Goodwill Hunting or I’m Turning Into My GrandMother(s)

For as long as I can remember, my grandmothers have gone through yard sales and second-hand stores to see what they could find. Notoriously frugal (which was out of necessity),  for $20 she could find enough clothes to last through a school year and still have enough left over for an electric weed eater. Not exclusively shopping at Goodwill, after a while I learned that if you keep your eyes open and look constantly you can find some rather amazing treasures that people discard as trash. For some reason, I can’t remember ever having a stigma associated with buying used things except for underwear and shoes; there are lines that you just don’t cross.

Brand names have only mattered to me relative to the quality of the products they sell. Calvin Klein? American Eagle? Abercrombie and Fitch?  All of their stuff I’ve come across will disintegrate if you attempt to do more than strut in it, and it’s expensive enough to where you have to realize you’re only paying for the name. Some names though have proven to me that just about anything they sell is tough enough to be used for years: Dockers, Levi’s, Pendleton, Ivy Crew, old Tommy Hilfiger clothing, and any major outdoor brand like Royal Robbins, The North Face, Columbia, etc. What’s so interesting, is that you can find all of these at any Goodwill in an upper-class neighborhood. Literally, everything that I’ve listed, plus some more like J-Crew, Lacoste, and Banana Republic I have purchased at a max price of $4 a piece from Goodwill. Cycle through the gallery below for some of my finds (more to be updated).

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Second hand doesn’t apply just to clothing though; just about anything can be found second-hand or at an incredible discount. I have an 18′ Kevlar Wenonah Canoe that I picked up for $300. No, I didn’t leave off a zero; $300. I had been well-loved, but well repaired to where it will certainly out perform any other $300 canoe I’ve ever seen. Recently, I picked up an REI 6 person tent for $60 + the cost of replacing a single section of pole; retail, these tents are nearly $500. A good friend of mine hit the deal of the century by getting a Coleman Pop Up Camper for $300 and has gloated about it ever since. There are 3 tricks to buying second-hand gear successfully.

#1 – Be Patient and Persistent. In my mind, I usually fix a price for whatever it is I want to buy that is reasonable enough that eventually you’ll find something that fits its description. The canoe, for example, I was willing to pay $500-600 for a similar canoe, but came across a better one; however, that was after searching for almost 4 months . You have to constantly be on the lookout for people listing what you’re looking for on either eBay, Craigslist, newspapers, or a similar avenue that someone would use to sell gear; thankfully, some apps now take the stress off and will notify you when a listing matches your search criteria right as it is posted.

#2 – Know what it is you’re looking at. More times than I can count, I’ve seen people choose the wrong kayak, computer, or significant other because it was the first thing that came along that looked good. You need to be able to distinguish between a dud, a repair you can handle yourself or is worth having someone do, and that once in a lifetime chance that you need to jump on immediately. Research is your friend, and with the internet, it shouldn’t be that hard to find whatever information you’re looking for; even that significant other bit (hint: if they post a new mirror picture of themselves on Facebook twice a week and you don’t like clingy people, run away). Read reviews of that used 10′ kayak that you want to fish out of to realize that every person over 140lbs complains of it being tipsy. Realize that the hole cut into the stern isn’t going to be fixed to the point of being seaworthy again.  It will save you a lot of hassle to spend your money right the first time.

#3 –  Put the word out. I’ve had more success simply posting a simple Facebook message than I have posting ads in the newspaper. Recently, I was looking for a new washer and dryer; 1 Facebook post later (and, honestly, a miracle), and I was backing a trailer up to a garage to take a set home at no cost (Thanks again Tori and Griffen!). Social networking, especially here in the Good Ol’ South, will get you farther than anything in tracking down a good deal. A friend of a friend can be your best friend when they have something you want at rock-bottom pricing.

Finally, sometimes the best option is to get things on clearance. The 42″ Sony TV I have in my living room (fully spec’d and loaded) cost me $370 at Wal-Mart because it was a display unit and was on clearance. Retail, it was almost $800 and I just happened upon this deal walking through the store one day. I had looked for nearly 6 months and didn’t want to spend more than $500 and hit the jackpot.

The moral to all of this: If you put out enough lines, eventually you’ll catch a fish.


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