Monday, April 20, 2009

Money Monday: April 20, 2009

We are having a small heat wave out here right now, which has brought Denizen attire into sharper focus. They are, each and every one of them, going to need new clothes pretty soon – the shirts that still fit them are mostly winter-ish, and they’ve all undergone growth spurts that have them up a pant size or two.

Now, I know I’m repeating myself a bit here, BUT…two words, people: Thrift Store.

There’s been a lot of press about thrift stores lately, and I have to be honest: I’m not impressed with the stories they’re telling.

One that particularly stuck with me showcased an admittedly adorable stick-thin little thang prancing around looking ever-so-spiffy. The delighted ‘recessionista’ announced that the whole look had only cost $85 at the thrift store!

Jeans not included.

Because those were “recycled” from her closet.

Oh, and so were the boots.

But the shirt and the pea-coat jacket? Total. Goodwill. Scores.


That shirt and jacket almost cost them more than I generally spend in three months on clothes for all four of my kids – the vast majority of that buying being done at thrift stores.

There are lots of perfectly good things at the thrift store. Sometimes people think thrift store automatically means ‘threadbare’ or ‘scruffy,’ but it just isn’t so. Sure, if you walk through and just grab stuff at random you’ll probably end up with a few things that are more than a bit worn out, but you’ll also find new (still with tags attached, even) or nearly new things that somebody outgrew almost without wearing.

Especially with the kids clothes. I’ve had teachers ask me about some of the dresses the girls wear to school, because they seem “too nice” for playgrounds and art projects. And they are too nice for every-day wear, which is why some other parent let their daughter wear it one (1) time, and then put it into the back of the closet until she outgrew it, then donated it to Goodwill, where I swooped in on it for between $1.50 and $3.00.

At three bucks, eh, let the kid wear it to school. At fifty bucks? Not so much.

If you’ve never done the thrift store thing, let me share a couple tips with you.

The first thing is, bring a sense of adventure with you. The thrift store is probably not going to be neatly organized by size (and if it is, double check their prices against other thrifts in your area – frequently [but not always!] the very-organized stores are more expensive than their faster-moving counterparts), which is going to mean that you’re going to spend a lot of time flipping through the racks looking for what you need.

If you can look at it as a treasure hunt rather than a pain in the butt, you’ll be a much happier shopper.

Wearing comfortable shoes helps, too.

Grab a measuring tape and measure your family members; note it down and bring the notes and the measuring tape with you to the stores. Occasionally, items will have shrunk in the wash or been altered to fit their previous owners – just because the tag says “Size Seven” doesn’t mean it will actually fit your seven year old.

Most thrift stores have a very simple, two-letter return policy: “NO.” So it is up to you to make sure things fit, that the zippers work, the buttons are all present and accounted for, the hems haven’t fallen out and so forth and so on.

I try to avoid buying things I know need repairs. Let’s face it, I’m probably not going to get around to it, and if the Most Adorable Little Girl Sundress Ev-Ah™ sits in my mending basket for three years, it isn’t going to fit anybody in this house by the time I get around to replacing the missing buttons up the back.

That said, sometimes, you can get a discount on defective items – so if you’re cunning with needle and thread or a stain-removing wizard, you can point out the problems and see if you can get the item for even less. I’ve had better luck with that at the smaller, local stores than the big national chains.

Each thrift store will have its own personality, its own point of excellence. Our local Goodwill is the best place for daily-wear children’s things, with a vast selection of decent play clothes and really good prices. If I need something fancier, I generally find it at the hospice thrift store – which is a tad more expensive than Goodwill but has far better quality control and frequent ‘yellow tag 50% off’ days.

Their children’s section is sparse, partly because their stuff is higher quality – fewer missing buttons, stains and almost-worn-out knees.

And if I need something oddball-ish, like a new-to-me rake or a new rack for my toaster oven (don’t ask) or perhaps a hubcap for a 1956 VW…there’s a thrift store on the outskirts of town that has me covered. They’ve got precisely nada for clothes, but whenever I find myself thinking I need to go to Home Depot for a tool, checking them first will probably save some serious green.

It’s a fun place to poke around…which leads me to my final thrift store tip. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Thrift stores have a way of sucking you into buying things you’d never have bought otherwise, except that it was only a dollar or two. The prices can be so dizzyingly low that you find yourself saying things like, “So what if it doesn’t fit, it’s so cute!” or “I know just where I’ll put this adorable little angel statue!” or “I’ll take all three hundred of them!!”

You have to keep your wits about you, remember what you’re there for, and resist the temptation to lug home a whack of stuff you don’t need or even want.

The payoff, though, can be impressive. Their $85 for a single look really can provide all the Denizen clothing for an entire season, for all four growing, messy, knee-wearing-out and holy-mackerel-what-happened-here?! kids.

That’s money I can put somewhere else, which to me is worth doing even when the old cash flow isn’t painfully tight.


Louiz said...

As well as thrift shops, I have another way of getting clothes that are (mostly) free - my friend has a daughter a few years older than mine. She gives me the clothes she has bought (she works for a well known clothes store company and gets an amazing staff discount). My daughter wears some, some don't fit and some needs to be altered to be wearable again. Once my daugher grows out I pass it onto my sister who has a little girl a few years younger than mine, adding the things I've bought.

This is how my parents and their friends clothed us and furnitured us (if such a word exists) and splashing out for an expensive dress is not so expensive after the everyday things have been essentially free.

Anonymous said...

Thrift stores rock! I recently got Lee and Docker pants for $3.50! Also a great place to go when your child needs a "fancy" dress for her part in the play.

JanTink said...

I have been taking my girls to "Plato's Closet" which is a national chain consignment store for teens. It costs a bit more than standard thrift stores, but since the clothing is "cool" it still saves a ton of green.

I have also been chuckling over the series "$15 Dollar Dinners!" on Good Morning America. This morning, they were out there at the local fresh air market buying their ingredients. They were really proud of themselves for buying a pound of beans and dickering the vendor down from $5 to $3. $3 for a pound of beans?!?!? I can get them for 99 cents! ANd they were so proud of themselves for how much money they saved! For the $15 they spent there, I could have gotten a lot more groceries at the local Aldi. Just goes to show how out of touch people in the media can be!

Cimorine said...

ooooooo. bewaaaaaare. bewAAAAAAAAAAre! I am the ghost of a goodwill worker, dooooooomed to warn those against goodwill. oooooooooooooo.

seriously though, Goodwill is not as good as it seems. someday, I'm going to make a big court case. I'm not sure how good the goodwills in your area are, but in the Portland area, they suck. They all smell like burnt hair, they don't treat their workers with respect, and I SWEAR a mentally confirmed idiot is running the company. I'm a thrift store shopper myself, happily dedicated to Value Village. beware goodwill. Bewaaaaaare. BewAAAAAAAAAre! you've been warned.

Jeanne said...

I've shopped Goodwill before, and I've shopped Gabe's and TJ Maxx. What I can get at the latter two for $85 blows away the girl's thrift store "finds". Example: I spent $25 and got five pairs of NICE pants, all suitable for work or casual days. New.

Hey, I'm a seamstress. Email me and I'll send you my address. You can mail the sundress to me and I'll sew the buttons on for you—free of charge.

Tola said...

amen Sister Thrifter!

Science PhD Mom said...

Hand me downs are my favorite, hands down! Children's consignment stores are good, too.

RobinH said...

Absolutely. Thrift stores rule! My clothes are still mainly handmedown or thrift store finds.

And if you've got a local freecycle group, you might find some good stuff there too- I see tons of kid clothes and other kid-items going by on mine.

One has to beware the urge to grab something just because it's there, but if you can stick to things you would otherwise have had to spend money on, it's great.

Also if you've got stuff that isn't worth the time and effort to hold a yard sale, you can post it and have people who can use it show up at your house and take it away.

Rena said...

Will you please stop telling people how wonderful Thrift Stores are! I've been shopping at Goodwill for thirty years and now I'm having to fist-to-cuff other moms to get good kid stuff! LOL

cari said...

My favorite Goodwill has had pretty slim pickins since the economy tanked. I don't know if it's that more people are shopping there, or if people are donating less, hanging on to things longer? Either way, my scores have been fewer and farther between in recent months. Good thing garage sale season is nearly upon us.