smart spending

4 tips for thrift store shopping

Sale sign at store
Highlights
  • Learn proper pricing to spot bargains and avoid mediocre deals.
  • Waiting for weekly and holiday sales helps savings add up.
  • Shopping early and often can lead to unexpected treasures.

In a tough economy, everything frugal is "in." That includes roaming the aisles of consignment shops and thrift stores.

There are currently more than 25,000 resale, consignment shops and thrift stores in the United States, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops in St. Clair Shores, Mich.

Savvy thrift-store shoppers know how to distinguish a great product at a bargain price from a mediocre purchase. Following are four things to think about before shopping for that steal of a deal.

Compare prices

It's tough to find bargains at second-hand stores if you are not familiar with the average retail price of particular items.

Before heading to a thrift store, comparison shop at brand-name stores or online so you can see what a product or item of clothing might be worth today.

Because most items at thrift or consignment stores have been used, the price generally should be lower.

“As time passes, the prices are reduced, so it pays to come back.”

Karen Schlusberg owns The Maizie Consignment Boutique in Scarsdale, N.Y. Items at her store typically sell for one-third their cost when new, she says.

Schlusberg urges thrift-store shoppers to be ambitious when looking for merchandise.

"Look for great designers and quality merchandise," she says.

At her store, a Chanel silk scarf originally priced at $360 might sell for $160. Other typical sales prices include a Nicole Miller black gown for $10, a Burberry skirt for $3 and an Oscar de la Renta sweater for $16.

Wait for sales days and price reductions

Thrift and consignments have low prices every day. However, they also have special days when merchandise is marked down even further.

"Learn your local stores' sales schedules," says Michael Gold, the Vero Beach, Fla.-based owner of TheThriftShopper.com, an online directory of thrift stores.

For example, some stores may cut prices 50 percent on Columbus Day, while others reduce all prices by 10 percent on certain weekdays.

Seasonal bargains also abound, according to Gold.

"When you buy items out of season, you'll always get a better deal," Gold says. "Look for gardening tools in the winter and fur coats in the summer."

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Schlusberg says that in many cases, a little patience can pay off in even bigger bargains.

"As time passes, the prices are reduced, so it pays to come back and see if that handbag you wanted is still there," she says. "It could be 20 percent less than it was last week."

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