Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Shopping at the Thrift Shop.

There are bargains galore at the thrift shop. Why do they always smell funny though?

I just got back from the thrift shop, where I bought a pair of like-new Wrangler blue jeans for $4, three nice shirts (one long-sleeve denim, two other short-sleeve shirts from Cabela's, brand new) for $2.50 each. I also bought a CD for a buck. You can't beat those prices, particularly when I recently purchased the exact same pair of jeans brand new for $35.

Should you shop at the thrift store? Well, of course, it never hurts to look. You may not find anything of value whatsoever. Or you may find an item or two that you can use. In addition, if you have items that no longer fit or you no longer use, by all means donate them to a thrift store, and get a receipt, so you can write it off on your taxes!

St. Vincent dePaul, Salvation Army, whatever - it really doesn't matter. Some are better than others, of course. Thrift stores near wealthy areas can have some pretty amazing stuff, as rich folks (or people who think they are rich) throw out a lot of things, some brand new and never used.

Now, on the other hand, the thrift store near where I live in New York, well, they tend not to have such nice things. It is in a poor community, and much of what they have to sell is worn out.

Of course, I can already hear the cries of protest from some folks, and a laundry list of reasons why they "can't" shop at the thrift store. These are the same sort of reasons given for not shopping at WalMart. What it comes down to is this: Some folks are just too darn proud. And oddly enough, it ain't the rich folks (the real rich, not the buy-everything-on-time pretend rich) who are too proud. Often middle class and lower middle class folks are the ones who refuse to look for bargains, as they believe that over-paying for things is a sign of "wealth" or "status".


Here are some reasons I have heard for not shopping at thrift stores:

1. The stuff they have there is junk - outdated clothes out of style, nothing I'd want. 
This depends on the store - and the location. Most stores realize that you can't sell junk, and they are pro-active in accepting donations that are salable. Stuff that doesn't sell is usually weeded out fairly quickly. Many stores get donations of new materials from retailers who have discontinued or returned items. Many donations are clothes that were bought and didn't fit or were not worn for one reason for another. 
Like any other store, there will be things you don't want. But you can find a "diamond in the rough" on occasion. But like any other form of shopping, don't buy something just because it is a "bargain" - buy it because it fits you, and you WANT it and can USE it. 
2. The clothes are dirty. 
At least at the store I went to today, all the clothes were laundered and ironed. One stack of dress shirts was all freshly dry-cleaned (by the donor). Of course, it doesn't hurt to launder them again when you get home, which I did. 
Here's the deal - your own clothes get dirty - and yet you still launder and wear them again. The clothes at the thrift store are going to be a lot cleaner than what is already in your laundry hamper - perhaps cleaner than what is in your closet! 
3. The place smells funny. 
OK, you got me there. But this does prevent you from staying too long. They take in donations of tons of clothes, furniture, and other used items, and I guess over time, these places tend to smell musty. 
4. Its supposed to be a place for poor people to shop. If I buy things there, I am taking product away from the poor! 
Wrong! They SELL items donated in order to raise money to help the poor. When you buy a donated item, that is cash in their pocket they can use to feed the homeless or whatever. The homeless can't eat clothes. 
Most of these organizations would GIVE clothes to the needy if they asked for them. The sales are used to generate income. By buying things from them, you are putting cash in their coffers. 
Also, many of the so-called "poor" are too prideful to shop in the thrift store (which is why they are poor). You'll see more designer labels and expensive mall-bought clothing on "poor" folks, who can afford it by skimping on more important aspects of their lives - things like housing and health insurance. So go ahead and buy. The poor think they're too good for it. 
Still feel uneasy about it? Well then donate some of your old but usable clothing that doesn't fit you any more. They can turn around and sell it and make more money, and everyone wins. You get a bargain, you get your closet cleaned out, and they make money to help the needy. 
5. The don't have the Designer Labels that I have to wear! 
Actually, I was surprised at the stuff they had there. Of course, this thrift store is near an island that has multi-million dollar homes on it (not my island, the next one over). So they do get some upper end donations. I saw, for example, hand-tailored shirts on the rack (I used to have the same ones, back when I was an important lawyer) and a lot of designer labels. 
But if having all the "right" clothes is important to you, well, your priorities are all wrong and frankly, I don't really want to meet you, thanks. Such things are so wholly superficial that it is not even funny. Maybe for teenagers and children, being seen in the "right" clothes is important. And for the red carpet at the Oscars or some high society fashion party, it is important to have the "right" clothes. 
But if you are reading this blog, you ain't a Hollywood star trying to decide what to wear to the Oscars. And chances are you ain't a teenager wanting to wear the latest "cool" gangsta wear for school. You are just another middle class schmuck trying to save a few bucks and get ahead and are wondering where the heck all the money went. 
Well, let me tell you where it went - it went to foolish, prideful ideas like you have to have a brand new car every three years, or you have to "shop" at the mall every weekend. That's where it all went, dummy!

6. I'm not poor - I wouldn't be caught dead in such a place! 
Well, again, this is ego talking. If you think you are better than everyone else, well, let me know how that works out for you. Me? I'm not so proud anymore. As I've gotten older, I realize that you have only a finite amount of time on this planet, and to spend it chasing money or pride is just utter foolishness. 
If I can save $30 on a pair of pants, you BET I'm going to do it. Because I can go to dinner at the bistro down the street, and have dinner for two and a bottle of wine for $30 (they are running a special!).
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The only thing I regret is not shopping there more often. Like buying books at a bookstore (as opposed to getting them for free from the library) you look back on it and say "Hey, that made no sense at all!"

You can bet I'll be checking back in later on to see what other bargains they might have.

Note:  It goes without saying that buying things you don't need, but look like a bargain isn't saving any money.   And buying junk (and often they have lots of it) isn't worthwhile.   You have to be astute, of course!  Note also that thrift shops usually specialize in clothes, but often have other items, including sporting goods, furniture, housewares, etc.   One thing I would stay away from is electronics, as most things donated are outmoded junk and they put stupid prices on them.   But it is a place to pick up some used patch cables now and then.