I like to walk around REI aimlessly looking at what's the latest camping gizmo. The next thing I know, I'm at home testing out the new stove that I didn't know I needed (I currently own 5 stoves), with really no recollection of how my checking account is missing a Benjamin or two...This is something that I've accepted over the years. A few interventions later and a little retail therapy (not helpful), I think I've finally found a benefit from this addiction.
I've acquired some pretty awesome backpacking gear and even a few glamping indulgences (glamp-ing, verb: shorthand for glamorous camping, luxury camping). This has saved us a ton of money for our trip because we already own many of the items that would be on a typical shopping list, and we don't have to sacrifice quality for price. I've also had plenty of opportunities to test my gear and decide what works and where our equipment is lacking.
For a long time I thought that REI stood for Really Expensive Incorporated but there's a reason that their items cost a little more than the competitors. They have a ridiculous return policy. If you buy a tent from them and take it for a weekend in the Ozarks, beat the living hell out of it and bring it back to the store on Monday because you "didn't like the design" they'll give you your money back with no grief. Unfortunately this return policy is abused by some customers, but another benefit of being an REI member is their garage sales. These returned products stack up in the back of the store, then once they've decided it's time to clear some room they sell everything for dirt cheap.
The picture above is just some of the gear that I've picked up at REI's garage sales over the years. Just this last weekend I spent $93 on stuff for our trip, but if every item were full price it would've cost us $433 dollars!
So here's a few tips if you decide you want to search for bargains at one of these events:
- check the calendar for your nearest store every month to find out when the next garage sale is
- arrive at least 15 minutes early...sometimes people camp out for these events like they're waiting for a chance to meet the Jonas brothers. Not really worth being the first in line, there's plenty of deals to go around
- as you're walking in the doors, grab one of the shopping bags at the door. If they don't have any, then head straight to the backpacks and grab something that you can toss items into
- if you can, bring a friend to back you up. You can go fight the crowd while handing items to your buddy to hold on to for you...nothing's worse than the guy with a shopping cart knocking people over while trying to get that water-damaged GoPro camera
- read over the damage/return tag very carefully to figure out what was the reason for return
- decide if the reason that the item was returned is legit or not. it often seems that customers make up issues just so they feel better about returning a perfectly good item
- decide if this is actually something you NEED (sometimes this takes me a while)
- if you are not sure if you want something, put it in your bag and you can decide once you've gone thru the other items
- WARNING: make sure you're in good physical health and you've had all your shots before going to the garage sale. it's a mad house once they let everyone loose and at times it can seem like a bad reality show. people can be rude and petty when there's deals to be had and you may just get bitten by a crazed lunatic (think of Black Friday, but for hippies)
- be courteous and be human...fighting over a broken headlamp because it's dirt cheap just makes you an a-hole. please don't be an a-hole
- if you find a good deal but decide you don't need it, tell someone else about it...maybe you'll get lucky and they'll return the favor
- once you're done sifting through all the merchandise, go to a nice corner of the store and go through everything that you grabbed. thoroughly inspect everything for flaws that weren't mentioned on the tag. often pieces end up missing after everyone has been sifting through the bins
- decide again if this is something that you actually NEED. don't just buy it because it's a screamin' deal...otherwise, you'll be dealing with the headache of selling it on craigslist
- if something is missing or broken that's not mentioned on the tag, mention it at the register and you can negotiate the price a little lower
- before you leave, ask when they'll release more garage sale items. most REI garage sales now last the entire weekend, with quality merchandise being put on the showroom floor regularly throughout the day. If it's worth it, you could always come back for round two...but you'd better eat your Wheaties