Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Thrift stores for DIYers

Companies like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore shops sell building materials, hardware, furnishings and appliances at amazing discounts.

By Donna_Freedman May 11, 2012 6:54PM

Image: Young man and woman holding power tools, low section (© Thomas Barwick/Photodisc/Getty Images)On Monday, I saw a man buy a door for $7.50. He said "Jackpot!" several times while waiting to pay. Given that interior doors go for $40 and up at nearby hardware stores, he really did hit the jackpot.

Welcome to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where DIYers, small-business owners, contractors and found-materials artists locate the means to turn their dreams into reality. It's one of a number of organizations working to keep building materials, furnishings, hardware and appliances out of landfills.

Since all materials are donated, it's like shopping at a thrift store -- you never know what you're going to get, but you do know that it'll be cheap.

The Building Materials Reuse Association provides a state-by-state map of companies that emphasize recycling versus dumping unused materials. Not every company listed is a nonprofit, incidentally.

Some organizations don't merely accept donations; they go out and get them by offering "deconstruction" services, the salvage of materials before a building is remodeled or torn down. Two nonprofit examples are The RE Store in Seattle and Bellingham, Wash., and Building Value in Cincinnati.


Habitat for Humanity is the most visible, however, operating 825 resale shops in the United States and Canada, offering an ever-changing array of building materials, home furnishings, hardware and appliances.

"Goodwill is soft goods. We're hard goods," says national spokesman Drew Meyer.

Many donations come from contractors who feel bad taking unused materials to the landfill (or, maybe, who don't want to pay dump fees). Chain hardware stores regularly contribute materials, and ReStores also get items from remodeled restaurants, hotels and businesses.

Last year an extended-stay hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, redid its interiors and offered the "old" stuff to the local Habitat ReStore. "We sold over 100 couches," says manager Anders Harstad-Bell.

Seek and ye shall find?

You might see exactly what you need the first time you walk in. But since inventory changes every day, prepare to be patient. Some customers drop by at least once a week in case the right ceiling fan or light fixture has shown up.

"We see a lot of do-it-yourselfers, whether they're remodeling the house or building their kids a tree fort," the manager says. (Post continues below video.)

He frequently sees budget-savvy property owners looking to fix up rentals. If your tenant punches a hole in that bedroom door, it's a lot more fun to pay $7.50 than to buy a retail replacement.

I saw plenty of landlord-friendly items, such as tubes of caulk ($1), dishwashers ($75), bathroom sinks and vanities ($10 to $25), and a huge array of miscellaneous hardware that ranged from garbage-disposal mounts to toilet floats.

Small-business owners show up regularly, too. Harstad-Bell knows a chiropractor who opened his solo practice with office furniture, waiting-room chairs and even paint from the ReStore.

Not just for handymen

An artist friend of mine bought a piece of furnace flashing for 50 cents and a chunk of copper pipe for a quarter at the local ReStore. She uses the metals in jewelry and sculptures.

While I was at the Anchorage store a woman paid $3 for two 5-foot solid wood shelves. "Where are you putting those up?" I asked.

"I'm not," she replied. "I'm turning them into a bench."

Just as with a thrift store, the only limit is your imagination. Whether you're planning a long-term remodel or just need to do a few handyman tasks, you may get a considerably better deal with recycled materials. Use the BMRA link above to find a vendor in your area; if you're specifically interested in finding Habitat's ReStores, go here for the U.S. or here for Canada.

You'll be keeping items out of the dump, reducing the amount of resources it would take to produce a new item and supporting a good cause. Meyer calls that "a virtuous circle." I call it frugality in practice.

More from MSN Money:

May 11, 2012 8:43PM
Another great article!!! It makes me want to continue our ultra-frugal home makeover!
May 15, 2012 5:16PM
When I went to visit my son and help him get settled in his rental house several states away we were faced with an expensive, emergency car repair.

The budget we had to help him furnish his home was impacted in a big way.

The first stop we made was a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. We were able to find everything my kiddo was looking for in one stop.

 He got a sturdy, nice looking pine dining table, a small bookcase, and a few other small items at a reasonable cost. We opted for the optional delivery service but still kept costs under $100 which is far less than the cost of a new dining room table.
May 17, 2012 6:09PM

Can't say enough good about Habitat for Humanity's RE Stores.  Let's start with architectural

quality.  Most remodelers or renovators aren't in architectural class as buyers. Most buyer

tastes are simpler due to budget contraints and overall socio-economic status. Most DIYers

won't take the time or make the effort to achieve quality installations  (or have the skills)

that are usually hard to execute and/or are an unfamiliar chore Coupled with paying a licensed

contractor for quality installation, highend goods just don't get the nod. Family demands, joblessness, advancing maturity all combine to reduce what we spend on an upgrade.

We don't KNOW about ARCHITECTURAL products and don't subscribe to high calibre

magazines usually. Yet, on a daily basis, Habitate RE stores offer such quality for mere

pennies on the dollar.  Tour a RE store (instead of taking a trans-Atlantic vacation) to

familiarize yourself with their products. Allow time, wear comfortable clothing and don't plan

to buy on your first outting. You might bring tape measure and project list though to see if

the store can supply your materials.   Want a 20 foot tall carved, all wood, library door for

$700? It's probably at a Habitate for Humanity RE Store somewhere! Or a $5,000 Viking

stove?  Yup, but you may to shop a few times to find it but it'll be there eventually.


I bought 3-way high wattage light bulbs (50-100-250/350 or 1-way 250 watt bulbs (stock

market readers) for 50 cents in early spring.  At chain pharmacies (not ordinary hardware

centers which don't usually carry them by the way) they retail for $7 each. Quite a savings! 

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.