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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

Holiday Gift Ideas for The Hard-To-Buy-For

Picture it: the twinkling lights blinking off fresh snow, a heady evergreen-and-sugar-cookie scent in the air, a table laden with delicious treats…and no gifts under the Christmas tree due to poor planning.  Uh-oh!

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Disappointed kids on Christmas do not a merry day make.

 

Though the winter holidays are typically a time of great joy, this busy time of year is not without its trials and tribulations. Whether it is perfectly planning a five course meal with family or friends or remembering to buy gifts for said cherished ones, there are certain holiday stressors everyone is affected by. Luckily for you, we’re here to guide you with suggestions of gift ideas for the trickiest of cases, so no one in your circle gets forgotten.

Got a gadget-obsessed great uncle but you’re kind of a Luddite? A friend’s daughter who is obsessed with some trendy toy you’ve never heard of? Help is on the way! Spanning price ranges and generations, we’ve got you covered.

For Preteens Who “Just Hate Everything”:

Groovy Coloring Books

We were all in that stage once: you’re 11 and everything is the worst and no one understands me. Well, they might not know it yet but they need to chill out. And what better way to relax with a coloring book! You may have heard that coloring books are making a big comeback – and are totally not just for little kids anymore. Now, there are numerous options for the hip preteens in your life, including our favorite: Oodles of Doodles: Over 200 Pictures to Complete and Create. This coloring book inspires creativity with a few drawings here and there, encouraging the artist to finish the page themselves. Another great one is the Creative Haven Fanciful Faces Coloring Book, a crowd favorite which has detailed outlines of psychedelic portraits.

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For older kids (and preteens with great taste in music) there’s also the Indie Rock Coloring Book which has illustrations dedicated to some of the most popular indie musicians, such as Iron and Wine or Hot Chip. Bonus? A portion of the proceeds goes to music-related charities, so you’re (in a good way!) double-gifting.

Alternate Ideas: Emily + Meritt Animal Headphones, Gameband Minecraft, Classic Chuck Taylors

For Your Best Friend’s Young Kid:

A Gaming Toothbrush

We’ve all noticed how into gaming and technology kids are these days, but this gift combines those things…with hygiene. Confused? So were we! But the Grush Gaming Toothbrush is a genius way to get kids to enjoy brushing their teeth, helping them visualize their brushing in a fun, healthy way. Instead of getting your BFF’s baby a game that will rot their brain or something noisy like drums that will rot your friend’s brain, this interactive toothbrush is giving them the best of both worlds.

 

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Grush works by displaying a personalized game on a handheld device and guiding the child with the moves to perfectly brush each quadrant of the mouth for 30 seconds. The results can even be sent to the parent, helping them track their child’s progress.

Don’t be worried about seeming like a weirdo getting a kid a toothbrush; kids really do like the darndest things. For instance, at the age of 8 one of my favorite gifts was a suction-cup magnifying mirror. (Note: the staff of SmartPerks doesn’t recommend buying this for your niece or nephew, no matter how weird they are.)

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Monster Hoodie, $39 at BustedTees

Alternate Ideas: Monster Hoodie, FurReal Friends, Imaginext Ultra T-Rex

 

For Gadget Heads:

Futuristic Wireless Device

The Amazon Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device brought to you by Amazon. Voiced by “Alexa,” consider the Echo a pseudo-assistant. As it’s designed around your voice, think of Echo like a tabletop version of the iPhone’s Siri – but more advanced. It can make to do lists, set your alarms, give real-time info like traffic and weather, and of course also play music from a variety of sources. Amazon Echo

At $179.99, it is definitely a splurge, and maybe more of a gift for a family or a super special friend, but any tech-y person would be ecstatic to get this gadget they might not have bought themselves. Functional but fun, tiny but mighty, the Amazon Echo would be welcome in any savvy smart home.

Alternate Ideas:  UP4 by Jawbone, Perfect Drink App-Controlled Smart Bartending, Tile Dongle

For Your Uncle (or adult brother, boyfriend, husband or dad):

A Gift-of-the-Month Club

Sure, you’ve thought of a gift-of-the-month club before for a special man in your life, but then decided it wasn’t personal enough. That’s all changed. No matter how specific the interests of your male loved one are, there’s a gift-of-the-month club for them.

Do you have a forgetful, quirky male relative always wearing socks so holey they seem biblical? Check out Sock Club, which delivers American made socks directly to your door.

Know an adorkable dude who refuses to grow up? Look into LootCrate, which has an assortment of gamer-related gifts.

Sophisticated cigar connoisseur, always looking for the next trend? SmartPerks has an awesome discount with Cigars International! Just use promo code SA4360 to send your loved one four new cigars a month!

Are there some big foodies in your family? There are gift-of-the-month clubs for hot sauce, a variety of meats and cheeses, and even alcohol! Our favorite is the long standby Club W, which personalizes your wine delivery based on your tastes.

There are plenty more exotic ones, so look around! Get creative. Everyone likes a fun, free surprise each month. Gift-of-the-month clubs fulfill that without you even having to run to the store.

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The Great Deal Company’s Stainless Steel Bar Set, only $39.99

Alternate Ideas: Smart Control Remote, Whiskey StonesStainless Steel Bar Set

 

 

For the Picky Mother-in-Law:

You’ve screwed up one too many times with your persnickety MIL. The baking supplies you happily gifted her last year were met with a snarky comment about how she already owns five whisks; what does she need with another? And so it’s gone for years.

But not this year. This year, you’ll get her something the whole family will appreciate; a one-two punch of a gift. Organize a time all of your extended family can get together, and hire a professional photographer to take family photographs. That’s not it. Also, have them each write a letter or note (kids can draw pictures) of what this matriarch means to them. Then, gather all of the photos in a personalized scrapbook/photo album with the notes and drawings. Sit back, relax, and smugly watch as your MIL is blown away by the thoughtfulness of this gift. It’s personal, sweet and endearing. She’ll never look at you the same way again! Warning: you’ll be setting a high standard for all future gifts, but worry about that next year.

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Bluetooth Activity Tracker, $49.99 from the Great Deal Company

Alternate Ideas: Bluetooth Activity Tracker, Crafting Classes, Restaurant Gift Cards

The holidays are the happiest time of the year. Hopefully, with our gift suggestions, even your hardest-to-please loved ones will share in your joy. Have more ideas? Shout them out in the comments!

Blogger Katie U, a Smart Perks employee, would like all of these gifts herself, especially the cheese-of-the-month box.

 

“The Best & the Brightest in the Surprise Box World: From Beauty Products to Bowties for your Boxer

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Ipsy Glam Bag – May 2015

My heart flutters as I approach the magical portal at the end of the driveway. Opening that small hinged door has the power to transport me to pure, unadulterated, retail nirvana. Hooray! A package for me! You see, I am a surprise box junkie. My mail carrier and I are on a first name basis. He knows my dogs’ names. Yes, it’s that bad.

If the post office ever does go out of business, as they keep threatening (for Pete’s sake give them whatever they want…I need Saturday delivery) I will be completely inconsolable.

For the past year and a half I have been on a retail odyssey that has seen me sign up for virtually any and all curated, surprise boxes available in the marketplace.

If there is a club out there that sticks surprise stuff into a box, chosen just for you and delivers it to your door, I’ve tried it. I will never be able to afford a personal shopper, but curated box programs are the next best thing.

Here’s how they work: In most cases, you fill out a profile, telling the company a few things about yourself, your pet, your child, whomever the box is intended for. If it’s makeup, they may ask you for your skin type, your hair color, your style (i.e. preppy, romantic, classic, edgy, etc.) Some programs will even scour your Pinterest board or Instagram account to get a better idea of who you are. Then a stylist or curator selects products that she thinks would best fit your personal style.

Here’s a quick summary of just a few of the boxes I’ve tried:

Birchbox

Category: Makeup & beauty

Frequency: Monthly or special Limited Edition one-time boxes

Bottom Line: At $10 a month, it’s an awesome value. However, I decided I needed to choose between Birchbox and Ipsy,  and this program felt heavy on skincare and hair products. Those are both consumables that I don’t change up every month. Birchbox does feature high quality brands (Benefit!) and occasionally some mass-market products are thrown in. I still shop from the Birchbox online store. I would recommend it.

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Ipsy Glam Bag

Category: Makeup & beauty + a cute bag

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: I’ve been an Ipsy subscriber for over a year at $10 a month, which is a bargain. I would give Ipsy as a gift to every teenage girl I know, but there is a wait list and last time I checked they had disabled the gifting option. Each month you receive a cute little makeup bag, customized for Ipsy, and the designs are darling. Ipsy does do some skincare, but is more makeup focused than Birchbox. They send some great products from brands like Urban Decay, Dr. Brandt and Pacifica, as well as some unusual brands that I never would have tried, like Kat Von D. Tremendous value and the bag really pushes them over the top.

JewelMint Box

Category: Jewelry

Frequency: Monthly or one-time

Bottom Line: Jewelry preference is really subjective. The pieces they send are very trendy and are not going to hold up to years of wear. However, you do receive some really cute items and the presentation and packaging are fabulous. It’s a fun little pick-me-up for yourself or as a gift. The JewelMint online store is fabulous, too. You’ll find low prices on the same on-trend jewelry included in their mystery boxes. Sign up for emails and receive notice about special sales!

NatureBox

Category: Healthy snacks

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: Do you love Trader Joe’s? Then you will love NatureBox. They give you some choice in what you will receive, but you can also let them choose for you too. You receive 5 snacks a month, but you can order separately, if you find something you love. I’m more of a “cupcakes and donuts snacker,” but my healthier friends really like Nature Box. Cost is $19.95 a month.

Stitch Fix

Category: On-trend clothing & accessories

Frequency: As frequently as you wish

Bottom Line: You pay $25 to have a Personal Stylist choose 5 different clothing or accessory items based on your profile. Whatever you buy, the $25 is deducted. You’re under no obligation to buy. Return shipping is free and packaging provided.  I always found at least two or three items I wanted, but usually could afford one or two. It’s REALLY fun to try. They encourage you to snap a selfie wearing their clothes and post, even if you plan to return. The clothes are cute, boutiquey, on trend, and give you a chance to play Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Another great retail therapy experience.

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FabFitFub Club

Category: Fitness, beauty, fashion & more

Frequency: Quarterly

Bottom Line: This is Entertainment TV personality Giuliana Rancic’s program. Being as it’s quarterly, it’s more expensive than others. $49.99 per box. However, you can typically get $10 off your first box through a pop-up when you go to the site, which makes it a great deal. I loved the items in this box, which felt very boutiquey, indulgent, L.A. princessy (I live in Minnesota.) Items are full-size and range from: a fitness DVD, a Sonia Dakar skincare product, an exercise ball, a fabulously funky headband, a cool retro apron, delicious Kai roll-on perfume, and then there were always a couple mass-market freebies thrown in that made no sense, like pantiliners. But the quality of the overall box made up for it. I stuck with it for three boxes.

Candy Club

Category: Retro candy in cute packaging

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: Darling, colorful, unique and out of the ordinary candies. If you want to simply photograph your box for Instagram to show your friends, and your money is burning a hole in your pocket…this is for you. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you can run to the grocery store and for $10 buy yourself some M&Ms, a Kit Kat, some Jolly Ranchers, and a Hershey Bar, and call it good. The monthly box is $27.99.

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Luxury Beauty Box from O’s Circle of Friends

Oprah’s Circle of Friends

Category: It’s from Oprah. I don’t care what it is. Just give it to me!

Frequency: Annual fee and surprise Items throughout the year, including subscriptions for yourself and two friends

Bottom Line: There are three levels. Don’t tell my husband, I bought the Premier Level for $199. I had to do it. I thought Oprah might send me to Australia, or give me a car. Or at the very least, invite me to her house in Hawaii to spend some time with her and Gayle. So far I got a luxury beauty box. One of the items, a thermal face mask containing 24kt gold is valued at $298. I’ll get back to you on this one. But I’m holding out hope for my surprise gift from The O List! C’mon trip to Australia!

BarkBox

Category: Dog toys & treats

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: If you’re not a dog lover, I generally don’t talk to you much. So basically all of my friends subscribe to BarkBox and think nothing of spending the $19 a month or more to indulge their furry family members. Treats and toys are made in the U.S. and all the pups I know give BarkBox four paws up. Money well spent.

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Wagdrobe Curated Dog Couture

Wagdrobe

Category: Canine couture & accessories

Frequency: As frequently as you wish

Bottom Line: This is like Stitch Fix for dogs. Wagdrobe is a newer company, and so I hope their customer service continues to be as AWESOME as my recent experience was! Super fast shipping, darling customized packaging and FUN, FUN, FUN for pet parents and pooches alike. Well, that is if your pup likes to get lots of treats for dressing up and posing for ADORABLE pics. I bought boxes for all three of my dogs. Beanie got the Hipster Box, Eloise got the Spoiled Princess and Bacon got the Trendsetter Box. The value compared to finding these darling outfits and accessories in stores is awesome!

Okay, I could go on…but here are a few tips if you want to try some boxes on your own.

  1. Don’t do too many at one time. You can only wear so much moisturizer.
  2. Set a reminder for yourself to cancel before your next ship date if you want to try a recurring program.
  3. Keep track of how many of the items you actually use/wear/eat to determine value. Don’t get caught up in the fun.
  4. Share with others. Take pics and share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Check out the items others receive in their boxes before you order, too. You can get a feel for whether or not it’s product you’ll like.
  5. Most importantly FILL OUT YOUR PROFILES and GIVE FEEDBACK. That’s the best way to ensure you’re going to love what’s inside the box, as much as you did receiving the bright, shiny package in the mail.
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Beanie sporting one of his Wagdrobe ensembles from the Hipster Hound collection.

– Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys dogs, cupcakes and shopping, and considers herself an expert on all three.

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.