Thrift stores: What to buy and what to skip

starbucks coffee mug from the bins
starbucks coffee mug from the bins

I used to be something of a mall rat, flashing my plastic to buy whatever pretty thing was on sale! (40% off way too much, whee!). And then I grew up, got a couple of kids, and discovered real happiness at the Goodwill Outlet in my town (we call it "the Bins"). All the same fashions as the mall -- well, all last year's fashions -- but sold for 69 cents a pound. True love ensued.

Now I'm a savvy "picker," a woman who knows what to look for and can spot a valuable find an aisle away. I've also filled up big boxes of failed purchases to send back for some other unschooled thrifty soul. Here are a few things I've learned:

Do thrift: Coffee mugs. I don't know about you, but I love a cute mug. It makes me happy, sitting there on my desk, and I'm always wanting to spend $9.99 on a cool new shape at Starbucks. But wait! In another year it will be calling your name in a bin at your friendly thrift store, for 99 cents, and you won't mind so much when you drop it. After all, there's sure to be another great new mug waiting in the wings.

Don't thrift: Baking pans. Why do I persist in believing I can scrub that spot of rust off? I've ruined a fair number of perfectly good cupcakes with (ahem) "vintage" baking pans I found for such a bargain. New loaf pans, cupcake tins, and pie plates are the way to go here.