfortunate but necessary. Give everything a good sniff before you buy it. I bought a super cute sweater dress a few weeks ago and forgot to smell the pits. They reek of B.O., and now I face the epic dilemma of every girl (or maybe just me?): look cute and smell, or pitch the dress and be sad about lack of cuteness? Especially with furniture, you want to make sure it doesn’t smell of animal pee, people pee, or any other disgusting scent. Some things may smell a little just because they are in a store and once you wash them, it will be fine, but if it smells rank, skip it.

5.     Weigh options on refinishing or mending.

I’ve had some success with refinishing and mending items myself, since the cost of my labor still outweighs paying full price for an item. A little paint goes a long way to make something look brand new, and a simple needle and thread can sew a new button onto an otherwise mint jacket. But there are some things that are not worth spending the time or money to save a few bucks. Think about your time and supplies and decide if something is worth it. Again, this is hard since most things are SO CHEAP, but don’t buy a piece of furniture you can’t stand the color of but would take hours to fix up to your liking. Don’t buy anything with a hole in it, but if you know how to dart things, you might be able to tailor loose clothes to your body for no more than a few minutes and a little thread. But remember that some things are just not worth saving $20 for.

$5 shelf. $4 can of varnish. Two coats and a couple hours. Thrifting gold right hurrrr.

6.     Have a list of “wants” that you check for every time you go.

I have a mental list of things I am looking for, and I recommend you start with a written list you keep in your purse. Every time you go to a thrift store, quickly scan for these items and eventually, you will probably come across them. My current list includes: a tall, narrow shelf for my kitchen, a pair of short black boots, The Princess Diaries on DVD (damn straight, Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews!), a non-B.O. smelling sweater dress, several books, Gap 1969 “Always Skinny” or “Real Straight” jeans in size 8 or 10 depending on fit, and a large skillet WITH a lid that fits (no small task on this last one). By checking each time, I am confident that I will find all of these things eventually.

7.     Check everything thoroughly before you buy it.

I already talked about smelling things, but make sure you do a good visual scan of everything before you commit to it. Check all DVDs for scratches. Check books and make sure that there isn’t highlighting or underlining or ripped pages. Check the pockets of everything you buy (I once found a $10 dollar bill!). Check the armpits and hemlines of garments for holes. Look long and hard for stains (9 times out of 10 you will NOT be able to get a stain out of something you buy from the thrift store). Put BOTH shoes on and walk around a little, and double check that they are the same shoe. Open all drawers, doors, or compartments of furniture. Sit on everything, and all cushions if buying a couch or love seat. Find an outlet and test all electronics. Check all pockets of purses or bags. You get the idea.

Thrift happy, loves.