Monday, January 16, 2012

Becoming a Master Used-Clothing Shopper!

Fourteen years ago when Bob and I were first married I began shopping used clothing stores to help our finances stretch - but now I'd never go back to buying new!  *laugh!*  I save so much money, and find beautiful, name brand items by shopping smart.  Not that name brands are important to me, but quality is, and a good fit, and longevity are so that they'll last Bob and I a long time, or through multiple children's use.  It's a very rare thing for me to need to buy something new and doing so is just about more than I can stand having experienced the immense savings of shopping for nice-used.  And, learning to shop used has been a huge, huge blessing as the Lord has increased our family size by 9.  *smile* 

I've been asked many times for my strategies on how I shop used clothing stores and find the quality items that I do, so today I will share those strategies with you...*smile*
  • Mostly - How I shop Value Village & Good Will
  • Consignment shops
  • Huge cooperative sales
  • Garage sales
  • Receiving  and storing hand-me-downs for future use
  • How shopping used helps during "baby season"

How I shop Value Village & Good Will

These are the only two used clothing stores that I shop at (except for a consignment shop occasionally, mentioned later) simply due to time.  VV and GW have a very large, rotating selection and they're also right near my house, and I don't have time to frequent all of the used clothing stores in the area.  But with good strategies for thinking, planning, and shopping, I don't need to!  Here are 4 important strategies:

* Post-It note list - I keep mine stuck to my "To Do" List notebook of items that we need, or will need soon.  Mine currently says:

These are the family's current clothing (and occasionally household) needs which I will shop for once-a-week until I find them; and the Lord has always provided what we need eventually.  Sometimes I don't shop there for a few weeks if there are no pressing needs, but generally I go to VV and GW every week as part of our regular weekly shoppingThis is really the biggest key.  It does take patience (more below), but I always find what we need eventually.  I carry this list in to the store with me and as I find things I check them off of the list, and add to the list as needs arise.

I also pray and ask the Lord to provide these specific needs that our family has, and He is so faithful!  Not only do I find warm, long corduroy skirts that I need and prayed for, for example, but I finally find them one day in dark brown, beige, and a denim one, and I find two more in the next size down for me (I'm losing baby weight currently) so I have a couple to fit in to later in the winter!  And they're Eddie Bauer or Christopher and Banks brands, nice, heavy fabric with a nice fit, for about $5-6 each.  Thank you, Lord.

I usually come away from a shopping visit with either nothing, or 1-2 of the items I need, which is nice, but then every couple of weeks I find a bag full of items we need.  *smile*  I've found lots of things, from pretty, sheer, white curtains for our bedroom for a few dollars each panel, which lets in as much light as possible to our bedroom, and maintain an "open" look and feel of the room...

... to useful things such as a white wire shower hanging rack for our bathroom.

And other household items I've needed.  But most all of what I shop at VV and GW for are clothing, shoes, belts, purses, coats, pj's, bags, and the like. 

* Thinking of needs in advance - I have developed a habit of thinking of what we will need seasonally weeks in advance.  Stores like VV and GW have a lot of not-so-great clothing - but there are great gems to be found, too.  *smile*  I need to start looking for items we need weeks in advance because it can take a few or several weeks to find those great quality items.  I don't just settle for whatever VV or GW has, I don't buy junk or a really ugly-but-warm sweater, I only buy really nice things.  So, I start looking for black or brown dress shoes that our son will need in October, in August.  I start looking in the fall for warm winter coats for those who have grown out of theirs.  I look for extra pairs of jeans all summer for our oldest son, so that when shorts season is over in the summer he'll have his current size of jeans ready for fall when it's cooler.  I don't wait to shop for jeans until he's all out and then go and buy 4 or 5 pairs new; but rather when he's gotten holes in some pairs and I can see that he'll need some soon that's when I start shopping, and I pick up one or two pairs at a time as I find them.

If I haven't found what I've been looking for when the season or time arrives, then I make sure I am shopping every week in a concentrated way during the time when everyone else is shopping new for those same types of items.  When sales appear in the stores on winter colors or styles, that is the time when people are cleaning out their closets to make room for current sizes or new clothes.  In the fall just before school begins parents are "school shopping" for kids and cleaning out and giving away to VV and GW those sweaters, sweatshirts, coats, jeans, and boots that no longer fit their children.  *smile*  This is when I make sure I'm at VV and GW to shop.

I started looking months in advance of when we'd actually need duvet covers for our boys beds and matching pillow shams (purchased separately), and I found them by the time they were needed.  I could afford the time simply because I began thinking way ahead and was patient.

And knowing that we'll be buying another bunk bed for our next pair of sons who will move from cribs, I began looking about a year ago for another matching set of duvet covers and pillow shams, all 4 of which then I hoped to match their bedroom wall paint and look, and I found them after a few months.  Now those have then been waiting in the boy's closet for that next bunk bed which we're planning to buy now in the next couple of months.

Our twin baby girls are currently 13 months old, but when they're about 18-24 months old we'll be trading in their cribs for a bunk bed in the big girl's bedroom.  So a few months ago I began looking every week for a matching twin comforter or duvet cover set, and I'll continue looking every week for the next year or so until I find one.  *smile*  It's just a matter of thinking way in advance, being patient, and giving the Lord time to provide it when He's ready.  

Usually God provides through VV and GW for us, but sometimes it may be through a friend who offers to give us things they no longer need (like a blender, or a bunk bed, or maternity clothes for me), or maybe through Craig's List. 

* Shopping every week - I was told once, and it seems evident to me, that VV and GW not only receive in tons of new items every day, but they swap huge semi-truck loads of items with other VV and GW stores every week (I mean VV swaps with other VV stores)!  So if items aren't selling at the Bellingham VV (not because they're not nice items, they just haven't been purchased fast enough) then they'll send those items to Mount Vernon, and vise-verse.  So there is more of a change-over of items each week than most people realize.  So I check out both stores as part of my weekly shopping to see if any of the items I need are there yet.

* Not waiting for their sales; yes using their coupons - Both VV and GW have sales each day on a certain color tag on items.  On one day the red tags are on sale, and on another day the green ones.  But I don't base whether or not I'll purchase something on whether or not it's on sale at VV or GW.  If it's at VV or GW, it's already a great deal compared to purchasing new so I just go with that.  I never pay attention to what color the tag is.

I do like to hit the huge 50% off sales that they have periodically, but only if it's convenient with our family's schedule.  And I do not shop right after a national sale, such as a "50% off everything Labor Day Sale", because the store is emptied out of quality items - but only until the following week.  Then the store is restocked and ready with more "finds."

I do collect VV's coupons, however, and use those every chance I get.  VV gives out coupons every time I make a donation, so I try to donate as often as possible!  *smile*  I keep an ongoing "Value Village Box" in our garage so that when ever we have items we no longer need, want, or desire, that's where they go.  (Remember, all items have a "home" in order to stay organized - even the unwanted items!)  Whenever the box is full I simply dump it in to a kitchen garbage bag and drop it off while I'm at VV that week.  For this reason I only donate to VV, as GW does not offer coupons for donations.

* Patience pays off - It does take patience to wait for the items we need, but I usually don't have to shop more than a couple/few weeks until I find them.  And I usually am able to start shopping enough in advance that I'm not really missing not having that item yet, so I have time and can be patient until we do find them.

It is a rare occasion that I need to purchase something new.  For example, when I needed tall, warm brown leather boots to wear in the winter with skirts, I looked used for 2 years and just never found anything even close (because the popular high-high healed ones are totally impractical for me as a mom of many young children), so I had to buy some new.  I needed to be warm, of course.  When our baby girls needed cream or white stretch pants to wear underneath all of their dresses this winter, I searched for several months in advance knowing that they need those for warmth, eventually searching the consignment shops, too, and found nothing in size 18-24 mo..  I did find a pink pair, and a purple pair, but those only went with one dress or so.  So I purchased two pairs for them at the outlet mall.  But 98% of what we need I find - over time - at Value Village or Good Will.

Our oldest girls who also are learning to shop for their own clothes are learning excellent lessons on patience and on the value of being frugal.  They have often been tempted to purchase new items when they have a desire or a need for something, but when they discover that new prices are $30-$40 for those shoes, for example, they were shocked.  And after they continued to shop VV and GW and eventually found nice pairs of shoes for $5, they had so much fun realizing how much money they saved and how much that patience did pay off.

* Nice variety - I have also been blessed by the amount of variety I have exposure to, and have selection from when shopping VV and GW.  Again, it does take patience and persistence of going every week, however I have nice variety within my wardrobe that I never would have found going to the same couple or few stores all the time looking for my clothes.  Shopping at VV and GW is like having shopped dozens of stores each week.

This was especially helpful when we were transitioning in to wearing just skirts and dresses for the ladies in our family, and we had no idea what to even look for!  By shopping at VV and GW I had great exposure to what was "out there" in selection for "skirt wearers", as one of my friends calls us.  *chuckle*  *smile*

* Which store for which items? - I've found for our stores here by our house, VV has better selection in some things, while GW has a better selection in other things; they're not necessarily equal in what they offer.  I learned as I became a proficient shopper where to start looking for things first, depending upon what I'm looking for.  This is another reason I shop at both.  Here in Mount Vernon, and in my opinion, GW has more attractive men's clothing and sometimes slightly better quality for women's.  And GW has better selection and quality of children's clothing.  I don't know why this is, it's just always seemed that way to me.  VV has a larger selection, however, and has had a lot more women's dresses and skirts.  I'm sure this varies completely by location, but each person will figure out "their" stores, which does save time as you shop.

* Nice vs. not-so-nice locations? - I have shopped at all kinds of VV and GW stores, and I would like to tell you not to be too quick to judge the quality of the merchandise within by the appearance of the store from the street.  I used to think that stores in certain geographical locations would have better items than other stores, and this may be a little true, but not very much.  From my experience, and probably because the VV and GW stores (again, as I've been told) share and swap merchandise within their own chains, one can find gems in any of their stores no matter if they look really nice from the street or not.

* Do I sacrifice style? - Not a bit.  People bring items in to VV and GW year round of course.  And when I buy clothes I will likely keep those for many years both for myself and for the chidlren, so it doesn't matter to me if I purchase last year's styles this year or last year.  They're still "in style" enough for me.

I do like to get some of my favorite catalogs in the mail, however, such as Eddie Bauer, J. Crew, L.L. Bean, and Pottery Barn, which I then take about 1 minutes to flip through before sending it to the recycle bit at home.  But it helps me stay current for what is in style both in attire and in our home, and when I shop used then my eye is scanning for that "look" that I like, but without the price tag those brands carry.  I find current trends in clothes (although I do like a "classic" look, so those trends do not change a whole lot) fairly easily when shopping every week.  I like the look of the all white dishes in the kitchens of Pottery Barn's homes, but I can find that same look used fairly easily - white coffee mugs (even if they vary in style they still match just like Pottery Barn does), white serve ware for the kitchen, white dessert plates... when I open my kitchen cupboard I see uniformity, simplicity, matching for every season, and nothing extra to store during the out of season times.  I like this.  And I found it by shopping smart, being patient, and thinking in advance.

Consignment shops

I do love to shop consignment, but it is more expensive than VV and GW.  I'll shop consignment for things like a pack-n-play that I need (I've never ever seen nice ones at VV or GW), or when I've needed a crib mattress protector (from wetness) and couldn't afford the time to wait on finding one.  But other than that I pretty much stick with VV and GW.

Huge cooperative sales

I don't know about around the country or the world, but locally here in Washington we have some great cooperative sales through groups such as Mothers Of Multiples (twins, triplets, quadruplets):  EMOMS (Eastside Mothers Of Multiples) and SNOMOMS (Snohomish Mothers Of Multiples).  These are not just for mothers of multiples, anyone can shop the sales, but them are put on by mothers of multiples and to cater to mothers of multiples first.  I shopped these sales before we had our twins and it was a gold mine of amazing buys.  It is like a highly, highly organized, fully "staffed" garage sale held two times a year in a high school or college gymnasium.  I've found furniture, nice strollers, toys, clothes, etc. there.  People line up 45 minutes before the doors open, and then they let in the mothers of multiples in first to shop, and then 30 minutes later they let in the rest of the public to shop.  It's awesome, and if you're local I can't encourage you enough to sign up to be notified before each sale!

Garage sales 

I do not shop garage sales here around our house as they tend to be not worth my time (selling almost exclusively items that should go to the dump, not be sold), and more often than not, I would end up following signs that were out of date and so there's nothing to be found.  There is an annual sale about an hour from our house that is one entire residential area sale, in a really nice area (Woodinville), that that is very much worth going to as people sell all kinds of nice things.  But I haven't been to this one in years as I haven't needed to find things like furniture or other larger items that would be worth the time and gas money to drive there.

Receiving hand-me-downs for current and future use

I always appreciate receiving hand-me-downs that people offer me - but I don't feel obligated to keep every single item that is given.  I go through the clothes and select out the items we need, or will need in the future, and then I give the rest away to someone else who might be able to use them.  *smile*  I do keep a couple of clothing boxes in the garage marked for the next-sizes up that our sons or daughters will grow in to, just for nice hand-me-downs that we can't use yet but will in the future.  This has been very nice to be able to get out when children reach that size!

How shopping used helps during "baby season" 

Shopping for used clothing has been very, very valuable also when I've been pregnant and moving in and out of many clothing sizes as I've gained and lost baby weight.  I couldn't afford to have clothes for fall, winter, spring and summer, in 4-6 different size ranges without being able to shop used clothes!  Oh my goodness, we would have broken the bank!  But shopping used, when each clothing item is between $4-7 dollars, that we've been able to do.  *smile*

I'd never go back to buying new even if we had an abundance of finances; it would seem like such a waste of money.  But there is something to be learned in how to shop used clothing stores.  It may seem like a lot of work, but really all I do is shop Value Village and Good Will every week, visit a consignment store once in a blue moon, and hit one annual huge cooperative sale.  Pretty simple. 

I hope this has been helpful for you!  *smile*  We can all so bless our husbands by using the money they earn for our families wisely and well, and making it stretch to the best of our ability.  My contribution to our family's finances is the time I have, which my husband enables me to spend by taking care of the family while I shop.  And clothing the 11 of us has not been super expensive at all by shopping used, and I personally think we're all very nicely dressed.  *smile*
 (Mine and Bob's closet)

Blessings on your efforts,

Recommended resource:
Used clothing consignment ONLINE!  *Huge store!*


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