What a (positive) difference a weekend makes!

22 Dec

Here I go with another chapter of the Cornell family part-time living saga. This time, though, is a much more positive post.

I decided something had to give to actually give these people some happiness. They were miserable, and their family was falling apart. Therefore, I — just like anyone else should do when faced with a real-life situation like theirs — decided to take action to keep their family together despite the obstacles against them.

The first thing I did was do something to align their days off. The girls had the weekends off, but Jason and Kim worked weekends. The weekdays the parents were off were different from each other’s. So, even though Jason had recently been promoted at the graveyard, I had both of them change jobs. This time, I made Jason take a job at the local grocery store and Kim, at the local bookstore. Both jobs run Monday through Friday, with weekends off. This would give them more time with each other and their daughters. Things stayed tense at home through the week, but when the weekend came, the atmosphere completely changed.

First, they all got some sleep. Then, I spent some of their nest egg sprucing up the house, replacing furniture that the dog and cat had destroyed. This improved everyone’s moods because their home looked a lot less like a slum. I also had them clean house, inside and out. Clean houses equal happy sims on this game — the same as it does with real people.

Here, Jason picks up the trash can the dog knocked over and cleans up the trash pile that resulted from it. Sprucing up the yard made them no longer disgusted to go outside.

Here, Jason picks up the trash can the dog knocked over and cleans up the trash pile that resulted from it. Sprucing up the yard made them no longer disgusted to go outside.

But the big thing I did is make sure they all took time out for one another. Lori and Jason had a simple conversation for the first time in forever, and it resulted in them becoming friends instead of acquaintances. That’s pretty sad when a parent and child become simple acquaintances, you know? But these sims fixed that. Just like people should do if they can possibly squeeze their bank account a bit, the family purchased a small boombox they could use to listen to music (which puts sims in a better mood) and dance. Dancing is a group activity, by the way, which improves relationships among people. Little Megan got the entire family in on a social activity by getting everyone to run outside and play tag with her. This didn’t cost a dime. The family’s relationships, over the course of this particular weekend, excelled. Even the pets got more attention and more time to socialize with both their owners and other pets in the neighborhood.

Just this simple conversation greatly improved Lori and Jason's father-daughter relationship.

Just this simple conversation greatly improved Lori and Jason’s father-daughter relationship.

Teenagers giving their parents a hug. Write that down.

Teenagers giving their parents a hug. Write that down.

Some time dancing with the stereo really created some bonding moments with the family.

Some time dancing with the stereo really created some bonding moments with the family.

Lori had more time to work on her guitar playing, which also provided music to which her family could dance.

Lori had more time to work on her guitar playing, which also provided music to which her family could dance.


Megan was in a much better mood and worked on her painting some more. The higher her skill, the more money she can make for the family with her paintings.

Megan was in a much better mood and worked on her painting some more. The higher her skill, the more money she can make for the family with her paintings.


This particular weekend also improved Jason and Kim's marriage.

This particular weekend also improved Jason and Kim’s marriage.


So, this weekend was quite blissful — except for one thing. Shortly after Jason and Kim *ahem* celebrated their improved marriage and better moods, Kim threw up a couple of times. Hmmm… What’s going on here? ūüôā

Anyway, tune in soon for another post I’m cooking. This sim family part-time saga will take some twists even I wasn’t prepared for it to take!

Current Music: Alice in Chains, “Hollow”





Sims 3 social experiment update: Everything is falling to pieces

16 Dec

Well, my social experiment involving The Sims 3 has a hypothesis that is turning out to be true: Everything in the lives of my sims living on part-time pay is going to pieces.

I’m not playing like many simmers do and making their lives miserable as much as possible — except for the fact that I’m making live on part-time pay, of course. I’m just not making them fight, catch their significant others in affairs, and that sort. In fact, I fight to make sure all their basic needs are taken care of. That’s been a real challenge though.

For starters, all of their personal relationships are falling apart. Kim and Jason fight off any romantic interactions the other tries to have with them. They’re not even kissing, much less going further than that. Little Megan’s relationship with both of her parents have fallen to “acquaintance” status. Lori’s relationship with her parents is falling off, as well. So, because their relationships within the household are falling to pieces, there’s no way they’re going to make friends outside the household, either. A girl from school came home with Lori, but she had to tell the girl to leave as soon as they got through the door because Lori was going to pass out from exhaustion. Any free time these people have from work and school is spent working on their skills that would make them extra money. For example, Kim is going nuts trying to write on her novel before work every day, and Lori tries to make it to the park to play guitar for tips after school. To top it off, Lori has the “brooding” trait, and her emotional stress is causing her to have to stop what she’s doing to contemplate the meaning of life for at least a couple of hours at a time. Kim has the “neurotic trait”, which basically causes her to freak out often. Jason is a “grumpy” sim, and a bad mood is often made worse by that.

Jason wants a kiss. Kim doesn't feel like it and pushes him away.

Jason wants a kiss. Kim doesn’t feel like it and pushes him away.


The house itself is falling apart. Their pets, alone, have caused $750 in furniture damage to their house, and paying to replace all of that would eat the family’s finances. Thanks to Kim scolding her, the dog has lost her destructive trait, but the cat still has it. On top of what the pets have done, the cheap appliances that are all the family can afford keep falling apart. The shower has broken about two or three times during the three days or so I’ve played on this game, and the toilet has gone down the toilet so much that I’ve lost count.

A familiar sight in the Cornell household: Someone having to unclog the cheap toilet.

A familiar sight in the Cornell household: Someone having to unclog the cheap toilet.


Sims also have wishes that, if you can make them come true, will put them in a better mood once fulfilled. When they’re in better moods, they produce more (and earn more), and their social interactions are more positive. The problem for me with the Cornells is that, like most sims, their wishes involve buying something. Even if they have the money in the bank account, that doesn’t mean they should blow their nest egg and get it. I can’t even boost their moods most of the time because I can’t give them what they want or even what they need sometimes.

Apparently, this isn’t the case just in the sim world, but in the real world. According to a study from Iowa State University,¬†economic hardship such as low income and income loss increase parents’ sadness, pessimism about the future, anger, despair, and withdrawal from other family members. As this emotional stress increases, they tend to interact with each other and their children in a more irritable and less supportive fashion. These patterns create marital instability and disrupt effective parenting strategies. For the children, it increases risk of suffering developmental problems such as a depressed mood, substance abuse, and engaging in delinquent behaviors. This stress also decreases children’s ability to function well in school and with peers.

Over the next few days, I’m going to try some recommending coping activities I’ve read about in this New York Times piece¬†on my sims to see if it improves their situation. I may also try to find ways to improve their situation, in general, to see if part-time life was the main source of the problem after all.

Current music: Foo Fighters, “Everlong”

My Sims 3 social experiment: Living on part-time wages

12 Dec

I’m a social scientist. Well, at least that’s what my master’s degree says I am. I’ve decided to take on a social experiment that could reflect how many people in our society live — on part-time wages.

The number of people living on part-time pay because they cannot find a full-time job is astronomically growing. Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 8.2 million people classified themselves as involuntary part-time workers in November, according to NBC News.¬†This means that they settled for less work because they couldn’t find more. That’s around double the number of involuntary part-time workers from 2006, before the economy went south. The number of people who are involuntarily unemployed has gone down since it hit nine million in the depths of the recession, but progress has been slow.

Many of these people work multiple — sometimes as many as four — part-time jobs. This number includes full-time workers whose incomes are not sufficient enough to meet their needs.¬†¬†The New York Times quoted a woman working multiple part-time jobs as saying she works 70-80 hours per week. That’s a schedule held by most lawyers or investment bankers, with just a fraction of the pay. People in this situation come from all walks of life and all educational levels. Young college graduates are finding themselves in a bad labor market and with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off.

I’ll be joining these ranks very soon. I just took on a part-time job because I haven’t managed to find anything full-time after losing my job. I’ll be working full-time when I do my VISTA job, but it won’t be much money — at all. I’ll soon be making above minimum wage, but not by much. I’ve also had to buy pants for my work uniform I’ll have to wear, as well as shirts with a collar that are long enough to be tucked in. Belts are required, and I don’t believe my studded “metalhead belt” will be acceptable. I’m already incurring work-related expenses before even starting the job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to have it, but life isn’t going to be sweet. I’ll also be working retail during the holiday season. Ugh. I’ll also be juggling this with my gig as a stringer. I also just got an e-mail saying my student loan payment is due. I’m trying for a deferment.

I didn’t get a master’s degree for this.

Until I get started at my new job, I’ve had a lot of time at the apartment to either sit and veg out, or try and do something productive. I have to watch every dime, so I can’t be roaming the roads and burning gas unless it’s absolutely necessary. So, I’m stuck here reading, playing guitar — or playing The Sims 3. I got an idea to try out something new with the game that I believe fits in with the blog theme. I created a family that lives on part-time wages.

Here’s how I’m doing it. First of all, I’m using absolutely no cheat codes with this particular game. That way, I play according to one of the things the game teaches — living on a budget, and starting out in life with very little. Playing with no cheat codes doesn’t allow me to play with my sims’ moods, perking them up in an instant when I need them to do something. They have to eat, sleep, pee, etc., just like the game teaches you about real people. Even though I have the Supernatural expansion pack, the sims I created are just humans with no supernatural powers to help them out.

Now, for the storyline. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Cornell family.

Dad: Jason Cornell

Dad: Jason Cornell

Mom: Kim Cornell

Mom: Kim Cornell

Teen Daughter: Lori Cornell

Teen Daughter: Lori Cornell

Younger Daughter: Megan Cornell

Younger Daughter: Megan Cornell

Dog: Priscilla

Dog: Priscilla

Cat: Domino

Cat: Domino

I set up the family this way to basically create a family that, on the surface, seems like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an edgy liberal who, among other sims, have a family that consists of a happily married gay male couple. One is a werewolf, and the other is a vampire. Their teenage daughter is a werewolf, and their younger daughter is a vampire. They live in domestic bliss. I also didn’t want to do what I often do and create really bizarre sims, create sim versions of myself or friends and family, or create sim versions of celebrities. I gave them fairly normal, somewhat boring, ¬†personality trait combinations — but included some that allow for special skill development. I’ll explain more of that later. On The Sims 3, your sims can get full-time work and in the field they want by simply driving out to the workplace at any time and getting a job. Granted, their first jobs in their fields stink, but they’re working full-time in their chosen fields. I decided to ignore this and make them drive out to get part-time jobs. In reality, we can’t always get full-time work, and getting it in our chosen fields is even harder. The teenage girl can get a part-time job, but the female child cannot. Oh yeah, all of these part-time jobs on The Sims 3 are in the evening.

Jason is a good cook, and he wants to be a full-time chef. He is now stuck working at a graveyard. Kim is a good writer and could work well in the journalism track. Instead, she’s working as a receptionist at the day spa. Lori started out balancing school and work at the local bookstore, and little Megan is having enough trouble just trying to keep up with school. I bought them a house within the budget they were given. Unfortunately, I had to download a house (No cheat codes are required for this. I was in the clear.) because no two-bedroom house was within the family’s budget. The Cornells settled into a very, very modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom (very small and to be used by four people) house.

Working multiple part-time jobs isn’t permitted on The Sims 3, but sims are allowed to develop skills that can earn them some side cash. I’m having all members of my family do this for their own survival and to illustrate what it’s like to juggle multiple income sources. I gave them special traits to build on. Jason has the “angler” trait, which means he loves to fish and learns the fishing skill quickly. Fishermen/Fisherwomen can sell their fish at the grocery store. Kim has the “bookworm” trait, which makes her a good writer. Writers can write novels and earn royalties from them. Lori is a “virtuoso”, which means she’ll learn a musical instrument faster. Once she reaches Level 5 of her guitar skill (Skills on The Sims 3 have ten levels.), she can play for tips at various places around town. Megan has the “artistic” trait, which helps her master painting faster, and she can sell her paintings once they are finished.

However, earning this extra money is not as easy as it seems. Because skills have ten levels, it takes some serious time to master them. Furthermore, people with the higher skills are the ones who earn big money. Musicians can’t even earn a dime from tips until they reach the fifth level. So the Cornell family, being that I’ve just started working with them, have minimal skills — and make little to nothing with their side incomes, even though they keep trying.

Megan is only a Level 2 painter right now, and her pantings only give the family about $20.

Megan is only a Level 2 painter right now, and her pantings only give the family about $20.

Kim is trying to finish her first novel, so she hasn't earned any royalties yet.

Kim is trying to finish her first novel, so she hasn’t earned any royalties yet.

Jason only caught $15 in fish on this trip because his skill is still low.

Jason only caught $15 in fish on this trip because his skill is still low.

My free Word Press account won’t let me upload the video I shot of Lori’s present guitar playing. Let’s just say she isn’t ready to try and earn ANY tips right now.

Here’s a big thing that keeps your sims from really working on their skills and earning money: Needs. They have to take out time to eat, pee, shower, have fun and keep their stress levels down, and socialize. Couple that with time they spend on work and school, and you’ll see why Lori can’t go to the park and earn tips with her guitar. Your sims’ responsibilities also affect their needs, and their needs affect their responsibilities. For example, the kids have to do homework every night. So after a long day at school, they have to come home and work even more. Teenagers like Lori who have part-time jobs leave for work as soon as they get home, then come home to homework. Lori had to quit her part-time job, even though the family needs the money, because she was too tired to finish her homework after work. Her grades were suffering, and she couldn’t work to build up her guitar skill. That guitar skill, once fully developed, can earn a sim more than what a full-time job would make.

Lori is desperately needing sleep, but she still has homework to finish. She's clearly not happy about that.

Lori is desperately needing sleep, but she still has homework to finish. She’s clearly not happy about that.

When sims’ needs aren’t met, they don’t finish homework, their job/school performance goes to the pot, and they don’t want to work to build their skills and earn money from them. If they’re miserable, they’re not productive at all.

Your sims also can’t afford the best of anything when they’re starting out, but they especially can’t when they’re working part-time. Right now, the Cornells have one car for Jason, Kim, and Lori to drive. Anyone else who can’t get to the car quickly enough has to ride a bicycle. Their cheap appliances are accidents waiting to happen. The family’s cheapo computer fried, and their “bargain John” toilet is a constant source of frustration for them.

Jason is working to repair the computer on his own. Because he has no mechanical skill, he risks death by electrocution. The family can't afford to call a professional.

Jason is working to repair the computer on his own. Because he has no mechanical skill, he risks death by electrocution. The family can’t afford to call a professional.

The Cornells’ pets are nice, and provide them with some relief from their miserable lives. However, one aspect of both pets causes serious problems for them. Both Priscilla and Domino have the “destructive” trait. This means Priscilla is constantly chewing things up, and Domino is constantly clawing on furniture. Priscilla also likes to knock over the outside trash can. Whenever a pet claws/chews on something, you have to pay up money to replace it. Otherwise, your house will look like hell. Because Priscilla ravaged the couch, no one wants to sit on it. The Cornells can’t afford to replace any of the furniture their pets have destroyed, so their home is quickly going to the pot.

Bad, bad kitty!

Bad, bad kitty!

Personal relationships also suffer for the sims whenever their work/school/skills take up all of their time. Couples don’t have time to be romantic, parents can’t spend time with their children, and no one has time to make/keep friends outside or inside the family. Their social interactions also become more negative, especially in romantic relationships. Kim wanted to have some “intimate” time with Jason, only for Jason to push her away because he hadn’t slept. The two want another child (how they’ll afford it is highly questionable), but that’s not going to happen if they keep pushing each other away. Work schedules also affect their personal relationships. Kim works on both days Jason has off. Both Jason and Kim work Saturdays and Sundays, the days their daughters are off from school.

Anyway, this part-time lifestyle could have serious implications on whether or not this family even survives. If you liked this post, I’ll keep the updates on the Cornell family coming!

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”

Good and bad Christmas gift ideas for the flat broke

10 Dec

Two years ago, I did a 12-day series called “Flat Broke Christmas”, where I featured cool and cheap gift ideas. I considered doing the same thing again, but I remembered how the whole thing, while very popular, made me want to Fa la la la la over when I got it finished. I also didn’t want to wind up inevitably recycling something.

So today, I decided to do the opposite take on things. I decided to work up a post also about what NOT to do when trying to save money this Christmas. There are some ways to save money that will not make you a hit at the family Christmas gathering. Furthermore, if you buy something someone will likely hate, you create awkwardness as people try to be nice, lie, and thank you — as they hunt for a gift receipt.

GOOD IDEA: Drawing names

I mentioned this in my first Flat Broke Christmas post two years ago, but I believe this is worth mentioning again. You automatically save yourself time shopping because you only have a few people for whom to buy gifts. You save money for the same reason. You can (generally) afford to spend more on this person’s gift and have a greater chance of getting him/her what he/she wants. This can be a serious help for both families and workplaces.

BAD IDEA: Name-draw-free-for-all

If you have a decent-sized group, names should be divided up before they are drawn. They should be divided among either gift-givers ages or genders or both. With work situations, make sure the gift givers are divided among department and/or shift. You want to make sure these people know each other well enough to know what the other would want. Otherwise, you could have some really awkward situations arise. If you don’t divide people of different age groups, you often have someone like me, a thirty-something grunge/metal nut, trying to find out what stuff from a techno gangsta rap group your teenage cousin wants. On the flipside, you could be trying to find out what doo-wop band your grandparents dig. Also, a lot of men in particular feel awkward about buying presents for women. My dad often goes to me when trying to find out what my mom would like, and they’ve been married for more than 30 years. Sometimes, the group is too small for such dividing, but divide accordingly if you can.

GOOD IDEA: Gifts only for the kids

Christmas sucks if you’re a kid with nothing under the tree, especially if you’re a little kid. Adults, however, SHOULD understand that sometimes, money is just too tight. This can especially be helpful with large extended family gatherings. If you have 10 aunts and uncles, 20 cousins, and 145 pets in your family, there’s no way any person who’s trying to save money can afford all of it. Not all adults are going to be adults about this, but they should grow up if they don’t.

BAD IDEA: Gifts only for your “favorites”

There’s a certain group of people who often hear of how another relative being preferred over them really sucked. They’re called therapists. Don’t even consider buying a gift for your favorite child/niece or nephew/sibling/etc. unless you’re going to buy for them all. If you can’t afford to buy for them all, buy nothing. Don’t use your poverty as an excuse to pit family members against one another — or against you.

GOOD IDEA: Price limits (Maximums)

When time comes to draw names, set price limits on which everyone can agree. This keeps more awkward situations from developing when Uncle Moneybags draws your name and Uncle Poorhouse draws someone else’s. Did I mention this can also help you save money?

BAD IDEA: Price limits (Minimums)

Telling people how much they have to spend in any type of way really makes you look like a snob.

GOOD IDEA: Buying gift cards from stores your recipient patronizes

Even if you can’t put much money on the gift card, the thought of having someone learn enough about you to buy something you would really like really speaks volumes. You’ve cared enough about a person to take their preferences into consideration. Last Christmas, one of my totally awesome cousins bought this avid bookworm a Books A Million card. Perfect! It was also perfect timing. I needed a GRE study guide. The card was not enough to totally offset the cost of one of those beasts (that are such THRILLING reads, let me tell you), but it was enough to where I only had to pay a few bucks. Buy your tech junkies a Best Buy card. Buy your scent fiends a Bath and Body works card. If you don’t know what stores the person likes, ask.

BAD IDEA: Buying gift cards from places you BELIEVE your recipient would or should patronize

Whether you spend $2 or $200, a gift card for a place that has nothing your recipient likes or everything your recipient hates will be meaningless and likely create discomfort. Here’s a case study. A friend of mine won a gift card at his all-male job for a pawn shop. Many guys he works with hunt. This guy would probably barf three seconds into field dressing a deer. He actually spent Lord knows how long trying to decide what to do with the thing because he didn’t want to just waste that gift card. He eventually bought his wife a mandolin when she once mentioned she’d like to learn how to play it. She never has played the thing. It collects dust as a decoration in their bedroom.

What will really make you have egg on your face and make you look like a total jerk is buying what you believe your recipient SHOULD want. If you buy your hippie granddaughter who won’t wear makeup or shave her legs a beauty store gift card, you’re going to send her the message that you disapprove of her looks/lifestyle. Here’s the thing: If you do disapprove, Christmas is not the time to point fingers. In fact, it may not be cool to stick your nose in her business even if it isn’t Christmas.

GOOD IDEA: Taking the middle road

Sometimes, you want to get something nice, but you’re still on a budget. So, when you’re stuck in the middle, take the middle road of buying mid-priced items. You don’t go all-out, but you generally buy something of greater quality and something that will last longer. Otherwise, you wind up with a situation I’ll describe in the next paragraph.

BAD IDEA: Buying the cheapest thing, even if it’s crap

Yay! You’ve saved a few bucks by purchasing something cheap. The celebration will quickly end when the thing falls apart five minutes after you walk through the door. When you have low prices but poor quality, you haven’t saved a dime. Think about it. You either have to spend money and/or time on repairs or spend money replacing the thing. Even if things don’t break, if someone hates your crap because it’s crap and doesn’t use it, you’ve also wasted money. Therefore, cheapest is not always the best. If you absolutely have to strike a deal, look for sales on mid-priced to high-end stuff, and make sure to check your friendly resale shops or closeout stores.

If all of this fails, always remember the gift receipt. Your recipient will silently thank you ever so much.

Current music: Megadeth, “Use the Man”




Scored a part-time gig!

7 Dec

Ladies and gentlemen, I have managed to land a part-time seasonal retail job. It’ll only be temporary, and it’ll be a fraction of what I made before, but it’ll be something. I’m very, very grateful right now to have this.

Oh yeah, I’ll be working with music and movies ūüôā That’s a plus.

Tomorrow: Mandatory pre-employment drug test. This could inspire a new post.

No rest for the unemployed — at all

7 Dec

I’m unemployed! So, I guess it’s time to lie around playing guitar, eating Cheetos, and watching soap operas! Right?

Oh hell no.

One thing I’ve realized about unemployment periods is that — providing you want to get out them — you’re more pressed for time than when you were working! The Flat Broke Diva is going to explain how this works.

First, you have the matter of unemployment compensation. You could easily spend the entire day at the unemployment office, spending hours standing in lines, sitting in waiting rooms with everyone who’s going as crazy as you are, etc. I described my personal process in an earlier post.¬†I’ve swapped a few horror stories with people who have been through it since then. One is a guy who, on top of the bureaucratic nightmare, got stuck in a jam-packed elevator. He’s also claustrophobic. The time you have to spend with unemployment doesn’t end at the office. Not only do you have to make certain numbers of job contacts every week, your case may also have special circumstances that merit even more bureaucratic time. Mine is one of them. I have a hearing Monday morning to determine my eligibility. Oh yeah, I’ve been out of work for two weeks now, and I have yet to see a dime in unemployment benefits.

Then, you have to hit the pavement to look for work. I’ve tried hitting concentrated areas so I can be more productive and use less gas. I’m living on severance pay right now. You enter, get turned down, and prepare for the same to happen at the next location — over and over again. I try to search and apply online as much as I can because of the gas expense concerns, but you have to show your pretty face at a lot of places to get anywhere. When I was first out of work after graduating with my master’s degree, I went to the state capitol armed with a stack of resumes. I spent the entire day there. You also have to hit the pavement by phone, too. Thank God I have unlimited minutes.

Like I have, you might catch a lucky break to where you don’t have a full-time job with benefits, but you get something part-time or freelance to at least keep SOME kind of change in your pocket. That’s awesome, but this also will have you running your guts out, especially if you have multiple interviews or have to take on multiple jobs. Let me give you a little example with my schedule for the latter part of the week. Wednesday, I had two job interviews at retail stores, and there was only two hours in between the interviews’ start times. The following night, I had a meeting to cover for my stringer gig. Tonight, I have a second interview at one of those two stores.

Maybe I’ll finally get some rest this weekend…

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Head Creeps”


Turning others’ coal into your diamonds: Consignment and resale shops

5 Dec

This week, I went to a job interview dressed in a drop-dead-goregous purple and black tweed blazer with satin lining — that I had bought at a cheaper price than if I had bought a T-shirt at a dollar store. How did I pull this off? I turned someone’s trash into my treasure by shopping at a consignment store.

The resale store market remains healthy, despite our economic conditions, and it continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of retail,¬†according to the Association of Resale Professionals. Resale is a multi-billion dollar industry. One estimate has the resale industry in the United States to have annual revenues of about $13 billion. In 2010, Goodwill Industries alone generated $2.69 billion in retail sales from more than 2,500 non-profit resale stores across the country. The reasons for the growth of resale shops are not just economic.¬†They also include a growing interest in “going green”.¬†Yes, some of these locations may be a bit messy, but that has become the exception and not the rule. Many resale shops are trendy boutiques with a stylish decor, plus have an online presence. I personally went to one two weeks ago that had a Facebook page, had store employees waiting on me hand-and-foot… You name it.

The stores may bring in big bucks, as a whole, but the savings — if you play your cards right — can be enormous. Be warned that not everything you yank off the walls of a consignment store are going to be a real bargain. So, here are some of this experienced resale shopper’s tips for resale shopping.

1. Hit up the ritzy neighborhoods first.

Rich people throw out things you and I would kill to have. Therefore, look for resale shops near their neighborhoods because they’re more likely to throw out chunky items. I did this when visiting North Carolina a few years ago. I got a leopard print coat for $15 and a charcoal gray trench coat — handy in these mountain winters — for $10.

2. Search for specialty stores that you may need.

Resale shops sometimes specialize in catering to certain markets, therefore carving out even more of a niche for themselves. I found one such store that I needed when I found one devoted to sizes 14 and up. I wear a 16, so finding clothes at other consignment shops is not impossible, but is still a bit tricky. Many resale stores only sell children’s clothing, which would be great for stressed-out parents who constantly have to buy clothes for their growing kids. For whatever special concerns you have, there’s generally a resale store that will cater to your needs.

3. Pay attention to those tag dates!

At the last few consignment shops I’ve visited, the clothes had a tag on them that had dates. The tags generally had the date the item arrived — and different prices marked by different dates. Sometimes, the longer items have been in the store, the more the price goes down. The aforementioned blazer was originally priced at $17, still a nice bargain considering a decent blazer could cost $50 or more. However, the blazer had been hanging around the store for a while, and I noticed that, by the time I had the blazer in hand, the price had dropped to $4. I was not passing that up!

4. Is it really a bargain?

This is the toughest call you will have to make. Sometimes, resale clothing is priced just slightly less — or not much less — than something brand new. Always go with something new if this is the case. Here are some ways you can tell if it’s really a bargain. First, of course, look at the price and really check out the item. Is it clean? How worn is it? Are the buttons tightly sewn or hanging by one thread? Is the fabric a really strong, comfortable one, or something dirt cheap that will fall apart in the washing machine? Ask yourself these questions and compare to the price. At the same consignment store where I found the nice blazer, I found a sleeveless sweater top I could wear over or under something for only $8. That would have been a pretty sweet deal — if the shirt didn’t have deodorant stains on it. Keep in mind that the vast majority of these items have been worn, and some are very well-worn. You want to avoid these.

You also have to consider the brand name. Is it designer? Maybe $50 isn’t a bad price for something worn on a European runway. The opposite can happen. I personally found some clothing at a consignment shop two weeks ago that had brands commonly sold at Wal-Marts, and these items were priced around $15. At Wal-Mart, you can easily get new stuff for that price, if not cheaper. I passed those up.

5. Consider your causes.

Many resale shops are non-profit and the money goes to charities. Therefore, you want to make sure the charity you will support with your purchase is one you really want to support. Sometimes, you may want to seek out these stores because they have causes you truly believe in. The North Carolina resale shop where I found the coats supports a group that works to provide services for domestic violence victims. This is a cause I really like to support, so I seek this place out anytime I’m in the area. On the flipside, there may be a charity you don’t support for whatever reason. Even if they do have designer bags, do you really want you money going to something you abhor?

Hunting through resale shops means a lot of digging, but once you find that diamond in the pile of ugly Christmas sweaters, victory is sweet. Happy hunting!