Articles from October 2013



Non-thrifty thrifting: what not to buy at a thrift store

I am a big believer in providing economic incentives for socially beneficial behavior. Charging a dime for one-time use bags? Great idea. Subsidizing solar? I’m all for it. The fact is, very few people are going to be willing to take it on the chin for the greater good, even if their hearts are in the right place, and you certainly can’t depend on pure goodwill for widespread change. So while I think buying used provides a social and environmental benefit to society, it’s unrealistic to expect most people to do it if they aren’t also getting something out of it, i.e., a good deal. And friends, some items in thrift stores are not good deals.

I know thrift store shopping varies considerably throughout the U.S., so please note this advice is based on the shopping available in very upscale Santa Monica, California. Extrapolate as you will to your local market.

Worst thrift store deals:

1. T-shirts

At my local Goodwill, all short-sleeved shirts, including t-shirts, are priced identically, at $4.99. While you might get lucky and find a fancyish short-sleeved shirt from a well-known designer on the rack (never out of the question in a wealthy zip code like this one,) the majority of shirts are more like this worn-out pink number originally from Old Navy. If I may anthropomorphize for a moment, it looks sad, ike it lost its job or is going through a bad breakup.

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Meanwhile, a few blocks away at TJ Maxx, this fetching little shirt awaits you for a mere dollar more. Sassy!

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2. Drinking Glasses

I have seen the occasional high-quality houseware item to be had at a good price. For the most part, though, thrift stores are reselling ordinary items that were cheaply made in the first place. These mundane glasses are priced at  $1.99 apiece.
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Meanwhile, at my local TJ Maxx, you can get six similar glasses for $7.99, or only $1.25 each!

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3. Shoes

Even I, a person who is not squeamish about purchasing a gently-worn item, have only successfully bought two pairs of used shoes in my entire life, and they were both vintage pairs in very good condition that would paralyze you with envy if you saw them. Given that the majority of the world shares or exceeds my disgust at the process of slipping on someone’s castoff footwear, how can any reasonable person be expected to purchase a pair at my local Goodwill, considering the outrageous cost? The average pair of shoes I found — mostly from fairly generic mall stores, like Steve Madden, were $14.99 used.

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Only two blocks away, at my local discount shoe store, you can buy a brand new pair of Steve Madden shoes for 60% off of 109.99, or about $44.00. Sure, that’s three times as much as the used ones, but given that (a) shoe styles change a lot more than drinking glasses or t-shirts, and (b) used shoes are at least a bit off-putting, it’s not nearly enough of a bargain for the average person. Especially since, if you take a dip down in quality, you can easily get a used pair of shoes in the discount rack for $15.00 — a far preferable option for most people.
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Next up: what you should buy at the thrift store.