There are things you should keep in mind when trying to bargain shop at thrift stores and garage sales, though.
- The main thing? What they are selling there is not always a bargain. I have seen things at greater than what the new price would be. Seriously. One local thrift store is particularly prone to this. I have yet to see a regular-mouth quart canning jar at this particular thrift store for less than $1.99. They have regular-mouth pints at 99¢-$1.50. Kerr/Ball brand regular-mouth pints are 58¢ each and regular-mouth quarts are 66¢ each at Walmart. So why, pray tell, would I over-pay just because something is at a thrift store? I wouldn't. I wait until my once-a-month trip to my favorite thrift store and get them for 50¢ each. And that's just one example. KNOW what things are new!!!
- Don't only know the full-price new, but also what you can expect to pay for something on sale as well as what (if any) coupons are frequently out for those items.
- Check the condition. Something isn't a deal if it's broken or will require a good bit of time or money to fix & bring it up to usable condition. You can expect to find some items needing cleaning at a thrift store, but they should be working. I've yet been to a thrift store that won't let you plug electronics in & test them. Same for garage sales. If they won't let you test the item...RUN!! It's not worth your money!
- And again I say...check the condition. This time, on clothes. Check for holes, stains, tears, fraying...in general, make sure the item is actually a good buy keeping in mind the current condition & the knowledge that you can regularly get things fairly cheap on clearance at Target & Kohls (my favorite places for kid's clothes).
- Make sure all of the pieces are there. The only exception I've made to this is when a 1/2 game that I know we're missing pieces on is on sale for 25¢ or I can get a brand-new pad of playing sheets for the same price. (In our case, it was a game of Yahtzee where some dice had gotten lost in a move. As a bonus, we got almost an entire pad of new playing sheets. I've also bought Clue for 50¢ for 2 new pads of sheets because I couldn't copy them for that cheap.) So...if you make an exception, just make sure it's worth it.
- Don't be afraid to ask them to negotiate...even at a thrift store. For example, I've recently been on the lookout for a full-size ironing board. I already have a pad for one that someone gave me so I really just needed the board. The board with a pad retails new at Walmart for just under $14. They don't sell the ironing boards new without pads. I found one at a thrift store that didn't include a pad that was listed for $10. My goal is to never pay more than 50% of the best retail I know I can get (sale or regular price.) I asked if they'd take $5 pointing out that it didn't even include the pad that comes with it in the stores. (They didn't need to know that I had one at home.) They said they'd give it to me for $7. BINGO! I just met my goal AND got something our family wanted.
- Keep a list. I have a running list of things we're looking for. My husband loves camping, fishing, and hunting so I'm always on the lookout for gear related to that. (At least until he stops telling me he "needs" stuff.) I'm ALWAYS on the lookout for canning jars and new lids. Always. I'm sure you CAN have too many jars, but I'm not there (yet). Sit down and write out what you're looking for so that you go in with a plan. This will help you eliminate unnecessary spending on "stuff" that you don't really need. It will help you go in focused.
- Don't be afraid to walk out empty-handed. It's not uncommon for me to come out with nothing or have a garage sale day where I don't buy a thing. And that's okay. I'm not out there just to buy stuff. I'm out there to get a good deal on stuff that my family has already determined in advance that we need or want.