Posts filed under ‘spending money’

Shopping Consignment Sales: My Experience

baby clothes

Last week my six month old and I ventured over to a large consignment sale in the Washington, DC area. I had two big goals in mind. First, to look for a winter jacket for my three year old. Second, to investigate the prices for items sold there.

I considered selling at this particular sale on more than one occasion. I weighed the decision quite heavily as consigning at a sale involves a lot more work than dragging items to a consignment store. I thought I might earn more, but also dreaded the work involved in itemizing my children’s unwanted belongings, tagging, hanging, organizing and generally doing anything other than folding them into a box and carting them off to the store.

After thinking it over I decided to forgo the consignment sale in favor of the local consignment shop. The primary reason: to get the stuff out of my house as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to hold the stuff until mid-September. I sold two large boxes of stuff in July and August and earned $160.

The consignment sale provides general guidelines for each item sold. For example, a group of onesies should be $3. A winter coat can range from $10 to $15, but I wanted to see those numbers in action. I wanted to see how the quality compared to the guidelines. After all a brand new, name brand shirt should, in theory, cost more than one that shows more signs of wear and tear.

Unfortunately, children were forbidden from entering the sale on the first day, so my son and I waited until the second day and arrived shortly after the doors opened. To get the most accurate pricing picture I think I needed to be there on opening day. By day two things were quite picked over.

From what I saw the majority of items adhered to the sales guidelines, but there were a number of items priced higher. It was interesting to see how consignors priced identical items. Five trains were lined up next to each other on the floor. They ranged in price from $18 to $8. Each had varying signs of wear and tear, and some had more parts than others, but they were all relatively similar in condition. In some instances, the toy with the most wear and tear was priced the highest. It’s clear buyers need to pay special attention when duplicate items are available.

I didn’t find a coat for my oldest, but I did walk away from the sale with two toys. One was a true bargain at only $4. The other was $18. Although I only bought two items I found the best prices on toys, games and used baby equipment.

I looked at boys clothing in both the 12-18 month section and the 5T section and found the quality and selection quite poor. I didn’t see anything on sale for less than $5. Again I would imagine that the better bargains were found on the first day, but overall I was quite disappointed in what I found there.

While I wouldn’t expect used items to look like new, I did expect them to look pretty darn good. A few items had stains, piling and the overall condition of most clothing was quite worn. If these items sold on eBay I would rate them in ‘good’ condition at best.

Perhaps my standards are too high. I don’t use heat on my children’s clothes so they retain their color and shape despite being washed many times. I’ve also received many hand-me-downs over the years in ‘like new’ condition despite being worn by two boys.

Through a combination of sales, coupons and discounted gift cards I can buy brand new clothing for the same price, if not cheaper, then items I found at the consignment sale.

I typically buy clothing for my son from the clearance section of stores. My oldest has followed a typical growth pattern so I’ve been able to buy bargain items at the end of each season. I walk directly to the back of stores like Target, Gymboree, Macy’s and JCPenney and look for one size bigger than the size he currently wears. He wore 3T summer before last and 4T this summer. Next summer I assume he’ll wear 5T. This might not work for all children, (my youngest seems to skip sizes more often), but so far this has worked perfectly for him.

Over the years I’ve shopped at Target, Gymboree, Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney. On average I spend less than $5 per article of clothing. This clothing is cute, colorful and brand new. Based on my experience with this particular sale I believe I can find better bargains on clothing in retail stores and have the peace of mind that I can return any items that don’t fit.

I also think it’s easy to buy too much at these types of sales. At a store I can walk away, think about my purchase and return again on another occasion. At a consignment sale I need to pick up whatever I want as quickly as possible to ensure someone else doesn’t scoop it up behind me. I can’t have buyer’s remorse at a consignment sale either. If I purchase too much I can’t return the next day with a receipt to return it.

I completely understand the desire to shop consignment sales for environmental reasons. There is no doubt that new products have a much larger environmental impact, but I would guess most customers shop consignment sales for the bargains, not for conservation reasons.

On a side note: I do believe second-hand shopping may differ by gender. A few friends with daughters commented on the fine quality of clothing they purchased at this sale. Perhaps girls aren’t as hard on their clothing. A friend also suggested that girls tend to have more clothes hanging in their closets so each article of clothing gets worn less frequently. Since I have two boys I can’t provide much input on that, but it certainly makes sense to me. The number of girls racks was more than double the number of boys.

Based on the prices I saw, and the fact that consignors only receive 55% of all sales, I consider my trips to the local consignment store quite successful. I am still intrigued by consignment sales though and part of me still wants to give it a try. There are always a number of items the consignment store doesn’t want to purchase. Perhaps I’ll gather those items together and sell them in the spring.

September 29, 2015 at 10:55 AM 5 comments

The Thrift Store: Books for My Three Year Old

Library of an Interaction Designer (Juhan Sonin) / 20100423.7D.0

My oldest son loves to read. I packed a book in my hospital bag and began reading to him on the very day he was born. Every day, even when he was quite small, we read together. Usually a few books in the morning, a few more mid-day and three as part of the bedtime routine. Long before he could talk he would walk over to the book shelf or a stack of books on my dresser and select the ones he wanted to read. He’d bring them over to me, keep one pile for books we hadn’t read yet and another for the books we’d already finished reading. After reading the last page, he would take the book out of my hands and place it in the appropriate pile. When we were finished he would toddle off to the bookshelf to put them back and pick up three others. Between the ages of 18 months and three years we spent hours reading.

Sometimes his love of reading wanes, but it often returns a few weeks later more vigorous than ever. These days I borrow a stack of books from the library and hold on to them for two or three weeks. We returned the last pile before heading out on vacation.

Before we reached the beach my son said “mama we don’t have many books in North Carolina” We do have a book shelf, but most of the books are old board books he’s outgrown and a handful of favorites we keep locked away in a closet.

I considered borrowing some new books from the library, but I worried about losing them while we were away or leaving them at the house and paying inordinate late fees. I wanted to bring something new so I brought a few large books with few pictures and lots of stories. He received a couple of these for Christmas last December. At the time he didn’t seem to like the idea of story books without pictures, but nearly a year later he cannot seem to get enough of them. He asks my husband and I to read as well as both sets of grandparents. I believe his imagination is now filing the missing images in for him.

Since we arrived for vacation he’s asked to read three or four times a day and while he loves to hear the same stories over and over he asked if we had any other books he could read. I considered buying a few new ones from Amazon and shipping them south, but I didn’t really want to spend $8 to $10 per book. Especially since I don’t know if they’ll be treasured favorites.

My mom suggested checking out a consignment shop, but it’s an hour or so away from our house. Then she had the brilliant idea of browsing for books in the thrift shop. This isn’t the first time I’ve bought books from the thrift store. When my son received a CD of The Cat and the Hat I snuck off to the thrift store in search of a copy I could read before bed. I wanted him to see the pictures and to hear the story in our own voices. I think I spent $1 to make that happen.

Yesterday I drove my son to the thrift store to let him pick out new books. The store had a very small shelf way in the back crammed full of children’s stories. I pulled out any that looked age appropriate and held them up for him. It was funny to listen to him choose the ones he wanted. He’d say “I don’t like the looks of that one” or “ohhhh Elmo!” I asked him to hold the ones he wanted in his hand as I was crouched down on the floor doing all I could to maintain my balance without falling over.

At some point he said, “mama I have too many books. you can’t give me any more.” He did appear to be toppling quite a bit from the six or seven I had already handed him. I selected a few more, (that looked brand new), and walked to the register with him. He was so proud to hold those books as we waited in line and when he reached the cashier he placed them high on the counter.

“You must love to read” she said to which he replied “I sure do!” The total for ten books was
$4.90. That’s money well spent!

August 29, 2015 at 4:59 PM Leave a comment

Things I Stopped Buying


I’ve spent a lot of money on home renovations lately, but other than big ticket items like mortgages, utilities and bi-weekly groceries I just don’t open my wallet up much these days. There are a lot of things I no longer buy. Here are just a few that top that list:

  • Nail Polish – I never spent a ton of money on this, but I do have a large box full of bottles sitting in my closet. More than I could ever use or need. Also, I never seem to find the time to paint my toe nails.
  • Decorative Towels – Yeah, this is a strange one, but I used to buy a towel for every season and special occasion; pumpkin towels for Halloween and Santa towels for Christmas. Now I buy plain old ordinary towels in one solid color. They can be used year round and look good no matter the season.
  • Holiday Decorations – I used to be a sucker for cute Christmas bowls and little Santa Clauses. The home section of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s were a magnet for me. These days the Scrooge in me avoids that area of the store. I don’t need any more decorations that only come out once a year.
  • Clothes – I won’t buy any clothes while I’m exclusively nursing. I love the nursing tops I currently use and although I am more than sick of looking at them I see no need to switch over to anything else. After my nursing days are over I would like to restock my wardrobe. Hopefully I’ll lose a couple of pounds between now and then.
  • Knick-Knacks – I have no desire to fill the house with anything that requires dusting. The house looks a whole lot emptier than it used to, but I prefer the open space to a bunch of stuff that sits around unused.
  • Lotions, Potions and Other Things That Smell Wonderful – The lure of apple scented soap no longer lures me into Bath and Body Works or the Body Shop. I typically purchase standard, unscented, Eco-friendly products and use an entire bottle before opening another. I always check the EWG Database before buying any of them.

How about you? Have you stopped buying anything lately?

August 21, 2015 at 2:40 PM 1 comment

Choosing a Kid’s Bike: Focus on Quality or Price?


I’m crouching in the consignment store staring at two bikes. I probably look a little bit crazy. I lift one and contemplate it’s weight. I turn the handlebars, left and right, right and left. Does it move too easily? It definitely feels loose. It feels flimsy in my hands. I inspect the first one again. I repeat this process two or three more times with both bikes.

I’m wavering between the two options and eventually walk to the register to inquire about this store’s return policy. The cashier tells me “bikes cannot be returned” so I walk out empty handed. One bike was $29.99, the other $34.99, I can’t argue with those prices, but neither feel right. What if they are too small for my son or don’t feel right when he hops onto the seat?

Being the second born child I never picked out a bicycle I liked. I inherited an old red one after my brother outgrew it. I didn’t care. I was thrilled to have a bike; any bike!

I still remember my dad taking me up to the school parking lot on a warm summer day. On that flat, car-free surface he ran behind me for a second or two and then let go. I’m sure I fell a few times, but I don’t remember those details, I only recall the instant I was pedaling away from him and the way the air felt as I turned my head to look back and it rushed past my ear.

I don’t know where my parents bought that bike, how much it cost or why they chose that particular model. It worked for my brother and now worked for me. That’s all that mattered.

I wish I could say I felt the same way now. As a parent I want to provide the best experience for my child. I want a bike that feels steady and strong under his weight.

For the last two years my son has ridden a balance bike. He started riding around the house and later moved to the streets in our neighborhood. He’s now a pro on that little bike and seems ready for a real bike. So the question becomes what to buy?

Target, Walmart and Amazon all sell bikes that might work, but most of them have mixed reviews. I’ve seen brand new bikes as low as $50, but I don’t particularly want to buy a poorly made piece of junk that might be difficult to ride and won’t last beyond one child. On the other hand the local bike shop recommended a $220 Trek model which seems like an awful lot of money for a bike my son will outgrow within a year or two.

When it comes to children’s equipment when do you splurge on quality? Should I buy the cheap model knowing it doesn’t need to last or should I buy the more expensive model to ensure a fun and successful experience?

I’m not 100% sure how to proceed, but I’m leaning towards a used model from a local bike shop. It costs $75 less than a new high quality bike, but twice as much as a cheap one from the big box stores.

The pros: The bike shop claims its easier to ride, will hold up through two children, retain a decent resale value and keep a bike from making its way to the landfill. Plus it doesn’t have any silly characters on it and could easily be used by either gender. Although we have two boys we could eventually pass it on to future nieces or nephews.

The cons: Price.

I know there are a lot of parents who read this blog and I’m hoping someone weighs in on this topic. When do you spend money on quality and when do you focus on price?

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July 28, 2015 at 11:02 AM 2 comments

Avoiding the Urge to Spend Money By Counting My Blessings


So far I’ve managed to avoid the plethora of store emails streaming into my inbox. I’m deleting the majority of unread feeds in my reader too. Fifty percent off, free shipping, buy-one-get-one and every other type of sale tactic in between flashes on my screen, but so far I haven’t pulled out my credit card to purchase anything unexpected.

I did purchase snow boots for my son and underwear for myself. I held out on buying these for the last month or so in the hopes that Black Friday sales would include cheaper prices and free shipping. I was right on both counts.

It’s a good thing my crazy nesting urge started a few weeks ago. Digging through those plastic tubs in the basement allowed me to see just how much excess stuff we already own.

After my son was born I was blessed with box after box of hand-me-down toys. I can easily fill two large plastic tubs with toys ranging from zero to twenty-four months. And although I gave a few things away to friends with children, I still own the majority of big ticket items like swings and car seats that we’ll need. I am tempted to buy a few more onesies and sleepers in the 0 to 6 months range, but so far I’m keeping that urge at bay.

To be perfectly honest I haven’t shopped Black Friday sales for the last ten years. Rather than shopping on the days leading up to and after Thanksgiving I maintain the tradition of removing clutter and finding homes for those things we no longer need. My son and I have loaded so many bags into the car in the last three weeks that we’ve written a short song about donating to those in need.

Since this is a season for giving I decided to donate many of the toys in my gift box to toys-for-tots. I will admit that this was more of a struggle than I wanted it to be. I bought all of the items on sale at some point or another in the last few years with the intention of providing them as gifts for my son’s friends or niece and nephews. But as I cleaned out the house I could not help but feel those toys needed a new home right now, not months or possibly even years from now, so I boxed up a few of them and intend to gather up even more for the charity box at my son’s preschool.

This morning my husband took my son on a few adventures and I traveled to town alone singing and counting my blessings. As I drove across a busy intersection I was almost hit by a young woman who ran a red light at over fifty miles per hour. Seconds before that incident I decided to drive just a little bit slower. My light had been green for quite some time, but I wasn’t in a hurry and took my foot ever so slightly off the gas as I approached the intersection. Had I been traveling one to two seconds faster I am almost certain she would have struck my driver’s side door head on. Luckily I saw the car out of the corner of my eye and hit the brakes just in time to avoid her.

Despite a few medical ups and downs, my life has been filled with nothing but blessings. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

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November 27, 2014 at 5:38 PM 1 comment

SUV or Minivan?


We haven’t purchased a new vehicle since our 1999 Toyota bit the dust a few weeks back. My husband and I drove to the car dealership last week to check out new cars. I was all settled on walking off the car lot with a brand new SUV when the car salesman showed us a deeply discounted 2014 minivan. I really, really, really don’t want to own or drive a minivan. On a day to day basis I don’t need the extra transport room it provides, the gas mileage is terrible and let’s face it no one wants to drive a minivan.

The main perks seem to be very comfortable seating, lots of leg room for my son who is and will continue to be tremendously tall, an extra row of seats large enough to fit adults and sliding doors that make getting children into and out of car seats much easier.

My husband and I tend to hold onto cars until they fall apart, which means this car could very well be around by the time my son starts driving thirteen years from now. I’ll be honest I hate the idea of driving a minivan for fifteen years and while I think the sliding doors would make loading and unloading kids from car seats so much easier, I certainly don’t need to worry about leg room or bringing along my son’s friends in the third row any time soon.

On the other hand since I keep cars forever I can certainly see the need for such things at some point in the future.

So what do you think: minivan or SUV? If you own a minivan what do you think about it?

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November 2, 2014 at 5:53 PM 15 comments

Inundated by Unexpected Expenses

Every year it seems we have some ridiculous expense and more often than not when one major event comes our way it is quickly followed by at least one or two others. Last year we plunked $36,000 into a new vehicle. We bought the car below invoice, but that was definitely a hit to our wallets. In 2013 we also remodeled three of the four bathrooms in our house. In 2012 we paid over $20,000 in just over a month to repair damaged pipes, a car, air conditioner and closing costs on two mortgages. In 2011 we paid a hefty chunk of change for professional painters to coat every wall in our house and in 2010 we spent over $30,000 to replace all of the windows and doors in our home.

It seems this year will be no less pricey. From January to March I spent thousands of dollars on unexpected medical care followed by a big wad of cash for out of town medical charges that were three times larger than the originally quoted price.

Yesterday as my husband was driving our 1999 Toyota to work the engine crapped out. The vehicle was towed to our local mechanic who declared it wasn’t worth repairing. The repairs amounted to more than the car was worth, which according to Edmunds is just over $1,500. My husband was hoping to continue commuting with that vehicle for at least another two years, but is seems it isn’t meant to be. The cost of a new car: $20,000 to $30,000 depending on what we choose to buy.

As if that weren’t enough this morning we found out that our furnace needs to be replaced. The unit is probably as old as our house and has finally stopped working. We were able to make a few minor repairs over the last two years, but this morning the technician assured me it is time to call it quits. His recommendation a brand new, sparkly $7600 unit.

Just once I would like to go an entire year without a major expense!

October 1, 2014 at 9:08 AM 7 comments

Preschool Drop Off Was Harder Than I Expected


I knew it wouldn’t be easy to drop my little guy off at preschool. I expected a bit of separation anxiety and perhaps a few tears. After three straight years together I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would be hard to place my son in the arms of his teacher and walk away. I thought a lot about what my son might experience, but I didn’t realize how powerful my own emotions would be.

The first few days of drop off my son walked into the classroom with a smile, but I left the school in tears. For the record my husband found it pretty difficult to walk away too. The hardest part was leaving him behind when I knew he really didn’t NEED to go.

Unlike moms who drop their children off at daycare, my son doesn’t need to go to school twice a week for a few hours a day. While it certainly helps me complete invoices for my husband’s billing, prepare dinner, grocery shop in a third of the time and clean the house without little hands placing toys in front of the vacuum cleaner or broom, I could accomplish those tasks with him around. I didn’t enroll him for any of those reasons. I sent him because we couldn’t consistently schedule play dates with other kids and our neighborhood playground is void of children.

I don’t believe that three year olds require socialization, but I did think he would have a lot of fun exploring the world with other children beside him. After a ridiculous amount of contemplation, including investigating    various school philosophies and costs I chose a preschool that offered the best experiences and opportunities for my son. Each week he sings along with a professional music teacher, cooks with the teachers and participates in tons of play based activities alongside eight other children with temperaments similar to his own.

He cried at two of the first five days of school, but the teacher assures me he is fine a few minutes after drop off. (Interestingly those tears did not come on the first two days of school.) Every school night he lays in bed and tells me all about the days adventures; what children he played with, what toys he discovered, what books he read, what songs he sang and which playground he explored.

Despite all of this I must admit that I still find it hard to drop him off. It’s only two days a week, but each morning I get a little sad at the thought of taking him to school.

The first few days I went shopping after leaving the school grounds and decided I really shouldn’t do that anymore. I quickly found myself adding toys and games to the cart that I never intended to buy. I wanted to provide something special for my son to look forward to after pick up. This started out as simple things like baking sugar cookies and taking him to the playground, but I quickly found myself purchasing unnecessary items from the clearance sections of Target. I didn’t buy anything that cost more than two or three dollars, but I believe guilt was factoring into my purchases more than anything else.

Tomorrow is another school day. I will head home after drop off and do not plan to perform any shopping other than buying groceries for at least the next month.

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September 17, 2014 at 10:02 PM 4 comments

A Few Things I Enjoy Spending Money On


I don’t like spending money. Really, I drag my feet whenever I’m required to purchase a big ticket item and I’ve been known to stand in a store aisle for two to three minutes trying to figure out which peanut butter is cheaper, the one on sale, the store brand or the full price brand if I use a coupon.

Although I am never a fan of pulling out my wallet I do find that some transactions are a little easier to bare than others. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • A deep tissue massage – I found an incredible massage therapist that works less than a mile from my home. She provides an 80 minute massage for $80. I used to feel quite guilty about spending money on my appointments, but have learned over time that my body is just not as functional without them.
  • Organic, delicious, in-season fruit – I’ll choose a juicy peach plucked at peak season over a cookie or brownie any day. I hate the winter months when my fresh fruit pile dwindles down to apples and pears.
  • Date nights out with my husband – These occur so infrequently that I think we’ve only had four in the last two years. It is nice to spend a little time together without the little man beside us. In fact, I need to do a better job of scheduling this on our calendar.
  • Activities that involve both my husband and son – Free activities are great, but I didn’t mind shelling out money this winter so the three of us could tour the zoo or paying twenty-five bucks to see the lighted displays at a botanical garden.
  • Mommy-and-Me classes – Before I had a kid these sounded so lame, but now that my son is here I love spending time painting, dancing and singing with him in group settings. (Of course, I love just enjoying time with him at home too.) I won’t pay $250 for the experience, but I really do enjoy spending time with my son and getting a little adult conversation from other mothers.
  • Gifts for other people – Nothing makes me happier than giving someone else a gift from the heart. A good friend stopped by yesterday to pick up a bundle of gifts for a baby due in May. I’m also sending a bunch to a former coworker whose wife just happens to be expecting on the very same day.

How about you? Do you have specific activities or objects that you enjoy spending money on?

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January 18, 2014 at 9:43 PM 2 comments

An Absolute, Complete and Utter Frugal Fail

On Friday I loaded a bunch of unwanted presents into the car and started what would become a three hour journey to return them. My son sat happily in the back seat with a container of newly washed grapes, a cup of water and a smile. I’m not certain, but I think he was still delirious from spending three straight days playing with new toys. It was a beautiful day and I was happy to unload the unwanted gifts before the new year.

I didn’t have gift slips for any of the presents my family received, but I recognized the brands and read up on store policies before attempting to return them. The process started out pretty rocky.  In Kohl’s I was offered $2 for two of my items. “No thanks,” I told the cashier, “for $2 I’ll donate them.”

I should have walked right out of the store, but instead wandered by the 70% off rack and ended up buying $35 worth of new clothing for my son for next year. Not only did I fail to return anything, but I walked out with stuff I didn’t even intend to buy.

In Babies-R-Us I was able to perform an even exchange. Not exactly a failure. I returned one $3 item that was too small for another in his size. I didn’t like the color or pattern, but at least the new shirt will fit him.

My son was smiling at all of the cashiers and wishing them a Happy New Year, so I decided to press on. A quick stop in the pet store just to look at the pretty parakeets and fish and we were on to TJ Maxx.

I save all of my receipts in a handy-dandy plastic binder, but for some reason the receipt I needed couldn’t be found anywhere. It took ten minutes for the cashier to enter all of the information required for a return without receipt. I have no one to blame but myself and I’m thankful they accept returns, but ugh that was a lot of time wasted in line and at the register.

Old Navy’s line was incredibly long. Two registers open and ten people in each line. I completely lucked out when a cashier finally opened a new register and waved me over. (For the record I told her other people had been in line before me, but she quickly exchanged my item anyway.) It was another $3 item.

Honestly, if I had known the first two shirts cost $2 and the third and fourth one were only valued at $3 I probably would’ve stayed home.

I hit IKEA on the way down the road and then considered calling it a day when I noticed my son was still wide awake and happy. I decided to make one last stop. This time to Costco. When I walked in the door there were already ten people waiting in line at customer service, but the line moved quickly and I completed my returns without any problem.

A smart girl would have taken her cash and walked right out the door, but I decided to wander around the aisles for just a minute and somehow walked out with a $500 Vitamix.


That’s right. I failed to return two $2 items. I successfully exchanged two $3 items and then spent $500 on a device.

My husband came home to find a very large box sitting on the counter and was shocked to find out I spent $500 on a blender. It is completely out of character for me. I almost never buy anything for myself and certainly nothing that ever costs more than $100.

Did I buy it because I was tired and frustrated from a long day of returns? Possibly, but I don’t think so. For some reason I’ve dreamed of buying a Vitamix for quite awhile now. I asked for very practical gifts this Christmas and this was a luxury I really wanted for myself.

Now the real question is will I keep it or decide that $500 is simply too much to spend. Only time will tell.

December 28, 2013 at 1:51 PM 6 comments

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