Embracing the thrift-store ethic: 18 top tips for buying used clothes

If the national media is any indication, more people are embracing the notion of buying used clothing from thrift stores and consignment shops. Last week, USA Today ran a story describing how secondhand stores are reaping the benefits of recession:

As Americans look for ways to cut spending, they are scooping up bargain clothes, accessories, toys and furniture once owned by someone else.

"We're sorry about the economic situation, ... but it is a good time for our industry," says Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. Three-fourths of resale stores said they had higher sales in September and October, compared with the same period last year, according to the trade group. The average sales increase was about 35%.

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Old Clothes for the New Year

Almost every year for Rosh Hashanah — the New Year according to the Hebrew calendar — my family buys new clothes. With a few new tags, we make symbolic and fashion statements. And the same message is delivered during the fall back-to-school shopping season:  Our new clothes represent a fresh start for a new year.

But this year was different, and not just for me. For example, at a gathering of family and friends, old clothes provided the newest fashion statement.  Here are the trends I spotted at recent parties, family dinners and other celebrations:

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Frugality in practice: Air-dry your clothes (even indoors!)

Tiffany wrote with a quick energy-saving tip:

I hang up my wet clothes inside during the day to let them dry. When I get home from work, I put them in the dryer for about five minutes to get rid of the wrinkles. I don't have a clothesline, but this works just as well.

I'm not familiar with hanging clothes to dry indoors, but I like the idea. Kris and I have actually begun experimenting with hanging our clothes outside. We had a failed attempt earlier in the year (line was too long, and it rains in Oregon). But now Kris has created a makeshift clothesline running from the maple tree to the raspberry arbor:

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Get More Bang for Your Buck by Using Coupons and Sales Wisely

This is a guest post from Amanda, a Colorado tech writer and an activist for children with congenital heart disease.

Saturday MorningMy conversion to frugality began about a year ago, but it's only been recently that I've become good at it. We've been saving money by being aggressive with a cash-only purchase plan. If we can't afford it, we don't buy it. This only works if you know ahead of time what you need and how much you're willing to spend on it.

One of my recent accomplishments was purchasing fall clothing for my children. I knew that they needed new clothes, and that the cost would exceed our discretionary spending. In our budget, we set aside savings for clothing. I had a budget of $125 for each of my two kids. Though they didn't need new clothes in August, I knew that was when I'd be able to find good sales and the best selection, so I planned ahead.

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Crossing the Line from Frugal to Cheap

Sometimes it's hard to tell when I'm being frugal and when I'm just being cheap.

One side effect of losing weight — a positive one, mind you — is that I don't fit into some of my favorite clothes anymore. Like most people, I have certain garments that I love more than others. For example, my favorite pair of pants are these lightweight dark-green things with a zillion pockets that I purchased for $6 at an REI "garage sale". (REI is a local recreational outfitter — they hold used gear sales to ditch returned and damaged merchandise at bargain prices.)

These pants are perfect for summer. They're lightweight. They breathe well. And the legs zip off mid-thigh, allowing them to convert to shorts. I call them my "zip-off pants", and they've become a sort of running joke among friends and family. For the past three years, these pants have a part of my daily uniform during the summer months.

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Frugality in Practice: Fashion on a Budget

When I was in high school, I was enthralled by the world of fashion. This was the era of Miami Vice, of Tubbs and Crockett and their pastel suits. Of Footloose-inspired skinny ties (and knit ties, too). Of Alex P. Keaton. For several years during the mid-eighties I diverted a portion of my precious comic book money to purchase GQ every month. I was trying to absorb the Cool by osmosis.

The trouble was I wasn't Cool. And I was poor. I couldn't afford to look like the men in the magazines. (Plus I was fifteen years old. It's tough to be as cool as Don Johnson when you're only fifteen.) I did my best. I bought a pair of tight white pants. I bought shirts with bold prints. I had a fine collection of argyle socks. I paid attention to designers and labels and the like. I shopped at Nordstrom.

In college this obsession waned. I still shopped at expensive department stores, but I lost the need to be fashionable. In fact, I swung to the other side. It became more important for me to save money on clothes than to look good. I started trying to find good clothes for cheap.

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Frugality in Practice: Bundle Up to Stay Warm

A few years ago we bought a century-old house. It's poorly insulated. There are many windows. There are cracks under the doors. As you might expect, it's cold. To conserve energy, we use a programmable thermostat to keep the temperature at 54 when we're not around, and at 64 when we are. Still, that's chilly. We've gradually been making things snugger but it takes time and money. Meanwhile, we've developed a couple of coping mechanisms.

For one, it's amazing how much difference socks and slippers can make. Our floors are cold. The fiberglass insulation in the basement does little to keep the cold air from chilling our oak floorboards. But in socks and slippers (and especially on an area rug), my feet are toasty.

Other pieces of armor include hats and sweaters. I pick up cheap cardigans at garage sales and thrift stores, and wear them around the house. They're cozy and fashionable. (That's sarcasm, for those who missed it.) Since I wear a lot of hats, there's always a piece of headgear around to help me retain heat.

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Frugality in practice: Shopping for second-hand clothes

On a street corner near our house is a store called The Dig, which advertises "most clothes $3 - $4 - $5". Many of these are items of the latest fashions, which have been rejected for whatever reason. Clean and organized, the store also has dressing rooms, something many thrift stores lack. I used to mock Kris for going to The Dig. It looked like a dive. Then I joined her for a trip a couple of weeks ago — now I'm a convert.

I buy most of my clothing at one of two places: Costco or the local thrift shops. It makes me wince to pay more than $20 for a piece of clothing. (Unless it's something top quality, like a Filson jacket, in which case I'll gladly pay $150.) Costco has styles I like, but the selection is limited, and the prices are three times those at thrift stores. Thrift stores have a huge selection, but the garments are often flawed. And to find anything good, you have to sort through tons of junk.

Used clothing stores like The Dig are a compromise. The prices are better than at Costco. The selection isn't as wide as you might find at a thrift store, but the quality is generally better. Here are some tips about shopping for second-hand clothes. (Kris gave a lot of help with these.) Continue reading...

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Trunk Clothes: A Sure Sign You Have a Spending Problem

I mentioned my little brother earlier because he was taught his son that two pairs of shoes equals one iPod. (Remember that they're moving, and his wife is packing sixty pairs of shoes.) He just called to chat. I told him I was busy, but he offered me another story and gave me permission to print it.

His wife used to work at Nordstrom. While there she took advantage of the employee discount. A lot. In fact, she spent over $10,000 on clothes during that period. (Meaning $20,000 retail price, I think.)

Even when the family didn't have any money, she'd come home with clothes. My brother would call her on it, but she'd deny that they clothes were new. "Come on," he'd say. "I know what's in your closet." One day he complained to her about the new clothes she was wearing, and she claimed they were old, when he pointed out that there was a price tag still dangling from whatever it was she was wearing.

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