Thrift stores stretch shopping dollar

HOUSTON For back-to-school shopping, it may pay to think outside of the box. Thrift stores -- places like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village -- can be great place to find the exact same gear in good condition for a fraction of the cost.

"I am finding a lot of name brand items from Old Navy and The Gap," shopper Sarah Johnson said.

Johnson's thrift store of choice is Value Village. There are several of them in the Houston area. They are packed with used clothes, shoes, bags, and more.

Polo shirts for kids range in price from $1.20 to $3. Kids' khaki shorts are priced around $2. Everything was in fairly good condition. And, every third Wednesday of the month everything in the store is half-off. Be warned, though -- on those days lines at the store are sometimes 30 people deep.

"A lot of things are good quality," Johnson said.

Designer labels like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Versace, usually found at trendy boutiques, can also be found at Value Village.

"This is my store," shopper Alma Thompson said. "I think I am part of the fixtures here, because I come here two to three times a week."

Thompson is hooked on Value Village, because she loves buying name brands for less.

"Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, Anne Klein, those are my girls" she said.

Just how good are the deals? A Liz Claiborne blazer with gold buttons is $1.90! A Christian Dior suit jacket is also $1.90.

"It's the wise thing to do," Thompson said. "I don't care what your budget is."

Thompson says she also finds designer shoes and hand bags that normally retail for hundreds, even thousands of dollars. For example, a Louis Vuitton is priced at $45, Gucci flats at $65. A pair of Cole Haan shoes are $45.

"It's a lot cheaper here at value village," Thompson said.

All the deals under one roof have made Thompson a believer in buying second hand.

"It's the thing to do whether the economy is bad or not," she said. "I feel the smart way to do it is to shop resale."

At the Salvation Army thrift store, you'll find a much more organized lay-out.

Once again, everything is used. There is a big selection of school uniforms in very good condition. For girls, button-down tops are just $1.99, and jumpers are $3.99. For boys, polos are priced at $1.99, pants are $3.99, and jeans are between $4 and $7.

"On top of the tax-free weekend, the Salvation Army has decided we are also going to do 25% off on Saturday on all of our items," Salvation Army Director of Media Relations Juan Alanis said.

And the Salvation Army store is not limited to just clothes. It also has backpacks and lunch boxes for $2.99 and plenty of school supplies, including crayons, pencils, and paper. Prices start at $0.59.

If you are looking for trendy styles for teens, check out Goodwill.

"Goodwill is the value place to shop," Goodwill Industries of Houston President and CEO Steve Luftburrow said. "We love our customers and we have so much for you as you get ready for school."

It is possible to find designer jeans for unbelievable prices. A pair of Armani Exchange jeans are $7.99, and an Ed Hardy top is only $5.99.That's less than $14 for the whole designer outfit!

At Goodwill stores they keep the prices simple. All men's and women's jeans are $7.99. Men's shirts and women's tops are $5.99.

"They are resale, but they are in very good shape," shopper Rhonda Stanley said. "I was really impressed with that."

Keep in mind some items bought at thrift stores may need a trip to the cleaners or even a little tailoring, but still, even with the needed repairs, it'll cost you a lot less than retail.

Another great thing about shopping at these three thrift stores is that you are also helping out non-profit organizations.

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