Some of my earliest memories are of walking the grounds at public estate auctions and begging my parents for a hot dog from the vendor wagon. Mom and Dad have an appreciation for antiques, although I think their unwaverable thrift was what beckoned them to these events. They filled our childhood home with beautiful old furniture that, as my mom would say, told loving stories of other people in different times. I attented my last auction right before leaving for college. My mother let me bid on a $20 curved leather-inlaid coffee table that I have since carted up innumerable stairs to dorm rooms and later into apartments. It has suffered scratches and dings over the years, but looks graceful in the living room of our home aside some of my parent's favorite antiques.
My best garage sale find was a $2 Hamilton Beach coffee maker that I bought more than 15 years ago and we use to this day. Since discovering Craigslist four years ago, we have made a very deliberate effort to reuse items people don't want or need before buying them new. I recently found my favorite pair of jeans at a consignment store for $4. The front button was missing, but this just gave me an excuse to wear a belt. Great finds are easy to come by when you live near a college town. Students rarely have the time or inclination to barter when they are moving, both literally and metaphorically through a turbulant period in their lives. I've also found great recycled building materials for our goat shed at a downtown shop devoted to reselling deconstruction salvage (two wood frame windows for $5). This hasn't always been convenient, but overall it has been a good experience dealing with sellers in our area. We have bought furniture, baby items and, most recently, a few things for our farm.
Several years ago, we assembled a seed-starting rack from used components. I bought each 6' stainless steel rack, with four shelves, for $25 from a local catholic church. The shelving had previously been used by nuns for storing their canned preserves. They only needed to be cleaned. We use one for books and two others for tools in the garage. The fluorescent light fixtures and bulbs are in rough shape, but they were free from my farm internship.
About two weeks ago, I found a very old and still functioning dorm refridgerator for $40. It will make an excellent cheese aging cave. This was so much more exciting for me than it really should have been. My guess is that it works better and lasts longer than anything I could have bought new.