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I love, love, love shopping at consignment stores! It’s like going on an expedition only instead of searching for ancient artifacts you’re on a quest to find the best buys on gently-used, quality apparel, shoes, handbags, and jewelry. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well at least it is to shopaholics like me! Imagine getting stylish designer fashions and accessories at a fraction of the original price – a leather Coach wristlet for $18… a casual Calvin Klein tee for less than $10… a silk Jones New York dress for under $20… a pair of embellished Anne Klein flats for around $19… it’s a bargain hunter’s dream!

Over the years I’ve learned to master the art of thrifting, so I thought I’d share a few insider secrets to make your consignment shop excursions a success.

Where to shop. Check local directories or visit sites like TheThriftShopper.com for a listing of stores in your area. Ask savvy thrifters you know for recommendations too.  HINT: I try to hit stores in more affluent neighborhoods as they have a better selection of high-end merchandise.

When to shop. Find out what day of the week stores display new arrivals and try to shop the next day or two to take advantage of the latest deals. Also, check store hours and if you’re going on a Saturday or Sunday, get there early as they tend to be busier late in the morning to mid-afternoon on weekends. If you plan to visit more than one place in a day, you’ll need at least a few hours to browse (it usually takes me four hours or more). In other words, go when you have ample time to shop.

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I tend to go for unique, eye-catching tops likes these. They’re so fun to wear!

How to shop. Keep an open mind. You may be looking for a patterned blouse to match a favorite skirt or a fancy dress for an upcoming event, but you could wind up with a groovy boho tunic or a colorful sundress instead. Take time to sort through the racks ‘cuz you never know what gems you’ll find. Also consider what you already have in your closet and take photos with your camera phone. Then look for pieces to fill out your wardrobe.

Try it on for size. Let’s face it: some things look better on the hanger! Plus, sizes can vary from brand to brand. So, always try on clothes in the store to make sure they fit properly and look flattering on you. Take a walk in those shoes you have your eye on too. The style may be irresistible, but if they’re the least bit uncomfortable, don’t buy them!

 Give it the once-over. Even if stores are meticulous about what they’ll accept, they may overlook a small spot, rip, a broken clasp, or a loose heel. So inspect each item thoroughly. A missing button is no big deal, but unless you’re a magician you may have trouble making a stubborn stain disappear!

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I got these adorable, like-new clothes for my granddaughter last month for less than $26!

Kids’ Stuff. Now that I have a sweet little granddaughter, I’ve been frequenting secondhand stores that carry children’s clothes and such. If you’re looking for unbelievable deals on apparel, shoes, hats, baby gear, toys, and other items for infants and toddlers, you’ll find a virtual goldmine in these places. Everything looks practically brand new because most youngsters outgrow everything before they wear out.

Sign up for store mailing lists or follow them on social media. That way you’ll be among the first to know about special sales events. Some stores offer discount coupons to help you save even more.

Another great thing about consignments shops: You can bring in items you no longer want and as long as they’re still in style and in good condition, you could get credit for any sold items. Some places even give you cash upfront!

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Look at all the fabulous jewelry pieces I found on some of my shopping excursions!

Don’t have any consignment stores nearby? No worries! Just go online and shop at places like these:

ThredUP. Choose from thousands of like-new clothing items for women, girls and boys, all hand-selected and certified for quality. You’ll find popular brands discounted up to 90% off!

The Attic. This site features a huge selection of women’s designer clothing & vintage clothing, accessories, modern & retro jewelry, and more at deep discounts.

Swap.com . Considered the largest online consignment store, Swap.com offers a ginormous selection of pre-owned baby, kids’, maternity, and women’s apparel & accessories.

Happy Shopping!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. can’t wait for her next shopping adventure. Her mission: find some hot deals on cool styles for summer.

Photos by Mary Haehn

Iconic Slow Cookers: The Audrey Hepburn of Kitchen Appliances

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Sausage, Bean & Pasta Stew. Click for the recipe. Photo Courtesy of Food Network.

Thinking deep philosophical thoughts this morning.

Like, “Do people in southern California love the Crock-Pot® as much as the rest of the country?” Because right now, in addition to sweater weather, changing leaves and football, people are going nuts over the start of Crock-Pot season!

Seriously…is there a more universally beloved counter-top appliance than the slow cooker?

Sorry toaster. Not even close.

The mere thought of walking in the front door after a day at work and that rush of delicious aroma, from a hearty satisfying soup or stew, enveloping you like a warm bath sheet or downy comforter, is pure bliss.

CrockPots

Clockwise from left to right: Cheetah Print from QVC ($39.99), Bella Diamonds from Kohl’s ($29.99), NFL Crock-Pot from WalMart ($39.42) and Purple Polished Stainless from Kohl’s ($29.99).

The slow cooker is unmatched in versatility. From pot roasts, soups and stews, to desserts and warm beverages, the Crock-Pot is the go-to appliance for any occasion.  People are even baking bread in a Crock-Pot these days. Is there nothing this little wonder cannot do? My new must-have is the darling little Crock-Pot Lunch Cooker. In pink! When I see a product this cute, and something every office worker MUST HAVE, I have to buy one. Christmas gift for the hard-to-buy-for? HELLO. What else are you going to get that is so adorable, functional and will last forever for $20?

Crock-Pot Lunch Cooker $19.99 @ Target

A good Crock-Pot is timeless. It never goes out of style. It’s the Audrey Hepburn or James Dean of the cooking world. However, like shoes, you can never have too many crock pots.

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The Crock-Pot Little Triple Dipper Food Warmer $34.97 at casa.com

I own 5 slow-cookers. Two mini-dip warmers, which only have one setting, a round 5-quart and oval 7-quart Crock-pot, for potlucks and smaller Sunday meals, and then the granddaddy of them all, the 6 1/2-quart All-Clad Programmable Slowcooker, the Mercedes of slow cookers with the weight of a Mack truck.

At one point I became convinced I couldn’t live without the three-crocks-in-one heating unit buffet server, until my mother bought it for me. The box was the size of a small car. Where is one supposed to store that thing? It was ginormous.

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Black rose Bella 6-qt. slow cooker $39.97 at Nordstrom Rack online.

However, if I had a bigger house, a larger family, or did more entertaining, that beast would be mine.

Even though I do own an All-Clad Programmable that cost over $150, another Christmas gift from Mom (thanks, mom), I’ve found that the smaller 5-6 quart manual slow cookers are every bit as good, despite having fewer settings. Plus, they cost a lot less.

The best thing about Crock-Pot cooking is how simple it is. When is the last time you made an appetizer in 5 minutes? AND got rave reviews for it? Trust me. This recipe for Sweet & Spicy Meatballs is a perennial favorite at holiday potlucks.

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1 14 oz. can Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce

1 12 oz. bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce

1 2-lb bag frozen, pre-cooked, cocktail meatballs

Directions: Place meatballs in the slow cooker. Combine sauces and pour over meatballs. Cover and cook 4 hours. Prep time 5 minutes. 30 appetizer servings.

Another of my fall favorites, perfect for a Sunday afternoon of leaf-raking or couch-surfing, this slow cooker French Dip from the Let’s Dish Recipes blog. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tiny pink Crock-pot to buy.

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Hello Gorgeous!

Blogger Mel B,  a Smart Perks employee, never met a counter-top appliance she didn’t like.

The “Garage Sale King” Shares Secrets of a Successful Sale

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Every spring there’s a community-wide garage sale in our town and we like to get in on it. After all, you can make hundreds of dollars in one weekend selling things you want (or need) to get rid of any way, like the pair of duck decoys gathering dust in our garage or the frightful clown figurines I inherited from my aunt (as they say, “one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure”). 1116200_695488353810672_1208156024_oBut, we learned the hard way you can’t just set out a mishmash of stuff hoping people will come along and buy your second-hand goods. It takes planning, organization and some know-how to make your sale a success. Otherwise, it’s not worth the time and effort.

After our first garage sale was a bust (we had no idea what we were doing), we consulted our friend, Larry, who is known around here as the “Garage Sale King.” That’s because he manages to rake in between $2,000 and $3,000 every year peddling everything from bikes and baby clothes to fishing tackle & flower pots. Suffice it to say, Larry knows what people want and what they’re willing to pay for them.

Here are some inside tips Larry shared with us:
Sort and set aside items you want to sell. Make sure they’re in good condition (they may be used, but no one wants to buy things that are dirty, stained, torn, or broken). Some of Larry’s top sellers: kids’ clothes & toys, kitchenware, furniture, sporting goods, camping gear, tools, lawn/garden supplies, collectibles, books, CDs, DVDs, games, and jewelry.
Pick dates & times for your sale. According to Larry, Fridays and Saturdays are the best days and Sundays tend to be a wash. However, he’s been known to get quite a few customers on Thursdays as well. As for times, Larry suggests opening your sale around 8:00 a.m. and closing it no later than 5:00 p.m. Serious garage-salers like to shop early so they can get first dibs on the good stuff (I guess it’s an “early bird catches the worm” kind of thing). Some will even show up the night before to get a sneak peek at your wares, so be prepared!

Check out Delightful Order for Garage Sale supplies like this printable sign.

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Check out Delightful Order on Etsy for some great garage sale supplies.

Advertise. Your best bet is to put up big, legible, two-sided signs (with days and times of your sale, your address and arrows pointing in the right direction) around town and at the end of your street a few days before your sale. Balloons will get their attention too. NOTE: check with your city hall first to make sure there aren’t any restrictions on signs. Other advertising avenues: flyers, the internet and local newspapers.
Decide what you’ll need ahead of time. Some of the essentials: long tables (borrow them if necessary) to display your merchandise, a garment rack or long shower rod to hang clothes, shelves for books & knickknacks, a card table for checking out and chairs to sit on, labels/tags for prices (use big ones for larger items), a cash box (a shoe box or an old metal tin works), tablet & pens to tally/keep track of purchases (a portable calculator may help too if you’re bad at math like I am), bags & boxes for carrying merchandise and newspaper for breakables. Don’t forget the cash! You should have enough small bills and coins to make change.
Price items accordingly. Shoppers are looking for bargains – we’re talking how low-can-you-go deals here – so don’t overprice your merchandise and be prepared to haggle, even if it’s over a measly 50 cents! Use round numbers like .25, .50, .75, $1.00, etc. so it’s easier to make change. On the last day of your sale, mark down whatever’s left by 50% or more to get rid of it. Or, do what Larry does and let people fill a grocery bag for $5.00. Have a free box for items that would go for less than a quarter, like little toys for kids. Of course you want to make some money, so click here for guidelines on garage sale pricing. Hint: If more than one person/family is involved use different colored labels or people’s initials to keep track of who’s selling what.

Old objects in secondhand trade market
Focus on presentation. Arrange tables so it’s easy for people to navigate between them and set everything up in a neat and orderly fashion, by category. For example, line up books, movies & music by genre, display clothing by gender, size and type, and put similar items next to each other. Place more desirable merchandise, like furniture, sporting goods and small appliances, in a prime spot so people notice them right away when they walk/drive by.
Create an inviting atmosphere. Play music in the background (it doesn’t have to be elevator music, but nothing loud or offensive – after all, children and grandmas come to these sales!). 1781b0a2410890434b3ea36de0f984dfOffer beverages like bottled water and soda, and maybe a few treats like cookies or bars for $1.00. Better yet, have the kids set up a lemonade stand and let them keep the profits.
Make checkouts easy and pleasant. Be courteous with customers and carefully pack their purchases. Always smile and thank them when they leave. Remember, happy customers are loyal customers.

Follow these basic tips and you’ll be a garage sale guru in no time.

Good luck and have fun!

Catherine B enjoys her work, but is looking forward to retiring so she can write whatever (and whenever) she wants at home in her pajamas.