Monday, April 20, 2009

New To You Shopping

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.


rosie said...

We do some thrift and consignment shopping when we need costumes. My youngest son works with summer camps and buys wacky clothes to dress up in to delight the campers. I also bought one granddaughter a lovely princess costume at a children's consignment shop. I found that I need several riding toys when grandkids come and thrift stores have those for very cheap. I clean them up and make them look new. I have provided some of my grandchildren (those in the US) with the type of basic wooden blocks used in schools and my kids say that these are very useful for entertaining their kids with. They were $50 a set when I bought them. Legos have lots of pieces and the little kids put them in their mouths and their mothers get tired of making the kids clean them up.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you mentioned eBay, but there are great deals, especially if you live in an area without good secondhand stores. Just add the shipping to the list price to get the actual cost. And a lot of items are buy it now, if you don't like the auction format.

Lion of Zion said...

"I also dislike most toys with batteries"

uh-huh. every toy these days seems to require batteries, although the function powered by the battery seldomnly adds anything i feel is actually necessary.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! There are also stores where you can bring in your own (good quality) items, and get a credit towards purchasing other things from the store.

Anonymous said...

If you live in the suburbs or smaller towns, yard and garage sales get into full swing at the beinning of May. Saturday mornings are the most common, but some have Sunday morning sales, usually starting at 8:00 or 9:00. A lot of charities and schools also have yard/rummage sales this time of year.

ChocolateandWoolens said...

Tips for Ebay shopping

1. Get a sewing measuring tape, and measure your waist, hips, and bust. Write these numbers down.

2. Women's sizing in particular is wildly inconsistent from brand to brand. Ask sellers to provide you with the measurements for the items you are interested in. Something in "your size" may not fit at all.

3. If there's a brand you really like, make a habit of going on Ebay once a week and searching for items there. You can usually get them for a fraction of retail.

4. Don't be afraid to ask a seller questions.

5. Remember, not everything on Ebay is a bargain. I saw a cute black denim Old-Navy skirt I was eying sell for $36 by the time it closed. That's probably more than retail!

6. Remember to account for shipping costs, which can be quite a lot.

Scraps said...

This is a great suggestion. I'm not in the market for a whole lot of news things right now, partly due to budgetary concerns and partly due to the fact that I already have more clothing than I really need, but if I do decide there's a reason to shop, I'll be checking out the thrift shops.

Anonymous said...

We also prefer toys without batteries. First of all because the ones without batteries seem to use more imagination to play with, and second of all because of Shabbat. Shabbat is when a lot of playing with toys occurs in our house. I would prefer to not have to walk around the house and hide the non-Shabbat toys every week, besides, the kids can find anything we hide :-)

SM - I'd be weary of toys that may have been recalled.You mean "wary". Sorry, OCD.

My wife shops at the thrift shop quite often. My kids love it, that's where they get most of their favorite toys and pretty much all their bicycles (except for the hand-me-downs from cousins and/or neighbors).


Orthonomics said...

Thank you Mark. I sometimes type fast and sometimes don't proof carefully enough. It is easier to proof other people's stuff than your own.

Imagination is my big issue with toys. At one time I had made a draft post regarding toys. Perhaps I need to dig it out of my files.

So much on the market is junk. It really looks exciting from the perspective of an adult (cute and creative designs), but ultimately is boring for kids. There is also plenty of junk in thrift stores, but at least it is priced super low, so if you buy it and the kids discard it you can take notes for next time.

rosie said...

I have learned the hard way that if you buy clothes used, bring a tape measure. Thrift stores often do not have fitting rooms and used clothes may not be the size that it says on the label because of alterations and shrinkage. Also years ago, the sizes responded to different weights than they do today and so vintage clothing will not be true to size. Know what sleeve length, waist width, inseam or hemline, etc that the person that you are buying for needs.
We used to buy camp clothes used when our kids were kids and at least we didn't care if it ended up in lost and not found.

RaggedyMom said...

There's a saying we like - "When the toy does less, the child does more." I usually look for the most scaled-down version of a toy I can find (e.g. cash register, or retro pop-up toy - most of the toys look like those I remember from growing up). There's no shortage of toys here, but I try to be selective in terms of function and level of annoyance to the parents!

I was a big thrift-store clothes-shopper in high school and college, mostly due to my own personal taste and bargain-affinity. I loved t-shirts with writing and graphics on them, although these aren't that much a staple of my wardrobe anymore. I have to laugh when I see these sold new for $10 or more at trendier young-adult stores.

I have also found great quality wool coats and a rain coat for myself that I've worn for years. I don't find many clothes for my kids in styles I like or condition I'm happy with. Consignment would probably be more successful, but the truth is, it would probably matter most with something like a fancy little girl dress for a wedding which isn't something I need nearly ever. The styles I like for my kids tend to be on the more basic, rough and tumble side, and I can usually find these new with coupons at stores like Children's Place for a very reasonable price.

I agree that the trick is not to get overexcited by the shopping thrill and overbuy. Thrift store shopping is also very much not for everyone. If there's a negative feeling someone can't get past, it's not much of an option for that shopper. I wouldn't try to pressure friends who say that it would make them feel icky or poor. Those are legitimate feelings, although a shame, because by letting go of that attitude you can manage some great finds. And you've got to have the willingness to sift through a LOT of chaff before you find something suitable.

Something that hasn't been mentioned is books, particularly children's books. Most of my children's books are secondhand, from various sources, and as a teacher, I was able to have a pretty extensive classroom library from secondhand sources.

The public libraries here have semi-regular sales, and once I was lucky enough to have them tell me to fill up a big box with books for a few dollars. I worked in an economically depressed neighborhood, so some of my students were thrilled to receive these 'new to you' books as a gift when they showed an affinity for a particular volume.

I also once got a huge shopping bag full of kids' books from a poster on either Craig's List or Freecycle. Some of them were in like-new condition.

And a large Goodwill store I went into a couple of times had wonderful books for kids, mostly 69 cents to 99 cents, and some of them had whatever color price tag was being discounted that day for further savings. Sometimes you can find several volumes sold together in good shape.

I don't make it to thrift stores all that often these days, but I do get that itch when I pass one by to see what's out there!

rachel in israel said...

great post. When we lived in the states I used to love going to the local consignemt store. Ofetn they would have 75% off and the end of the season. I got some amazing deals there. Soft toys and soft books I never bought because they would spray them with some disinfectant. So I prefer to buy them at other places like Marshalls, Tjmaxx or just wait for grandparents to buy :).

Here is Israel I find it harder. There is a woman near by that has used clothing, and used and new toys. But I find that her toys, used or new are more expensive. The clothing she has is mostly up to 24 months. I have found some amazing things in perfect condition for 10 shekels each. The problem is that here where I live there is almost no market for used clothing. Most families have enough children to destroy the clothing and I find that Israeli clothing is of bad quality, after one child it looks and feels bad.

I still buy kids clothing in the states. I buy it online at the end of the season. I end up paying less that the equivalent here and it lasts more than one season. I would love to hear from other Israeli moms what do they do for clothing here.

Anonymous said...

Some thrift shops benefit religist institutes,however there are mony that don't.