The Science of Shopping on a Budget, Part II: Thrift and Sophistication

Lots of people dislike secondhand stores, and for good reason, given the time and patience it takes to sift through a large amount of junk. As women on budgets, though, it’s one of our sacred, unwritten creeds to discover chic collectibles, which are often hidden in plain sight. Today’s entry marks the beginning of a larger conversation I’d like to have with you about re-angling our view of thrift shopping.

For now, by the way, I am focusing on for-profit secondhand stores such as St. Louis’ Rag-O-Rama and Plato’s Closet, although I am certainly aware that thrift stores actually constitute a broader array of non-profit organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Resale stores, Rag-O-Rama and Plato’s Closet in this case, offer customers cash or store credit for items that customers bring to sell. The store buyers are usually very selective, purchasing about 10% of items brought to them, which is good news for a bargain shopper seeking high quality items as the quality of products in these stores usually surpasses that of Goodwill.

Before I head to Rag-O-Rama (one of my faves), I spend some time thinking about the salvageable value of unused items in my wardrobe. You know what I’m talking about here: shoes that shouldn’t be worn again because of the damage they’ve done to your feet; pants that are too tight; and tops that are too short. I pack up those items and take them with me. What Rag-O-Rama doesn’t buy, I’ll take to Goodwill.

So, while the buyers are assessing the value of my items, I browse the store. It can sometimes be hard to judge quality in these stores, but if you know designer labels and are willing to look, you can make some fabulous finds. You never know what you are going to find, since the inventory is renewed daily. That possibility of finding the unexpected treasure, of course, makes the search all the more enjoyable.

Keep in mind that when you shop secondhand, it is final sale. So take extra precautions while investigating what you choose. I recommend smelling an item. If a bad odor is bothering you, pass on that product. Once, so excited by the possibility of getting a Michael Kors bag for $20, I convinced myself that I could remove an awful smell of cigarette smoke on the inside of the bag. Well, after febreeze, baking soda, and some other home remedy, I still have never worn that bag because it still reeks of smoke. (Hey, if you know how to remove the smell of smoke from a bag, do let me know!)

Finally, don’t be afraid to leave empty-handed. I always hope and dream about finding another Antonio Melani, Coach, or Michael Kors bag, but usually I don’t. Besides, building our desired wardrobes, as you already know, happens with rare and surprising finds over a long period of time.



  1. Anonymous
    November 13, 2007 / 4:08 pm

    VEry interesting!…Great tips too…Capis

  2. November 13, 2007 / 4:11 pm

    Thanks Capis! Be sure to let me know of any others.