Salvation Army (and other thrift store) Awesomeness

First of all, don't forget to read my post today at Real Housekeeping!

I'm linking up again with Thrifty Thills at Someday Saints, and today I want to talk about one of my favorite thrift stores, Salvation Army.

I used to be strictly a Goodwill kind of girl, and I don't think I even knew much about any other company of thrift store before meeting my good friend Kelly (whom I wrote about earlier this week).  Her husband, Ed, has worked at Salvation Army as a store manager for some time, and he was always bringing her home some kind of treasure or other.  She was always raving about how great the prices were and what cute stuff they had.  I was intrigued.

Then, a year ago (or was it two?), Kelly started working part time at a Salvation Army store, too.  Talk about the perfect job for her!  She told me about half-off days at Salvation Army. I can't vouch for stores in other states, but around here in Oregon, Salvation Army has regular "half-off" days where everything in the store is half-off the ticketed price.  Needless to say, the ticketed prices are already low (lower than Goodwill's, at least around here), so half-off of that?  Yes please!

Oh yeah!

Some stores have them every week, and others just have them once a month or so.  But they are not to be missed, in my opinion.

In January, Kelly and Ed treated me to a belated birthday/Christmas present: a $40 shopping spree at half-off day at the store Kelly works at (which is one of the bigger and better stores).  I ended up spending about $20 more than the $40 they gave me, but I got about 8 nice (mostly name brand) dress shirts and some sweaters for my husband, two coats for myself, a bathrobe, some clothes for my kids, and a book or two.  All for $20 of my own money?  Yes and yes!

I'd like to present my Green Light, Yellow Light, and Red Light list when shopping at Salvation Army (or Goodwill, or any thrift store).  I imagine you're familiar with the concept…

Green (Definitely things I'll get!)
  • Clothes for everyone in my family, but especially the kids/babies (since they grow out of them so quickly).
  • Books--best place to get them for cheap, as long as you're okay with the fact that you can't count on finding a particular title right away.
  • Look at this "small world" find…the "Fan Mail" book was written by my high school BFF's dad.  A St. Louis author (who published relatively few books of fiction) and I find one of his books in a thrift store in Portland, OR!  
  • Dishes, glasses, servingware, etc.--a lot of perfectly good dining sets end up being given away by people who are moving and don't want to bring it or who like to "update" their dinner set.
  • Purses--again, so many women "upgrade" their purses frequently that they give away purses that are barely used…score!.
  • CDs and DVDs--as long as you check to make sure they aren't scratched.
  • Pots and Pans--usually nothing wrong with them, just perhaps outdated looks.
  • Bedding--as long as it is easy to wash (or dry clean, if you're into that) and fits your bed and style, you probably won't find cheaper.
  • Tablecloths and placemats--people always seem to be getting rid of these. It could be hard to find a full set.  
  • Towels--In my humble opinion, one can never have too many towels, even if it means cutting them down to make dishtowels or rags.  
  • Baskets (decorative or otherwise)--YES.  Never pay full price for a basket, that's my motto.
Yellow (Can be dodgy but worth looking at)
  • Appliances--I usually only trust the ones I can test out in the store, like radios or alarm clocks.  A lot of times the appliance wall will have many outlets, so you can turn things on…but unless you brought along some ground coffee, you can't really find out whether that coffee pot works.  Still, there always seem to be a plentiful amount of waffle irons, crockpots, etc.
  • Decor--there is some truly atrocious art that ends up on thrift store shelves. So, if you're going to a hideous art party or you enjoy the ironic hipster style of decorating, you are sure to be pleased.  But sometimes you will find nice things amongst the creepy clown paintings and generic Thomas Kinkade watercolors.  Also, the work of art may be ugly but the frame might be decent, so there's that.
  • Candles--hey, I'm not a candle snob, so I don't mind a half used candle…but that's just me.
  • Office/school supplies--very hit or miss what you'll find, but often there are lots of cheap three ring binders and sometimes good backpacks
  • Shoes--I love getting "I'll only wear these occasionally" dress shoes or sandals from thrift stores, but I steer clear of sneakers; I want my sneakers to last a long time and often the ones in thrift stores are well-worn in a certain pattern already that might not conform as well to my feet.
  • Bras--Only if they look very new or still have the original store's tags on them (sometimes Salvation Army will get a shipment of obvious overstock or out of season stuff from Target or Walmart)
  • Board Games--Be careful to see if it has all its pieces still
  • Kid's Toys (of the plastic variety)--Only if I don't hate it and it looks easy to clean (you never know what a thing has been through when it hits the shelves)
  • Furniture--Could be perfect or could have been peed on by a million cats…you be the judge!  Wood is safer ;)
  • Sporting goods--I've gotten some fine tennis rackets…and by fine, I mean "acceptable for a horribly untalented tennis player such as myself."  Pros in any sport will likely not find what they want at a thrift store, but amateurs and weekend warriors may be pleased.  
Red (No way, no how…for me, anyway)
  • Underwear--unless it is in a sealed package and obviously brand new…sorry. Not going there.  I do have my limits.
  • Socks and tights--ditto.
  • Large exercise equipment--usually can't be tested, and too expensive to make a mistake with…try Craigslist for these instead.
  • Puzzles--Honestly, if it's not still shrink-wrapped, I wouldn't bother.  Nearly guaranteed to be missing a piece (or several)
  • Batteries--usually they have several packs of non-name brands, which I've never had success with.  But maybe that's just my bad luck.
  • The snacks in the checkout aisle--usually overpriced for what they are!  
Well, that's my list.  What about you?

Oh, and this post wouldn't be complete without a shout-out to a show that's popular in St. Louis (my hometown) featuring someone I grew up with, Susannah (Lutjens) Newman.  She's now a Goodwill Diva and has her own reality show!  Here she is…and this 7 minute webisode is basically a recap of every reason why you should hit a thrift store first!
You really should check out a webisode or two on the channel…the other 3 Goodwill Divas are a hoot (especially Naomi…I would love to meet that lady when I'm in St. Louis this summer!)

But I would tell Susannah and the crew…if there are Salvation Army stores in STL, check them out, because if you find that kind of crazy awesomeness at Goodwill, imagine it all on half-off day at the SA!


  1. I love your "Green light, yellow light, red light" list! Definitely a good set of rules to follow when thrifting. I have scored some awesome dress shoes at our Goodwill, but I always Lysol them first! :P

  2. For kids' arts and crafts supplies, you can't beat Scrap PDX on NE MLK. Which is conveniently near to the Title Wave Bookstore, which sells used library books for cheap.


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