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How to get the most out of your thrift store shopping experience without sacrificing style or wasting your money

With the recession, everyone’s on a budget these days. Whether you’re still in college, or a recent graduate ready to begin chipping away at those student loans, chances are you’re looking for ways to make your money go farther.

Luckily, there’s an easy and effective way to shop for clothes without sacrificing style: thrift store shopping. There used to be a stigma involved with shopping at the thrift store; namely, that it’s filled with ugly, outdated clothing.

But thrift stores have really changed in the last few years, both in their appearance and in the merchandise they carry. By following a few simple rules and keeping an open mind, you can look like a million bucks without having to spend it.

Know the area

Depending on where you live, you probably have access to at least one thrift store or consignment shop, whether it’s a local operation or a franchise. The larger the city, the more stores you’ll find.

Not only should you know where the closest stores are, you should also ‘know the area’ in terms of population and income. The areas with a lower income or cheaper cost of living will probably have stores that price their items for less, but their selection may be limited or outdated.

On the other hand, the wealthier neighborhoods will probably have a greater selection and more contemporary or trendy clothing, but their prices will reflect that. Keep your budget in mind while shopping.

Become familiar with sales and specials

Thrift store merchandise is already marked down, but they’ll often run additional specials or sales. Some places pick specific days or weekends to run everything in the store at a reduced price, while others will run their seasonal items at a discounted price near the end of a given fashion cycle. By becoming familiar with how the stores operate, and when their sales are, you’ll get an even bigger bang for your buck.

Come prepared to try stuff on

Just like a normal department store, you shouldn’t buy anything without trying it on first. If you go by the size on the tag alone, chances are you’ll have to make some returns. Most stores require their merchandise to be clean at the time it’s donated, but if you are still hesitant, then be sure to wear clothing you can easily try things on over. If you’re leery of trying any bottoms on, be sure you know the store’s return policy so if they don’t fit, you’ll be able to get your money back.

Make sure that any piece you buy is in good condition

There are a few things to consider when determining the condition of clothing.

First, take a good look at its color. Make sure it’s not already faded or discolored, because if you buy it in that condition it will only get worse. Second, check for any tears or stains.

If the garment has some, don’t just assume they they can be fixed. Chances are it will only result in wasted time and money for you. Third, check for wear or pilling. In short, if the piece already looks like it’s been lived in, don’t buy it.

Condition is also important when purchasing belts, bags and other accessories. Make sure belts aren’t ripped or cracking. Bags should be clean and their pockets and lining should be intact; although, if you aren’t crazy about the hardware on the purse, keep in mind that can be replaced with a visit to a crafts store.

Clean and disinfect ASAP

As soon as you get your purchases home, be sure to wash them. Even if they came from a store with clean merchandise, you don’t know how long they have been sitting in the store or in the back of someone’s closet.

Throwing them in the wash will freshen them up for you.  Also, if you buy shoes, purses or accessories then give them a good cleaning too.

The insoles of shoes, belts and purse straps can be easily wiped down with a disinfectant wipe or a damp, soapy rag. Rubbing alcohol and solvents will easily remove any label reside as well.

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