Far back in my e-mail archives, there are copies of paid articles I wrote, years ago, about the pleasures and rewards of shopping at thrift stores. Do you have to wait until I find the online time to dig back through them, check all the facts, and update those articles? Of course not! Mmarquit shares ten (generic, not neighborhood- or charity-specific) tips:
I'd underline and highlight item #4: "Return until you find what you want." Thrift stores don't buy what you ask for; they sell what's donated to them. If you saw something in the latest L.L. Bean catalogue that made you think "I wish I could buy that for $1.98 off a shelf in a store near home," and you frequent the thrift stores in an upscale urban neighborhood, you very likely can try it on, buy it for $1.98, and take it home on the bus. When L.L. Bean used to offer one dress as a sort of token recognition that women shoppers might want something to wear in town, I'd be walking around Washington in that dress...for $1.98 plus a bus trip to Bethesda or Hyattsville. But you won't usually find the item the first time you walk into a thrift store. You may find all kinds of other wonderful bargains in the same category during the weeks, months, or years before you find the dress, or the hand-powered lawn mower, or the coffee table you originally had in mind. You have to decide whether you'll settle for anything in the right category, for $1.98, until you find the item, or whether you'll hold out for the item.
If the store gives its profits to a cause you respect, I recommend buying anything for which you can find a use, to support the cause. If they give 3% of the profits, or don't have a particular cause--it's just Dumpster Diver Dan's Discount Den--I'd hold out. Then again, if it keeps Dumpster Diver Dan off welfare, that is a respectable cause.