- DO get to know your local stores. Once you familiarize yourself with all the local haunts, you will be able to discern each one's unique offerings. For instance, consignment or resale shops often have higher quality, name-brand items, so I go to these for Mango's shoes. He wears almost exclusively high-quality, name-brand shoes like Stride Rite and Keen. These are brands that normally retail for $30 - $50, and I get them gently used for never more than $10, and usually closer to $6. One of the true thrift stores near me has outstanding housewares, and one has an amazing sale day, where I can score clothes for less than $1 each - for everyone in my family. I go to each of these stores for different things, because I've become familiar with the character of each store.
- DO go often. This goes hand-in-hand with getting to know your stores. If you go frequently, you can learn when the best days are for each different store. When do they stock the most new merchandise? Do they have any special sales? Another bonus of becoming a regular is that you won't have to sift through everything every single time - you'll be able to spot new merchandise quickly and get on your way.
- DO get in there. Don't be afraid to dig around a little bit. Some of my best treasures have been found hiding in unexpected corners, under things, and behind things. Most people won't be willing to do the extra work to find the real scores, but you don't want to be "most people," do you?
- DO clean your haul. Maybe it goes without saying, but clean everything you get at a second-hand store. If it is a household item or toy that can be disinfected, even better. I use vinegar and steam to clean just about everything like this. Run clothing and linens through the wash (or hand wash, if necessary). Wipe down books with hard covers or pages.
- DO see the potential. Try to imagine what things will be like if they are washed, bleached, dyed, hemmed, tailored, or painted. Could you use the item in an unconventional or unexpected way? Even the most basic sewing or crafting skills will open up a whole new world of thrifting possibilities. I found a really cute pair of women's pajamas in a size much to small for me. I loved the star pattern, and with the sale that was on, they were only 75¢. I decided to plunk down the three quarters and make them into pants for Mango.
Even if you aren't super handy with a sewing machine, it's a great idea to learn to sew a proper button, patch a hole or use hem tape. These small repairs can help you take some nearly-great finds and make them into something fantastic. And you'd be surprised at what a good scrubbing and coat of spray paint can do for so many housewares! But...
- DON'T get in over your head. Know your own limits. Don't fill your garage with projects that you'll never do or don't even know how to do. I had to have a little self-intervention when I had the thought, "I'll just learn how to cut glass..." You're not saving money if you buy things you can't use.
- DON'T buy something just to buy something. You have to be okay with walking away empty-handed. This can be really tough to do when you've spent lots of valuable hours digging for treasure, but if it's not there, don't force it. Just walk away before you spend unnecessary money. Disheartening as it may be, you really are coming out on top by employing this strategy.
- DON'T buy something just because it's a great deal. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. When you find something that is a designer brand, in fantastic condition, 90% off the retail price, and two sizes too small, it can be reeeally tempting to buy it and sock it away "just in case." Don't. No matter how deep the discount, if you can't use the item, you're not saving money -- you're spending it. You'll save more by leaving your wallet closed.
- DON'T bring your kids! You will not be able to spend the time and attention it takes to score great deals at thrift stores if your children are running around, touching things, breaking things, throwing fits and being generally bored.
- DO bring hand sanitizer. Just do.
So, there you have it, new friends. Hopefully these few pointers will light a fire under you and get you pumped to get out there and buy second-hand!