Two Excellent Strategies for Second-Hand Shopping

Public Domain. Unsplash / Brooke Cagle

Frugality blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames has outfitted her house and family with thrifted finds. This is her advice.

Thrifting may seem like a simple enough activity – enter the store or garage sale, look around, buy – but serious thrifters know there's more to it, that adding some strategy to the game can make the experience more financially worthwhile.

An article by Elizabeth Willard Thames, founder of the highly successful Frugalwoods blog and book of the same name, recently wrote a post called, "How to Thrift like a Rock Star." She is an avid thrifter, buying most of her household belongings and clothing from second-hand sources, and she made two points in the article that made an impression on me.

First, she buys items well in advance. Anything that she thinks will be useful at some point in the near future she purchases, even though that might mean stashing it away in big Rubbermaid bins in her basement (a feature she admits she's lucky to have). Willard Thames writes:

"Previously, I thought this approach was counter to frugality because it involves buying stuff I don’t need right now. However, I’ve learned it actually facilitates greater frugality because the cost of making a mistake – buying something used that we don’t end up needing – is nominal compared to the cost of buying new... If I added up all of my 'mistaken' used purchases over the years... the total wouldn’t come anywhere near the amount I would've spent had I needed to buy fill-in-the-blank new."

The other interesting thing she does is focus on depreciation, snapping up those items that depreciate at the highest rate while retaining functionality. She uses the example of a bread machine, purchased for $5 at a yard sale, regularly sold new for $269. The same day, she considered buying a glass salad bowl for $5. She went for the bread machine, but not the salad bowl:

"The depreciation experienced by the bread machine is thus much greater than the depreciation of the salad bowl. Put another way, I got the bread machine for 98 percent off the new price whereas the salad bowl would’ve been 65 percent off... [I'll] wait until I find a salad bowl for more like $0.50."

Another main category is kids' winter clothing and boots, which she figures saves close to 95 percent annually by buying used. In fact, the savings are so tremendous that it's shocking more people don't do it: "I’m not sure it’s possible to save such a staggering percentage in any other category of purchases. This right here is a goldmine of depreciation for used shoppers." I agree, as my children's outdoor gear comes almost exclusively from second-hand sources, and I can't imagine paying full price for it. (Read: 10 items I've bought at a thrift store)

Willard Thames outlines numerous other motivations for second-hand shopping, which you can read about in the original article. But the point is, if you're not already taking advantage of the treasure trove of used items in your community – whether at a local thrift store, an online swap site, or summer weekend garage sales – you should. It's cheap, practical, and surprisingly fun.