If it's been the type of year when you bought gold at its historic high and sold Chrysler after it fell, cheer up. While the economic news may not be very good, there are places where the value of a dollar has not been fatally eroded.

Where? Well, aside from any street corner in Moscow -- and much closer -- you might try one of the numerous thrift shops in the Washington area.

Non-profit thrift shops represent a blend of capitalism and common sense. Goods that are not needed by some are made available to others. It's a system that creates jobs and raises money for charitable causes. Not incidentally, it is also a system that offers substantial bargains to the wise shopper.

Finding the "right" thrift shop depends on your needs. Used clothing, often in perfect condition, plus small miscellaneous items, such as picture frames, bric-a-brac, and books are available at most thrift shops. Larger stores often carry an inventory of furniture. Several stores go further and offer major appliances such as refrigerators and stoves. At least two area stores sell cars.

What bargains are available? An informal survey of several area stores showed there are thousands of articles of clothing (often at $1 per item, or less), hard-back books (25 cents), ancient sewing machines in wooden cases with rounded tops ($19.95), a swivel chair ($2.95), andirons ($9.95 and up, per pair), and even the proverbial kitchen sink ($12.50 -- with faucets).

Other items included a medical scale ($19.95), refrigerators ($57.95 and up), working TVs ($29.50 and up for black and white, much higher for color), typewriters ($3.50 and higher), an enormous variety of furniture (some perfect, some in very poor condition), and bicycles ($2.95 and up).

The thrift-shop system works because there are no losers. Individuals making a donation receive not only the peerless satisfaction of giving, but also an economic incentive -- donations to thrift shops run for charity are tax-deductible.

The donations, in turn, are purchased both by individuals who might otherwise not be able to afford certain basic items and bargain hunters on the trail of a good buy. The process also creates jobs for hundreds of area residents while providing needed cash for a number of charities.

Among the many thrift shops in the metropolitan area, Goodwill, Amvets, and Salvation Army stores are perhaps the best known. Yet D.C.'s largest individual thrift shop -- in terms of sales space at least -- is a little-known outlet called Value-Village. Without advertising, and a location that would have eluded Lewis and Clark, Value Village nevertheless manages to attract 4,000 customers in an average week and even more during the holiday season.

Located in a small commercial strip in the midst of a quiet Northwest residential neighborhood, Value Village is a store as yet untouched by Madison Avenue hype. There is no soothing music to encourage purchasers or fancy displays in the front windows (there are no front windows). The floors, walls, and ceiling are bare. Here, interior design is well represented by a coat of paint.

But while Value Village is hardly formal, it is (like most area thrift shops), clean, well lit, and wall to wall with bargains. The staff is helpful. There is an air of interest. It is obvious that people count, regardless of how much -- or how little -- they can afford.

Value Village maintains a huge stock of used clothing, furniture, appliances of every description, outdoor equipment (even a curved slide for a swimming pool at one time), books and household goods.

Goods sold through Value Village and other area thrift shops may be old or out of style but they are generally in good condition. Torn or soiled clothing is usually unacceptable. Many appliances, though not all, are in reasonable working order.

"Most customers," says Value Village manager William E. Benton, "understand the situation and send worthwhile items."

An idea of thrift-shop pricing can be found in the records maintained by Value Village.Weekly figures show the number of items brought in, the value per pick-up, the average sale per customer. The statistics for one recent week listed average prices for furniture ($10.67), hanging goods such as clothing of all types ($1.42), bin goods, including towels and socks ($1.00), bric-a-brac (52 cents) and shoes ($1.33). The profits from Value Village go directly to the National Children's Center, a facility for retarded children which serves the entire metropolitan area.

A brief rundown of some of the area's non-profit thrift stores:

Amvets -- Carries a large stock of clothing at each of three locations, plus household items, some furniture, bric-a-brac and miscellaneous goods. Two District locations: one at Georgia Avenue south of Piney Branch and a second, larger, store at Rhode Island Avenue not far from Metro. A third store is located on George Palmer Highway in Landover, Md. Hours vary at each location. (The Landover store is open Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.)

Will pick-up donations from private homes. Profits are used to fund various Amvets charitable activities. Information: 829-3030.

Christ Child Opportunity Shop -- At 1427 Wisconsin Ave. NW (just below Q Street NW). This small store sells both donations and items on consignment. Open from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Offers clothing and household goods. Consignment items must sell for at least $15. Income from the shop is used to support the Christ Child Institute in Rockville, a facility open to all emotionally disturbed children. Information: 333-6635.

Deborah's Place -- Supported by seven churches and one synagogue, this thrift shop offers clothing and smaller items such as bric-a-brac, pots and pans, strollers and some furniture. Located just north of Thomas Circle at 1301 14th St. NW, the store is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Money from the shop is used to support "women in transition," or during times of personal crisis. Support includes funding for a live-in facility. Information: 265-5166.

Goodwill Industries -- With seven current outlets, and an eighth is open at Hybla Valley on Nov. 17, Goodwill is a major source of thrift items. Most outlets have a large stock of clothing plus furnishings, books and pictures. Donations of clothing may be left at stores or attended collection centers. Goodwill has a pick-up service for furniture, but does not handle major applicances. Most stores are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Rockville and Bowie locations which stay open to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Goodwill employs more than 175 people, including 75 in sheltered workshops. It offers rehabilitation and training services and places handicapped workers in outside jobs. Information: 638-5050.

Ruth's Store -- Offers clothing and furniture, plus other miscellaneous goods. Located at 1413 Park Rd. NW, just off 14th Street. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Sunday. Funds are used to support the House of Ruth, a facility for destitute women and battered women and children who need temporary shelter. Information: 232-5009.

Salvation Army -- With three metropolitan locations, the Salvation Army probably offers the widest selection of household furniture. District stores are located at First and F Streets NW, and the 1300 block of H Street NE. A third store is in Arlington at 5210 Wilson Blvd. Hours are from 9 to 4 Monday through Saturday. Also maintains a separate store for used books and magazines at 512 First St. NW. Will pick-up donations. Does not accept gas appliances. Income is used to support church activities. Information: 347-8023.

Value Village -- Open 9 to 9 daily except Sunday. Will pick up donations, including major appliances in good working condition. Located at 4618 14th St. NW. Directions: North on 16th Street, right on Buchanan, left on 14th. Information: 829-5728.

Volunteers of America -- Operates a facility at 525 Rhode Island Ave. NE., about two blocks from Metro. Carries a large inventory of household goods, but a relatively small supply of clothing. Will accept large appliances in working order. Funds used for organizational programs, including a rehabilitation center in the District. Open 8 a.m. to p.m. daily except Sunday. 529-1961. c

Most of the other outlets in the Washington area are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Thrift Shops." In addition, charitable and religious groups often conduct thrift-type sales on a irregular basis. Contact area groups for more information.