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Ask the Expert: A Bargain Hunter Gives Her Tips on Children's Resale Events & Garage Sales

In conjunction with the fall edition of the Go West Guide to Children's Clothing, Toy and Equipment Resales, I thought I'd re-run this piece that guest contributor Edtih Tarter of Geneva wrote last spring. 

Many years ago, shopping for used clothing and toys was almost looked upon as something to hide. If your family did not have the money to shop at the mall or at the department store, you certainly did tell anyone. In fact, you'd do whatever you could to avoid anyone knowing that your clothes came from the Salvation Army or Goodwill store. Well, the days of secretly shopping a thrift store or rummaging through used clothing at resales and garage sales is over for most people. 

Photo courtesy of the Tri-Cities Mothers of Twins and Triplets Club.Green is in! The 3Rs of conservation -- Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle -- take on new meaning when outfitting growing kids! You can find consignment shops and resale events, along with the typical thrift stores, widely available in the western suburbs. Whether you’re looking for upscale labels or basic play wear, you’ll find it at great prices if you’re willing to clothe your darlings in gently-used items.  The savings can be astonishing if you’re open to using like-new equipment, such as strollers, high chairs and bouncers.

One-time resale events, such as those hosted by multiples clubs and school PTOs, usually occur in March/April and August/September. Check out the club/school websites for dates. Add your name to their mailing list, if possible. (Editor's note: Of course keep an eye on Go West Young Mom, too!)

When the weather is nice, signs start popping up for neighborhood garage sales and church sales. Our local area is fortunate to have several resale, consignment shops and thrift stores, which offer bargains throughout the year. Buying clothing and equipment at these events, stores and within the local neighborhoods can save a lot of money, obviously. But, you still have to be careful to make sure that you are getting a good deal. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

* Make a shopping list of must-haves: Take an inventory of what clothing, equipment and toys your kids will need for the coming season.  Spring resales focus on warm weather apparel and outdoor gear, while fall resales offer costumes, coats, boots and heavy clothing. Did the kids outgrow their bikes over the winter?  Are you ready to introduce new toys that will challenge their budding skills? Do you have a special event coming in the months ahead where you’ll need a dressier outfit? Do you need a few ‘rainy/snowy day’ items, such as DVDs, games and books, to help pass those frequent indoor play days? Having a shopping list helps you focus on what you really need and avoid being overwhelmed at the volume of items for sale.

* Know your sizes. Know the basic tag size your kids will be wearing for the season, but also know inseam and waist measurements and how to eyeball a piece of clothing for fit. Many used clothes may have size tags missing, or they may be faded, so if you can eyeball a shirt and tell if it will fit your child, so much the better. Knowing inseam and waist measurements will be helpful in determining if a pair of pants will fit. Used clothing usually runs smaller than new items, since it’s been laundered many times. I like to bring along a pair of pants and a tee that fits my child to use as a measurement against the resale items.  Just make sure the shop owner or the resale/garage sale organizer is aware you’ve brought personal items.

Photo courtesy of Bugaboo Children's Consignment Sale.* Know your prices:  What’s a good price for used clothing, equipment and toys?  You need to know the full retail value in order to know if the used price is a deal. Some resellers mark their merchandise at nearly full price, especially if it is a piece from a clothing label in high demand or is worn once or twice. This is particularly true for some of the teen resale shops. Make sure you know what the clothing sells for regularly so that you can decide if something is a bargain or not before you purchase it. In the end, buy what you like if you really need the item, even if you think you can find a better bargain elsewhere. Don’t pass an item up while you think about it because it probably won’t be there when you return to buy it. 

Note that club resales frown on negotiating a price, so don't try. Save that approach for garage sales, where it's usually expected to haggle a little. In a retail resale store, you may have some success getting a discount if you're buying in bulk or you point out a visible flaw, stain or such.

* Check every garment and every toy:  Look at fabric in good light, searching for stains and holes. Test the seams for strength by gently tugging at them. Make sure that the pockets do not have holes in them and that any belt loops are complete. Test the zippers, snaps and button holes. Check that used equipment appears to have the required parts. Bring along common battery sizes to try out electronics. Resellers are not knowingly trying to sell you faulty items, but when there are lots of items, things get missed. Most one-time resale events and garage sales do not accept returns, so it is especially important to inspect the items carefully before you buy it.

* Ready? Set? Shop!  Most one-time resale events are heavily attended in the opening hours so be prepared to arrive an hour or more early to get a good place in line. If the event opens at 8 a.m., it’s not unusual to see shoppers start lining up at 5 a.m. By 9 a.m, the place will look pretty picked over, so take me seriously if you really want to get some good bargains!! Make a morning of it, much like planning to tackle Black Friday in late November. 

Some large resales specifically disallow kids, strollers and laundry baskets so check for restrictions before heading out. It's best to leave the kids at home to avoid distraction (the mission is shopping, not negotiating for this toy vs. that toy). Space is usually tight, so strollers can be difficult to manuever.

Instead, bring a friend along for companionship while you wait. Some events offer coffee and goodies for sale, but if coffee is your morning ritual, bring a large cup to savor while in line. Some events charge a small admission fee (a few dollars at most) and almost all only accept CASH. A few may take a personal check, but very few will take plastic. Check the payment terms ahead of time.  If you plan to snap up large items, come with transportation. There are usually people who will help load the larger items, but it’s up to you to get it home. 

Garage sales work in a similar manner. While there is no waiting line, it’s best to hit the sales early on the first day of the neighborhood sale. Again, know what you’re after, so you can quickly scan the items scattered around and move on if you don’t see something that catches your eye.  I’m not a big garage sale shopper, but I a friend who attacks them all summer!  She looks for those houses that have lots of brightly colored kid toys in the yard.  Where there is a stash of kid toys, there is sure to be related items, like clothing, games, books, DVDs and the like.

Happy bargain hunting!!  See you in line!

Edith Tarter of Geneva says she shopped her first club resale when her triplets were 10 days old. "I remember this because it was the first day I was cleared to drive, and I chose to swing by the local multiples sale on my way to visit the babies still in the NICU! From that first sale, I was hooked on resale shopping for the kids, and still get a thrill every resale season -- eight years later!"

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