Buy Great Clothes For Pennies On The Dollar

How important is clothing?
“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
Mark Twain


Do clothes really make the person? Perhaps that’s why we spend so much on shopping every year. According to an estimate at, the average American household spends about $1,434 each year (i.e. average income and 2.5 people). In other words, typical families are spending $119 per month. Over ten years, that adds up to the staggering sum of $14,280 (not including inflation). Depending on your income or profession, it can be significantly more.

Zero-Based Living is all about making more-conscious choices (see The Magic of Full Consciousness), so naturally when it comes to clothes shopping we believe it’s worth exploring the alternatives. The point is to decide what’s more important to you: Are you only going to wear brand new clothing you purchase from a department store? Or would you consider buying less expensive, “used” clothing if it matched your size and your tastes?


The good news is that there is an unbelievable variety of inexpensive, yet well-made clothing available if you are willing to take the time to look for it. If you’re set on buying new clothing, you can achieve excellent savings at stores like Ross, Wal-Mart, Target, and a number of others who promise to charge much less than the major department stores.


You can get great clothes buys at thrift stores.If you’re open to the alternative, it may be far easier than you realize to find excellent, like-new clothing by attending yard or rummage sales. For a more consistent shopping experience, you can find exceptional buys by mastering the art of thrift store shopping. While thrift shopping is not for everyone, with advance planning the experience is rewarding, and the clothes you find can rival anything at the major retailers.



Setting Our Standards


Shopping for pre-owned clothing should be an adventure, not an ordeal. It pays to set clear standards ahead of time. In buying second-hand, it can be hard to match the full convenience and selection of department stores, but when it comes to a particular thrift store or sale we can rate the experience in several important ways:


Thrift stores often lower prices on certain days.

The store above offers terrific savings on clothes bought on Sundays. Watch for deals.

* Price


There are three basic categories for thrift pricing—giveaway, bargain, or not-quite bargain. Depending on what you plan to spend, certain stores or sales might be better than others. Whether or not you consider prices high will also depend on your particular situation—one person’s “high” price is another’s screaming bargain. We can make a couple generalities: 1) At garage and rummage sales, most clothing is practically given away. This is especially true toward the end of the day, when those putting on the sale face cleaning up (See Harvesting Hidden Wealth). 2) The nicer the thrift the more likely you’ll pay a little more for your items. It therefore pays to visit several thrifts in your area to get a feel for pricing and identify the best stores.


* Selection


Are there plenty of items in your size? Are there a variety of colors and styles available? To insure a better selection, you may need to seek out a larger thrift store or rummage sale. Garage sales are hit and miss. They may have little or no clothing in your size. However, they can be good sources for baby or children’s clothing. Check for sales in your area.


* Quality


Are there name brands available? Are some of the clothes almost new, or even brand new with tags still on them? Are most in good enough condition to match your own wardrobe? Or are too many of them dated, worn, or damaged? Quality is tricky. Even clothing stores selling brand new items sometimes offer poor quality. Tip: Carefully examine your clothing no matter where you end up shopping.


Look for a well-organized thrift store.

A clean, well-organized store makes shopping more pleasant.

* Organization


Is this a well-organized store, garage sale, or rummage sale? Are the clothes sorted by type and size? Or is this a “free for all” arrangement, with unsorted racks or piles of clothing? While unearthing a hidden treasure is always rewarding, it’s nice to find the seller who puts more effort into sorting their inventory. That makes shopping a more enjoyable experience.


* Cleanliness


Is the location spacious and well lighted? It’s easier to inspect clothing when lighting conditions are good. It’s also reassuring to find a store where the floors, tables and aisles are clean. In good stores the clothes are washed and fresh smelling. Some larger thrift stores treat clothing to help ensure it is hygienic, but you can expect your experience to vary. If the clothes are treated, this may be noticed as a mild chemical scent.


* Other


While customer assistance in finding items is rare, a good store or well-run garage sale will usually have people on hand to answer questions. One very valuable thing to look for in a thrift store is plenty of booths to try on items. The store that includes them does more business. At the least, make sure to ask about the store’s return policy. Some allow for returning clothes, and others make it clear that all sales are final. Tip: Take along a cloth measuring tape to check waist sizes and length of items. This can be especially helpful when you can’t try on clothes.


Many people are surprised to discover that the clothing at a thrift store isn’t all that different from the clothing they find at a department store. Most thrift stores carry a wide variety of items.Today it is not always clear how or where new clothing is manufactured. At a department store, people who try on new clothing often don’t purchase it, or they bring it home and return it later. The store then repackages it and puts it back on the shelf. In other words, even when we buy “new”, we may be receiving pre-worn items.


In addition, many people buy or receive a brand new article of clothing, try it on once or not at all, then give it away to a thrift store. The careful thrift store shopper can often find clothes that are brand new with tags still on them, or clothes that are as good as new. However, since some “new” clothes may be defective or “seconds”, it makes sense to examine each item you buy with care.


Types Of Second-Hand Stores


The illustration below shows the various types of thrift stores you’re likely to find.


There are many different kinds of thrift stores.


A noteworthy example of a shared profit thrift store is Savers (also known as Value Village in some markets).


Savers is known as Valle Village in some markets.

Savers operates a chain of about 220 stores in the U.S. and other countries. It obtains its merchandise by paying local charities for it—for example, paying by the bag or the box. This allows charities to collect donated items and sell them to Savers, without operating stores of their own. In addition, Savers donates cash to charities when it receives donated items from the public. Since 1954, Savers has paid out over $1 billion dollars to local charities. In our limited experience, its stores rate well on the standards listed above. The variety is large, the clothing is sorted by type and often by size, and the stores are spacious, neat, and clean.


Tremendous Savings


Clothing is expensive, it wears out fast, and children grow out of it sooner than we believe. It’s not unusual to spend $100 at a department store and receive only one or two simple items of clothing. As we’ve learned, over the course of a year, many families spend thousands of dollars on their clothing.


Instead of paying $80 for a new pair of pants at a department store, you might find an identical pair for only $4 at a thrift—that’s a $76 savings! At a yard sale, you might find it for $2 or less. The savings you make as you master the art of thrift shopping are guaranteed to add up fast. Plus, no matter how lean or fat your family budget, there’s nothing quite as fun as discovering an unexpected treasure.


Your Thrift Shopping Experience


It’s helpful to know what to expect as you search for clothing at a thrift store.


Here is a list of items to consider:


– Thrift shopping is like mining for gold—it’ll take some effort to find the best bargains.


Thrift shopping is like mining for gold.

It pays t shop at a store frequently as inventory is always turning over.

– Clothes in the stores are often found unsorted or out of place. Many thrift stores are understaffed so clothes are frequently pulled from a rack by a customer and put back in a different place.


– Since it’s impossible to know how long clothing has been sitting around in a store, or where it came from before it was hung on the store’s racks, you’ll want to wash any clothes you buy.


– Carry hand-wipes to freshen up after shopping. They’re good for cleaning hands and preventing the flu.


– The inventory at most thrifts is always turning over, so you need to make frequent trips to get the best buys, or to know whether a particular store will work for you.


– Some stores have special bargain days and the additional savings can be substantial. Be sure to take advantage.


Finding A Good Thrift Store


To find a favorite store in your area, check “thrift stores” in the telephone directory, or do an online search. Try Google, or this thrift store directory. Once you’ve located several good prospects you’ll want to visit them over the course of several shopping trips to evaluate size, selection, quality, and price. There are great differences between stores, and sometimes there are even big differences within the same store from one visit to the next.


They say that clothes make the person, but who we are is more about the way we make decisions than anything we might choose to wear. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying new, and at the same time, it’s also important to know what your priorities are and whether you’re buying because it makes sense to, or because you feel pressured by your peers. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to see “The Philosophy of Zero-Based Living”, accessible from the menu bar above or the link here.


We hope your next shopping is experience is a great one.


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