Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Joy of Thrift Stores and Garage Sales

 Hooray for being thrifty!

When I was a kid, my Mom wouldn't have dreamed of going to a thrift store.  I got the impression from her that the Salvation Army was only for poor people, for people who really needed the extra help and could only afford to buy used things.   And, I got the distinct idea that thrift stores were dirty.  Garage sales were only a little better.  It was okay to donate to thrift stores, and okay to have your own garage sale, but it wasn't "appropriate" to shop at them regularly, or people might get the "wrong idea" about you.  I don't think my parents meant for me to internalize the message quite like that, but kids are funny that way.

Move forward quite a few years to college, and for whatever reason (curiosity, I think) I finally ventured into a Salvation Army store.  It was tidy, it was clean, most of the people there looked a lot like my own family and friends, and there was lots of neat stuff to look through.  It was kind of like a permanent, well-lit garage sale, with a room to try on things.  I didn't find anything to buy that day, but some myths got busted, and I didn't look at thrift stores the same way afterward.  I didn't usually go to garage sales at that point in my life, but that was just because I didn't want to take the time.  I wish I'd learned the joy of bargain hunting much sooner than I did - it would have saved me a lot of money over the years.

Move forward a bit more, and after I married and had kids, I realized that the thrift store was a great way to get childrens' clothing for a song.  By this point in my life we were on a single income, and trying to make our money stretch as far as possible.  Funny thing is, I saw lots of other young mothers in there too, trying to stretch their dollars as well.  Kids outgrow their clothes so FAST, that sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it to buy all new stuff every season or so.  It was only a short step from the regular store clearance racks I'd been haunting, to the Salvation Army.  Obviously, thrift stores and garage sales are "buyer beware" situations, but if you don't mind driving a little and looking through lots of stuff, you can find some real bargains, even occasionally stuff that's new with its tags still on.

Fast forward to the present.  I love going to thrift stores and garage sales.  Not only can I find clothing for my family there, but I can find books and videos as well.  The bookworm in me loves bargain books - getting a good book for a pittance is fantastic fun.  I've found all sorts of books in great condition in thrift stores and garages sales - for my kids, for myself, for my husband; books in all genres, books on all topics, many of them nearly new.   If I get a book I decide I don't like after reading it, it's easy to give it away again because I didn't spend much on it.  This week I came home from the Salvation Army with a history book (Modern Ireland 1600-1772 by R. F. Foster), a literature book (the New Riverside edition of The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton), and a devotional book (Extreme Devotion from Voice of the Martyrs).  I also pick up a few VHS tapes at sales every couple months or so - it's cheap entertainment for the kids, since I usually pay $.50 to $1 for the videos.  Some clothes and outerwear for our family also were a huge blessing yesterday - six items for under $30.

I obviously like to shop at regular stores, but I still don't like to pay full price for many things.  I watch for sales, and sometimes use coupons as well to stretch our budget.  Why pay more if I don't have to?  Within reason, I try to make the most of our money.  It would be foolish not to, given that we've experienced a layoff and unemployment in the past couple years and know all too well that jobs and money can come and go in a blink.  We're not rolling in dough, either, so being careful just makes sense.

Outgrowing some hangups and trying to make the most of what we have as a family has totally endeared thrift stores and garage sales to me. And as I look at what we sell cheap, give away, and throw away in America, I can see that we are so SPOILED.  So I guess what I've learned is this:  don't be wasteful with what the Lord has entrusted me; don't be too proud to look around for a good deal on items I want or need; be generous when I donate or give away items; actively look for ways I can bless others; and don't judge those who currently choose to shop at thrift stores and garage sales, because it might be me needing that extra break (again!) in the future.


For those who are interested in creatively saving money with coupons, rebates and free offers, an acquaintance of mine has a great blog:  Cha-Ching On A Shoestring.  Check it out!