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What’s a good price?: population and the pain-in-the-ass factor

Over the years I’ve begun to develop an almost unconscious sense of what a “good price” is when it comes to secondhand shopping. I’m not talking value or worth here, because those are more nebulous concepts I can’t quite pin down. But pricing is a little different, a little more precise. I can almost codify pricing.

The venue (garage sale vs. flea market vs. consignment shop) has much to do with it, of course, and I’ll go into that tomorrow. But first, let’s look at the two factors that affect price the most: population and what I’m calling the pain-in-the-ass factor. Let’s turn our attention to this extremely scientific graph:
As you can see, the lowest prices are generally found in places with the smallest populations. No accident there: secondhand prices usually track with the cost of living, and you can’t get much cheaper than teeny rural towns (except perhaps the genuine middle of nowhere, which is rarely the location for a thrift store). 

One major exception to this rule of thumb is tourist towns. If the local economy depends on tourism, even the thrift stores and swap meets are likely to see higher prices than in a larger, non-touristy city (like Wichita).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should jump into your truck (or roomy sedan) and head for the tiniest burg you can think of. Small-town thrifting is not necessarily better, it’s just cheaper. 

The second, more nebulous element is the pain-in-the-ass factor: 
A high PITA factor usually translates into a lower price–or it should, anyway. But even a small PITA element should result in a lower price, or at least better bargaining leverage on your part. If you have to clean, mend, paint, or repair an item–that’s a pain in the ass. If you have to drive far out of your way, carry and haul the goods yourself, or make a special trip–that’s a pain in the ass, too. 

On the other hand, goods with no PITA factor at all can command much higher prices. If a boutique sells vintage goods that are clean, in good condition, displayed creatively, and tagged clearly, and if the staff is happy to fill you in on the item’s details–you’re not likely to be picking up a bargain. I mention boutiques because it’s probably the least PITA way to pick up old things, but it applies to thrift stores and flea markets too. We call the east Disabled American Veterans thrift store the “chi chi DAV” because they have reliably good inventory and their prices are higher–those two things are not unrelated. Similarly, a flea market booth where you have to dig through beer flats and ask how much everything costs should be significantly more reasonable than at the booth where the dealer has set up a miniature antique store. 

Tomorrow I’ll rank types of secondhand venues from the least to the most expensive. In the meantime, let me know what you think: Am I missing something? Have you found small-town thrifting isn’t so cheap after all?

Until next time, happy thrifting!


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Thrift Mystery (solved): Tupperware Butter Huggers

Tupperware Butter Up Butter Hugger
One of the thrift stores we hit in Artesia, N.M., was holding a three-dollar bag day for all the goods in their “dollar room.” The “bag” part of bag day turned out to be a tall kitchen trash bag, not the grocery sacks I’m used to frantically stuffing with merchandise.
$3 bag haul
So I was much less discriminating than I might have been otherwise. I picked up two yellow Tupperware utensils and added them to the pile without giving them much consideration. I assumed they were garlic presses. Anthony Bourdain may consider them “abominations,” but I’ve been strangely drawn to vintage Tupperware of late, so into the bag they went.

Upon further examination we discovered they were not in fact garlic presses. I turned to Google, searching for “tupperware utensil,” “tupperware device,” “tupperware handheld,” etc. No dice. My best guess was tea infuser, which sent me on a wild goose chase because Tupperware has produced an infuser recently. In a moment of inspiration, Melissa hit upon its use: a combination corn-on-the-cob butterer/salter. Of course they originally came as a set with cob holders.

And lo and behold, Tupperware is still producing Butter Huggers, now new and improved with two compartments for salt and pepper.

We’ll have to grill some summer sweet corn soon.

Until next time, happy thrifting!


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Garage-sale bargaining etiquette: a handy guide


[Image by sleepingplanes on Flickr]

Bargaining is entirely acceptable at garage sales, but civility rules. Or should, anyway. People can get awfully testy when used goods are exchanged for cash. I wonder if it’s because there is no codified bargaining ritual in the United States, no script that everyone knows. The following is my proposal, though it’s probably colored somewhat by the number of garage sales I’ve participated in this summer; I’d love to hear from other garage-sale addicts in the comments.

  1. It’s acceptable to offer a lower price at pretty much any time, but understand that sellers are not going to be receptive on the morning of the first day of their sale, especially if it’s a three-day affair. You’re getting first dibs, after all.
  2. Don’t make absurd offers. If it’s marked $15, don’t offer $3 unless the sale is truly waning (all hell breaks lose after 12 p.m. on the last day). And if the price is dirt cheap already, buy it and be glad. At one sale I participated in this summer, a lovely and never-used picnic basket set was marked $5; one lady offered $2 (one hour into the sale on a Thursday, no less). Garage sales are where you go to get bargains, not gifts or charity. Side note: If you’re carrying a Coach purse or wearing Prada shoes, you’re not in a very good bargaining position to begin with. Not that well-t0-do people don’t deserve bargains, but I will not be selling Coach Purse Lady anything for a dime, no matter how many times she asks.
  3. Don’t insult the item in an attempt to save a few bucks. “$5 for this thing? Why, they sell ’em for two at the thrift stores” (then go pick one up at a thrift store). Or, “These really aren’t that valuable anymore, not many people collect them” (then why are you interested?) or “This looks like it may fall apart at any minute” (ditto). It’s one thing to point out a crack or hole and ask if it affects the price, but quite another to act like one of those douchey guys who work the bizarre angle of insulting women in order to pick them up. Have a little class.
  4. Once you agree to a price, that’s it. No backsies.
  5. My friend Jill swears by the question, “What is your best price?” It’s a considerably less antagonistic way to begin negotiations (and Jill insists it works in more situations than you’d think).
  6. Be aware of what the best bargain items are. Used clothes, shoes, toys, and linens are hard to get rid of at garage sales, so if you find a cache of worn jeans just your size, it’s more than okay to ask for a better deal. Items still in their original packaging, with tags, or obviously unused command a much higher price at garage sales, followed closely by clean things that have been very well taken care of–don’t expect sellers to be as willing to practically give away new or like-new stuff.
  7. Cardinal Bargaining Sin #1: Asking for the third time. If a seller says no to an offer once and there’s an extenuating circumstance involved–a flaw, it’s all the money you have, you’re completely desperate, whatever–okay, fine, ask again. But after that, pursuing it is enormously rude and cretinous. (That’s right: not just rude, but rude and cretinous.) I’ve even had persistent bargainers agree to my price and then hand me the amount they originally proposed. Uh uh.
  8. Cardinal Bargaining Sin #2: Taking it personally. We’ve all done this at one time or another, right? Walked away fuming about that so-and-so who refused a perfectly good offer and doesn’t realize her crap is overpriced and … blabbity blah. Here’s the deal: Ten different people will assign ten different values to the same object. (The Price Is Right thrived for many years off of this phenomenon.) So you value something differently than the seller does. Big deal. It happens. It’s just stuff. Move on without letting it ruin your day.
  9. Understand that there’s are many different schools of thought when it comes to pricing and bargaining at garage sales, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Plenty of people leave “bargaining room” in their prices, but others expect you to pay the amount on the sticker. If a seller acts horrified by your attempts at bargaining, let it go and move on if you don’t wanna pay up. If she’s practically begging you to cart things away for nothing then by all means, bargain freely.
  10. Be human. Compliment a garden, a child, a color of paint; whatever’s appropriate. You never know what sort of odd or oddly revealing conversations you might have if you put forth a little effort. I like reading Queen of Fifty Cents because she reports on the people (and pets) in addition to the bargains, and inspires (slightly socially awkward) me to do the same. Paradoxically, polite and engaging buyers get the very best deals of all.


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Antiquing vs. thrifting

This year our family reunion was held in New Braunfels, Texas. (I’m mooching off the wireless internet access in the lobby of our hotel before hitting the road today). Gruene, a historic ghost town, is located within the city limits. Once a booming cotton town, Gruene is now a thoroughly touristy area with lots of antique shops and faux old-fashioned stores.

We poked around one of the antique malls on Saturday, which prompted me to reflect on the differences between antiquing and thrifting. Even though you can find many of the same things, the shopping experiences couldn’t be more different, right? Though I like antique stores (and about 20% of the merchandise of my old shop was old/antique), they make me a little sad. The antique mall in Gruene was filled with the usual: jade-ite, thread cabinets, blue mason jars, pocket knives. Almost everything was a “collectible.” There was so little room for creative thinking and individual style.

I used to get some of the best things at auctions and estate sales that dealers would overlook because they couldn’t attach a value to it. It’s odd: Two things I love most about secondhand shopping are how highly individual the results can be, and how little it resembles typical consumer culture. But we live in a consumption-based economy, it’s what we’re used to, and so many people bring some of the worst elements of retail (the sameness, the keeping-up-with-the-jonesses, the lack of imagination) to antiquing. How weird is that?

Today we’re heading to Austin where we’ll hit my favorite antique store of all time: Uncommon Objects, the exception that proves the rule. I’ll post the photos later. Until next time, happy thrifting!

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Let us introduce ourselves

We’re a trio of thrifty women living in and around Wichita, Kansas. With a combined experience of approximately one gazillion years of bargain hunting, we’re the perfect ladies to bring you the lowdown on the local thrift scene (which–as far as we’re concerned–includes thrift stores, auctions, garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, estate sale stores, curbside rescues, and so much more). We’ll also use this blog to catalog our findings, opine on the wide world of dealmaking, and occasionally vent our stingy spleens.

A few things you might look for in the coming weeks and months:

  • A series of “thrift tips” for your next secondhand shopping jaunt
  • Thrifting ethics and etiquette
  • Why we thrift (and why you should, too)
  • Our own thrifting shopping lists
  • The upside of buyer’s remorse
  • The complicated world of garage sales (how to hold ’em & how to shop at ’em)

…and so much more. We’ll also maintain a Flickr pool. Stay tuned for a few other features (and undoubtedly some design tweaking) over the summer.

You can learn more about the three of us here.

Happy thrifting!

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