I have shopped consignment sales for 3 years now and only until the last year and a half have I really had a good system to buying. This is my system and what has worked for me, but you may have your own system or find something that works well for you.
How do you I find a sale?
Check http://consignmentmommies.com, your local paper, and even Facebook. Ask your mommy friends which sales they attend and if they have a favorite. My favorite is Just Between Friends (JBF).
What exactly is a consignment sale?
Consignment sales usually have 100s of consignors (mommies) who sign up to bring their gently used children's clothes, gear, toys, baby supplies, etc to the sale. When they drop off, their clothes will go through an inspection and will be carefully inspected for wear and tear, stains, and if they are out of season. Most sales in our area only take spring/summer things right now and the same in the fall. Those items will be hung according to size and gender on racks for you to browse. Toys are also inspected and SHOULD have batteries and be able to be tried out before purchase, same with baby gear. I got these pictures from our local JBF facebook page to show you how the racks look so you are not quite so overwhelmed when you walk in! :-)
How do I plan my shopping spree?
You will want to get there as early as possible before they open. For example, I shop the presale as a volunteer and I can shop at 9am. I will be in line around 8:00-8:15. I strongly suggest consigning or volunteering to get a presale pass. The only downside to presales is that they do not allow children into the sale during the presale. Even if you have to get a babysitter, it is well worth it to shop early! Once the door opens I suggest the following categories in this order:
1. Baby Gear/Furniture. Strollers and Car seats that are good quality go fast. If you need anything like that hurry to that section first.
2. Shoes, especially boy shoes as the quality isn't as good as girls because they are so hard on them.
3. Boys Clothes. Same reason as shoes.
4. Girls Clothes. There tends to be more selection and better quality (judging from what I see when I am volunteering as an inspector).
5. Toys. You may want to bump this up ahead of clothes if you are looking for something specific. Also, at the Fall sales, I put this ahead of shoes because I am looking for good Santa buys and so is everyone else. :-)
6. Books, Puzzles, and Games.
7. Bedding, accessories, feeding and bathing supplies.
Before I get there I plan in my head what I need and what I am willing pay for it. Now that I have shopped the sales as much as I have, I plan my strategy in my head based upon the layout. I also draw an outline of N's foot and cut it out to buy shoes and I take a piece of ribbon and measure his legs for pant length. Makes guessing sizes much easier. I also bring a large utility tote from 31. It is great for keeping my hands free to shop. I also have used a laundry basket and I've seen people use rolling laundry baskets. Check the rules of your sale 1st, some don't allow wheels.
Another picture from our local JBF Facebook to show you the overall picture and why you need to think about how you want to shop before you go.
How do I select clothes?
My number one rule is to be selective and very picky. When I get the size section I plan to shop, I start browsing the rack. I pull everything that I like, but if it has obvious stains or priced too high (even if I love it), I leave it for someone else. When I am finished looking through the racks I sit in a very well lit area and sort the clothes. I make sure nothing has any stains or holes, and I recheck pricing. I do not spend more than a certain amount per brand. For example, $3-5 for Gymboree and Gap, $5-10 for Kelly's Kids, Polo, or boutique brands depending on what it is. The standard is around 30% of what it originally cost retail. I put anything I do not want back on the rack and continue on. This is how my tote looked before I sorted last weekend!
Do they only take cash or can I use my debit card?
Every sale is different. I recommend taking credit, and cash or check if you are unsure.
Are the lines long to check out?
You will stand in line anywhere from a couple of minutes to hours, depending on what time you check out, if it is a presale day, and the size of the sale.
What do I bring with me?
A 31 large utility tote, a bottle of water, a cut out of my child's foot, a ribbon in the length of his leg for pants measurements, a small flashlight if it is sale that I know has crappy lighting (we have one that is notorious for that and when I sort through my stuff I use the flashlight to check for stains), and a cross body purse. I wear tennis shoes and comfortable clothes that allow me to reach to look at top racks and bend down and sit on the floor.
A few other random pieces of advice for you in closing. Some of these women are hardcore and not so nice. I consider myself somewhat hardcore, but I am never rude to other shoppers. There will be some women that push and shove and reach over you, just ignore them, they don't care that they are rude. Also, allow yourself 3 hours minimum the 1st time you go to a large sale. You will need to look around and make it a point to look at everything. You won't believe what you will find and lastly, HAVE FUN!!! It is such a great feeling and a rush to know you are dressing your child cute, but also while saving a ton of money! I promise you will be so glad you went and you will enjoy having a day out! Feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions about how I shop.
The last installment of this series will be tomorrow...How to Be A Successful Consignor for those of you debating becoming a consignor!