Friday, 23 March 2012

Frugal Friday (23rd March)

I'm a little late getting started on this post, because I've been busy today decluttering! I really enjoy this job - it honestly isn't a chore! In point of fact I would go so far as to say that I find it addictive, which is why whenever I put aside time to declutter, it is never long enough! I always get so absorbed in what I am doing that I lose track of time, which is not always a good thing. Fortunately today Papa Bear was here to keep a check on my endeavours, so here I am, finally sitting down with my lovely husband right here beside me (I think he wants to make sure I don't declutter anything else. Truely, I am the opposite of a hoarder. I'm a compulsive DE-hoarder). And having now drawn breath I'm ready for today's Frugal Friday!

I thought I'd talk a little today about shopping at thrift stores (or charity shops, as they tend to be called in England). By this, I mean shops that sell second-hand items that have been donated by members of the public to raise funds for the charitable organisation that runs the shop. Here in the part of England where we live this is really the only sort of high street second-hand store that there is. Online there are lots of alternatives, such as Ebay (which we don't use, as we believe it encourages gambling) and Amazon Marketplace (which we do use) where great bargains can be had if you know how to look for them. But today I'm going to focus only on the high street type of second-hand store.

In England, charity shops nowadays are not nearly as cheap as they use to be! This is mainly due to the advent of large chain stores that sell very cheaply mass-produced items (especially clothes) for such low prices, that they're almost comparable to the second-hand stores. However they are often cheap for a reason - their staff are paid low wages, the garments are not usually very well made, and sometimes, they've been manufactured abroad in factories that use much lower welfare and ethical standards for their staff than the ones here. These are reasons worth considering the second-hand shops instead, where although the prices of the items on sale may not be much lower than these large chain stores, they are often items from the better chain stores, or items made by organisations supported by the charity that runs the store. Some of the charity shops here where we live that we like to visit are Oxfam (which supports third world countires), Pact (which supports animal welfare), Scope (which supports people who have physical disabilities), Arc (which helps people who have arthritis), and Mind (which supports people who have mental illnesses). These charities are all good causes that we personally want to support, so we're happy to spend our money in them.

There are a few hints worth knowing, if you are a charity shop novice, which will make your experiences more positive! It can be a little off-putting, the first time you visit a charity shop, as they are often a little bit more cluttered inside, than big department stores, and the items on sale may be slightly less well presented. After all, the staff that work there are usually not being paid, and therefore there are often fewer of them, with less time to organise the store. But don't let that deter you! Nowadays they are getting better, and some of them are very clean and nice inside.

As with all shopping trips, we find it makes good sense, if you are on a budget, if you determine how much you intend to spend BEFORE you go. It is very tempting, when you are confronted with all these bargains, to think "wow, I'm saving so much money", and therefore be encouraged to purchase things you didn't plan to buy, just because they are so cheap. This isn't a good way to save money, so it is a good idea to decide before you shop, just exactly what it is you wish to buy. If the shops you visit don't have the items you want to purchase, then don't be lured into spending your money anyway. You'll fetch up with things you probably don't need, and the items that you did want to buy, are still on your shopping list!

Obviously with charity shops, the selection of available items isn't uniform. There will be lots of clothes, but there won't be a selection of sizes in one same item as there are in department stores. With things that come in a set, like dinnerware, flatware, bedding, cookware etc, you'll often find that items are missing (which is probably why they got sent to the charity shop in the first place). This doesn't necessarily mean it is a bad buy, but be aware you'll probably have to look a long time, to find the missing pieces! As regards clothes, while I wouldn't normally impulse buy, I will say that if you are looking for, say, a dress, and you find one that you really like and which fits you well, don't hang about wondering whether to buy it. If this is what you came to buy and you know you'll wear it, buy it. If you hesitate, it may be gone, and there won't be another one. This is why you do need to be careful, and strong willed, when you shop in charity shops. It is all too easy to come back with things you WERENT sure about, which you bought just in case someone else got to them while you hesitated. For that reason, I do think it is a good idea to shop with someone else. Papa Bear is great at giving his honest (but always polite!)opinion about whether it is really worth buying something I'm hesitating over. And of course, he's always right!

Things that are good to buy at charity shops are:-

Books - although do check Amazon Marketplace. You can buy books there for a penny, plus postage, which is pretty much the cheapest way I have found to buy second-hand books. They're often in slightly better condition too - charity shops seem to have a lower level of quality control, than Amazon does.

Toys - especially ones for babies, but get there quickly! They really do get snapped up fast, so if you see something get it while it's there.

Other baby equipment - I've bought bedding which was good and clean, from charity shops, as well as padded seat covers, raincovers for strollers, sunblinds for the car, and towels, from charity shops. However, I would draw the line at purchasing items such as strollers or car seats. I'd prefer to know where these have come from, and whether they have been used carefully. (In England it is not recommended to use second-hand car seats. They may have been in an accident which has weakened the structure of the seat, which will not necessarily be obvious to the naked eye, but could mean that if involved in another accident, they do not protect your child as they should. Don't scrimp on safety items for your precious babies).

Clothes - obviously, clothes are the one main attraction for many people. With the cost of buying new ones rising higher and higher, second-hand garments from good stores are an attractive alternative. I have had some really excellent bargains from charity shops, including a winter coat with the price tag still on, several skirts from good stores (including a sweet black wool one, that I am wearing as I write), scarves (they are usually less than £1), nightgowns and blouses. It's a great way to find lovely clothes for a fraction of the price they would have been new. I would advise not buying shoes second-hand however. Shoes mould themselves to the original wearer's feet, and your feet will not fit them in the same way, which will mean that they are very uncomfortable (and actually damaging, in the case of children whose feet are still growing). I personally would not want to wear someone else's shoes anyway - ewwww! And of course, I always wash everything when I get it home, before we wear it.

Bedding, towels and curtains - likewise, charity shops are a great source for good quality bedding (check the label - polycotton with a high percentage of cotton is good quality. I personally don't like 100% cotton as it is so difficult to keep smooth and crease free!). We have a thick door curtain that came from a charity shop several years ago, which was a wonderful buy. I lined it with a pair of thinner curtains that I sewed top-to-bottom to make them long enough, and it is excellent at keeping out the cold!

Knitting wool and patterns - you can't beat charity shops for these. I buy nearly all my patterns at charity shops, and wool is often available for less than 50p a ball. However there often isn't enough to knit anything other than a baby garment (it's usually the left over wool from someone's bigger knitting project). It's still worth buying though - you can use it to create a knitted or crocheted blanket!

Handbags - I can't remember the last time I bought a handbag brand new. Charity shops are brilliant places to get handbags, and purses too, and you can often get very good quality leather ones for just a couple of pounds.

Jewellery - if you wear jewellery, don't overlook charity shops as a source for your purchases. I've got quite a few sweet items from charity shops over the years, and was especially happy to find a tiny sweet watch that fitted my wrist exactly! Sadly it broke about a year after I got it (and I must confess, it's one thing I haven't yet had the heart to declutter - I keep hoping Papa Bear will find a way to fix it!).

Of course, there's also quite a lot of things that aren't worth buying at charity shops. There always seems to be an abundance of what we call "tat" in charity shops - junk that really and truely, I can't believe anyone would ever want to waste their money on. I would advise that if you have small children, you sound out the contents of your local charity shops before you let them loose inside them! The "tat" element is a terrible lure for small children!

Be patient when you visit charity shops. The best way to find the greatest bargains is to keep returning to the same shops on a regular basis. The stock in charity shops turns over quickly, and different shops run by the same charity will switch their stock around to keep people coming back. When searching for clothes, make sure you pull the hangers right apart as you go through the racks. Sometimes a real find can be discovered hiding between two larger items!

Finally, don't be afraid to "round up" your bill when you come to pay. It's worth remembering that charity shops don't run to make a profit. They run to help the good causes they support, and your contribution is always appreciated. And don't forget, you can also help them out, by donating your unwanted items too! Which is exactly what I intend to be doing, tomorrow!