I wish I discovered "New to You" shopping, otherwise known as USED or THRIFT shopping years ago. The truth is, I briefly discovered the concept in college, but the habit didn't stick. The main drag near my University had a very trendy clothing shop that sold lightly used and new clothing and accessories. Although I've always seemed to have a knack for getting a nice deep discount on clothing, this was my first taste of getting a deep discount with little effort. Since the store was near other places I had to go, I would stop in once a week for 5-10 minutes and take a quick look. My best find was a skirt I'd seen at Macy's that I really desired. But I don't spend $70 for a skirt period. I managed to get the skirt, possibly worn once for $7. Too bad I can't fit in it anymore.
Between college and the recent, I bought some used furniture, none of which followed me on my next move. I bought a small table and chair set from an girl in a neighboring apartment and picked up a $10 couch from another neighbor. But, once again, buying used did not stick.
I rediscovered "New To You" shopping after my firstborn (mostly used books), but the habit didn't stick until last summer when I was all of a sudden faced with a huge shopping list of things:
- uniform shirts and uniform pants
- pants, pants, and more pants (kids really do grow overnight!)
- a new Shabbat outfit for above child
- a sudden need for larger summer clothing (sometimes more than one child grows overnight)
- a sudden need for larger swim shorts after the sales ended (this really was not a good sight!!!)
- a swim suit for me, after an opportunity came up for me to swim daily
- a growing interest in construction toys
- a quality tricycle for the the youngest who showed unexpected readiness to tag along with the "big kids" (other tricycle turned out to be a piece of junk)
At the recommendation of a friend who is always very "put together," I finally decided to give "New to You" Shopping a real chance, learned a bit about the ends and outs, and the habit is here to stay. That summer, I landed uniform shirts and pants for a couple dollars a piece, barely worn Shabbat shirts for a dollar a piece, summer clothing for a dollar or less a piece, summer clothing all for between 50 cents and a $1.50 an outfit, perhaps never even worn swim shorts for a $1.50 each, a quality ladies' swim suit that would have retailed for over $75, barely worn, for less than $5, a number of wonderful toys and games for pennies on the dollar, and a Kettler Tricycle for less than $10 (bought on the wrong day. . but I wasn't going to pass it up--see below about days to shop). I also managed to fill in the missing pieces to complete hand-me-down outfits, picked up wonderful play and Shabbat jumpers for $1 to $3, picked up some crafting books for around a dollar a piece (Camp Mommy is coming up and I need serious help in the crafting department), and picked up some exercise clothing for me. All of this with VERY LITTLE EFFORT and for VERY LITTLE MONEY.
And while I have seen a large drop in an already low consumer budget, I have noticed that the quality of clothing has increased. A great inverse relationship!
Here is what I have learned about "New to You Shopping:"
Types of New to You Shopping. There are two basic types of shops: Thrift stores and Consignment Stores. Thrift stores take donations of household items and sell inventory to support a charity. Thrift stores may be located in shopping strips or in an annex of a charity. Consignment stores take inventory on a loan from consignors (people like me and you), sell the inventory, and provide the consignor with a cut from each sale.
For those looking for books and media, library inventory sales are one of the best ways to build a home library for the kids. Ebay and Craigslist are great places to look for something specific. Many have great luck with Craigslist for furniture. I tend to find shopping more to my liking than dealing with people on Craigslist. I don't care for the back and forth on email where the result can be that you are 5th in line for something. Shopping is first come, first serve and a short drive away.
Find Stores that You Like. Trying out "new to you" shopping is frustrating until you find places that you actually like. I found that once I found places that I actually could enjoy going to, that shopping and finding what I was looking for at the right price, was no more hit and miss than going to a department store at season end. Finding the enjoyment factor is why something so logical can take a long time to stick. I have one consignment store that I really like and about 4 thrift stores that I also like, 2 large and 2 small. I like consignment stores that have a central area set up for kids where they can play with select toys while you shop. I like thrift stores with a varied inventory and a decent presentation.
Which Type of Shopping and For What? Consignment shopping is pricier than thrift shopping. However, if you are looking for something specific, it is probably the more efficient route. For example, if you are looking for a fancier outfit for a family affair that is next week, you probably want to hit the consignment store. Consignment store owners tend to only take inventory for one season at a time, much like a department store, and place specialty products in visible areas. Consignment stores are also great if you are looking for barely used or nearly new shoes. Shoes in consignment stores are generally clean and in better condition than thrift stores. Consignment stores are also great for higher end baby equipment and extracurricular equipment (such as outgrown tap shoes or soccer cleats).
Thrift store shopping is generally hit or miss, as is regular shopping, but if you shop without impending deadlines, chances are you will find things you like. I tend to shop ahead for clothing anyways and prefer my kids shop from available inventory in house, rather than trying to find things with pressure hanging over our heads. One time I was in one of the thrift stores I like when a man walked in with numerous large bags. My luck! I found out that one of the local consignment stores (not my regular one, but another fine store) takes the inventory that their consignors don't want back to this particular thrift shop. I had some great finds that day.
What you need to know. Just because the item is in a consignment or thrift shop doesn't mean that it is a good deal. Even when doing "new to you" shopping, I generally look for a discount. Consignment stores generally mark their inventory with different colored tags, indicating when the inventory was acquired. The oldest inventory is normally put on a 50% off sale the last month before it is retired. If my kids are helping me shop (rather than playing in the kids' area), I ask them to only show me inventory with that one color tag. Keeps them focused on what I'm willing to consider. I also like taking my kids with me so that they don't think "new to you" shopping is gross. Best they get used to the idea.
Thrift stores often have one or two days during the week where they offer a specified discount, perhaps 25 or 50% off. Some thrift stores use a inventory method similar to a consignment store. I mentioned a wonderful Kettler tricycle I picked up for $9.99. If I had found it one day later, I would have paid $7.50. But I don't cry over spilled milk. One rule of this type of shopping is that you must be decisive. The chances of being able to go back and find this same tricycle later is almost none. Now that I have learned that some days are better to shop on than others, I only shop on specific days. (The consignment store had this same tricycle on sale for over $30).
Pitfalls. Things to watch out for are buying things for the sake of a good deal and buying too much. I try to keep a list of types of things I am looking for, be it a game or clothing, and always ask myself if this is something worth storing. Remember that you have to store and care for everything you buy.
If you are buying toys, you need to make sure that they are safe. I've seen great vintage toys that have I played with in my day, that are now deemed a chocking hazard, out of shelves. Great for the collector. Not great for kids that like to put stuff in their mouth. I'd be wary of toys that may have been recalled.
However, a note about toys. I think a lot of what is on the market for kids today is pure junk! This subject is probably deserving of a post of its own. I like my kids to play with versatile toys that lead toward imaginative building and that don't end up in a discarded pile a week after they comes home because they simply aren't that interesting. I also dislike most toys with batteries, although there are some exceptions. I love puzzles and board games. I love finding new pieces to a add to our train set. I love wooden blocks and tinker toys. I love legos. When it comes to building toys, often the refrain in our home is "the more the merrier." While you should be careful when it comes to "new to you shopping," I cannot say enough positive about some of the great toys that you will likely find in certain thrift and consignment stores.