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A Secondhand Shopper Reveals Her Best Tips

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Inflationary times call for thrifty measures: Secondhand shopping makes life more affordable, sustainable and adventurous. Thrifting checks several boxes. It’s easier on your wallet, kinder to the environment, includes the thrill of the bargain and chips away at the massive glut of new stuffs in circulation. It’s also a bit of an art.

Woman Thrifting at Secondhand Store Examining Shirt Off Rack of Clothing

I have thrifted for many decades, and each year I do it I become more discriminating. Finding a beautiful designer dress is no longer enough—it also must fit me like a glove. It should feel like it’s one of the best things I’ve ever put on my body, or it’s no dice. Meh doesn’t cut it, anywhere, but especially while thrifting. So don’t let the cheap price tag encourage you to get stuff you don’t need.

Thrifting Tips from a Secondhand Shopping Pro 

Thrifting for clothes

Good Will, Salvation Army and stores like Savers will offer the most bargains and steals. A thrift store in a high-end neighborhood will often have more treasures and designer brands, than a thrift store in a low-income neighborhood. Family-owned thrift stores are also worth checking out. Resale and consignment shops will be pricier, but also more vetted. You’ll be able to snag current fashion trends and wholesale prices. You can also buy secondhand online, at sites like The RealReal, thredUP and Poshmark.

Thrifting for furniture

Facebook marketplace and craigslist are the mainstays for secondhand goods, but sites like freecycle can also offer freebie scores. Habitat for Humanity has a nationwide presence of stores called Restore that are filled with useful home items, from furniture to paint to tools. Or you can try your luck at curb mining, as in salvaging furniture left curbside. This furniture can often be sanded down and then re-stained and painted. Estate sales, flea markets and yard sales are also great places to find furniture that just need a little fine tuning.

It’s best to choose pieces made of solid wood that don’t require too much labor beyond adding fresh paint and hardware, or a new stain and varnish. You can also harvest used furniture for parts, such as taking off the legs and mounting them to a different chair, table or desk.

Food bargains

Believe it or not, you can also get food via a version of thrift. Of course, it’s not used, but it may be dented, discontinued, or close to expiry. Yep, salvage food stores are a thing. They traffic in what mainstream food retailers call “unsellables” (think questionable flavors), but one person’s unsellable may be another’s favorite snack. Salvage food stores operate in the gray zone between food banks and the much bigger discount chains such as the German import Aldi, which has 1,600 stores across 35 states, and can save you as much as 50 percent on your weekly grocery bill.

Secondhand sports gear

Sports and camping gear are a smart thing to buy used, especially for kids, who so quickly grow out of ski gear, skates, cleats and bikes. Play it Again Sports is a national chain that sells used gear. REI frequently has garage sales of used, you guessed it, sporting gear and many outdoor gear companies, such as REI, Patagonia and North Face now sell gently used gear online. They also let you trade in your used gear.

Pet accessories

Garage sales, thrift stores and eBay are good places to check for pet supplies such as cages, crates, beds and other pet paraphernalia.

Discount gift cards

You can buy your favorite gift cards online at a slight discount. Sites like Raise, GiftCards, Gift Card Granny and CardCash let you buy and sell gift cards, with a savings between 5% and 20%.

Refurbished tech

Sites like Backmarket offer refurbished tech, all with a free one-year guarantee. There are deals to be had, especially if you can overlook a few surface dings and scratches.

What to look for the second time around

If going to a thrift store, think about your wish list and the things you really need—otherwise the hodgepodge of stuff can be overwhelming. However, it also helps to have patience and an open mind. With secondhand, the gems are hidden around the store. Allow some time to browse, scour racks and check things out; you might not even know you needed something until you see it in all its glory.

Scrutinize the condition of anything you purchase, looking for wear and tear. And give everything a good sniff too, as funky odors can be one of the perils of secondhand gear. You won’t find much by way of new car smell, or its equivalent, in the thrift world, but that smell was loaded with toxic chemicals anyway.

You will find amazing deals, environmental redemption and the thrill of the deal, all factors that make thrifting a compelling coping strategy for the inflation weary.

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