Thrift shops, free museums and a $100 Tweetchat.

th-1Today is Thrift Shop Day, and the Savers/Value Village folks say we’re all about saving the Benjamins. The company’s new survey revealed that 47 percent of U.S. residents shop at la segunda, and more than one-third of us say they shop secondhand more often now than they did three years ago.

Is it the economy? Or is it that more and more people are realizing how much fun it can be to prospect for marked-down items, some of which you won’t find anywhere else?

Well, 52 percent of those surveyed say “it feels like a treasure hunt” and 35 percent love finding “truly unique” items. If you’re a retro-fashionista, secondhand stores are the place to find vintage shoulder-pad suits, cargo pants or the perfect bridesmaid’s dress to wear to the prom or (with appropriate attitude) to a wedding.

All thrift stores are not created equal, obviously. The fortunate among us live in bigger cities with many more contributions and (presumably) more original sources for those contributions. Those of us in smaller markets may not have big a selection.

However, even the smallest town’s thrift shop may surprise you, especially as people downsize and/or need to clear out the contents of a deceased relative’s home. Household items and fashions from way back when translate to hipster street cred or cash money for resellers.

Or just to the things we need at a price we can pay. The clock radio (from the 1970s, as far as I can tell) that woke me up to classical music every day in Seattle cost 99 cents at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop. My desk chair and file cabinet cost me $2.50 apiece at one of Value Village’s half-price sales. (A lot of parents hit those half-price days in order to clothe their kids affordably.)

So even if you don’t want/need to hit a thrift store today, at least take a moment to think about how much money you can save by shopping there during the year. Think, too, of all the books, clothing, housewares, furniture, toys and other items that get another shot at usefulness, vs. being discarded in a landfill to make room for more shopping.

I’m practically required to embed the video of “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis* into this post, I’ve already used that video this year. But in honor of the “it’s all about the Benjamins” reference, I’m linking to Weird Al Yankovic’s “It’s All About the Pentiums.” Because it’s funny.

*Fun fact: Ryan Lewis and I are both 2009 graduates of the University of Washington’s CHID major.

Hey, sandwich generation: Want $100?

Feeling squeezed because you’re helping your aging parents but still have kids at home (or kids who returned home after college)? Have I got a Tweetchat for you.

“The finances of the sandwich generation” is the subject of the chat, which takes place at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 19. Almost 50 million middle-aged U.S. residents are providing physical, financial or emotional assistance (and sometimes all three) to loved ones who are younger and older.

How do these folks see to their own futures will paying for other people’s expenses? What should a sandwich middle do to get his/her own needs met? How do you set boundaries?

These and other topics will be discussed during the chat, which is cohosted by Bankrate.com. Use hashtags #AllyBRChat and #sweeps to participate; you must also follow @AllyBank and @Bankrate on Twitter. I find it easiest to follow along in the Ally Bank Tweetchat room.

For a shot at one of two $100 randomly awarded Amazon cards, register for the chat at the Ally Bank blog. As I never tire of pointing out, a Surviving and Thriving reader once won $100 in Amazon scrip this way. Hope that happens again.

Free culture (or cowboys)

My latest article at Money Talks News shows you how to make one or two memberships turn into an entire country’s worth of culture, education and entertainment.

Free admission to hundreds of zoos, aquariums and museums” is pretty self-explanatory: It’s all about using “reciprocity” programs that let you join once and visit others for free. Or for cheap; it may depend on which membership level you choose, and the children’s museum reciprocal program offers 50 percent off admission. (Still: Half-off!)

During my recent trip to Austin I parlayed my Anchorage Museum membership into free trips to both the Blanton Museum of Art and the Bullock Texas State History Museum. I did make donations, but that wasn’t mandatory; I could have enjoyed both places absolutely free.

The article discusses a couple of other ways to get in free, including the upcoming “Museum Day Live!” (more than 1,500 museums across the U.S. on Sept. 27 – sign up for your tickets now) and Bank of America’s “Museums on Us” program (150 institutions in 31 states).

The latter includes some really interesting ones, including the Shedd Aquarium, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Frederik Meijer Sculpture Park, the Motown Museum, the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Seriously: Check out these programs, especially if you plan to travel. On one of my New York jaunts I visited the Metropolitan Museum for free because even though my credit card is not from the Bank of America, it has a BofA logo on the back. It let me walk right past the long line of people waiting to pay, too. Ain’t no queue-jumping like frugal queue-jumping.

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  1. I shop at thrift stores for work clothes. I work with chemicals and I would much rather dissolve a 99 cent shirt and $5 jeans than full price ones

    A brand new Goodwill just opened near my house, and someone seems to be donating my size and brands. I’ve gotten some really good finds lately.

  2. Donna Freedman

    Nice! Why wreck the good stuff?
    I haven’t been thrifting for a while, but winter is coming and I do need some new (to me) long-sleeved shirts. My T-shirts are starting to shred, too. I think the Value Village Labor Day half-price sale has my name on it — and as all VV fans know, having one of their loyalty cards means you can get the price the day before.

  3. Holly S

    I hit my closest Goodwill about 1x/month. It is a bit of a hike.

    I have 2 Salvation Army stores. Both have $0.69 per item of a speciic color code tag on Sat. In the last 2 weeks I bought 2 velour pant outfits and a summer pant outfit. Each outfit was $0.69. They also run special sales on Monday holidays. Looking forward to Labor Day.

  4. I used to go consignment shopping a lot, and used to score some fabulous buys (a Christian Dior coat for $40, anyone?). Now I don’t seem to have the same kind of luck. What do you guys think I am doing wrong? Do I need to go every week, every day…? THX.

    • Kate, is there any way you could get friendly with the staff at your favorite store so they know what you’re looking for? If you’re a weekly customer, they may set aside things for you – saves you having to stop in every day. In general it feels like (to me) that the consignment stores in my area just haven’t been getting any good loot lately. Maybe summer is a slow time.

      • Yes, I was going to say the exact same thing. I have a consignment store and the owner emails me when she thinks she has something I would like…

        More often than not, she is correct.

  5. This weekend I kept trying to remember a word, similar to the verb “husband,” that means to spend cautiously, trying to preserve as much as you can while having to use some part. This is the situation most of us are in, of needing to spend, but also needing to save. Words I came up with: conserve, eke (or eke out), stretch, make last, hold back, hoard, economize, preserve, save, ration, dole, mete, budget, and cache. More abound, like stow, lay by, etc. but I was searching for a specific one, which still eludes me. The thesaurus was little help. Don’t eat your seed corn. Don’t starve, either. Good luck.

  6. I’ve been shopping at thrift stores for years. However I used to limit my purchases to top quality clothes. However after reading the ‘refashionista’ blog–I have now expanded shopping buying used clothing with make over potential on the cheap Goodwill outlet.

    Also this blog is saving me money in another way: I used to be quick to donate clothes to Goodwill once I got tired of them. But now I look them over for make over potential before donating. In one case, a box of Rit dye and new buttons provide me with a brand new blouse.

  7. It’s an odd thing that I rarely find anything (except an extra dog bowl, recently!) that’s got life left in it from our local thrift shops and Goodwill. Sure wish I could but I’ve always been an odd size for clothing so the amount of searching hasn’t yielded much in past years. I think my best bet is really to just focus on gently used housewares 🙂 And we do a lot of Craigslisting for big things like furniture since PiC actually has opinions about what things look like. A house I decorated would just be a hodge podge of “what? It looks like hell but does the job.”

  8. I love going to free museum. Last year, when we went to the capital city of our country, we visited almost all the museums that are free and my daughter really had a great time!

  9. Julie Fields

    Love shopping thrift stores and getting all the free entertainment We can in our city.

  10. Christy

    I love shopping thrift and other used places like consignment and antique stores. For the last few years, like the last four I have been more into purging stuff. It feels better to get rid of more than what I am bringing into the house. Plus I have made more in sales taking to consignment shops than I have bought from.

    I’m all for shopping as something that keeps the economy going, but someone else can do it heavily whereas I want to be diliberate with my spending the reacting to something like a “hot deal” or ad.

  11. Thanks for letting me know there was a Value Village loyalty card. One just moved in not to far from me and I find it’s discounts much better than the Goodwill. We found lots of back to school clothes there this summer.

    • Donna Freedman

      Well, watch for those half-price sales. They tend to happen around holidays, so it’s likely one will happen around Labor Day. Although it’s still busy the day before the sale, it’s not nearly as hectic.

  12. Perhaps one way we could help improve this opportunity would be to do more to encourage people to share their discards with these stores, especially the ones with charitable purposes.

    One commenter mentioned things going to the dump. I know someone who used to get a lot of things from a dump, sort of a private collection place for people living in a resort area. Especially at Christmas but all year in many cases, there were all sorts of new things, many in unopened packages, that were discarded because they were the wrong size or whatever.

    Instead of letting them be destroyed, how much better to see that they get good use by someone less fortunate or even someone more frugal. I think I will write a blog post on this topic and perhaps some others reading here will have similar opportunities. In these difficult times for many, this is another way we could help without it really costing us anything personally.

  13. I love going to thrift stores! It’s usually a hit or miss with me but I can usually find at least 1 thing that I really like.

  14. Anna tells me how she misses coming home and going to garage sales and thrift shops. She is so grown up. And I think all the free food that she gets at home helps entice her back.

  15. Donna:

    The next time you are in NY and want to museum hop the Met, Cloisters and Museum of Natural History all have “pay what you can” policies. They don’t advertise it, but if you offer $1, they will take it.

    My other hack for soaking in culture is ushering at our local theatre. Free show. Thirty minutes of effort.

  16. If you’re ever in Kansas City we have a couple of wonderful art galleries for free – the Nelson-Atkins and the Kemper. Parking at the the Nelson is high but you can usually find free parking on the street!

    As for thrift stores. I began when I was saving for my son’s college but continued afterwards. Have to admit, it is fun. i often find better clothes than I could afford otherwise and for pennies on the dollar. I did learn that some friends seem to get wierded out by it so I just thank them for their compliment and skip the part about where I found that lovely sweater. My husband and I also use thrift stores when travelling and find we need something we didn’t bring – like a pair of long pants in the summer.

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