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Without further ado, here are my tips on having a Thrift Store Game Plan -
1. Prioritize your needs and/or wants.
Are there holes in your wardrobe (or shirts even) that need filling first? I often find two types of items that I have to keep rotating in and out because of wear and tear, weight fluctuation and the changing seasons - Suit Jackets/Blazers and Dress Slacks. If I am needing new suit jackets, I make sure I hit up that section first. Basically, make sure your budget is well spent before pilfering through all of those impulse buys waiting to snag at your purse strings.
2. Be willing to try things on.
I never knew how much of a problem this was for a lot of people until a friend of mine once said "I hate trying clothes on in the store. I just hold it up, and if it looks like it'll fit, I buy it." I couldn't hardly get over that! Maybe it's because my mom always made me try things on before she bought them, but I ALWAYS try EVERYTHING on in the store first. Why spend the time and money buying something that you may not end up liking or may not even fit in the first place? Sure, in regular retail stores you can return the unwanted item and get your money back. But most thrift stores have a "no return" policy. You're SOL at that point. Also, it's good to try things on in the store because that is often when you notice any blemishes in the item - tears, holes, snags, discoloration, etc. Good bargain or not, try that sucker on first!
3. Be patient.
Great things come to those who wait. Trust me, those great deals are there just waiting to be snatched up. You just have to be willing to dig. Allot enough time in your day to spend time going item-by-item, rack-by-rack; that's how you find the good stuff. And if you're short on time, keep an eye out for the sale items; if you're at Goodwill and the 1/2 off price tag color is Blue that day, make sure you stick to the blue tags. Swiftly slide items on the rack, always keeping a keen eye out for a blue tag. You may be able to get lucky and score a good deal on something you love. Salvation Army is great for that since they do a $0.69 cent-sale every weekend based on random color price tags.
4. Avoid the "Boutique" section, if possible.
Some thrift stores, like Goodwill, have a section that they use to jack up the price on brand name and trendy items. Since Salvation Army doesn't separate their items by general price ranges and individually price-mark their items, the higher priced items will be blended in with the cheaper pieces, so you have to be careful there. I have a rule at S.A. - any item priced above $6.00 is considered a "boutique" item and off limits. I'm there to score a great deal, not a good deal. I'm not saying I avoid the higher priced items all of the time, but 4 out of 5 trips I won't even touch them. If I have the extra cash in my shopping budget, then I splurge if I happen to find a piece I just HAVE to have. Or if I'm looking for a specific style or color for a special occasion; I'll splurge then too, because it's still a cheaper option than buying at the mall.
5. Stay within your budget.
That brings me to my next game plan tip - SET A BUDGET AND DON'T GO OVER IT. I will admit, sometimes, I can be the first one to break this rule, and I wind up regretting it later. Granted, you're getting some great deals that you wouldn't find elsewhere, but you're still spending more than what you plan on. It's easy to do when everything is super cheap, ironically enough. You throw anything and everything in your cart and wind up spending $100+ at the checkout. Set a "top dollar amount" and leave it at that. Remember, you're thrift store shopping because it's CHEAP and good for your budget. Keep a mental tally of the items that go in your buggy. When you reach your limit amount, go try things on in the fitting room and weed out what ends up not working for you and keep moving, doing the same process until you reach a point where you top out at your top dollar or are happy with your finds and ready to checkout.
6. Take a friend and share the wealth of goodies!
Thrift store shopping is almost always more fun when you go with a friend. You help each other find the great prices and get to give opinions on what you try on. If I don't take a friend, I often end up chatting with the people next to me in the fitting rooms and share opinions that way. I like to know another person's take on the clothes I pick out. It can put things into perspective a little more. I don't mean simple things like "Love that top!" but rather things like "Wow...that color works great for your skin." or "That dress would look awesome with a jean jacket." I like getting comments like the latter two because it helps me keep a mental note for future shopping trips. Someone says green is my color? I'm going to watch out for that color next time and see how it works out for me. Someone shows me how to pair separates? Hell yes! It's always more fun to have friends with you when shopping. Recently, I tagged along with my 19-year-old cousin to help pick out some business/professional clothes for her upcoming school year where she will be required to student teach. We were able to scour through several racks and stores and get some great professional looking pieces at dirt cheap prices she could afford.
7. HAVE FUN!
I really think this is the most important tip I can offer. Thrift store shopping should be an adventure worth taking. I look forward to every thrift store trip I take. It's my relaxation and my gift to myself for working hard everyday. I set aside whole days devoted to thrift store shopping most of the time. I get excited when I come across a brand I love at a great price. When I find going out blouses and jackets that I feel represent my personality and style, I start to get giddy. My fiance often winds up standing at the fitting rooms waiting on me because I've spent the last two hours trying stuff on. I can't help it; it's an adrenaline rush when I find so many treasures in one or two stores at killer prices. Who wouldn't be excited when they score $70, name brand dress pants at the staggering price of $0.69 cents!
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I hope these tips have been helpful. Keep an eye out for a thrift store haul post within the next day or so. I'm heading out with a friend to help search for work attire, and I've got 50 bucks to spend on those great deals! :)