Patch Tries: Found Money Means Tips for Thrifting

A thrift shop expert declares NJ a shopping and saving mecca

When I found $20 on the sidewalk, I thought of Jenny DeMaio. The best-dressed girl in my high school, Jenny has moved to the area, and I ran into her recently. Even after nearly 25 years, I remembered and mentioned her sense of style.

“And I did it on a dime,” she said, laughing.  I was skeptical.

“No, really,” she said. “I remain the queen of thrift store shopping. Give me an afternoon and twenty bucks and I’ll prove it to you.”

With the newfound $20 in my hand, I called Jenny and we made a date. Over the course of the afternoon, she shared thrift-shopping tips.  

New Jersey is “thrift store Mecca,” says Jenny, as we set out for a thrift store.  Not Manhattan, I wondered. “No,” explains Jenny. “In New Jersey, thrift stores are often large because space is cheaper than in the city. So you can find furniture, artwork and even grills and patio items.” 

First, says Jenny, January is ideal thrift shopping season. Why? “Easy,” she says. “People get new over the holidays and purge the old.” Indeed, the first item I found was a 14-cup stainless steel Cuisinart food processor priced at $19.99. I could easily imagine this was donated when a new and improved version appeared under the tree.

Second, she says, learn the store policies by asking. “Anything on sale today?” asked Jenny, when we walked in.  The cashier explained that housewares were 25% off.  Further, there is a five-day return period, in case items don’t work out.

Third, know what you have at home. Jenny carries a wish/need list that includes items she’d like to find, as well as items she will need to buy soon, one place or another. She was running low on drinking glasses, for example, which she needs. She’d also like to find photo frames, which is less urgent.

The corollary here is to know what you don’t need. I was eager to purchase a set of springform pans for $2.99. However, I already have more springform pans than I use in a year. “Let that be someone else’s happy find,” counseled Jenny.

Fourth, know what sizes suit you best. I was excited by a tablecloth, and Jenny had a measuring tape in her purse, but I didn’t know what size my table is. “It’s not a bargain then,” said Jenny. “If you’re not going to use it, it’s a waste of money.” Instead, I found an April Cornell dishtowel that matches a tablecloth I already have. New with tags, it was priced at $1.99.

Fifth, Jenny told me, it’s okay to indulge a little, and buy something simply to enjoy. “Many people think of thrift stores as utilitarian,” she said. “But they have many decorative and quirky items.”  I chose a pitcher and a Caleca butter dish at $1.99 each.

Finally, Jenny wheeled my shopping cart as close to a window as possible and examined each item in bright light. She looked for cracks, nicks, and faded areas.  Jenny prefers to buy plates and appliances with brand names she knows, so she can quickly look them up online to see if problems have been reported.

I was still undecided about the Cuisinart, though I had it in my cart. (Another piece of advice: when in doubt, take it and think about it as you shop. Don’t circle the store and assume it will be there when you return.) But my own food processor has put in 25 good years, and it’s too small for my current needs. Sold!

All four of my purchases, Cuisinart, dish towel, butter dish, and pitcher, qualified for the 25% discount of the day.  My total was $25.96 before discount, and $19.47 after

At home, I tested the Cuisinart, which worked well, and packed up my old food processor. I’ll be donating it this week, when Jenny shares her tips for clothes shopping, thrift style. Why donate and buy in one trip? Jenny’s final tip was this: depending on your tax situation, you can deduct the cost of mileage when you are making charitable donations. Let’s shop!

For this outing, Jenny and I went to Goodwill, simply because it was open on Sunday afternoon. What follows is a list of area shops. Please tell us what we've forgotten.

Stay tuned for further frugal adventures, as Jenny and I shop for clothes and sports supplies. Can we get pricey cleats for less than $10?

31B Chatham Road, Summit


Proceeds support SAGE's programs and services for seniors.

Junior League Second-Time Around Shop

37 DeForest Ave., Summit


Proceeds support League activities in the community.

102 Mount Kemble Ave., Morristown


Proceeds support Morristown Memorial Hospital.

7 King Place, Morristown

973-539-4274; www.jlmnj.org

Proceeds support Junior League activities in the community.

126 US Route 22, Springfield

973-912-0156; goodwill.org

Proceeds support job training and placement programs for people with disabilities and other disadvantages.

315 Main St., West Orange

973-325-0369; www.holytrinitychurchwo.org

Proceeds support church activities and outreach, including a daily soup kitchen.

114 Elmer St., Westfield


This organization "assists charitable, volunteer, civic and service organizations of Westfield and its environs."

Community Food Bank of NJ Thrift Shop

31 Evans Terminal, Hillside

908-355-FOOD (3663)

Proceeds support the food bank.

52 North Fullerton Ave., Montclair


Benefits St. Barnabas Hospice.

25 George St., Morristown

973-538-0427; www.marketstreet.org

Proceeds support the mission, which serves homeless individuals.

73 S. Fullerton Ave., Montclair


Proceeds support church activities and outreach.

Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores

1059 Springfield Ave., Irvington


74 Pennington Street, Newark


526 Broadway, Newark


The Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Centers are funded from the proceeds of the Family Stores.

Debbie March 06, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Would love an article on local consignment shops. Also the guidelines for donating to these thrift shops. LOVE this article!
Marcia Worth March 06, 2013 at 01:10 PM
Okay, let me work on those. I can definitely check into guidelines. I know those change from time to time. What I learned is that, in what might be a sign of the times, Goodwill has "window sales." That means they hold onto their higher-end, new items for special Saturday sales. I was dropping off donations the other day and saw the items (the day before, when they were setting up), and it's remarkable what's out there!
wetochwink March 06, 2013 at 01:48 PM
How was St. Peters Church Thrift Shop missed? Its been in operation for over 50 years. http://stpetersliv.wordpress.com/thrift-shop/
Marcia Worth March 06, 2013 at 01:50 PM
Tell us all about it! I always say that we don't know what we don't know...
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