smart spending

4 tips for thrift store shopping

Don't be afraid to haggle. Sharon Todd, owner of the online shop Once in a Blue Moon Online Thrift and Consignment Store, says one way to get a discount is simply by naming the price.

Her online store offers a "name your price sale" policy that allows customers to control how much they pay -- although, as Todd acknowledges, "surprisingly, not many customers do."

Make sure you really want the item

Typically, shoppers at thrift stores are not allowed to return items after purchase. So, it's wise to look over the merchandise carefully and be certain you are happy with it before buying.

"It's important for shoppers to inspect clothing before purchasing because flaws can often go unnoticed," Gold says.

Stores generally wash clothes and inspect for stains, tears, missing buttons or broken zippers. However, procedures and polices vary from store to store, and some shops are less vigilant than others.

"If an item is in need of repair and you still want to purchase it, ask the manager for a discount," Gold says. "They might be willing to reduce the price."

Shop early and often

It's usually best to shop early in the day or whenever the new shipment typically comes in. This allows you to have first pick of a fresh selection.

Also, visit the store frequently. Many shops have new items arriving nearly every day. Gold says thrift stores vary in their policies of inventory rotation.

"Some thrift shops never remove old items that don't sell, but most shops use a colored tag system with a four- to six-week inventory rotation and sale schedule," he says.

Schlusberg says her consignment boutique receives more than 100 items each day. Typically, she gets a mixture of 60 percent used and 40 percent new items.

"Many people find collectibles, especially vintage jewelry pieces that their grandmothers used to have," Schlusberg says. "They find very unique things that they cannot get anywhere else."

Gold recounts a story of one dogged shopper who may have found the bargain of a lifetime.

"There was a woman who found a Jackson Pollock painting at a thrift store and they made a movie out of the debate over whether it's authentic or not," Gold says.

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