Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Tips and tricks to getting something great for your family and friends
By Wendy Thomas
Anyone who reads anything of mine on saving money knows I am a big advocate of going to yard sales. I have found that people tend to fall in one of two categories: either you like going through other people’s things, or you don’t. I sit squarely in the “I love it” category. Over the years, I’ve been able to get many of my kids their winter jackets, boots, and even school supplies (including outfits) from local yard sales.
During the summer, when yard sales are in full swing, I take the opportunity to stock up on books for winter reading and I also replace any house wares that may have broken (with six kids in the house, you can bet we break a mug or plate more often than not.)
Yard sales have definitely saved this family a ton of money.
While clothing and supplies are important, another thing I stock up on at yard sales is gifts. When I go to the sales, not only do I keep my eye open for things that we can use or need in the household, but I’m also always on the lookout for things that would make unusual, thoughtful and inexpensive gifts. A few tricks I have to buying gifts from yard sales include:
Keep an open mind – you never know what you’re going to find. At one yard sale, I found a ton of unopened spices and mixes from the restaurant, Pickety Place. I knew just the person – a Food Network-chef-wannabe – who would be thrilled with all of the cooking opportunities those packages offered. She’d never know that I had only spent $1 on the entire batch and in fact, when she received the basket of spices, she was so excited she ended up trying new recipe after recipe and sharing the results. My little yard sale find brought my friend many evenings of valuable entertainment and isn’t that the definition of a great gift?
Know what people like – one of my sons likes rocks and crystals. Whenever I see some at a yard sale, I pick them up because in his words “you can never have enough rocks.” If you have a friend who loves something unusual, like original Smurfs, then finding some older ones makes for a thoughtful one-of-a-kind gift that will never be found in a store. Generic presents like gift cards are nice, but the act of paying attention, actually knowing what someone likes, and then acknowledging that is a gift.
What can people use? – I try not to give decorative items as much as I try to give things that can be used. Does your college student need an alarm clock? A warm throw for a chilly dorm? Could your husband use a large metal scoop to help dish out the chicken feed? (Mine did, and he loved it!)
Collect like items – if your daughter wants to redecorate her room in pink, keep an eye out for what she can use. You may not find an entire set at any one yard sale, but you might find a pillow here, curtains there, and a quilt at another. Pair that up with the lamp you found last week and all of the sudden you have a room set unlike any other.
Catch up on memories – everyone likes to be reminded of their childhood and of days gone by. Toys and games from when people were younger (or from when you were younger and can now teach to your kids) always make for good gifts. We recently spent an entire weekend playing that old marble game, Avalanche, I picked up at a yard sale for 50 cents. “I remember playing this with my friends when I was in elementary school” I told my kids. It started discussions about the toys I grew up with and the choking hazards of marbles.
I do have a few words of caution, however, about buying yard sale gifts: You’ll need a safe place to keep the gifts you’ve collected over the summer, especially if they won’t be used for a few months. This storage area needs to be safe from prying eyes, but it also has to be in a spot where you won’t forget where it is. There’s nothing worse than knowing you have a gift for someone and then not being able to find it – that’s something that quickly turns a thrifty gift into nothing more than an extra expense.
Keep track of what you get. I keep index cards on a ring for each person on my gift list and as I get something for them, I immediately record the item on the appropriate card. It’s my method to keep track of what I have and what I still may need to get. It’s easy to start buying too many gifts especially if you aren’t paying much money, but the point is not to inundate the receiver, it’s about buying a thoughtful gift you know someone will love while saving yourself a few pennies along the way.
Wendy Thomas lives in Merrimack with her husband and six children, and has been published in various regional magazines and newspapers. Check out her blog Simple Thrift-Creative Living on Less, at http://simplethrift.wordpress.com. She will also be a panelist at Parenting New Hampshire’s event Dollars & Sense in November. For more information, go to parentingnh.com.