Times are hard. We all know this. (Well, a lot of us do.) It’s a time of cutbacks, conservation, and recycling.
And so the impossible question on the lips of every recessionista is this: How does one maintain fresh style and satisfy the urge to acquire new stuff without spending money?
We have a good answer. It’s called a swap party. Just gather some friends, bring your unwanted but still wearable gear to a designated place, let the trading begin and nobody’s wallet gets hurt.
Here are 10 tips to help you plan a successful event:
- Choose a venue. A home usually is the cheapest and most comfortable place, but consider how many guests you’ll be inviting and the amount of parking.
- Carefully create your guest list. While you want to be sure to include your best-dressed friends and acquaintances, be sure to encourage them to invite theirs.
- Request responses. It’s critical that you know how large the gathering will be so you can plan other details.
- Contact all invitees with details. Make sure they know that all clothing and accessories should be clean and in good or better condition. And encourage carpooling.
- Plan a potluck meal. Or, because of varying diets and tastes, ask each invitee to throw in a few dollars each and buy a simple spread from a grocer or deli.
- Start off eating. It relaxes everyone, allows extra time for latecomers to arrive, and eliminates the chances of getting food or greasy prints on the merchandise.
- Crank up the stereo. When you’re with food and friends, good music is the icing on the cake.
- Assign each guest an area to spread out his or her goods. Post signs with names so that everyone will know whose stuff is whose.
- The rest is simple: Everybody browses the merchandise and takes what they want from others’ “stores”. Trading isn’t necessarily one-on-one, but in the fact that items are changing ownership.
- At the end of the event, draw names from a hat. Each person will be responsible for taking to the Goodwill or a clothes bank the leftover merchandise of the person whose name he or she drew. That way, nobody goes home with things they don’t want or need and that somebody else could be wearing.
Guest columnist: Debbie Norrell
Thrift shopping isn’t for everyone, so I normally make it a solo event. However, so many people have been impressed with my “cheap thrills” finds that they’ve asked to come along when I go on one of my Goodwill Hunting Tours.
My favorite pastime is canvassing the city for hidden treasure in thrift stores, consignment shops, flea markets and deep discounters. This is not for the meek or inexperienced shopper, or the shopping diva who is looking for matching pants and jackets that scream her name from the same rack.
I’ve been thrift shopping for more than 25 years. When I was doing costumes for the Wilkinsburg Arts Theatre in Pittsburgh, I always found great wardrobe items that fit into my limited budget. So great, in fact, that many of the actors “liberated” them from the theatre after the show closed. By the way - that’s the ultimate compliment.
I also found great things for myself. It was a good way to get my shop on and not use my credit cards. This is especially important if you’re working toward freedom from debt. Remember, your income is your largest wealth-building tool.
While thrift stores are rich with bargains and mark-downs, a bargain isn’t a bargain if you bring home something you don’t need or already have three of in your closet. If you’re between sizes or looking for something for a special occasion, consignment or thrift stores may be the best place to find that “I’m only going to wear it once” outfit.
Suppose you’re in the market for a new job and you’ve been out of the interviewing process for a while. When you go on an interview, you want to dress one level higher than the current daily dress code of the potential employer. So, if they are business casual every day, you want to dress in business attire. You can find a wide array of business clothing at thrift and consignment shops.
Here are a few thrift-shopping tips to try on for size:
- Know quality when you see it and don’t be strictly a “label” shopper.
- Know your size and measurements. Take a measuring tape with you for a sure fit.
- Know that some thrift stores don’t have dressing rooms, so be prepared to try things on somewhat publicly.
- Have the number of a good tailor or seamstress. Sometimes that great bargain may need to be hemmed or altered in some other way.
- Be aware of current styles. You don’t want your thrift store find to scream “thrift store” or “dated”.
- Stick to a budget. Carry cash, because many stores take cash only and do not accept checks or credit cards.
Debbie Norrell is lifestyle editor for the New Pittsburgh Courier and frequently speaks to groups about “how to break the chains of debt while still getting your shop on.” She may be contacted at www.debbienorrell.com.
Warning: These tips are only for students who are secure enough to not care what their peers think about how they pay for the biggest social night of their high school career. This frugal minority can laugh all the way to the bank while the haters spend the morning after sifting through piles of credit card charge slips.
- Instead of renting a tuxedo, borrow one. Or wear a suit.
- Wear shoes you already own rather then renting or buying.
- Limos are expensive rentals, even for a group. Instead, do a 24-hour lease on a luxury car. Better yet, if a parent has a halfway hot ride, borrow that.
- Borrow a prom dress. If you have to buy as a last resort, check eBay and other Internet sites such as PromGirl and Edressme.com.
- When ordering the corsage and boutonniere, guys, request the cheapest in-season flowers in the colors you need.
- Skip the hair and nail salons. Have a skilled friend hook up your hair in a kitchen or go to a beauty school’s student lab. And do your nails yourself.
- Do your own makeup. If you’re not great at it, ask somebody for help.
- Borrow, don’t buy, jewelry.
- Skip the pricey posed photos and do it yourself with a digital camera. Wal-Mart has some great affordable options.
- Have dinner at a restaurant where you have coupons or a discount. Save the leftovers to satisfy after-prom munchies rather than paying for another meal.
- Buy your prom tickets as late as possible. You may be able to find somebody who bought tickets, can no longer attend for some reason, and is willing to sell them to you for less.
Finally, the ultimate tip for the shamelessly enterprising. Start a pre-prom 50-50 raffle, selling tickets for $1 each or 6 for $5 for at least one week. Advertise it as something like The Prom Payoff and sell tickets to any warm body you encounter. Have the drawing prom night and award the winner 50% of all ticket sales. Guess who keeps the other half? Sell enough tickets and you could recover a significant chunk of what you spent on the big night.
Now that spring has arrived and temperatures are rising, yard and garage sales and outdoor flea market will begin cropping up. Spring cleaning always generates lots of stuff to paw through, and there are bound to be more pickings with the unfortunate reality that lots of folk will be selling off stuff to survive in this merciless economy.
As you troll the sales, here are 12 tips for maximizing the experience:
- Make an itinerary after checking the local daily and Sunday papers, those little throwaway community publications, and Internet billboards for sale announcements.
- Dress for comfort. Check the forecasts the evening before and wear comfortable shoes. Don’t wear clothes so loose that they can catch on objects.
- Start early. Literally. Show up `15 or 20 minutes before the advertised start of a sale, when you’re most likely to have first dibs.
- Equip your vehicle with some old newspapers, bubble wrap and a few boxes in case you need them to transport your loot without fear of anything breaking.
- Take cash, mainly in small denominations such as 1’s and 5’s. It will save you and the seller a lot of time and trouble.
- Dicker. On every purchase. It’s expected. Give yourself an extra advantage by arriving at “checkout” with multiple items and asking for a bulk discount.
- If you oversleep or get started very late, just wait and go about an hour before a sale is over. Sellers will be more likely to make a great deal to avoid having to haul all their stuff back to where it came from — especially if they had a slow day.
- Before buying, inspect all clothing for tears, stains, holes, defects, etc.
- Make sure underwear and lingerie purchases are new with original tags, or new in their original packaging. Don’t buy used. Ever.
- Be extremely careful with used shoes. If you find a pair you must have, disinfect them before wearing and add disposable sole inserts.
- Wash all clothing, or get it dry cleaned, before wearing.
- Take a friend, an extra set of eyes and hands devoted to helping you find your treasures and move along expeditiously.
The economy might be in the tank, but your appearance doesn’t have to go south along with it. Here are 9 tips for looking recession-proof — even if you’re not — on a shoestring budget.
1. Shop sales. Apparel and early everything else eventually goes on sale. Sales also cycle around much sooner than in the past, so end-of-season clearance events have become mid-season clearance markdowns. That means you can wear you’re the bargains immediately.
2. Shop around. See a pair of shoes you can’t resist? Google them, check various retail stores, and scour online gold mines such as eBay. With some persistence, you’re likely to find a better price than the first one you encountered.
3. Shop discount department stores. These are places such as Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Ross. Get familiar with the delivery days for the categories of clothes, accessories and other products you like. If you ask a sales associate, they’ll gladly tell you what those days are.
4. Get on retailer mailing lists. This can be done online or at a store counter in a matter of seconds. You’ll be among the first notified of new merchandise, sales and special promotions and may even get special coupons sometimes.
5. Shop resale and consignment stores. Big chains such as Plato’s Closet and independent local stores have some great finds in excellent condition. Don’t forget Salvation Army, Goodwill and other thrift shops. We recently scored two vintage-style women’s necklaces and two men’s brown leather jackets — one a distressed bomber, the other a soft-as-buttah blazer style — for a total of $60 at the Salvation Army on 46th Street in Manhattan.
6. Don’t be afraid to dicker. Even on new, non-sale items. Ask the clerk to knock off $5, $50 — whatever seems reasonable to you based on the price tag. Your request may be deferred to a manager. Be willing to walk out the door empty-handed if they won’t deal. In this economy, if they don’t, it’s their loss. You’ll be alright — some other merchant will be glad to get some of your money immediately rather than settle for a possible sale at bigger discount down the road.
7. Ask for price checks. You may be pleasantly surprised, especially on sale and clearance items. We recently nabbed a debonair, European-cut men’s overcoat at Century 21 in Manhattan. The original price was $645, the mark-down ticket price was $149, but the item scanned for $99.99.
8. Organize a trade party. Contact some stylish friends, have them round up theirs and have everyone bring clothes and accessories that they no longer need or want. Of course, the items need to be clean and in good condition. Then guests can trade with each other — a different way of “shopping” and getting something new. One person’s trash is another’s treasure.
9. Sort and sell. Like virtually everyone else, you have all sorts of clothes and accessories that you don’t, can’t or shouldn’t wear. Separate those in good condition and sell them at a yard sale, garage sale, even on eBay. Use the proceeds to fund new purchases, including those impulse buys that often leave you feeling guilty.
Check this page regularly for updates, advice and tips on how to stretch your hard-earned dollars while maintaining great style. You’ll also find sales and special promotions at many of the merchants on Style Avenue.