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    On Shopping Second-Hand

    December 20, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Going into debt this Christmas season? If so, you’re in very good company. However, comma, considering the state of the economy, this isn’t the wisest idea we’ve ever had, all going into debt at the same time like this.

    Debt, in general, is to be avoided if at all possible, right?

    Many of us who are trying to avoid debt, then, will decide to spend only what we can afford, which may not be all that much. That is good and well, but what if we think of something that seems so “perfect” for someone that is out of our range in terms price?

    Well, I am not the Queen of Frugal by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that living on a modest single income is one-part science and two-parts art.

    So let’s talk.

    Second-Hand Stores and Sales

    I have a friend who dresses her children entirely from garage sales, paying about half a dollar per item. This is a great deal, but I personally have neither the time {nor the inclination, truth be told} to designate much time to shopping. Also, if you are going from sale to sale weekend after weekend, you’d need to count the cost of your gas and figure out if you are really saving much.

    Every city is different when it comes to second-hand options. So probably the first thing to do, if you don’t know how to shop second-hand, is to find someone in your geographical area who knows the ropes. They will tell you where the best zip codes are for garage sales, which thrift stores are worth visiting {and which never have anything good in them}, and pretty soon you’ll know what you should do.

    In our area, we have a twice-per-year gigantic city-wide consignment sale. I have spoken with people who have similar events in their area, such as clothing swaps which were so big that they were held at the local fair grounds! If you have an event like this, learn to use it with forethought. In other words: bring a list. This past year, I bought everything I needed for all of my children for winter at our consignment sale. Because I also consigned, I bought all of their winter clothes (including jackets for those who needed them) for about $40 after profits.

    Taking a list of everything you need will help a whole lot. In addition to this, try and think about Christmas, even if the sale is in September. Our local sale had piles of toys and games, and I included on my list what I thought certain children would like for Christmas, just in case. I only found a couple items that fit the bill, but that still meant I spent less on new items at Christmas.


    Learning to shop on CraigsList has really been my life saver, though. If you have one in your area, learn to use it! Each search you do on CraigsList generates an RSS feed, which you can then subscribe to using your feed reader, or probably your fancy phone if you have one. This will help you find what you are looking for without spending hours online digging through categories to shop. Recently, we wanted to give a bicycle to one of our daughters for Christmas, because hers had broken beyond repair. I did a search, subscribed to the feed and then…waited. It took three weeks to find what we were looking for in size, shape, color, and price. But we found it! And often these things are very gently used. Things do not have to seem second-hand when they are purchased this way.

    This is how we bought our other daughter’s bike last year {with a helmet thrown in for free!}. This is how we bought our son’s Kindle {also for Christmas, so if you see him, keep it a secret}. It’s how we bought my dad a new Christmas tree. It is how I’m currently shopping for an XXL doghouse to serve as shelter for our goats.

    This is how we bought our goats. I generated an RSS feed for every single county we were willing to drive to, and then we watched and prayed. It took four months, but we finally have them home.

    When it comes to electronics–Kindles, iPods, and so on–CraigsList is going to be a much better bet than most of your other options. They will never make it to the floor at a thrift store–the workers will snap it up first. This is why CraigsList is your friend!

    What About You?

    Share with us your best tips on shopping second-hand.

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  • Reply Anonymous December 28, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I also do most of my kids’ shopping at garage sales and on consignment. In my area, its getting harder for my son, but then I went to Craigslist and put up a wanted ad. I pay no more than $1/item, and usually less, unless its something like a snow suit. I also do a lot of my household shopping at garage sales and on Craigslist, as much as possible, though it can take lots of patience to find the right item. We live in a great area for sales, so I usually just figure out which area of town is having the most sales and hit up those neighborhoods when I go out. I live in a smaller metropolitan area with lots of families so there are always lots of sales in the spring-fall. I don’t find that I waste gas, but I suppose you might if you live in certain areas.

    My big tip w/ Craigslist and garage sales would be to be ready to bargain. Especially at garage sales, most people just really want to get rid of their stuff so you can ask for a deal sometimes. I only do this if 1)the prices are a tad higher than I want to pay, and 2)the people seem reasonable. These kind of go hand in hand, but you can usually tell if the people running the sale are reasonable or not. If items are wayyy over-pricec, I typically just leave bc that usually means the sellers won’t want to come down, unless they say something like, “Make me an offer.” You have to be careful though sometimes, bc some people do tend to get offended if you want to bargain. I usually tend to try and get a feel for them and then say something like, “What’s your bottom dollar?” or “Are you willing to go down on this?” That way you can tell if the seller is willing to bargain. Some people can be afraid to bargain, but honestly lots of people that have sales like this aspect of it. Don’t be afraid to bargain if/when the time is right!

  • Reply Rahime December 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Most of my large furniture as well as a good portion of our baby “stuff” is from craigslist. We got a fabulous jogging-type stroller, which I love for taking the baby to the dog park, for MUCH less than even the best sale price, and it came with a whole new set of covers, so it’s essentially brand new. I also found many of our cloth diapers on craigslist for a steal (it felt like literally).

    My family used to do garage sales (in Orange County), and we always got amazing scores. We tried a few time in the Bay Area and have failed miserably–the sales are too spread out (unlike in OC where almost every weekend there were huge neighborhood sales where you could drive, park, and walk through a whole community’s sales).

    I will say, on the clothes thing that we rarely paid more than 25-50 cents per item (or sometimes outfit) of clothing whereas at most thrift or consignment stores clothes seem to cost more–closer to $5-10 per item. I think if you’re buying more than a few pieces, the gas, etc cost is more than saved by the lower prices. Totally depends on the region though. I’ve bought nice items at garage sales and resold them for profit in the past. That really requires knowing what you’re looking at though.

  • Reply Angie in PA December 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    You discovered our secrets! Fully ninety-five percent of my kiddos clothing & shoes are purchased second hand at my local twice a year MOPS consignment sale. I generally spend about one-fifty per year, per child on ALL clothing- coats, shoes, etc… we also keep a keen eye out for gifts, especially educationally focused gifts- puzzles, books, etc. The kids never think twice about whether a gift is second hand and shopping this way allows us to stretch our budget…

    We also have a fully Craigslist livingroom, which is awesome considering how hard our kids are on the furniture! Once they’re out of the jumping stage, perhaps we’ll purchase a nicer set, but for now, our less than two-hundred set is perfect! I didn’t know about the RSS feed! I’ll have yo use that! Thanks!

  • Reply Kansas Mom December 21, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Also, I have a friend who hits all the Black Friday and after Christmas sales. She bought a game I wanted for us and will be looking for a few Christmas things in the sales next week, too. She’s going anyway and doesn’t mind. If she finds something I need, I just pay her back for them.

  • Reply Kansas Mom December 21, 2011 at 1:15 am

    I have never had good luck with Craigslist, though I occasionally do something similar on ebay. I got a fabulous stroller right here in my area for a bargain on ebay for exactly what I wanted to pay. And I recently (after waiting years) found the last piece I needed for my Nativity.

    Mostly, when we need something or want something nice, we ask Grammy and Paw Paw to buy it for Christmas. She loves to shop and has the time. We are very blessed indeed.

  • Reply ...they call me mommy... December 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I LOVE thrift shops! I agree though to have a list…I buy mainly pants for my boys (ahem…since they put holes in the knees in ONE afternoon), old books, linens, some shoes, and for a little splurge neat tea cups and coffee mugs.

    Loved catching up on your posts!!! Your goats are very sweet! 🙂

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