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Garage Sale Day and Thrift Shop Day: Tips for second-hand shopping

Written by Mary Luz Mejia

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Every garage sale weekend warrior, semi-serious thrift seeker and consignment shop savant knows there's method to the madness. You could just wander in and hope lady luck shines down on you when you're shopping, but deal hounds know the dos and don'ts of scoring the best merchandise at the best prices. With Garage Sale Day (Aug 13) and Thrift Shop Day (Aug 17) coming up, here are my tips, honed from years of experience of following my mother on her garage sale searches.

Yard sale scores

Mom always did her homework before she hit the road. She'd read the local paper to find out who was holding a garage sale in which neighbourhood, and when. Nowadays, most information is available online. Either way, it's smart to plan a route. Start in the best neighbourhoods in your town—that's likely where the best stuff will be for sale.

The early bird gets the best selection. The downside? Prices won't be as flexible as they might be if you stopped at the end of the day. Some of my early bird scores include a cobalt blue Murano glass vase for $7 and beautiful English china cake plates ranging from $3-$5.

When it comes to electronics, buyer beware. If you're buying an electrical appliance, test it first. Make sure it has all of the working parts and operates as it should. Ask if there are warranty papers, as you might have some warranty left on the product.

Shop wisely: a garage sale may not be the best place to buy a mattress, for example. It could have bed bugs. Check everything thoroughly, do your research and if something doesn't seem right, trust your instincts.

Negotiate for the best possible price, but be reasonable.

Thrift and consignment shopping

Know your products and brands, because some clothes aren't meant to last. If you know what to look for you can pick up jeans, pants, dresses, hats and shoes at thrift stores for a fraction of the retail price.

Look for lightly used items that don't have mystery stains on them. (Sometimes even the dry cleaner can't help with those.) Same with shoes: you don't want a pair that has been stretched to its limits.

Shop off-season. Even at thrift and consignment stores, the best deals usually happen end-of or off-season. Also keep an eye out for coupon savings or flash sales. Big scores for me include a Hermès® scarf for $5 when I was a university student, and designer, non-prescription sunglasses (in their original case) for $10.

As with garage sales, consider going to shops in the best neighbourhoods in your city. Chances are, that's where the donations will get dropped off, and where you might find a Rothschild children's coat for $10 (they're usually over $100), like my sister-in-law did. Mondays are particularly good shopping days because most folks clear their clutter on weekends.

You may be able to negotiate a better price if a button is missing or a zipper needs replacing. If you're handy, you can replace these yourself.

As with any shopping experience, inspect everything thoroughly. Know the retail price before you buy, so you know what you're spending and saving. Most of all, have fun!

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