Seasoned thrift shopper shares her tips

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Ashley McCallum
Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Williams-Sonoma lasagna pan, originally priced at $350, bought for $5.99.

A pair of sandals that were sold at Neiman Marcus for $255, bought for $4.99.

A Hobo handbag, retail price $340, bought for less than $10.

Those are just some of the items Jeanne Bartel has brought home in her 30 years of thrift shopping.

Bartel is a regular customer at Janesville’s Goodwill store. She also visits flea markets, yard sales and antique shops.

She prefers thrift shopping to browsing at big-box or brand-name stores because she can buy what she wants based on her individual style.

“I just think you should buy what you like and not what some magazine tells you is wonderful,” Bartel said.

Thrift shopping also has environmental benefits, she said. Bartel would much rather see someone else buy her old things instead of throwing them in a landfill.

Bartel said she has observed an increase in thrift shoppers in recent years. And as the holiday season approaches, the stores become more populated with people searching for Halloween costumes and holiday decorations.

Some days, Bartel leaves the thrift store empty-handed. Other days, “it’s like Christmas.”

She has tips for those who have never shopped thrift stores before or have been unsuccessful in the past.

1. Be patient.

The best finds often take time to uncover, Bartel said.

Shoppers should search for treasures high and low. A lot of good finds aren’t on the first shelf; sometimes Bartel has to dig in the back or on the top shelf before finding the right item.

“If you've got $10 and hour, you can probably find a good little treasure,” she said.

2. A good deal depends on the shopper.

How does Bartel know she's found a good deal?

“If you feel it,” she said.

What might be a great price to one person might not be so impressive to another, Bartel said. Thrift shopping is all about the individual experience.

“When I see something I like, and it looks like it would be welcome in my home, I bring it home,” she said.

3. Shop for all seasons.

Bartel bought her UGG boots for this winter at the beginning of summer, she said.

People often clean out their closets at the end of each season, which makes that a great time to shop for discounted seasonal clothing for next year, Bartel said.

4. Be conscience of cleanliness.

Bartel said she has never had a problem with the cleanliness of pre-worn clothes or used household items, she said.

She makes sure she washes everything she buys before she uses it. If she does not have time to wash something right away, she keeps it in a Rubbermaid tub outside her house until she can.

5. Bring cash and be pleasant.

Sellers at yard sales and flea markets often only accept cash. Bartel advises shoppers to bring cash in all denominations.

Shoppers can negotiate with sellers for a better price, but sellers are more open to changing their prices when customers present a positive attitude, she said.

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