Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thrift Store Tips #2: Designing a thrift store routine

Have a good understanding of what can be found at the thrift store. It's More than just mustard stained-t-shirts! The more you thrift the better understanding you will have as to what to Keep and what to sweep. Also there are Items that are wise to have on hand in the home when shopping thrift stores.

Successful thrift store shopping involves a routine. Like so many things in life, pay dirt is not usually struck on the first dig. Thrift stores are designed to quickly move inventory and they are very good at it. The trick is to go often.

Visit Goodwill, Association for Retarded Citizens, Disabled American Veterans; Salvation Army; or The Society of St. Vincent de Paul web sites to view store pages. There are other smaller thrift stores run by hospitals that can be found in your area with TheThriftShopper
.com. Odds are that several stores will be within the radius of your life. For example, there is a store by: the grocery store I shop; my daughter’s swim practice; my bank; and two are a few blocks from my home. One is by my favorite plant nursery and another by a movie theater we sometimes visit. So, I visit several weekly. Others may see me every other week or once a month.

I highly recommend shopping at charitable stores where the purchase of a repurposed item poetically sends profits to repurpose lives. But, thrift is thrift and whether it be from a non-profit store or a private store. It is a fantastic way to lower one's personal carbon footprint as I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, Green Shopping, Don't say 'eww' to thrift stores.

When in the vicinity of one, stop in for a 10-minute sweep. You may come out of the store with the mother load. You may come out empty handed. Make it a routine and I promise it will balance out.

As with many things, you may develop a favorite store. That’s fine. But, keep going to all stores in your routine. Treasure can pop up in the most unsuspecting locations and your favorite store may change. Throughout my thrifting adventures, I tried to figure if there is a better day to hit the stores. I can’t say there is. Don’t worry about the day, just go. And, if you're twice in the vicinity of a certain thrift store in a few days, go again. There will be plenty of fresh inventory.

Say there are three stores in the vicinity of your weekly routine. That translates to 30 minutes a week. Now, consider that 30 minutes could save a couple hundred dollars; maybe thousands. Next to spending time with friends and family, thrift store time is valuable. Besides, how many hours does one spend in a mall?

Perhaps you're not in a major metropolitan area with 25 stores. Odds are high that you will visit one. Plan out a thrifting adventure for that adventure. Imagine the treasure that can be found in the Boston/Cambridge area!

There will be times when you grow weary of thrifting. But remember, It's thrift or miss
so don't hesitate, just go! Also bring the children, because Children Want Spending Power Too and this will create Fond Memories of Thrift.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thrift Store Tips #1: Converting the retail mind to the Zen of thrift

I've been receiving many requests for advice on thrift store shopping lately. In response, I'm pulling out a series of posts from The Thrifty Chick archives. I just don't believe one can provide sound advice on successful thrift store shopping in one post. The Thrift Culture is far removed from that of the retail and requires a complete shift in mentality and strategy. This is the first in a series of posts to help those interested in getting more out of thrift and possibly save thousands of dollars while participating in a reuse market. These archives are some of the very first posts from this seven month old blog. I treat them as living documents and have added information and new reflections as they surface.

The funds for purchase of a home, retirement and our advanced education are planned. So why are we so ad hoc about shopping? Why wait until the last minute? Some annual events are simply certain: birthdays, holidays, graduations, births and gifts for a host/hostess. I know my daughters will be invited to at least 20 birthday parties in the coming year. We know our children will probably need new coats next winter. So what’s up with last minute purchases? Retailers, that’s what. Why? People spend more money under pressure, when they're in a pinch. And, let’s be honest, pressure sucks. I feel like the world is trying to turn me into a pressure junkie so I'm offering advice on gift giving in The 2009 Thrifting Gift Guide, a New Year's Resolution Revolution. This post was picked up by Karen Datko of MSN Money Blog.

Ever spent hours roaming a crowded mall or department store annoyed that a birthday gift is in immediate need only to buy something out of complete exasperation that has a high probability of sitting on the return desk the next day? Add to this misery that more money was spent than anticipated. I have done just that and it completely vacuums the joy out of giving. I fiendishly imagine showing up at the party and chucking the gift only to say, “Here’s your damned present that you’ll probably return. Now give me a stiff drink so I can brood!” There should have been a Seinfeld on just that loathsome experience.

Now there are a smart lot of people who shop sales with planning in mind. I used to do that. It’s economical. But there’s a hitch. Sales are not a constant and subsequently bring crowds, which is exactly what conventional retailers want. Bargain shopper conflict is brutal and lines are long. Ensuing battles seem to be growing more intense. Is this fallout from a tough economy or is there a new social phenomenon, Bargain Rage? And there’s always that one item we thought was on sale, but really wasn’t, which we argue about but buy anyway.

There are the chain bargain discount stores with big advertising budgets. I tried many times, but I don’t like them. Since they are for profit stores, I believe there is an obligation to keep things tidy. Also, I really the don’t like limitations set on the numbers of items I can take into a dressing room or the dirty plastic tally cards they give me. Do they think me a thief? Beside that, they’re really not counting. How could they when the dressing rooms look like the lost and found at my daughter’s elementary school? No thanks. If I’m to be insulted, it better be by someone that I have given honest reason not to trust me, in particular.

Now, let’s change the venue. Think about causally roaming the aisles of a thrift shop, with a mind open to any possibility. It’s not too crowded. The perfume lady is not chasing you down. Sales associates haven’t asked you multiple times in that fakely voice, “Can I help you find something? No? Well, you should know that we do have a special on men’s sock supports.” Your mind, free of retail perversion and shocking cardboard displays, spots:

A French Madeline baking tray for $2.99 that was $35 on sale at the local gourmet store. My best friend loves Madeline’s. They remind her of a train ride to Versailles on a cold, rainy day. She also loves to bake. So what if her birthday is six months away? Buy that tray and save the $32.

An original, hand painted Dutch oven. It's vintage and in great condition. I can almost smell the things that have roasted in this treasure and I have a friend who can make this oven waft smells that will make his neighborhood salivate with scents of lamb, pork, brisket. It's $4.99, I already know it's something ridiculous on EBay and what would be the cost of shipping this hunk of iron?

A Wedgwood cake pedestal for $2.99. My grandmother collects Wedgwood and loves birthday presents.

A four-poster bed and frame for $9.99. My older daughter will soon be getting her own room. But wait! There’s a separate matching dresser and bedside table for $50. The bed and dresser may not match now, but they would look great in ivory. We’ll just put them in garage until we’re ready to paint and outfit the room. Once assembled, this room was featured on the Ohdeedoh Home Design Network.

A stainless globe birdcage for $9.99. My younger daughter is sad about not sharing a room with her big sister. Perhaps having a pair of finches to sing and chatter for her might make her feel less alone.

An off the sales floor (but new) butter-colored Pottery Barn sofa sleeper. It’s beautiful and $250. I dreamed of some day buying a sofa sleeper. Buy it today for $250 and save at least $2,250 if not more. This sofa sleeper made it into my 2008 Top Five Thrift Finds.

A huge bag of spools of beautiful ribbon for $3.99. I’ll need that for wrapping gifts and this will save me at least $40.

Two gorgeous cashmere sweaters, free of moth holes, $2.99 each. My oldest daughter will learn the luxury of cashmere this holiday.

A bag of vintage buttons for $2.99. My youngest collects buttons, another holiday present.

All the above are some of my personal stories and I must stop now else I shall be giving away too many secrets to my friends and family. The hardest thing will be the temptation to contain the excitement and not give a gift early. That’s a hard feeling to fight but I love it because I am reminded of being a child. My husband actually runs from me when I'm try to give him a present early. I'm not joking.

One thing that’s cool about planning gifts and buying early, is that you have more of a chance of hitting pay dirt and scoring something a person really wants. When I receive a gift, I want it to somehow symbolize this person really knows me. To me, that feeling is more precious than the gift as discussed in the post, Whg Retail, Tat's happened to fine art of giving?

Now, sit down and list things for the future year or so. Birthday presents are a given. A newly bought cabin needs stocking. Prepare for the arrival of a new baby. A soon to be new college student or new graduate student will be need loads of provisions. You can do all of this at the thrift store.

Have a mental wish list, like the sofa sleeper I someday wanted but thought I couldn't afford. Dreams, like my sofa sleeper, can come true at the thrift store.

When you are left to wander the thrift store, you'll find that your mind is free to ponder the items that you really need in your life and you'll develop something that is a rarity in the retail world. You'll develop a Flinch Point that will serve you well. My flinch point is $5. Five bucks can buy me a lot in a thrift store. It can't even buy me a tube of mascara in a discount retailer.

For even more details, Dump That Retail Mindset!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thrift Store Conventions: Electronics

I only do it about ten times a week, max. I tried to on Tuesday and it was shot. No picture came on the television just a black screen. This RCA television came new to our home three years ago fresh out of the box as a gift. In less than a year, the DVD stopped playing and now, three years out, the whole darn thing is officially junk. We left it in the alley for electronics and appliance vultures that circle our neighborhood. They once devoured an entire dishwasher in less than an hour. Perhaps I should take better care because I don’t know how much of the appliance they use and then recycle. But, it’s too late now, they flew by night and that tatty television is gone. I’m guessing its carcass is completely disemboweled in some den in the Denver metro area.

This left us in a conundrum. We don’t have the money or the desire to race out to some superstore and purchase the latest generation of television. Despite what the world tells us, we felt no need to upgrade. I wonder if that is an American thing, when personal or home electronics or appliances flop it is mandated that one must upgrade to the latest generation regardless of what one can afford or truly needs.

To my family, television is television. It’s not an experience. We don’t have cable. We’re very predictable; PBS, CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, 60 Minutes and maybe an evening show if we’re too dog-tired to read to the kids. 60 Minutes comes from my childhood with my grandfather and we would watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom beforehand. Now my girls and I watch PBS’s Nature after 60 Minutes. Good to know that some things stay roughly the same they just might get shuffled about.

My husband, Mr. Golightly, quickly solved our problem. He took a television he’d bought at a thrift store for $20 a few years back from his garage workshop and replaced the toasted telly. He likes to watch football games while he does manly things that involve power tools which occasionally result in stitches in this workshop.

I spoke yesterday with the cashier at Goodwill and asked if they check TVs to ensure that people aren’t donating toast. She explained they plug them in to ensure that, unlike my television, a picture comes on but they don’t have time to hook TV’s up to cable to gauge picture quality. If a recent generation TV comes along, they will do further testing. Besides, customers are free to find an outlet in the store and make their own determination. Furthermore, customers have 10 days to return the product if it doesn’t meet needs.

We are up and running with the old new television and it only involved a little household shuffle, not $700 or more. I’m curious to know how long this television will compare to its out of the box rival, a kind of a John Henry thing. My old new coffee maker is still brewing up morning joe as told in the November post A Kindness Like No Other.”

What happened to the days when electronics and appliance companies took pride in the quality and durability of their product? I’m reluctant to buy new. After so many breakdowns with so many repairmen telling me it’d be cheaper to replace the appliance than repair it, I’m quite disenchanted and figure I’ll stick with thrift.

My grandparents just replaced their clothes washer of over thirty years. In the last ten years, I’ve gone through three. Things are wickedly wrong. How can we feel so at ease tossing huge things like clothes washer/dryers, televisions, PC monitors over our shoulder and buying more just to add that to the waste stream in a few short years?

I’m not so certain that the super stores that worked on making items “more affordable” to the public did us much a favor. Based upon my personal experience, I have the firm impression that a cheap price on the new goods market translates to poor quality. Add to that the constant turnover of product and I must wonder if we are we actually paying a higher economic and environmental cost in the long haul. I think we are and that makes me think that cheap is ultimately steep.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Harbingers of Decline

I’ve spent months touting the treasures and cultural gems uncovered at thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. I will remain an advocate of the reuse and repurpose market. But today I walked away from the thrift store sad and shaking my head in shame.

The other, esteemed Ms Golightly, Holly, called them the Mean Reds and I have a bad case of them. After an errand I stopped by the neighborhood thrift. With the exception of a few quality items priced beyond my $5 Flinch Point, I mostly found junk, piles of it. Thanks to those Mean Reds, I didn’t want to put on my Snake Eyes and seek thy fortune. I just wasn’t up for it.

It saddens me to see mounds of consumer waste. We’re talking trash. What would make a person buy a Chia Pet? Would you be happy to receive one? How about a Homer Simpson or Shrek Chia Head? Doh! Homer and Shrek are BALD! So why should they grow Chia hair?

Why would we produce and sell dolls that would scare the pants off Chucky? I’ve often thought of hosting a thrift store ugly doll contest. Granted there are lovely vintage dolls that journey the thrift circuit but most thrift dolls are cheap and ugly. I can’t imagine a little girl wanting to have a tea party with any of the dolls I saw today. Let alone cuddle up with one. They’re so tacky your fingers feel synthetic just after touching them! Blech!

This cultural refuse and the economy that created it deeply disturbs me and gives me the shivers. Several months ago I heard an economist comparing our economy to that of the Ottoman Empire right before collapse.

I am left to wonder if Big Mouth Billy Bass or Louie the Large Mouth Bass are indicators of a society in mass decline. I’m referring to the plastic fish ornaments mounted on a faux wood base that convulse and sing “Don’t Worry Be Happy” at a volume that would make a centenarian wince with the timbre of Grizzly claws on chalkboard. It’s not pleasant and any time someone activates one in the thrift store there is a common emotional surge felt among shoppers to grab the closest fondue pot and chase the offender out the store. But most thrift store shoppers are decent people so we suppress the urge to engage mob behavior.

Come to think of it, I think I saw a PBS Nova in which a Big Mouth Billy Bass was excavated in Rome and carbon dated a few years prior to the Empire’s fall. At this archeological dig pottery was found that appears to be Chia in origin. But, don’t worry America, be happy.