No, It's not Christmas. It's consignment sales time. I'm not talking about the consignment stores that are open year round, I'm talking about consignment sales. These are mega sales held twice a year (fall and spring) at convention centers, fairgrounds and other large venues. And they are awesome for cheap (or broke) parents like me.
I discovered consignment sales a few years ago when we were having serious money problems. I didn't consign that first time, but I still got a bunch of great clothes for my son that lasted the entire season. Since then, I've gotten more and more into these sales: consigning, volunteering, advertizing. - anything that will get me in the doors sooner. (Most sales are on a system that you get to shop earlier depending on your level of involvement, but more on that later).
Now my cheap butt can dress my children in Gymboree and Gap instead of Faded Glory and George. My kids look good, I save money. It's a win-win.... mostly. But as with anything, there are benefits and drawbacks. You have to decide if it's worth it to you.
Here are some of the benefits of consignment sales vs. traditional consignment stores:
- The selection is better - There are more clothes to choose from, and the quality is often better.
- The prices are better. I can usually get t-shirts from one to four dollars at a sale as opposed to five to ten dollars at a consignment store.
- You can earn more money as a consignor - often as much as 65% of your sales.
Some of the drawbacks of consignment sales are:
- Consigning is hard work - You have to hang, tag and price every single piece of clothing. It is very labor intensive. Whereas a consignment store will do the work for you.
- If you don't get there for the early days of a sale, the selection gets pretty poor, especially for boys.
- The effort of searching through dozens upon dozens of racks to clothe your child for an entire season can be pretty exhausting.
- You have to guess what your child's size will be for the next 6 months This can be tricky especially for babies and toddlers. (I usually just buy large - better too big than too small)
So now that you know the pros and cons to consignment sales, the question is, are you crazy enough to do it? If you're reading this blog, I suspect that you probably are. If so, Consignment Mommies is a good place to start. It is a web site with a database you can search by state and zip code to find sales in your area.
Once you've chosen a sale, you will need to find out their particular rules about consigning and volunteering. Like I said, in my experience the more involved you are with the sale, the earlier you get to shop. (For example: if you volunteer 4 hours you might get in on the first Saturday of the sale. If you volunteer 8 hours, you might get in on that Friday.) But this is not a hard and fast rule. Every sale is different.
Shopping consignment sales is an art. It takes a certain kind of know-how and stamina to make it through one. I've been doing this twice a year for the past four years, and have made every mistake in the book so here are some tips to help you through that first sale.
Tips for new consignment sale shoppers:
- Unless it is stated that carts of some kind will be provided, take something to carry your stuff in. Remember that you're shopping for an entire season and will be carrying a lot. A child's wagon or a laundry basket with a bungee cord attached (so you can drag it) work well.
- Don't bring the kids. Let me repeat... don't bring the kids! You will lose your mind. I took my 18 month old daughter one year so my husband could watch the Miami game. Never again! She was miserable and crying half the time, and the only thing I could do to entertain her was count to 20 over and over for THREE HOURS! (She was into counting) It was awful, and I came home with a lot of stuff I didn't need because I was running behind, and didn't have time to sort through the clothes. Which brings me to my next tip.
- Grab now, sort later. There are too many clothes to choose from, and you will find yourself grabbing every cute thing on the shelf. That's fine. What you need to do is, once you are finished searching, find a spot to sit down and sort through the clothes. I usually decide ahead of time how many of a particular item I will be getting (i.e. 7 pairs of shorts, 10 shirts, etc) and use that as a jumping off point. Go through your clothes, choosing the cutest and best priced ones until you meet your desired number and PUT THE REST BACK.
- Know your brands. It matters. Faded glory makes some cute clothes, but they are also Walmart's brand and poorly made. Not to say you can't purchase them, but the price needs to reflect the quality of the merchandise.
- Allow yourself a splurge or two on items you really like, but beware of over pricing. The prices at these sales are set by the consignors and can vary greatly.When looking through your items, try to gauge what the average prices are and go from there. For example, I can expect a pair of girls jeans to go for between $3.00 and $5.00 depending on the brand and condition. If a pair of jeans is $5.00, they better be really nice. If they're more, I simple don't get them.
- Shop the boys clothes first. I don't know if it's because mom's buy more for their daughters, or because boys just damage their clothes more, but the pickings are always slimmer in the boys section.
- Thoroughly check clothes for stains or rips. Unfortunately, not all consignors are honest. Why someone would want to cheat me for a $2.00 shirt is beyond me, but they do.
- Look at the knees of jeans. Those are always the first thing to go. If they look a little light and worn, do not buy them.
- If you're buying toys or baby items, you have to be especially cautious. Check the item thoroughly for any issues. Try things out and make sure they have all of the pieces. Sometimes consignors lie and sometimes they just miss things, but there is no return policy so if you pay $20.00 for a high chair that's missing the straps, you're stuck. (Of course you can often order replacement parts from the company, but don't count on it).
- Be wary of certain items like cribs and car seats. I believe that these sorts of things need to be purchased new because of the safety hazards that might arise, but that just isn't feasible for everyone. Cribs are recalled a lot and you want to make sure you're getting something safe. You will also want to make sure it is put together correctly. Some searching on the net should turn up an owners manual. Car seats are even sketchier. It could have been recalled, in a accident, or past the expiration date (Oh yes they do expire). One way to minimize risk is to look at the manufacturers date. If the seat is over six years old, it's expired. Don't buy it. Also, pull back the cover and inspect the safety foam - most car seats come with safety foam these days. Look to see if it looks at all damaged or compressed. Also inspect the straps for wear, and check the base for cracks or other signs of damage. This isn't a fool proof system or anything, but it should help minimize your chances of getting a car seat that's been in an accident.
I hope you've found this information helpful. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section and I will answer them as soon as possible. If you have any tips or consignment information you'd like to share, please post them as well.