Scouting the Thrifts for Gems

Scouting the Thrifts for Gems

When I was a fashion illustrator, one of my models, looking as usual like a million bucks, told me that she usually shopped for clothes in thrift shops. With that knockout recommendation, I finally ventured into a Goodwill thrift store in my neighborhood, plucked a navy blue Christian Dior blazer with a $6.00 price tag off a jam packed clothes rack and silently yelled “WOW”!

Shown here are some of the goodies I have unearthed in thrift shops over the years — some brand new, some barely used:

  • Bracelets fashioned of vary-colored twisted metals – more refined versions of bracelets I saw in African markets. $2.00 each.
  • One of three different Portuguese hand painted dishes that hang on my kitchen wall. $3.00.
  • White cotton shower curtain sprinkled with multi-colored flowers in original package. $4.00.
  • A box of coasters From the Museum of Metropolitan Art – a steal at a tiny fraction of their original cost.

At neighborhood thrift shops I have also been lucky to find:

  • A blazing red Bognor ski jacket that kept me toasty warm against the iciest winds on walks around the reservoir. $8.00.
  • Glass candlesticks embedded with hand blown teardrops: $6.00 each.
  • A lush, black cashmere tunic cardigan $8.00.
  • A weightless Natori caftan, perfect for travel. $6.00.
  • Designer silk scarves for a fraction of their original cost.
  • A Kenneth J. Lane gold and enamel bracelet for a few dollars.
  • And most recently an Armani jacket for a big splurge of $25.
  • Plus a zillion books and music CD’s and movie cassettes. Each costing a greenback or two.

Also a fan of thrifts, my sister made a great catch recently. Spotting a dull, blackened bracelet in a pile of costume jewelry, she looked on the inside and found the silver mark, “72.5” that she suspected might be there. It meant the bracelet contained 72.5% of silver. Once the ancient tarnish was removed, she had a glowing silver bracelet for the princely sum of $1.00.

I usually come up with my biggest hauls on Thursday and Friday nights, before the weekend hoards gallop in. And gallop in they do. These are the no-fooling-around Saturday-day-off-from-work shoppers determined to wrestle fashionable wardrobe bargains from their working sisters.

If you’re furnishing your first home or apartment on a budget, be sure to check out the thrifts before dropping your cash at full price stores. You may hit the jackpot with needed kitchenware, furniture, rugs, prints and posters and small appliances.

Keep in mind that not all visits will be successful. Sometimes you’ll walk away with a basket full of bargain goodies and sometimes you may not spot a single thing of interest. Thrifts feature an enormous variety of stuff to zip through, with quality ranging from dreary to dreamy. You need a speedy search technique to cover everything. Not places to linger, thrifts are places to zip in and zip out, hopefully carrying away some exciting gems found hidden in the jumble.

Storage for Pennies

Let’s say your wallet contains a meager collection of moola. And you live in a smallish apartment or house that others call “cozy”. Or you have limited storage space—as in zero. And you need to store some items that absolutely cannot be squeezed into already jam packed cabinets, shelves, closets, under-bed-spaces and every other possible nook and cranny. Forget storage containers. Not enough floor space. Forget additional shelves. Not enough wall space. Forget cartons. Too depressing–plus too Collyer brothers (if you don’t know who they are and you’re a bona fide member of the pack-rat kingdom, better read up on them before it’s too late).

Enter king size bags…Not the gray plastic, bursting at the seams variety rolled around in shopping carts by the homeless. And not the big brown kind toted home with groceries. No, I’m talking about large, king size gift bags–bags constructed of strong, heavy weight paper in graphic patterns and fresh colors.

The large gift bag I have in my bathroom contains bottles, extra combs, toothbrushes, toiletry travel containers, surplus cosmetics and items I’m not too thrilled to have on display. It fits perfectly into a narrow little corner floor space that could have been designed for it. With its clean, upbeat design, it visually lights up that area. For practicality and a neat look, I snipped off the carrying cords and closed the bag top with clips.

My kitchen gift bag (containing a super duper size package of paper napkins, paper plates and cups) is filled to overflowing, but since it’s on top of a tall cabinet, no one can see all the items jammed inside and sticking out the top. Sandwiched between the wall and glass jars, not enough of the bag is visible to make it particularly noticeable.

I found these gift bags at the dollar store. At a buck a shot for a storage container, they are a great buy. And they’re practical too. Their glossy, heavy weight surfaces make them easy to dust and wipe with damp cloths. And when they wear out, all it takes is a single dollar to cart home another change of pace design.

The strong graphic designs that I prefer seem to be produced mostly in China. With so many of that country’s factories closing left and right these days, especially the ones catering to overseas exports, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the manufacturers producing these tough, good looking bags keep on humming.

More inexpensive storage ideas: Straw Basket Storage in the Bathroom. And another great Dollar Store find: Cape Cod Memories in a Dollar Jar.

Cheap Rich Proteins

Cheap Rich Proteins

With meat prices rising and bank balances hanging out in the sub-basement, some less costly protein substitutions are definitely in order. Here are four talented proteins that are super cheap, super rich in nutritional value and–equally appealing–super fast to get to the table. They are canned salmon, eggs, beans and peanuts.

I have always loved eggs and pretty much ignored their bad cholesterol rap. Mainly because I just couldn’t believe such a perfect whole food package untainted by preservatives or additives could be bad for you. And sure enough, recent studies show that eggs have been tarnished with an undeserved bad cholesterol label. Officially, they are again healthy for us.

They are also one of the least expensive proteins. Not to mention one of the most versatile. A snap to put together (always good), what’s more delicious and vitamin packed than a fluffy omelet sautéed with veggies. And what protein travels better than hard-boiled eggs in their shells or in egg salad sandwiches. And what protein better serves dieters than eggs, of which two equal a petite 136 calories. (They are one of my 20 Low Cost Slimming Snacks).

The second cheap-rich protein is canned salmon, which can’t be beat for simplicity. A couple of turns of the can opener. Then plop! Into a bowl. Then, if it’s my kitchen, it’s combined into one of two complete-meal salads. Either a room temperature pasta salad with fresh vegetables, black olives and vinaigrette dressing. Or a big green salad spiked with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and capers.

Four ounces of salmon pack a whopping 58% of daily protein requirements, plus an over the top 102% of daily vitamin D needs. Salmon is also chock full of omega 3 fatty acids, also present in fish oil capsules, those little items so often extolled as primo health supplements.

Another good thing about canned salmon is that it’s wild. It’s not raised on farms. Listing only two label ingredients-pink salmon and salt — the salmon I buy is caught in Alaskan waters. A refreshing thought.

With beans you have two choices. The more expensive canned or cheaper dried beans, which require soaking and longer cooking times. Happily, there’s little difference between nutritional content. Beans are rich in both fiber and antioxidant compounds. The darker the bean, the more nutritious. When combined with whole-wheat pasta or brown rice, they provide proteins comparable to meat and dairy foods without the latter’s high calories or saturated fats.

For a one-two-three, soul-satisfying meal (especially on chilly nights) I make up a big batch of soup that hits all the high nutritional notes. First, sauté some onion and garlic, then throw in chicken stock, canned beans (unrinsed–more flavor), canned tomatoes, a medley of thawed frozen vegetables, and a little pasta broken into fast-cooking bits to add a little more oomph. Add bay leaves plus a ton of thyme, basil, and oregano. Serve topped with a snowfall of Romano cheese and you have a great meal all in one pot, with plenty left over for additional meals.

And, of course, I also toss beans (rinsed this time) into complete-meal salads.

And now we come to peanuts, which are not nuts at all. They are in the legume family, their siblings being peas, lentils and beans. Another not well known fact about them: they are as rich in antioxidants as blackberries and strawberries.

In shells or roasted, they make healthy nibbles. And when you’re starving and must eat now, slap together that perennial favorite, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Substituting bananas for jelly ups the nutrition content, cuts the calories and delivers a healthy shot of potassium. In place of bananas with peanut butter, you could also try honey, chopped apple or pear.

So give your wallets a break, your taste buds a treat and serve this protein packed quartet. Bon appetit!