Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting The Most out of your Local Consignment Sales, Part II: Shopping

If you are new to shopping for kids’ clothing, furniture, and toys at consignment sale, you’ll find all the information you need to get the best quality items at the best prices. Even if you’re a veteran consignment sale shopper, you might learn some new tricks of the trade!
If you didn’t see Part I of this series: Being a Seller, read it here.
I buy almost none of my children’s clothing new. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually walked into a retail store and plunked down money for a new item.  Oh, wait, yes I can -- it was at the Jillian’s Drawers Sidewalk sale and I got these See Kai Run Mary Janes for my daughter at 50% off. That deal was too good to pass up. 
Back to consignment sales. :)
If you know how to shop consignment sales, there is almost no reason to have to pay retail prices for children’s items. I outfit my children completely using a combination of garage sale and consignment sale items, and I’ve compiled a list of my best tips for getting the most out of your consignment sale trip.

1. Be Prepared -- For the most popular sales there are long lines to get in to the sale, and long lines at checkout.  Dress casually in comfortable shoes. Bring a bottle of water and a piece of fruit or a granola bar. You might be there a while!  If you are a serious shopper, you’ll want to bring something to carry your items in. You don’t want to lug around a handful of clothes in one hand while trying to pick out items with the other hand. I bring my kids’ red wagon to haul stuff in, plus several reusable shopping bags for small items and for checkout. If you don’t have a wagon, I’ve seen moms dragging a laundry basket with a belt attached. Whatever works!

2. Leave the kids at home -- If you can help it at all, leave the children at home. It’s hard to concentrate on finding what you need and determining low prices when there is a whiny, bored, tired person(s) hanging on to you. (Trust me, I’ve done it!). The exception might be a very small baby that you could have in a hands-free carrier like the Ergo or the Moby.  Many small babies will sleep the whole time in that situation (I’ve done that too!).

3. Have a Game Plan -- The absolute worst thing you can do when shopping at a big consignment event is to go in without having any idea of what you are looking for. There will be literally thousands of items, and hundreds of crazed moms frantically trying to get their hands on what they need. Going just to browse is not an option. Frankly, you’ll probably get trampled. Before the sale, look through your children’s closets and make a list of what they will need in the next 6 months or so. Then, prioritize the list in order of the most needed items. That way, when you get into the sale, you can go directly to the section that has the items you really want. 
Last year, I needed clothes for my preschool boy and infant girl. I went to the boy section first, thinking (rightfully) that there would be a smaller selection.  I found almost nothing that I needed, and by the time I made it to the infant girls’ section, it was pretty picked over. Lesson: go to the section of highest need first, regardless of perceived availability. 

4. Know your Prices -- If you are trying to save money by shopping consignment, it is crucial to know how much things cost.  I have bought jeans for both children at Target for under $4 each; don’t purchase a pair of Circo (Target brand) jeans for $5 or $6. In general, my rule for mall brands (Gymboree, The Children’s Place, Gap, JC Penney) is under $5 an outfit.  Discount store brands (Target, Walmart) should cost a little less, while specialty brands (Hanna Andersson, MiniBoden) could cost a little more. 
I once agonized over spending $12 on this  Gymboree dress for my daughter at a consignment sale, because, at over $10, I think it really was overpriced. But I loved it, and I bought it anyway, and she has received a ton of compliments every time she wears it. It was a deliberate splurge, and I put 3 other items back before I checked out when I decided to buy it. (I just found the same dress on eBay for $8.50, but at least I didn’t pay for shipping!) Lesson: Splurging is ok, just make sure it doesn’t put you over budget and you do it sparingly.
5. Go to the Half Price Day -- Often, consignment sales will designate the last day of the sale to be 50% off or 75% off (if you’re lucky!). I have found awesome bargains on toys and books at the half price sale.  If you have an item that you really need, don’t wait for the half off sale, but if you’re looking for stocking stuffer items or things to put in your gift closet, the half off sale is the way to go. 
6. Take a Cleansing Breath -- These sales can be extremely overwhelming.  You wait in line, sometimes for hours, with other moms.  Even when you do get in, there is a huge space to navigate and hundreds of people on a mission around you, all in a bargain-hunting frenzy. If you feel like you’re about to lose it, take a break, find a quiet corner, and have a drink of water. Refocus, refuel, and regroup. You can’t make smart decisions about your family’s needs when you’re in a tizzy (I’ve been there, too!).
When you’re curled up in the corner regrouping, take a minute to inspect all the items you’ve chosen before you checkout.  Make sure everything is free of rips, stains, marks, or holes. It’s not a good deal if it’s broken.
7. Finally, have fun! I have a few girlfriends that I go consignment sale shopping with every year, and it’s great to get out of the house in the morning and help each other find bargains. 
What have I missed? I’d love to hear more suggestions from all you veteran consignment shoppers out there!



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