By Allison Martin
I was introduced to the art of thrifting a few years back when I was going through a rough patch and desperately needed attire for an interview. I had frowned at the thought of shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army or any other secondhand store. They were loaded with cheapskates, dusty fixtures and outdated clothing and smelled weird, or so I thought.
To my surprise, the first Goodwill I visited was massive and chockfull of irresistible deals. I landed a designer suit, blouse and accessories for around $15. (And the place had a pleasant aroma). After that initial visit, I was hooked and decided to explore similar establishments for deals. If you've never shopped secondhand, or not for a long time, here's what you're missing:
1. High-End Apparel for Less
The economy has improved, but many consumers who felt the pinch during the recession got a poignant lesson in frugality, and some also learned the allure of thrift store shopping.
Time put it this way: "Shoppers today, it seems, are reaping the benefits of years of overconsumption. The donations delivered to thrift stores often come directly from the overstuffed closets of the rich, or at least people who once shopped like they were rich -- and who barely wore the clothes before passing them on to the secondhand market."
I've witnessed this first hand with family members who spent thousands on designer items, only to consign them for a measly fraction of the purchase price or just give them away. This turns out to be great news for shoppers like me.
Quality has improved at thrift stores, too. Most don't try to sell every donation they take in. Instead, teams of volunteers or employees inspect incoming items to determine which are fit for sale. In most instances, the dregs are returned to the donor or passed on to another charitable organization.
It is not likely that you will find a Picasso worth millions at the thrift store. Expert treasure hunters scour these stores, estate sales and rummage sales, and they will get there first. You are likely to find used, but high-quality items that are going to serve you better and longer than cheap new things. That cheap new blouse may be stunning on the hanger, but one wear and wash will be enough to send it to the nearest trash bin.
An added bonus: You won't have to worry about pushy salespeople hovering over you, encouraging you to buy items you don't need just to fatten their commission.
2. Funky Fashion
Have you ever spotted a spunky item you'd like to try, but you have reservations because of the price? Well, thrift stores offer this option, minus the buyer's remorse. If it turns out that the colorful dress, oversized pair of earrings or leather purse no longer tickles your fancy, you won't be stressed out about it if you only spent a few bucks. (Of course, you can probably return the item, if you don't mind the hassle.)
Or you may discover you just landed a treasure. An former coworker was in desperate need of collared shirts for work, so he picked up a few from the Salvation Army. One of them happened to stand out because it was extremely bright. Upon further examination, we discovered it was a Lacoste shirt worth $70, and he got it for $1.75.
3. A Lot of Children's Stuff
Children grow way too fast! I wish I'd listened to the countless warnings during my first pregnancy so I wouldn't have spent so much on items my son didn't even use. The second time around, I didn't let history repeat itself. The bulk of little brother's apparel is either handed down from big brother or from the thrift store. We happen to live close to consignment shop that hosts $1 days twice a month, and it's not uncommon to spot designer labels, from Calvin Klein to Polo, on the racks. Toys are also included in that promotion, many of which are very gently used.
And have you seen the price of sneakers lately? Outrageous, considering they probably won't be around very long if your children grow like most. It doesn't help that I happen to have two boys that are very rough on shoes, so unless I have the chance to make it to the clearance centers, I also shop secondhand for those.
If you're searching for cleats or other athletic apparel, look out for those as well or try secondhand sporting goods stores. I've been able to save as much as 75 percent on athletic gear and equipment by buying used.
4. Home Goods Heaven
I'm not too fond of interior decorating. In fact, I pretty much stink at it, but I always notice a surplus of wall art, curtains, rugs and household fixtures, to name a few, when shopping. So if you desire to decorate your home in a way that stands out (and doesn't look like a spread from the furniture store's weekly circular), here's your chance. Best of all, you won't empty your wallet.
Along with the decorative items, thrift stores also sell high-end bedding, kitchen utensils and furniture. On a few occasions, I've purchased Pampered chef pans for pennies on the dollar. But my most memorable purchase from the Goodwill was my luxurious leather office chair for $30. The suggested retail price is $495.
Secondhand stores are here to stay, so stop throwing away your hard-earned cash and join the movement of fashionable, but frugal consumers. An important tip: Set a budget before you go. Even at a thrift store it is possible to overdo it, and it is tempting. So if you decide on $25, leave the plastic at home and only carry that amount of cash to the store. Once you've reached your limit, promptly head to the checkout counter. No exceptions.
What treasures have you landed by thrifting? Please share in the comments below or on the Money Talks News Facebook page.