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Thrifts save dollars, make sense

(ran PW PS editions)

Call me cheap, call me thrifty, but I'm one of those people who loves a bargain.

Among my favorite finds are a fully lined silk skirt that costs two bucks, a turquoise linen blazer I paid $5 for and a couple of leather bags that went for a dollar each.

When it comes to the kids, I'm happy to boast that while the first day of school still is a few weeks off, I'm just about done outfitting my youngest two _ at minimal cost.

Thanks to the recent delivery of some well-fitting hand-me-downs, summer clearance sales, thrift shop bargains and the school rummage sale, where I picked up three bags full of 50-cent dresses for the 3-year-old who won't wear anything but dresses, I'm well ahead of the game _ and already thinking about the holiday season. (Christmas dresses, by the way, are already taken care of for a total cost of $3.)

There was a time when I wouldn't be caught dead rifling through thrift store racks or boxes of clothes at local yard sales, probably because I was born the daughter of a couple of Depression babies who truly believed that thriftiness was next to godliness. It seemed that everything I ever wore as a kid was somebody else's, either passed down from my older sisters or bought for pennies at the church rummage sale. So when I got my first babysitting job, I hit the clothing stores with a vengeance, swearing off hand-me-downs forever.

Then when I was a teenager, a friend dragged me into one of her favorite haunts, the Navy Surplus Store, where I came across an awesome Navy peacoat that I wore forever. Thrift store shopping suddenly was hip with the discovery of some rather funky jewelry and anything that was basic black and oversized during what my family refers to as my dark and difficult teenage years.

When motherhood came along, frugality came into play. After rummaging through a closet and finding a never-worn but out-grown, infant-sized outfit with the price tags still hanging from the sleeve, the light clicked on and, dread of dread, I found myself thinking like my parents. Really, why spend a fortune on a pair of pants that could be knicker-length in a few short months or a dress that might be ruined in an instant with a sloppy paint or grape juice spill?

I've been searching for bargains in thrift stores ever since. Fortunately my children didn't inherit the second-hand snobbery of my own youth. For my 8-year-old, saving the Earth is a top priority. When I asked her recently how she felt about wearing hand-me-downs, she answered, "You're supposed to pass things on. It's recycling, it just makes sense."

Thrift shopping makes sense to a lot of people, as evidenced by those lined up outside the doors of the Salvation Army in Holiday 15 minutes before the 9 a.m. opening time last Friday.

They come early to check out the "new" stuff put out the night before, said Amy Slater, who works the check-out counter.

"The parking lot's always filled first thing in the morning," said Slater, a true-blue thrifter who buys on a regular basis for herself and her grandchildren up north. "It costs me more to mail the stuff than to buy it," she said, with a laugh.

The Salvation Army is offering 50 percent off all children's clothes through the month of August, so business has been brisk, Slater said.

"But even without the sale, we have mothers coming in for things like 99-cent blouses and T-shirts. You can always find something here; it's rare that a customer leaves without buying something."

Still, if you want to find the good bargains, be forewarned that thrift shopping can be time consuming and a hit-or-miss proposition. The good finds are often based on being at the right place at the right time.

Jill Wilson, owner of Kidstuff thrift store in Holiday, says she usually sees the same customers on a weekly basis; many call ahead to find out if anything new has been dropped off.

"You'd be surprised how many people come in here," said Wilson, who also caters to those wanting to turn in their used stuff for store credit. "It's a great way to stretch that dollar."

Wilson practices what she preaches: She has clothed her 3-year-old daughter, Hannah, since birth with thrift store bargains.

People tend to clean their closets toward summer's end and in early December, said Wilson, who keeps her racks filled with mostly name-brand clothes that will wash and wear well. Those that don't meet her standards are donated to local homeless shelters and charitable organizations.

"We have something for just about everyone," Wilson said. "You just have to be willing to come in often and go through the racks."

That's just what Dani Snider and Stacie Lester were doing last week as they searched for baby clothes for Snider's 11-week-old son, Cameron.

Twin sisters, Snider and Lester have been customers at Kidstuff for nine years.

"Ever since our oldest were babies," Snider said. "It's cheaper that way, and the way kids grow in and out of clothes, it's affordable."

Snider says she'll be back to scope out back-to-school clothes. Thrift shopping doesn't bother her in the least, she said.

"I like it better than going to a regular store. It's a little quieter and you don't have to stand in long lines at a check-out counter," she said.

"Actually, I think it's smart. You save a lot; then you have money for something else."