On the cheap

Frugal options for clothes, food and household items for the student budget

Thrifty Bargain doesn’t need a fancy façade to have some of the best deals in town.

Thrifty Bargain doesn’t need a fancy façade to have some of the best deals in town.

Photos By meredith J. Graham and Stacey Kennelly

free advice:
Be healthy. It may seem obvious, but if you are mindful of the basics—eating when you’re hungry; sleeping when you’re tired; exercising regularly (take advantage of WREC—your free gym); spending quiet time alone; staying connected with friends and family—then the stresses of college life will be easier to bear.

Unless you’re a trust-fund baby, college life is going to take some serious budgeting and a little bit of sacrificing. Especially with the bad state of the economy. But just because you won’t be able to rely on mom’s home cooking doesn’t mean you have to buy a crate of ramen noodles. And just because you won’t have access to a Macy’s and dad’s credit card doesn’t mean you have to dress like a slouch.

Locally, there are plenty of options for those who are frugal by necessity.

From the vast array (and growing!) of thrift stores and second-hand boutiques to a variety of bargain grocery stores and farmers’ markets, Chico has you covered for inexpensive but fashionable threads and low-priced but healthful eats, as well as other stuff on the cheap.

You just need a little shopping savvy, and the CN&R is here to help.

First, let’s talk thrift stores. Don’t turn up your nose. In Chico, “thrifting” is practically an art form. Even the cool kids are doing it. Admittedly, at some places, you’ll have to sift through a lot of junk. Some of us who are brave enough to venture into the dingier spots—places where a little bottle of hand sanitizer comes in handy—have glorious stories about the gems we’ve discovered for just a few bucks.

There are a couple of keys to good thrift-store shopping: time and patience. That means shopping on a full stomach during a care-free day, say, a Saturday.

And you won’t have to go far from campus to hit up a couple of good spots.

One of best-stocked and biggest stores when it comes to clothes is right downtown at Seventh and Broadway and is operated by the Salvation Army. It’s called Elite Repeat. Don’t get turned off by the inventory of knick-knacky stuff, antiques and furniture that might be outside your budget. The warehouse-size store offers fair prices on gently used, quality clothes, and has frequent sales—the kind that make you feel like you’re getting a steal. In reality, you’re also helping fund a very worthwhile charitable organization.

Salvation Army recently remodeled the store into a neat and clean space, which now offers dressing rooms. Make sure you check the sign just inside the door to see what type of items are on special. Half off could mean getting a designer shirt for $2.50 or $3!

The other big spot in town is Thrifty Bargain, which is on The Esplanade (within a short bike ride of campus) between East Avenue and Cohasset Road. This spacious for-profit store is, shall we say, a little run down. On the plus side, the place has sales every single day and a huge inventory of clothes, shoes, books, you name it. Household items and electronics are especially cheap.

Moving on to food. Avoid the dreaded “freshman 15”—those extra pounds some put on during their first year of college—by staying away from fast-food joints. Instead, head to bargain supermarkets to buy food to cook on your own.

The catch is that you may have to go to more than one place to get everything you need. Many locals swear by the Grocery Outlet on Pillsbury Road in north Chico. It’s part of that chain with those catchy commercials featuring off-key singing puppets. There, you’ll find many inexpensive name-brand products, as well as a surprising selection of natural and organic foods scattered throughout, including a section near the front of the store with soaps, lotions, chapstick, shampoo and conditioner.

If you have a great affection for cheese, you’re in luck. They have all sorts of gourmet varieties at bargain prices, plus an impressive assortment of wine, although many of them are obscure varietals you’ll be taking a chance on.

Good old WinCo supermarket is another option for inexpensive food, especially if you need to stock up. If not, no worries; the store is loaded with bins in its bulk section, so you can buy as much or little as you need. The section includes everything from spices and pasta to dried fruit and candy. Employee-owned WinCo is located in south Chico near the Chico Mall and it’s pretty much a gigantic warehouse, so give yourself time to shop and prepare to bag your own groceries. Take reusable bags and get a discount.

Last but definitely not least, shop at the local farmers’ markets. They’re the best source for fruits and veggies. In general, locally grown produce tastes better because it’s picked ripe and better tended than commercial produce (See New Food Pyramid, page 18, for more on local markets and other inexpensive eats).

Sugar water and animal heads at the Dollar Tree.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Miscellaneous items. Need gift wrap? Balloons? Throwing a luau or some other themed party? Head to one of the “dollar stores” in town and you can pick up stuff for a buck. Shopping in these ultra-bargain shops is an adventure, because while they do carry a regular supply of certain items, they also have an ever-changing eclectic inventory.

Dollar Tree (near Trader Joe’s on East Avenue and in the Raley’s on Notre Dame Boulevard) and 99¢ Only Store (next to Home Depot on Notre Dame Boulevard) are your options.

The Dollar Tree, for example, is always fully stocked with gift bags and party items. It also sells food, mostly boxed and canned products but also a few refrigerated items. A shopper with a good eye can find great deals on name-brand products, including personal-hygiene products such as toothpaste and makeup.

You’ll save a bunch on staple items, such as liquid dish soap and cleaning supplies, too.

And then there’s the really random stuff, like animal-head figurines that look like they belong in a fish tank, though that doesn’t make sense. Who knows, maybe a ceramic-bird collection is just what you need to spruce up your décor. Get the whole collection for $4. Now that’s a bargain!

Strawberries from Farmers’ Market.

Photo By

Where the thrift stores are:

ARC Thrift Store: 2030 Park Ave.

The Discovery Shoppe: 315 Flume St.

Elite Repeat (run by Sal-vation Army): 700 Broadway

Home at Last Thrift & Gift: 611 Walnut St.

Quality Thrift Store: 1405 Park Ave.

Salvation Army: 1358 East Ave.

Shalom Free Clinic Thrift Store: 250 East First St.

The Shop: 752 Mangrove Ave.

The Thrift Queen: 641 Nord Ave.

Thrifty Bargain: 2432 The Esplanade