Friday, September 10, 2010

Secondhand shopping yields practical, beautiful finds at bargain prices

A few weeks ago, I admitted that thrift and secondhand stores can be a serious point of budget vulnerability for me—my Achilles heel. Still, in making such a declaration, I didn’t explain why my family shops at these stores in the first place. When I shop carefully, I can use the money we save to fund our family’s goals, such as buying a new vacuum cleaner that can handle pet hair and the volume of dirt brought indoors by our four children.
Whenever possible, we scour secondhand stores for things we need. We dress our children (and ourselves) almost entirely in secondhand finds. We buy nearly all our winter gear, such as coats, snow pants, and boots at thrift stores. And we buy virtually all of our household goods as seconds too, including kitchen supplies, bedding, furniture, even paint, all at a fraction of what it costs to buy these items new.
In the process, we don’t have to sacrifice beauty, utility or quality. In fact, buying secondhand often allows us to purchase things we wouldn’t be able to afford in traditional outlets. Some of our recent great finds include the $2.50 black cocktail dress I wore for our anniversary dinner this year, the Italian leather boots I bought for $8, the classic pinstripe suit my husband found for $4, and a handmade quilt I recently bought for $20. Even our large collection of original artwork came from secondhand sources, each costing less than $20 apiece.
Friends who visit our home often remark on our finds. “How can you afford to buy so many pieces of original artwork?” a friend recently asked. “All the gallery pieces I’ve seen cost hundreds of dollars.” She didn’t believe me at first when I told her that I found every piece of art we have through secondhand sources.
Another visitor, who has interior design training and who is well acquainted with my thrift-focused shopping habits, registered the same kind of surprise when she came to our home for the first time. “Your home is warm and comfortable . . . and doesn’t look like a thrift store.”
These comments reflect a common misconception about thrift stores: buying secondhand means forgoing good looks. On the contrary, some of our most remarkable pieces—mohair chairs with an intricate nail head trim, a giant painting of the Moulin Rouge, a nearly-complete set of vintage china, and an Art Deco lamp—came from thrift stores or other secondhand sources. Sure, you’ll find flotsam and jetsam, garish lamps and brown plaid sofas, but there are plenty of unique and practical goods if you’re willing to look for them. A found thrift store treasure is also satisfying because it isn’t just something you can go out and buy anywhere – often, it’s an unexpected, one-of-a-kind find.
Buying through secondhand sources allows us to support small, local businesses and organizations that use the proceeds of their sales for worthy causes in our area. What’s more, buying the things we need secondhand qualifies as a “green” choice, as well.
Outfitting ourselves and our home this way does take time and patience. It helps to use a few tried-and-true bargain-hunting strategies. And if you overdo thrift-store shopping, you’ll defeat the purpose of trying to stretch your budget. But when you know what you want to buy – perhaps a painting, a grater for your kitchen, a dress for your daughter, or a chair for your desk – and you shop with purpose, you can reap some wonderful, affordable rewards. Next week, I’ll share some of my best strategies for shopping effectively in thrift stores and secondhand shops.

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