Thrift store shopping might seem a little hit or miss, but with a little planning, some basic organization, and some easy tricks, you can be thrifting successfully in no time! I've asked the thrifting experts I know for their best advice for you. Keep reading to find their best tips on how to shop for thrift store treasures. We hope these thrift store shopping secrets and tips will help you save money and live more "green". Buying secondhand is great for your wallet and our planet.
12 Tips for Shopping Thrift Stores
- Go often.
- Make a list of what you need or want before going to the store.
- Check store hours and arrive early for the best selection. Be friendly with the staff so you can find out when new items are stocked in the various departments.
- Investigate which days are best for sales and discounts.
- Inspect items carefully before purchasing. If your item is powered by electricity, ask if you can plug it in to test it.
- Check items for damage and missing pieces.
- Try on clothes before buying.
- Know the prices of items you want to buy before you go. Perhaps you can set a personal limit for items you look for routinely.
- Be open to finding unexpected treasures. If you're looking for clothing, it doesn't hurt to stop by the furniture department for a new chair.
- Know the store's return policy.
- Don't be too shy to ask for a discount.
- Bring reusable bags for your purchases.
- Bonus tip! Purge before you go, and drop off a donation while you're there!
Next, let's talk about a few places where you can pick up second hand items.
11 Places to Pick up Used Bargains for Home Decor and More
- Goodwill Stores
- Animal Charities
- Veteran's Charity
- The Salvation Army
- Habitat for Humanity ReStore
- St. Vincent de Paul
- Privately-Owned Thrift Stores (such as Peddlers Mall, or Vendor Malls)
- Garage Sales - Yard Sales
- Estate Sales
How many of those 11 places can you check off? I clearly don't take advantage of all of the thrift store shopping options in my city.
You can search for and read reviews at The Thrift Shopper.com. It is a very handy reference where you can search your city, or even a city where you may be vacationing soon. You do go thrift store shopping while you're out of town, right?
What to Know Before You Go Thrift Shopping
Sometimes I like to browse thrift shops just for the experience. However, I do go on a mission sometimes, looking just for the perfect table, lamp, chair etc. I recommend having a game plan, setting a budget, and even a time limit when you go thrift store shopping.
If you go in, knowing your limit is $5 and you only have 30 minutes, you're more apt to be successful! The budget amount and the time limit will help eliminate an impulse buy, and keep you from dragging things home you don't need.
Many of these items were upcycled fairly quickly, others probably fall under the "impulse buy" and are still waiting in storage.
By having a $5 limit, I can quickly and easily decide if I want to drag something home.
Sometimes, you really have to dig through items at thrift stores that are bulging at the seams.
Furnishing a New Home With Vintage Finds
There is a lot of controversy (in the world of thrifters) about pricing these days. And the truth is, thrift store prices can be all over the place- sometimes high, sometimes a steal. And if you're thrift store shopping for YOU or your own home (i.e., not to resell), then don't think like a reseller- think like a curator. Overpaying or underpaying for items that you truly love will happen no matter what. It all comes down to your spending comfort level and which pieces you can and can't live without.
What is The Best Day for Bargains?
I also recommend thrift store shopping during the work week, as opposed to a Saturday (or Sunday, if it's open). Of course, this isn't always easy for folks with a standard work schedule! But, you stand a much better chance of available/unique inventory if you shop when it's less crowded. Plus, the employees will be less frazzled if you want to chat them up and build a rapport- which never hurts, especially at small thrift stores.
Here is my best link that talks about how our decor style has changed; what we've purchased; and what we've paid (!! which is something my readers ALWAYS WANT TO KNOW): Furnishing a New Home with Thrift Store Vintage Finds
Favorite Thrift Store Finds
I remember my first visit to the Thrift Store. It was 20 years ago. We had just moved to Alabama. I stumbled upon America’s Thrift Store. Little did I know that the place would spark an interest that would grow into a business and a passion that would continue to impact my life even to this day.
I suspect that my love of "things" began when I was 6 or 7. I would spend every Saturday night at my grandmom's. Mom Mom was an Avon Lady with an extensive inventory and a fabulous collection of antique salt and pepper shakers. I would inspect every item on every shelf at every visit. My dad was an accomplished DIY craftsman. I spent alot of time watching him complete projects around our home or putter around his basement workshop. The result is my passion for vintage things and DIY.
What fascinated me then still fascinates me now and unfailingly inspires me to return. Though I don’t frequent the thrift store as often as I did when I had my antiques and consignment store, I stop in to get a fix and a treasure or two or ten. The thrill is always invigorating and the passion for old things reignited. I am sharing my 10 main reasons for thrift store shopping. Some of them might surprise you!
Tips for the Nashville Flea Market and More
I thrift because it’s a great way to find budget décor for my home. Items I can upcycle or repurpose are what catch my eye. Making over my finds so they are unique and not something you would find in a big box store is the fun part!
The yellow painted plant box with faux hydrangea stems is one of my favorite thrifty makeovers. I painted and stenciled a wood box I found at the thrift store and then added the hydrangeas which were also a thrift store find.
In general, I suggest shopping at your local thrift stores weekly. Most have discount days for senior citizens, students, and Military personnel. You might fit one of those categories or there may be other discounts for special groups in your area. It never hurts to ask about discounts!
Some thrift stores discount merchandise by tag color on certain days of the week. One day yellow tags might be discounted 50% and the next day green tagged merchandise might be discounted. Who can pass up a good discount?
If you like old or antique items, the Nashville Flea Market is the perfect shopping place. Or maybe you have a local flea market in your area. I found a pair of small antique cabinet doors at the flea market and decorated my home with them for years.
They made an appearance on my mantel for many seasonal displays. Spend a few days this month in your local thrift stores, junk shops, and flea markets. You will be glad you did.
Buying Artwork at Thrift Stores
I’ve been a big fan of thrift store art for years. It’s a fabulous way to save money and give a unique look to your home. Many times, items can work on their own and carry a given space like in the nook of our guest room. If you have a larger space in mind like a gallery wall, you may have to spend a bit of time collecting.
Art is very personal. It is one of the first areas of the thrift store that I gravitate to when shopping. It is often full of overlooked hidden treasures. I have found numerous oils that may look dated due to the frame. Frames can be a diamond in the rough. They are an easy makeover. It can be as simple as a little spray paint, touch of Rub’n Buff or a fabulous, layered paint technique.
It's all About the Picture Frame
I’ve been known to purchase art just for the bones of a frame. I may re-donate the art and store the frame for another project. Other times, I have used the frame and matting while replacing the art with something to fit my décor like this European look for my daughter’s apartment. In a nutshell, check out thrift store art! It doesn’t have to be a perfect work of art.
Keep your eyes out for frames that have potential. Frames and mats can be updated easily. If you like the art, but not the frame…. toss the frame. Sometimes you might even find that unicorn, art that just needs to be cleaned and ready to hang. Have fun shopping and creating a home that is unique to you. It’s also fun to wow friends and family with, “I found that at the thrift store!”
Buying & Selling at a Peddler's Mall
My Repurposed Life
As I mentioned above, because I generally buy to upcycle and resell, my overall limit is $5. That helps me with decisions as well as making a decent profit when I resell. I don't talk much about the retail biz of My Repurposed Life. Just like buying, selling thrift store shopping finds is a hit and miss.
Let's take a quick spin of my $5 (or under) hits!
This 99 cent broken table base got a new lease on life, and was quickly snapped up at my local booth. See the Claw Foot Table Makeover here.
Remember above when I said don't be shy to ask for a discount? These Rose Back Chairs had been $15 for the pair, and I was able to get them for $10. They sold very quickly after I paired them with a thrift store table.
Furniture Flipping using Thrift Store Finds
Thrift store shopping can be a lucrative business if you're a furniture flipper. But sometimes, items that you think will go quickly, linger for months in your booth.
This $10 mirror was over my limit, but I thought it would be an easy makeover and a quick seller. Many times I let my projects cure very well before I take them to my booth. However, it's been months and months, and this little beauty still hasn't found a new home. Even so, it was a great price especially if you're buying something for your own home.
Don't forget to browse local thrift stores while you're out of town. I recently enjoyed thrifting out of town, and I saw this table . . .
Whoa! Can you believe this? At my local White Elephant Vendor's Mall this would be $5! It was a thrift store with a good charity, but the prices were all over the place.
I hope our thrift store shopping secrets and tips help you navigate your next big adventure.
As always, I would love for you to leave a comment below to tell me your best tip, or your very BEST find ever! I love to hear thrifting stories.
Gail Wilson is the author and mastermind behind My Repurposed Life. She is obsessed with finding potential in unexpected places and believes that with a little hard work and imagination, any old thing can be made useful again, including herself!
Gail reinvented herself during a midlife crisis and has found purpose again. She hopes you will find new ideas for old things and pick up a few tools along the way.