Whether you’re shopping on a budget, or just love a good treasure hunt, you may know the value (and fun) of thrift shopping. If you want in on some fascinating thrift store shopping secrets, and learn how to thrift shop like a pro, just keep reading.
My sweet spot for buying clothes is $5 or less. Much of my wardrobe is made up of items I’ve found for just a few dollars at thrift stores.
I’ve learned a lot of thrift store shopping tricks over the years, and want to share them with you! Believe it or not, with these easy tips, you too can come up with your own thrift store strategy.
27 Thrift Store Shopping Tips:
1. Visit often
Thrift stores receive new inventory every day, so check back often. Due to the donation component, the items are more random and one-of-a-kind, and can disappear quickly.
2. Check racks by fitting rooms
Shortcut your searching by starting at the ‘put-back’ racks near the fitting rooms. They often hold some of the best clothing. People have selected them as worthy of trying on, but maybe declined buying them because of fit.
3. Know when to shop
Spring and summer can be some of the best times to go thrift shopping. Items that didn’t sell at garage or yard sales often get donated. If you live in a college town, check your local thrift shops for newly-donated items when the winter semester ends in April or May.
4. Shop on days with extra discounts
Most thrift shops have different specials on certain days. Discounts for students, seniors, and military personnel are common. They also have sales on certain colored tags, or types of items.
The Goodwill stores in my area have two 50% off days per month, so I try to go then. Salvation Army occasionally holds a sale where you can fill a bag for $5.
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5. Go with a list
If your wardrobe or home is in need of some specific items, write and bring a list. You can even keep an ongoing thrift store wish list on your phone. This will focus and streamline your shopping trip.
6. Consider the surrounding neighborhood
Sometimes wealthier areas have more valuable thrift store merchandise. The potential downside could be that regular thrift shoppers will come a distance to shop there, and buy the best stuff before you can.
Or the store itself could be in the habit of charging higher prices because of the area. Try out a few different stores, and see where you have the best luck.
7. Be selective
Don’t be afraid to leave empty handed! There have been several times when I’ve left a thrift store without purchasing anything. It’s perfectly okay to leave behind whatever you don’t love or have a use for.
Check over what you’re interested in buying to make sure there aren’t hidden stains, tears, or cracks.
8. Shop off-season
When it comes to thrift shopping clothes or seasonal decor, off-season is your best bet. Check out the winter coats in July, and the Christmas decorations in February. The store may have more inventory, or lowered the price to clear it out.
9. Look for items to repurpose
Be creative when thrift shopping. Many items can be repurposed into something other than their original intention. Be sure to check out the framed art as well. While the actual art might be hideous, the frame itself could be really nice or valuable.
10. Befriend the employees
It’s always important to be kind, and the workers at thrift shops may receive less kindness than usual.
In addition to spreading goodwill (no pun intended, hehe), befriending the thrift shop employees can work in your favor. You can ask them when the store restocks their inventory, as well as when they mark things down.
11. Test electronics before you buy
Find (or ask for) an outlet so that you can plug in any electronic item you’re interested in purchasing. You don’t want to get home and be disappointed.
12. Join their loyalty club or email list
Many thrift shops have loyalty programs you can take advantage of. I belong to Goodwill’s Club Blue, and they email me once a month with a calendar of their sale dates. They sometimes also send coupons for specific days. And once I spend $100 (over time), I’ll get $5 off my next purchase.
13. Have a use in mind
If you can’t think of a specific way you’ll use what you’re planning to buy, it’s probably best not to bring it home. You don’t want your home to start looking like an episode of Hoarders, just because you couldn’t resist all the great thrift store prices.
14. Look for items with retail tags still attached
If you’re a bit uncomfortable wearing clothes that someone has already worn, look for clothes with their store tags still attached. I see this ALL the time. Maybe it was a gift that the recipient didn’t like, or just something they bought and never wore. Whatever the reason, there’s massive savings in store for you.
15. Search for coupons
Before going thrift shopping, do a quick online search for coupons. And be sure to look through the local sales flyers that come in the mail, because they often have coupons for thrift shops in your area. I’ve seen everything from $5 off $25 to as much as 50% off an entire purchase.
Stacking your savings is always the secret to scoring the best deals.
16. Donate your own items regularly
Donating to your local thrift shops is important for several reasons. It contributes to the health of the thrift store – they survive on donated goods. It also feels good to give back to a place you appreciate.
Making space in your home or closet is always crucial before you start bringing in more stuff. Cleaning out your closet will also give you a better idea of what you’re still in need of.
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17. Consider reselling thrifted items to make a little profit
I’ve known several people who do this. One lady shopped at thrift shops and garage sales, and resold her vintage and antique finds on Etsy. A couple other women resell brand name clothing they thrift on Poshmark or at local consignment shops.
18. Have fun and be creative
If you’re on a budget or decorating a new home, don’t get discouraged if you can’t find complete matching sets. Your home will be more personalized and eclectic when you’ve hand-chosen a variety of interesting elements.
The same goes for your wardrobe. Instead of showing up to work or a gathering in the same sweater as two other people, your outfits will be more interesting and individual. Plus, when someone compliments what you’re wearing, you can brag how little you paid for it.
19. Check the books, furniture, and housewares sections
Furniture and housewares are some of the best items to buy at thrift stores. I’ve also had luck with books. I can’t imagine paying full retail price for a book, but thrift shops are a great place to look (especially on extra discount days!).
I love looking through the cookbooks whilst thrift shopping. I recently found an awesome bread machine recipe book. There are usually plenty of modern, recently-published ones available, but the old ones are especially fun to flip through.
20. Know how the store is arranged
It’s also helpful to understand how your favorite thrift shop is organized. The Salvation Army nearest me has their clothing arranged by color. Goodwill organizes theirs by type – long sleeved shirts together, sweaters together, etc. All thrift stores seem to separate clothes into Mens’, Women’s, and Kids’ sections.
21. Wear clothes conducive to trying stuff on
Many thrift stores do have fitting rooms, but just in case you’re unsure, wear easily removable layers. That way, you can quickly try something on right over your clothes if necessary.
If there are dressing rooms, you’ll want to be able to try things on more efficiently.
22. Be aware of what you shouldn’t buy thrift
Stuffed animals, helmets, kids’ car seats, or bathing suits and underwear are not ideal items to buy at a thrift store, for health and safety reasons. Just use your common sense and consider what items are better purchased new.
23. Know what you’re supporting
Many thrift shops support specific charities. If you have an organization you feel strongly about, check to see if they have any thrift stores or rummage sales. Even if you feel that some of their prices are higher than they should be, remember that it’s going to a good cause.
Some thrift stores are privately owned and for profit. It’s just helpful to know the difference.
24. Know the return policy
Just like any other store, thrift shops have return policies. Commonly, they accept returns within 7 days for store credit only. Check with your store to find out their specific policy. And make sure you like what you’re buying enough to not regret your purchase a few days later.
25. Thrift shop on vacation
For some reason, thrift shopping on vacation is particularly fun! Maybe because they’re stores you’ve never been to, or because they might be full of merchandise not available in your hometown.
Either way, if you have some downtime on vacation, consider checking out some thrift shops. The items you buy will be particularly memorable!
26. Check out thethriftshopper.com
This website is so awesome! It’s a national thrift store directory, so just type in your zip code, and it gives you a full list of thrift shops in your area. It also includes the stores’ hours, their distance from you, and reviews. So convenient! When I first searched my zip code, I was so surprised how many more thrift stores were near me than I realized.
27. Thrift shop online
I really hope you enjoyed these thrift store shopping tips! I’d love to hear how your latest thrift store shopping trip went!