Frugality: Thrifting – My Favorite Game

by mzumtaylor on August 10, 2010

in Frugality

A HEADS UP: The following includes details of shopping. Straight men (most straight men, anyway) and non-girly girls, you might want to skip this one.

I have always loved going to the thrift store, mostly because it was an activity that I often shared with my mom, who, until my husband and I moved to Colorado, I only saw a few times a year. But more than that, there’s a certain thrill to being able to find something cool, something fun — or, occasionally, to find just what you’re looking for, for very little money.

It takes a certain amount patience, to be sure, but I almost always find something that I’ve been looking for.

This time, on my trip to the thrift store, I was looking for plain black t-shirts and inexpensive jeans that I won’t mind wearing to my new restaurant job. I started my job today and my boss said jeans and any black t-shirt is fine, but I don’t want to wear my nice, $50-$60 jeans to work, in case they get something spilled on them, or what have you.

Enter the thrift store.

The first place I stopped was the pots and pans area, because I’m looking for a pressure cooker and have been for a while. No luck yet, although I did find half of one a few weeks ago (not very useful, but still promising). That’s where the patience part of the thrifting equation comes into play. Sometimes, you have to play the long game. Every time I see a thrift store I wander in, just to see if they have, say, a pressure cooker, or wine rack, or anything else on my list of things I’ve been looking for but don’t need immediately. I did find a Brita water pitcher (sans filters) that looks like it is in really good shape, for only $1.99. The pitcher’s usually the expensive part, so I felt like I won big.

My brief, habitual check of cookware done with, I made my way to the women’s clothing area. The thrift store that is closest to my house happens to be a Goodwill, and is one of my favorites in the area because the clothes are well-organized and they sometimes get “new” items from big stores like Target, which gives to charity the things they can no longer sell in the store.

I pulled seven shirts off the rack in three sizes, and eight pairs of jeans in two sizes. I never know what size I’m going to wear in women’s clothes (one reason I dislike women’s clothes, but that’s another story), and I like to maximize my time by making as few trips to the dressing room as possible.

Three of the shirts were perfect, so I kept them in my basket. The rest I hung on the restocking rack. None of the jeans in the first round worked (too small/short), so I decided to try my luck one or two sizes up. I came back to the dressing room with six pairs of jeans, and ended up finding four that were perfect.

Well, almost perfect. There were three of the same brand and size which is ideal for work because I’ll know that they’re my work pants (as opposed to my “nice” jeans), but they were a little loose in the waist. Fortunately, I own a sewing machine (another thrift store find, thanks to my mom), and the requisite skill to alter the jeans slightly so they fit a bit better. In the mean time, that’s why belts exist. ^_^

So, mission accomplished. Three shirts for work (I was a good girl and put back a nicely low-cut one because it wasn’t what I’d come in for), $3.49 each; three pairs of jeans for work, $5.99 each; one pair of jeans for fun (they fit really, really well and were only $6!), $5.99. Plus the $1.99 for the Brita pitcher, and my total was going to be right around $37. Not bad.

… And then I walked past the shoes.

I’m not a Shoe Girl, not really. I mean, I like shoes, I think they’re cute, but I only own… 12 pairs, give or take, which seems like a lot until you compare that number with many of my friends, who own 40-100 pairs each. But, part of the reason I’m not a Shoe Girl is that I also wear Size 11, which means that finding shoes is harder for me than most of the women I know. I like to look at shoes when I’m at the thrift store and see if there are any that I like, but I usually strike out.

For me, shoes have to fit very specific requirements.

  1. They have to be flats. I’m almost six feet tall, I don’t really need to be taller.
  2. They have to be comfortable. If I can’t walk a mile in them, there’s no point. As my mom says, you never know when you’re going to have to walk a mile.
  3. I don’t like to pay more than $30 for shoes, and less than $20 if I can, but I refuse to shop at Payless, which is a waste of money because of the shoes they carry are generally so uncomfortable as to be unwearable for any length of time. If I’m going to pay more than $30 for shoes, they have to be well-made, durable, and practical. And I still only spend $60-$70. Maybe.

With all of those qualifications, and the size of my feet, it’s no wonder I almost always strike out at thrift stores (although I’ve had some very good luck at TJ Maxx). BUT, this time there were at least a dozen pairs of shoes in my size, maybe more. And some of them were even cute. I tried on all of them (just to see), but ended up wandering around the store in three pairs (to make sure they were comfortable). They were $3.99 each. Unworn. I know the brands, they’re from Target and possibly Kohl’s. Not the greatest quality, but not bad, either. And $3.99. … I couldn’t resist.

I walked out the door having spent $48.39, which is kind of a lot, until you look at what I would have spent to get the same items:

Item Thrift Store Price Regular Price Savings
Brita Water Pitcher $1.99 $25.99 $24.00
Mossimo Canvas Flats $3.99 $17.99 $14.00
Mossimo Brown Flats $3.99 $19.99 $16.00
Merona Tan Walking Flats $4.99 $14.99 $10.00
Old Navy “The Flirt” Jeans $5.99 $25.99 $20.00
The above x 2 more pairs $11.98 $51.98 $40.00
Black Mossimo T-shirt $3.49 $9.99 $6.50
Black Merona T-shirt $3.49 $11.99 $8.50
Black Sonoma T-shirt $3.49 $12.00 $8.51
Lucky Brand Dungarees $5.99 $99.00 $93.01
Total Savings $240.52

Of course, the Lucky Brand jeans were a VERY lucky and rare find. Knowing how much they cost normally, I’m even happier that I bought them instead of letting them go back on the rack. But still, there’s treasure to find at a thrift store, if you have the patience to sort through the racks and try everything on to make sure it fits and you really need it.

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