Monday, January 31, 2011

The post-holiday thrift store booty

Saturday I found this darling set of matryoshka dolls for $1. Normally, I’d save items like this for Little Pie’s holiday stocking but couldn't wait and gave it now to join her collection. A wasabi pea sits next to the smallest doll for a little perspective. The Pitney Bowes postal scale, in the background, was $6. I love old scales. Little Pie likes to play with them. When you have a scale, you’d be surprised by how often it comes in handy.

I ran my trap on eve of the new year. Yeah, imagine that. I ran my trap and boasted that January is an awesome month in thrift stores and perhaps people should consider doing their 2011 holidays shopping there and now; 11 months in advance.

I dared people to try the “2011 Holidays for a dollar a day”. $365 for the holidays? To many of readers this is cake. But to some it sounds wrong. Depends how you look at it.

If this is a new idea read on. If not, read on anyway, laugh and shout a few “Amens!”

Every year Americans lather, rinse repeat. Retailers put up holiday displays in September. Or is it August? July? Everyone rolls his or her eyes, “Can you believe they’re selling Christmas ornaments when the peaches have just hit the market?”

But come Black Friday, Americans race in panic to the nations shopping centers fueled by a mix of adrenaline, guilt, and urgency to buy the perfect holiday gift in a month. The stores are ready to soothe this brew with towers of impulse buys for those who are truly desperate and toss up their credit in defeat. News anchors nightly play Chicken Little on the evening broadcasts threatening that the market might fall if not enough shoppers come out to stand in lines at 3AM to buy a plasma TV.

We do it every year.

It’s silly that retailers put so much hope in the last month of the last quarter of the year. Would you do that with your income?

It’s a little crazy. Find the prefect gift for everyone you love in a month? Really?

Come January, a great majority of those “perfect” gifts end up on the shelves of thrift stores. I believe this year’s perfect gift was an elaborate chrome wine bottle opener that looks like it needs to be affixed to the countertop. That much metal to pull a cork out of a bottle? These wine bottle openers are popping up on the shelves of my neighborhood Goodwill still in the box, unopened, like dandelions. Either they're not selling or there's been a mass donation. I've seen many.

I spent January shopping for 2011 holiday gifts at my neighborhood thrift. I like shopping ahead. It takes away the stress and allows me to reflect. I walk in the store with no list in mind, open to possibilities. Ugh. If I could only stay in that open place for the rest of the day many new doors would open everywhere.

To be honest, my haul wasn’t as prosperous as in year’s past though many amazing items, some at 5% their market value, were passed over. Cashmere sweaters from Neiman’s, new Ralph Lauren bags, new china from Crate & Barrel, loads of crystal; all would have been impulse buys had I felt the pressure. I did agonize over a set of four 20oz crystal goblets with intricate fern leaf etchings, stickers still affixed to the bottom. They were imported from Slovakia. I put them back on the shelf but turned back because I changed my mind. They were gone. (Sometimes I feel there’s a stalker following me in thrift stores. I’ve something in my cart they’re hoping goes back on the shelf. I've had cart envy many times but have never stalked.) I also spent some time agonizing over a new sweater dress from Free People with a retail tag of $168 contrasted to the $19.99 Goodwill tag. Twenty dollars is four times my $5 Flinch Point and I figured my daughter probably would not wear this item much, if at all. Had the hot breathe of holiday urgency been on the back of my neck, I’d have picked that sweater up in an instant and felt an empty satisfaction.

What were my finds for the 2011 holidays this January? Ugh. Well, if I show them, my family and friends will not be surprised. I’ve no doubt they’ll know exactly what gift is for them and then they’ll have to wait a year to claim it. This will make me feel guilty and want to give early, like July, and then I’ll have to go in search of a new treasure to open come December 25th.

Instead of showing off the lovely scores, I’m afraid we’ll stick to stats. I purchased eight gifts for $37 with an estimated conventional market value at around $250. Yep, eight gifts for the price of two new hardback books. The average cost of each came in at $4.60 – 40 cents below my Flinch Point. I was also thrilled to find a gift for one of the three people that are a major gift challenge. We all have them. Best to take 11 months to seek their gift.

Say I find an average of five gifts month at my $5 Flinch Point, as I stop by thrift stores while running errands through out the months ahead. I’d have at least 50 gifts come October! If I stick to my Flinch Point, 50 gifts totals $250!

The reality, I won’t need to purchase 50 gifts and I’ll have wiggle room for bigger purchases for my daughters.

How do I keep track of this entire gift inventory? Three large bins in the basement, like my very own store to shop. I try to package up items that need boxes before storing them and often pencil the name of the recipient on the box. It sounds tedious, but it reduces stress over time. And – get this – I even purchase new boxes, bubble wrap and excelsior at thrift stores. Weird.

Should you decide to take up year-round holiday shopping, I beg that you not squirrel away items all over the home thinking you’ll remember where they are when needed. You won’t. I testify.

I also had some fun with holiday money that relatives sent for me to purchase something for myself.

I love old office equipment and found this 1940’s Arrow Fastener #9 Stapler for $4. About a year ago, Anthropologie sold a remake for about $80. Wow. I know, it's not shiny. It's not supposed to be! It's vintage!

When Little Pie saw this stapler, she shouted, “Oh! That’s cool!” Makes me think I’m raising her right. Besides, children love old things. Ask them to draw a bathtub and I’d say there’s a 90% chance it’ll be a claw foot tub.

We’re heading into Golightly birthday season. I bought several birthdays gifts too. But, that’s another post for another day.

If you don't do it now, shop like a pioneer and come November, you'll be relaxed and ready. Well, that's after you get over -as one reader put it - the annual gift pile panic.


grace said...

First, those dolls are ADORABLE. Secondly, I really love this idea and will be anxiously following along.

Shopping Golightly said...

Thank you Grace. Little Pie's collection of nesting dolls rivals a battalion. They're easy finds at thrift stores and happen to be one of Pie's favorite toys. You should see her the floor when she arranges/sorts them. It's darling.

Daisy said...

I'll add to the organization advice. Keep advance gifts in a safe place, one safe place, where you know you'll find them all come December. The other: keep track. Keep a notebook in your purse or a spreadsheet on your laptop. I kid you not: with birthdays in Nov., Dec., and Jan., I'd go broke with overspending if I didn't shop ahead and keep track of what I've bought.

Alyssa said...

Great stapler and you're so right about the shopping. I got a wonderful comment re: *my* girl, too, this past weekend at a church rummage sale. The workers loved how eager she was to find things and see the value in them. That's always music to a mom's ears. :)

Shopping Golightly said...


I keep an Excel spreadsheet mostly so I can remember what I've given over the years. It's a bit embarrassing when I forget.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had any luck in the thrift stores this January. Maybe it's different here in Canada...
On the Christmas shopping front, for the past 3 years I have been picking up things for individuals as I see them all year and I have a large bin in my spare room they go into. It's interesting that when I open it up months later, I immediately know who I bought each gift for, which tells me they're probably appropriate and so far, (unless my good friends lie) they have been! Gift shopping is fun now, where it used to be tedious.
Love your site!

Sewfast said...

I love that! I have what I call my "Grandma box" where I gather all the cool thrift stuff for my grandson throughout the year. I got a V-tech computer and a Leap Frog Tag reader set for $2.00 a piece. Love thrifty gifts!

Marilyn said...

You are one smart cookie! wish I lived closer to thrift stores--it's about 40 miles to the closest one to me. ♥♫

suzieQ said...

I am all for shopping early for gifts, though the quality of the items at the Goodwill do not even come close to the items you mention. Plus, prices have risen with the economy, so that buys are not as thrifty as they once were. I still love to thrift, but the pickings here are not as good as they once were so far this year.

Jodie R. said...

I do the same thing! My husband's family thinks I'm crazy because I have an entire corner of my basement devoted to gifts that I collect throughout the year :)

alphawoman said...

I loved this and it makes me sick that I didn't think of it! lol.

Anonymous said...

So my find for the day at Goodwill a brand new current style $67 Vera Bradley purse and a matching $45 wallet purse for a grand total of $9.99. Now do I keep them or give them . . . decisions, decisions??!!

Anonymous said...

I'm heading off on a business trip next week. I'll use a lunch break to visit a local church resale shop that carries surprisingly nice things. I've also done some online research to find consignments and thrifts near each of my daughter's homes, which adds a bit of you-never-know-what-you'll-find treasure hunting to every visit.

Fashion Suits said...

Where could i buy with that lovely figurine? i hate ebay. please dont refer ebay. thanks