Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beat the recession tips: the thrift shop

Sometimes they're dark and dirty. Sometimes they smell bad and the staff is downright scary. But when finding bargains is on your to-do list, the thrift shop calls your name.

I know what you're thinking. You wouldn't be caught dead in a thrift shop. Let me tell you something. I've seen plenty of affluent soccer moms in thrift shops. Doctors' wives, even. And if you're lucky, your town might have a clean, bright thrift shop with a friendly staff and no bad odors. It's worth exploring.

Even if your thrift shop is a dark cave, if you can defeat your fear, you can save some serious dough. I'm here to prove it.

We live in a disposable society. Americans love buying crap they don't need and then dumping it as soon as they get tired of it. More loot for us thrift shop hunters.

There are a few rules of the road. (At least in my Thrift Shop Rulebook:)
  • I won't try on a hat in a thrift shop. (Head lice.)
  • I won't try on trousers in a thrift shop. (Crabs.)
  • Don't go anywhere near beds or mattresses (Bedbugs.)
  • (You can expound from there.)
  • You can't always buy what you want when you want it. But if you are patient, you'll find it. Eventually.
  • Because the store stinks doesn't mean it's dirty. In most cases, the smell comes from old shoes. Once you realize that, it somehow seems a little less offensive. Plus you can sometimes avoid the smell by avoiding the shoes.
Generally speaking, unless I am desperate, I pretty much ignore the clothing. But if you need a specific thing in a hurry - like party wear or the elements of a Halloween costume - the thrift shop often comes through.

A few recent examples of amazing thrift shop bargains:
  • A black blazer to complete a Riff-Raff (Rocky Horror Show) costume: $10
  • A black silk shirt: $4
  • A $60 Waring retro blender with two glass jars: $9
  • A plastic model kit worth $7 on ebay: 49¢
  • An entire black-and-white darkroom, including the enlarger: $25
And my favorite: My wife has not quite embraced the iPod revolution. She has one, but she only uses it at the gym. If she's working around the house and wants music, she finds the CD she wants and loads it into her boom box. She had a real nice Sony boom box - but it broke down and she was without it for quite a while. She did not want to replace it, scoffing at the expense - $75 for an equivalent Sony.

So, while stalking thrift shop bargains, I found the unit that matched her broken one - although it's the newer, nicer model. There was no power cord but I scrounged one that fit from the wire box and found a power outlet under ladies' suits. I grabbed a CD and a cassette from the book section of the store and sat on the floor to put the unit through its paces. It was perfect, save for an even coat of dust and grime. At home, I salvaged the power cord from her old unit, and Simple Green took care of the dirt.

The unit cost me the princely sum of $7.

Yeah, baby. That's like 90 percent off.