Laura Hamilton - The Penny Hoarder

My husband and I are thrift shop junkies. It’s rare that a week goes by without a visit to our favorite secondhand store, Value Village.

We are always on the hunt for treasures and everyday items that save us a trip to the department store, and over the past couple of years, we’ve realized the potential to profit from all of our bargain shopping.

Over the past year, we have made over $1,000 on the side through our donations and purchases at Value Village, and this year is looking even better.

How We Get Discounts for Donations

Value Village, also known as Savers in some areas, is a for-profit consignment chain that has been in business for over 50 years.

Unlike other secondhand charity organizations like Goodwill and The Salvation Army, Value Village has a rewards program that can monetize your donations and subsidize your purchases.

They collect donations from stores and individuals like us, partner with more than 120 nonprofits in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Each store pays its nonprofit partner for donations made through the nonprofit or at a store’s Community Donation Center – whether the item sells or not. Over the past 10 years, Savers/Value Village has paid its collective nonprofit partners more than $1.5 billion, which helps fund their missions.

Since 2015, Value Village has used a reward system to encourage donations. Whenever you drop off a bag of items, they give you a coupon in the form of a punch card.

It takes six punches to fill the card, and once full, the punch card becomes a 30%-off coupon to use when treasure hunting for yourself.

Depending on how generous the collection team is feeling, this could take a couple bags worth of clothing donations, or a couple of trips to fill the card. If the nice gentlemen and ladies on the collection team ask if you want a coupon, always say, “Yes, please” -- you may even get an extra punch for having good manners.

Know What You Can Donate

We always keep a collection bag next to our door where we can recycle clothing, household items, random kitchen utensils and anything that we just don’t use anymore that may be useful to someone else.

We like to have an uncluttered home, so those bags fill up fast. This usually results in a donation at Value Village -- and another 30%-off coupon in our pocket -- every couple of weeks.

Most of the items we give away would be under $5 if we were trying to sell them ourselves at a garage sale, so the coupon we get in return is often a greater value to us in potential discounts. They win from our donations, and we win by not having to hold garage sales.

When deciding what to donate, it’s important to know what is accepted.

  • Clothing should be clean and in decent condition
  • All electronics must be in working order
  • Avoid items that are illegal for businesses to resell, like used mattresses and secondhand car seats

The collection crew will sort your items later and test to make sure your electronics at least turn on, so they are accepting your items on good faith.

Basically, if you wouldn’t be willing to sell it yourself at a garage sale, they probably don’t want it either. If in doubt, check the Value Village website for guidelines.

Make the Most of 30% Off

While 30% may not sound like much, it can add up quite a bit on large purchases, so we always make the most of it.

Value Village has a lot of tag sale days, seasonal sales and weekly promotions that you can learn about ahead of time if you sign up for their marketing emails. So far, they have only emailed me once each week with the upcoming specials, which is just often enough to know what to shop for without feeling spammed.

They also have additional coupons you can earn in the form of punch cards from frequent purchases. My favorite find this month? An old LaserDisc player -- yes, those LP-sized digital movie disks that were sought after before DVDs took over.

I picked it up at my local Value Village for only $10 (using my 30% off coupon of course), and I recently sold the player to a nostalgic gentleman for $75.

You never know what they might have from day to day, so it’s best to have a strategy so your lucky days could also become profitable ones.

The basic strategy we use is to always shop with ourselves in mind, as well as others, and it’s broken down into three phases.

1. Combine Shopping and Treasure Hunting

Your time -- and therefore your profits -- are maximized when a household shopping trip doubles as a treasure hunt.

Hubby need a new pair of gym shorts? Find the perfect pair on the rack for $5, but be sure to throw in those 2 like-new digital humidifiers that they are selling for only $15 each but sell for $240 new according to Amazon.

Before you leave the store, be sure to plug in both the food processor and the air conditioner in the electronics testing area to make sure things are chopping and whooshing as they should.

If they don’t work, you can return the appliances within a week for store credit, but it’s always smart to avoid a return trip.

With the coupon, those shorts only cost you $3.50, and you acquired a couple of sought-after appliances for $21.

2. Prepare Your Loot

Admire your hubby in his new favorite pair of gym shorts, and get to work on finding new homes for those appliances.

Wash, polish and test those humidifiers to be sure they are in top shape, and then post up some shiny pictures.

Craigslist is always a solid venue because it’s the largest local online network. You can sell anything bulky with the fastest turnaround without worrying about shipping.

To hedge your bets, you always extend your reach by posting to OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace.

We’ve tried other peer-to-peer resale sites, but we’ve found that the quality of the buyers is far lower in other platforms. We’re looking at you Letgo -- more than 45 inquiries in two weeks, but zero actual buyers.

If you’ve scored a premium item that isn’t too bulky, consider shipping it to buyers instead through a posting on eBay. Try Tradesy for designer clothing items.

3. Sell For a Good Profit

Find a buyer who is seeking some relief from the summer dryness without breaking the bank, and give them a great deal on a tested portable air humidifiers for only $120 -- resulting in a $99 profit for you.

On average, you should budget for 15-30 minutes to post and then sell each item with all the back-and-forth messages between you and potential buyers.

Some of your treasures will sell quickly, while others take a few weeks of renewed postings, but if you are diligent about taking a minute to respond to potential buyers quickly, you’ll see how much your minimal efforts can lead to big returns.

In the end, you made $99 within an hour worth of thrift shopping you would have done anyway, with just a small investment of your old sweaters, a bulky hair dryer and that set of mixing bowls you always thought would come in handy (they didn’t).

Pick the Right Items to Flip

In order for this strategy to work, you have to develop an eye for treasure, but if you’re ever unsure of a bargain, there are quick ways anyone can assess the basic values.

I always have my smartphone on me, and an internet search can tell you everything from the original price, origin, scarcity and possible demand.

Basically, if similar items are selling for a higher price on places like Amazon, Ebay, or Craigslist, and there isn’t an abundance of local listings, there’s a potential for profit.

After doing this for years, I’ve developed a natural radar for which items may be more trouble than they're worth, but I still double-check my finds often before throwing them in my cart.

I’ve found the best times to score good deals is early in the morning, especially on Sundays and Mondays, because the weekends are always the busiest times for donations.

Like most people, we always seem to have plenty of stuff, but not enough cash. Thanks to our new hobby, we have downsized our hoard, made room for worthwhile treasures, and put some money away to purchase our first home which, hopefully, won’t be too far away from a Value Village.

Laura Hamilton is a Youtube vlogger for RollingDiaries and fellow Penny Hoarder who’s always looking for ways to live beyond her means. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband and her imaginary dog, Nickels.

When my husband and I were faced with yet another round of holiday expenses, we started cutting back wherever we could -- especially with food.

Our monthly food budget was about $250 for the two of us, and we knew it would cover all the gifts and tinsel if we were careful.

Luckily, we had a nice stockpile of dry and canned goods to start using in early November.

But by the second week and third night of rice n’ cheese SpaghettiOs, I started dreaming about spinach salads covered in freshly sliced strawberries. We needed to find a way to get some greens back into our diet of Campbell’s mystery casseroles -- without running to the store.

I thought Craigslist might be a good answer -- and the solution soon filled our fridge with more fruit and veggies than we could eat.

Here’s how we did it…

Bartering for Food on Craigslist

We all have $5-$20 items laying around our homes we’d love to sell if we could just find the right buyer.

Maybe you’ve tried posting these items on Craigslist or eBay, without success. They fall into the not-worth-much category, but they’re too expensive to just give away when you’re tight on cash.

Using the free Craigslist app (also available on Android), I listed a beautiful blue coat for $10. It only had one small hole above the pocket, but not a single person was interested after two weeks on the site.

Not one to be discouraged, I reversed strategies.

I reposted the coat in the Free category, but with one very important addition to the post: “Although this is free, if you had some food items to trade for it, like veggies, grains or vegetarian canned goods, that would be much appreciated.”

I expected to get more of a response just because it was listed as “free,” but I was overwhelmed by the generosity and number of emails from strangers offering what they could.

In just two days, I was flooded with strangers offers to bring me everything from bags of frozen broccoli to pounds of shiny purple plums.

After considering all the offers, I wrote back to an awesome woman who worked at a local fruit stand. She’d offered to bring me a mix of whatever she had left over.

And, oh man, did she hook us up.

Between the fresh bunches of kale, bags of heirloom carrots and organic pomegranates, she probably gave us about $18 worth of produce, almost double what I’d originally asked for in cash.

I tried this strategy again with a brand-new pair of $20 sweater boots.

Within a day, I heard from a fantastic guy who actually offered to take us grocery shopping for whatever we needed. We were too busy with work, so I asked him to bring us some fresh tomatoes and surprise us with whatever else he wanted.

We were surprised indeed. In total, here’s what he brought for us:

4 boxes of veggie pasta: $6

2-pound bag of apples: $4

11 cans of various mixed veggies: $12

1 box of oatmeal packages: $2.50

8-pack of applesauce cups: $3.50

1 jar of fancy mushroom wine simmer sauce: $4.50

2 pounds of vine tomatoes: $5

2-pound bag of colorful heirloom lentils: $6

2 ripe avocados: $2

2-pound bag of mini cucumbers: $4

2 limes: $1

AND one beautiful bouquet of flowers that tremendously brightened my day: $6

Total value of groceries scored: $56.50

Each time, we’ve DOUBLED or TRIPLED the cash asking price in goods we needed.

I estimate we’ve received about $180 worth of fresh produce and other kitchen staples during the past few months. Added to our monthly grocery budget we haven't been using, we've saved about $750 and had a very merry holiday indeed.

We’ve done so well with this strategy, it’s been three months since we’ve stepped foot into a grocery store for anything other than laundry detergent. And I doubt we’ll stop until we can see the floor of our junk closet.

There’ve been times we’ve done so well, I’ve actually had to slow the pace at which we post items.

Should You Give It a Try?

I’ve discovered three real advantages to this strategy, besides saving money:

1. You Can Filter Out the Flaky People

You know, the ones who are more likely to waste your time by not responding to your reply or no-shows.

How? You can tell immediately if they read your post fully if they offer to bring goodies. If they don’t mention that part, they probably just skimmed it quickly -- and might not follow through.

2. You Create a Pay-What-You-Can Model

By asking people to bring what they can, people tend to be extra generous -- especially when it’s a necessity like food.

3. You Get Rid of Clutter

Getting rid of clutter is brain candy to me. I don’t know about you, but having a clean house beats a Swedish massage any day in my book.    

Granted, this strategy does have limitations.

I live in Seattle. There’s a fairly dense population and practically everyone has a car, so it’s not a big deal for me to ask people to come by to trade.

You also can’t be picky like you would in a grocery store, nor can you control the quantity you receive, but I see these as advantages that help me learn new cooking skills.

You might be wondering why I use the “Free,” instead of the “Barter” section -- which is closer in definition to what I’m doing. Simple: I’ve found not enough people use the “Barter” section to make it worth my while.

Some Tips for Using Craigslist Safely

If you’re put off by the idea of meeting strangers, let alone accepting food from them, I get it.

Over the years, Craigslist has been my go-to tool for furniture removal and garage sales, so I was already comfortable when I started this experiment.

Here are a few tips Craigslisters use to stay safe:

  • Use an email with a fake name when posting and responding to ads.
  • If you’re going to meet someone, bring a friend along.
  • If you just aren't comfortable with them coming to your home, or vice versa, pick a neutral, public place to meet.
  • Don't post your phone number as a method of response in your ad. This isn't for safety, it's just really annoying to get phone calls from random strangers all day.
  • Remember, this is no more dangerous than a food drive or going out trick-or-treating. Just use common sense and you’ll be fine.

This bartering strategyis one of the greatest discoveries I’ve made on Craigslist. And with spring cleaning right around the corner, you could join me in covering those counter tops with a rainbow of fruits and veggies.

Tonight’s dinner is heirloom lentil soup with a mixture of canned cubed tomatoes, oven-roasted shallots, and some rich avocado sliced on top of each bowl.

It sure beats SpaghettiOs with a side of sodium. Go find some junk today and fill that fridge!

Your Turn: Will you try this strategy to save money on food?

Laura Hamilton is a Youtube vlogger for RollingDiaries and fellow Penny Hoarder who’s always looking for ways to live beyond her means. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband and her imaginary dog, Nickels.