A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 3: Thrift Shops.

Over the past two weeks I’ve written about how I make my clothes budget stretch as far as possible. But there’s still one type of ultra-thrifty real-world shopping we haven’t touched on yet.

“What type is that Amanda?” I hear you ask.

Well, imagine a place filled with clothes. A place with shelf after shelf of books. A place to go and buy a DVD, or console game. How about a place where you can get yourself a nice computer desk for 7 Euro (I did, once.).

“But where is this magical land of moonbeams, and pixies who fart rainbows?”

Well actually, it’s your local thrift shop. These are usually run by one charity or another, and work by taking in donations of clothing (and just about anything else.) which they then sort, get rid of the crap, and sell the rest on to the public. They’re my favourite places to shop, you could find just about anything there, leather-wear (In 8 years I’ve found two designer leather skirts and an ankle length leather coat.), vintage fur (One X-mas I gave my mom a rabbit-fur jacket which was in perfect condition, and 40 years old if it was a day.), goth-wear (My shiny New Rocks spring to mind here.), just about anything.

The thing is though, there are ways to make your cash stretch even further, even when using a charity shop. So here are my tips for maximizing your value for money while Thrift shopping.

1: Learn to haggle:

Yes I know that the items in thrift store are already dirt-cheap but by the careful application of a little negotiation you may well save a few cents more. Remember these aren’t high street shops, the people working there know that they’re selling stuff other people didn’t want anymore. And what’s more, they know you’re doing them a huge favour by not only taking that stuff off of their hands, but by actually paying for the privilege. Think about that for a second. You’re paying to take away things which were freely donated to a particular charity.

So haggle people.

I’m not saying be obnoxious, but ask if that price is the best they’ll do on the item. If they offer you a top for 6 Euro, offer them 5. If they go for it you’ve saved yourself a Euro (not to be sniffed at in these recessionary times), they don’t go for it, well all you’ve wasted is a little breath.

2: Bulk buying.

This leads directly from my last point. Sometimes if you buy a few items in one lot, you’ll find it easier to cut a deal on the cost. The classic example of this is to bring 3, or 5 items to the til, and try to get the cheapest one free. Again if they don’t go for it, it’s only cost you a few seconds of your time. Though this does work best if the cheapest item is considerably cheaper than the rest.

3: Check for invisible cosmetic damage.

You should always check any purchase for visible damage no matter what it is. Sometimes that damage can be the first warning of serious underlying problems with your new possession. And I would say as a general rule if it has any significant visible structural damage you should pass on it, unless it absolutely will not affect the function/lifespan of the item, and can be used to lower the price at the till. Now that said, what I just wrote really only applies to appliances. For clothing if there’s any visible damage I just let it go. But what if there’s a small amount of internal damage? A slightly torn hem. A small tear in the lining. Something easily repairable?

After over a decade of good finances most of us would say “Pass on it.” But if it is easily repaired, by yourself or someone who isn’t going to charge you, or if the item is something exceptional AND the damage is still minor (A genuine designer jacket with as mentioned a slight tear in one hem, or a missing button, things like that.) you should buy them. Not only that but you should try to use that damage as a negotiating point to cut to cost of that item.

4: Get to know what you really wanted from last season.

I’ve lived on a shoestring for a long time. Since I transitioned 8 years ago I’ve bought maybe 20 brand new items of clothing that hadn’t had a ridiculous mark down (50% minimum) during a sale, that weren’t underwear (never buy secondhand undies, seriously, there’s a line in the sand.). Sometimes walking into clothes store filled with lovely brand new clothes, which I couldn’t afford in a fit, is a hugely depressing experience. In I walk, see a dress (It’s usually a dress, though sometimes it’s a skirt.), fall in love, see the price, and somehow stop myself from crying in public.

But the thing I’ve found over those years is that usually at some stage those same outfits will be in a thrift store near me. Patience is the key here, patience and a LONG mental list of things I want from the last four or five seasons.

Keeping a clear image of the things you really want in mind from that length of time saves you money for one very simple reason. If you know what you want, what you really want, you’re far less likely to waste what little money you have on something you really don’t want, and will never wear.

5: Thrift stores are for Christmas too.

I’m not saying that you buy all your presents in one. After all, that’s probably not truly feasible, especially if you have kids to cater for. But, you could easily get your outfit for the day itself, and something pretty to wear for when you’re giving a pretty Velma-like geek-girl her New Years lapdance. You could find that really unusual curio that would be the perfect gift for your eccentric friend who loves old statues of owls. Or your bookworm cousin who just can’t find the last part of that collection which has been out of print for a decade.

But mostly think clothes. Have you that friend who only wear vintage (damn hipster wannabe)? Or someone who would truly adore that very decoratively and well-made velvet skirt you can see in the corner? Remember that for some people it really is the thought that counts, not the expense. So find out which are which and your local thrift store could be a financial life saver next Christmas.

6: Get to know your local Thrift/Charity shops, and their staff.

This is the most important thing you can do to save money when thrift shopping. And here’s why. Shops are like human beings, creatures of habit. They tend to get they deliveries on the same day every week. They tend to put out new stock on the same day every week also. Habit is sometimes efficient. It certainly can be for the intrepid thrift shopper.

Find out what day the main sorting house for each store delivers in your area. Talk to the staff in your local shop, get to know them, and get them to hold on to certain types of things for you. Be friendly, be excruciatingly polite. Be a regular face that they always see on a certain day. Become a part of the habits of that shops ecosystem. Donate items yourself.

The key to really making thrift shopping pay off is to work at it. There are amazing deals in those shops some of the time, and the trick to finding those deals is being in the know. So be in the know, find a way to the inside track, and combine it with your haggling, your lists, with knowing you measurements perfectly. Spend wisely, don’t buy things you don’t really want. Think clearly, and with a little extra effort you could quickly find yourself with a wonderful wardrobe, at a fraction of the price.

So, that’s it. Our guide to clothes shopping on a budget is finished. I hope it’s helped you at least a little, and that you’ll stick around for future “Poor girl guide…”‘s…

Ah bugger! I forgot online shopping. Right, that will be coming up in the near future too. *sigh*

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