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Smart thrift store shopping

What better way to kick off the new year than with a fabulous new wardrobe? But if your visions of style and flair are overshadowed by your visions of credit card debt and despair, you may have resigned yourself to trotting out your old look for another season.

Fortunately, it turns out that thrift stores offer an affordable way to update your look and create a unique style for a very reasonable amount of money. If you hear “thrift store” and immediately think “transient chic,” you’re not alone — but you’re also very wrong.

“There’s a misperception that thrift stores are full of garbage. That’s not true — most stores have standards,” says Jodi Furman, creator of the blog NeverPayRetailAgain. In fact, says Furman, “Thrift store shopping is for everyone. Why shouldn’t you make ends meet even better? At a thrift store, you can do better than retail.”

Shopping, says Furman, should be about “the thrill of the hunt. You never know what you’re going to find — and you can find designer goods selling for 1/1000th of their value,” she explains.

There are some tricks to shopping wisely in thrift stores, and Furman has a lot of great advice to share. She recommends shopping in upscale areas where people frequently donate new items with tags still attached — but few people buy anything. She also points out that this isn’t traditional retail shopping where pieces come in a variety of sizes and colors. But while you may not be able to pick out 10 new dresses, you can find the accessories that will give you a brand new, pulled together look that gets you second glances.

Thrift store shopping is “definitely a great way to find accessories and things that can bring an outfit up to date. A necklace, a clutch, some great heels — small pieces will have a big impact,” says Furman.

If you do come across a store that sells broken or badly damaged goods, turn around and move on, says Furman. Enough great stores are out there, so you don’t have to waste your time on the handful that give the rest a bad name. Of course, when you find a gold mine, keep going back. And if you have friends who also dig deals, share your finds. “Think of shopping as a competitive team sport,” says Furman.

Want to turn your great bargain into an incredible deal? Furman suggests that you gather everything you want to buy and bring it all up to the front. Tell the cashier, “I want to buy all of this. What kind of discount can you offer?” Then stop talking, and just wait. Let them name the price, because the discount they offer might be much better than what you were going to suggest.

Furman’s final tip is great advice for all your shopping: “Don’t buy something just because it’s a good bargain. If you can’t use it or don’t need it, you’re not really saving money.”


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