Charity shopping isn't for wimps. You need stamina, a keen eye and a well-organised diary to bag the biggest bargains. With a little preparation, you'll soon be picking out the hidden gems among the heaps of worthless cast-offs. Just don't expect to grab a cut-price classic every time you walk into a charity shop. It takes patience to succeed!
Location, location, location
All charity shops are not created equal. Shops in well-to-do neighbourhoods or certain fashion-conscious areas of the UK tend to offer higher quality clothes than other stores. The reason is simply that they often receive better second hand items -- from clothing to books -- than charity shops in less affluent areas. Still, don't turn your nose up at a charity shop just because it's not in a fashionable post-code. Bargains can happen anywhere!
Too often people look at the first few items on a rack or bundle and leave it at that. Seasoned bargain hunters know better. Look right through every stack of shirts, every box of books and every clothes bin in the shop. Sometimes the best items are lurking deep beneath some other unattractive items, just waiting to be discovered.
Check the labels
Sometimes your first impression of a piece of clothing is misleading. Yes, at first glance it may look like a plain skirt. But, pick it up and look at the label -- it may turn out to be a simple number from a much-desired designer. This is where it pays to know a little about fashion. If you can spot a designer label at 50 paces, you've got the advantage when charity shopping for bargains.
Often, charity shops keep stuff behind the scenes. There's no harm asking the volunteer on duty if they have anything about to be put on the shelves. That way you get first glimpse at possible bargains before the bargain-hunting hordes descend on the shop!
If you have a charity shop nearby, get friendly with the regulars. Pop in often and chat to the volunteers. Be genuine - say you're a bargain hunter and you love the shop. After a while you might be given a sneak peek at items as they arrive in the store. And if someone there knows you're looking for a particular item, they may even set it aside if something similar arrives.
The early bird
Charity shops usually have just one item of each piece of clothing. When that's gone, that's it. No getting more stock from the back. So, it pays to get in early before other charity shoppers can grab the best stuff. You should also aim to shop first thing on a Monday if possible, according to shopping expert Mary Portas in the Daily Mail. Most people have a clear out on a weekend and get rid of their stuff before the start of the new week.
Forget about the seasons
Charity shopping for summer clothes in summer isn't the best idea. People tend to throw out their cold-weather clothes when it's hot and their skimpy stuff when it's cold. So think ahead. Look for your winter coats and scarves in summer and autumn when there's more chance that the bargain will be there.
The temptation when charity shopping is to only look for what you know, or what you need. Yet, bargains exist in all corners of a good charity shop. From almost-new baby toys to once-read blockbuster books, you'll find you can save a fortune on presents and treats if you keep an open mind.