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Limit Purchases

My 2-year-old recently chose a stuffed animal to purchase for 50 cents at a garage sale. The small brown dog with the realistic-looking nose has become a favorite of hers. It seemed like new when we bought it, but I gave it a bath and a fluff anyway when we brought it home. When she lost the dog and found it later in the house, she started calling it “my doggie that I got at rummage sale.” At my suggestion that we name the dog, she insisted, “I call it rummage sale.” Too often I give in to my children’s appeals for more toys, when I’m supposed to be saving money by shopping for other things we need.  My Aunt Ruby has some advice for shopping when you have no choice but to have little ones tagging along. She says she would always tell her children or grandchildren at the beginning of the trip that they would be allowed to purchase one item that day within a reasonable price range. No matter how many stops they would make at various sales, the child understood that once that one special purchase was made, there would be no more spending on nonessentials.

A friend recently asked me to come along for half-price day at a consignment sale, to which I gladly obliged. After we’d found some bargains, we stood at the end of a long check-out line, which ran through the middle of a section of new, expensive, boutique items. It was hard to say no to the monogrammed hair bows, fancy bibs and hand-stitched dresses. Since we’d committed to only buying resale, bargain items that day, we were able to resist.

Budget For Tax

While rummage sales and one-time nonprofit events typically avoid having to charge sales tax, you can’t always assume you won’t have to pay this extra fee. Even though an established thrift store has nonprofit status, you will usually pay tax there. Some larger consignment events will also charge sales tax.

Beware of not-so-great prices on new goods when your state is offering a sales-tax-free holiday. You might want to compare the total price at this time to the higher potential savings when buying off-season.

Consider New

You can’t assume these days that the price of a used item is lower than new. If you follow end-of-season clearance sales, clip coupons, and/or participate in loyalty programs with your favorite retail stores, sometimes that price will be lower than resale of a similar item. If you’ve ever dug in a bin of out-of-season clothing at one of your favorite department stores, you know what I mean. Also, consider that many consigners are allowed to pick their own price, which means it could be way out of line.

No Emotion

Mother-of-four Jeni Hassell manages to outfit four children on a budget by never getting emotionally involved in the process of stocking their wardrobes. She spends precious little time browsing the racks of a consignment event on half-price day, intentionally not looking before the markdowns have been made, so she won’t set her heart on something expensive. She says that knowing the kids will outgrow their clothes so quickly, she cannot justify paying $25 or more per outfit. “If it doesn’t say half-price, I move on.” Another friend says she sets strict limits on maximum price per outfit, which helps her avoid emotional purchases.

Save Time

Hassell says it’s not worth waiting in long lines before the opening of a sale event. Instead she plans to arrive about 15 minutes after the doors open, avoiding the rush of people and lessoning the chance of making an emotionally charged purchase.

Aunt Ruby says the buddy system has often helped to save time at tag sales. Two or three friends will share their short list of items each is looking for. They split up and scour the sale for those things, cutting the browsing time in half. Aunt Ruby likes a certain brand of handbag and baskets, while another friend likes to purchase a certain type of work shirts for her husband.

Haggle Politely

Most rummage sale hosts will be prepared for you to offer a lower price. Sometimes those at established resale stores have some wiggle room in the price, as well. Veteran tag-sale shopper Lucy Morton reminds you to do your homework by at least searching on-line for the selling price of items like collectibles and big ticket items. Aunt Ruby says it’s best to remember your manners, although it’s certainly okay to ask if the seller would consider a lower price. “I try to not be insulting in the manner that I do it,” she says.

Be Cautious

Buyer beware, especially when purchasing toys and other baby items these days. It’s a challenge to keep up with safety recalls and the latest consumer information. Here are some websites that might be a starting point for checking out what’s going on with recalled or questionable children’s items:  Consumer Product Safety Commission, Healthy Toys, Consumer Reports.  Some categories of used items you may want to avoid altogether in the name of caution, such as carseats (have expiration dates) and baby bottles (older ones might contain banned BPA).

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