Thrift store shopping tips including how to thrift shop, what to look for at thrift stores and helpful tools to take with you while thrift store shopping.
I compiled a list of my top thrift store shopping tips for you, because thrifting is my life. OK, that might be pushing it a bit, but I do like to get my thrift on!
When I was a kid my mom dragged me into thrift stores kicking and screaming. It definitely wasn't my favorite place to hang out, because what 10 year old loves to look through piles of "old" clothes. At that point in time, I'd rather be playing Kick The Can with the neighborhood kids or just about anything other than shopping with my mom!
It wasn't until I was out of college and money was tight that I popped back into a thrift store to look for some deals on furniture for my first apartment. I started looking around and I FELL IN LOVE with all the cool stuff and all the cool prices!
If only I had realized how fun thrift store shopping could be when I was a kid!
So although I missed out on a good 15 years of thrift store shopping, I have more than made up for it since!
TOP TEN THRIFT STORE SHOPPING TIPS:
1) Keep your mind open
If you go in the thrift store looking for a vintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera, then chances are you will be highly disappointed. You might not come away with exactly what you had been looking for, but there are still finds to be had so keep your eyes peeled and your mind open to new possibilities.
2) Go often
I have good days and I have bad days. Just because a store is a dud one day doesn't mean that a person isn't going to drop off a outstanding donation at that same store tomorrow.
3) Go early
But not necessarily when they first open. I find if I go first thing when they open the shelves are a little bare. You've got to give the employees a chance to get the newly donated items priced and onto the shelves.
4) You can find the best stuff on Mondays and Tuesdays
People will clean out their garages over the weekend and then drop off stuff to the thrift stores the first of the week. (Or if you are like me, keep it stored in the back of my van for a month or two and drop it off when I get tired of the crystal lamp rolling around back there). Late afternoon Mondays and Tuesdays are prime thrift store shopping time!
5) Location, location, location
I've found the best stuff in thrift stores in older neighborhoods. Older neighborhoods have older people and older people have the cool vintage stuff that I love (and to them it is just old stuff).
If you thrift for clothing and newer items, then maybe the thrift stores closer to the higher end neighborhoods would get you better results.
6) Avoid the fancy Goodwill stores
The ones that are filled with lots of new merchandise donated by stores. They have very few items donated by actual people and what they do have is very much curated by employees. Only the highest quality stuff makes it on the shelves. I prefer the thrift stores that pretty much put out anything that gets donated and let me decide if I want it or not!
7) Travel outside your normal area occasionally
Now with gas prices sky rocketing I won't be doing this too often, but I'll certainly stop by if I'm on that side of town for something else.
8) Be friendly and get to know your local thrift store employees
If you find a favorite thrift store and frequent it often, you'll get to know the workers. My local store workers have given me tips on when the best times to shop there are, alerted me to future sale days and have even dragged something out of the back room that they thought I'd like.
9) Once you know a thrift store, you can be in and out in 5 minutes
I know where to go to see what I am interested in. I don't dawdle. If they have nothing interesting that day I'm off to the next one down the road.
10) A bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or car is a good thing
Thrift stores do not clean things up or wash them prior to putting them on the shelves. I tend to pick stuff up to examine them, so my hands get a little grimy.
Speaking of hand sanitizer, I've made a list of things below I like to keep in my purse while out thrifting!
Bonus Thrift Store Shopping Tips:
11) Bring some cash
Not all thrift stores accept credit cards. I know it's hard to believe, but I find some of the smaller, mom and pop thrifts are cash only! And you do not want to be out of cash when you find that mid-century modern sofa of your dreams.
12)Beware of impulse buys
We've all been there. You see a really cool vintage thermos that you want to buy, but do you really need another thermos for your collection? Of course you do!
13)Wear appropriate clothing
If you are shopping for clothing, remember that not all thrift stores have dressing rooms, so wear something form fitting so that you can easily try on other clothing over what you're wearing.
What To Look For At Thrift Stores:
- Anything jadeite
- Vintage globes
- Anything Mid-Century Modern - furniture, bar ware or clothing
- Colorful Pyrex pieces
- Vintage luggage
- Vintage cameras
- Cool looking vintage typewriters
- Paint By Number paintings
- Classic vintage thermoses
- Hudson Bay Point Blankets
Things To Bring With You When Thrift Store Shopping:
- Tape Measure to measure that piece of furniture to make sure it will fit in your space at home
- Flashlight to examine the items more closely
- Screwdriver in case you need to remove a mirror or legs from a piece of furniture
- Batteries to test to see if those battery operated items still work
- Hand Sanitizer to keep yourself clean and tidy
- Jewelers Loupe to inspect items for maker's marks and to inspect jewelry
- Magnets to test for sterling silver - magnets generally do not stick to sterling, but would stick to silverplate
- Old Blanket Or Towel to line your trunk for when you find that HUGE piece of furniture
Have fun and get out and enjoy some thrifting.
What about you, do you have any thrift store tips to add?
Other related posts:
- Interested in having your own yard sale with all your thrift store hauls? Run over and check out my 40 Yard Sale Tips For Hosting Your Own Sale (my readers are always adding more tips to the list, so if I'm missing something let me know and I'll add it).
- In A Letter To All Thrift Store Workers I discuss a little thrift store pet peeve of mine.
- And I let you in on what I've looking for at yard sales this year in my Top 5 Things To Look For At Yard Sales This Year
(This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. You can read my full disclosure policy here.)
Great tips!! I need to find the older neighborhoods. I try to remember to bring a tape measure as well if looking for certain dimensions ????
A friend turned me on to an app allowing smartphones to take measurements.
I tried it.
Just in case you forgot your tape measure.
What??? I never thought to use one of those apps. Thanks for suggesting it!
I love thrift stores.And Senior citzens day..! At most stores. So dont forget to get your discounts.It makes a big difference.Every little bit counts.
OMGosh! I love your "Tape Letter" ... How many times have I literally ~ almost tearfully =(. passed up a woooonnnnderful item just because it was ruined by their tape happy employees?!?
Another of my pet peeves is that invariably my most desired found objects are MISSING their TAGS. How can this be possible? But now that they know me and my gal pals, they will often break their rule and price it right then, instead of starting it back through the "system" at "Go" ... !!!
Great tips, Pam ... Makes me want to go thrifting right this minute!
As far as goodwill's go I think it depends on your location because here goodwill's have gotten me Brownies, Polaroids, a medium format Mamiya, bizarre dolls, mounted butterflies, a wardrobe of vintage clothing, etc... So I'm not sure if it can really be a rule to stick by vs a play it how you see it type thing. I do hate how all places thought seem to be using the internet to price and then end up pricing items higher then they would ever go in normal retail.
When I shop in a thrift store, I always look beyond the grime for an item's potential. Picked up many lovely things this way. And please don't try to haggle with thrift shops that are supporting a good cause. If anything, let them round up your total and let them keep the change. They need your support. Goodwill is no longer on my list of shops as all the stores in my area are owned by resellers so they pick out all the good stuff. In about a dozen visits, I never found anything worth what they were charging. Not sure what their vision is any more.
Great idea about rounding up! When I go to church rummage sales in the spring (it's a big deal around here), they hardly ever price their stuff correctly. I bought a Hull Pottery vase for a quarter one time. Well, not really, when I got to the check-out lady I donated $20 to the church to make up for their weird pricing 🙂 I would have felt like I was stealing it for just a quarter.
Great tips - some things I never really thought of. Plus I love your humor! ? Thanks.
Thank you! I try to make people smile 🙂
I think these are great tips! However, I live in Los Angeles and there aren't many "old" things or older towns here. The prices are high, in my opinion. I have great success when I visit family in upstate NY, but I can't go as frequently as I like. Any suggestions? Thanks!
They have that flea market at the Rose Bowl. I've never been, a little far for me :), but I know other people rave about it.
You had great tips. Your finds are amazing!! I have finally started having success at thrift stores. I got tired of bloggers showing off all the amazing stuff they'd find...while my store smelled bad and featured a lot of miss-matched knock-off brand plastic containers. Our best local store has a big sign that says they need donations and a phone number for pickup. They have a huge amount of donations and every now and then they put boxes out in the parking lot and let you dig through them --first crack!!! I know the names of my store people and I take them newspapers that they use to wrap breakables in....:)
That would be so exciting to get to dig in those boxes before they've been sorted!!! You're living the dream 🙂
I would also heavily inspect your items before purchasing them. There's nothing more distressing as a thrift store shopper than taking home something only to find that it's broken/ripped beyond repair. If you think you can fix it or you're okay with whatever is wrong go for it but know what you're going to buy before you buy it
When I went to our Salvation army store drop off section, I saw so many vintage items and furniture. Plaid blankets, old wood bird cages, beautiful lamps and more. I inquired as to when these items will make it to the front section and I was told that they actually will be loaded on a truck going to another Salvation army store in a bigger city that is an hour away. I was quite disappointed as our store doesn't have much in vintage or collectible items, it has a nice selection of clothes but every time I dropped off stuff, I see so many awesome items. I did ask the ladies working there if they get to buy anything before it is shipped out and I was told they were not allowed. So I guess a road trip to Binghampton's Salvation army store is in the future. PS My mother in law was boxing up her brother's never been worn pajamas and shirts in their original packaging. One in particular heavy so she took it out of the plastic and found $13,000.00!!! She said she went through more of his never worn clothes and found quite the stash, however she had no idea how much she had already dropped off in her first trip to the donation center. When I asked the crew at our store if they ever found money, I was told they can't answer that....Hmmm.
One of the Goodwill stores close to here only has newer items. No vintage at all and they do the same thing - ship it off to a larger store 🙁 And, wow! That's a ton of money to stuff in his clothes! It probably made perfect sense to him when he was doing it though!!!
I live in a part of the U.S. where winters can be brutal. I like 100% wool or down coats. Poly blends don't cut it when its 10 below 0 windchill! I have gotten my most stylish and best quality coats by hitting Volunteers of America in August, September when they start pushing fall wear. They don't put these out during spring/summer but people continue donating them all year, so shopping early for autumn gives you best pick of what has collected over the warm seasons.
I live near 2 Goodwill, , 1 is okay, the other really good ! My recent best finds ? Leather indoor soccer shoes, almost new ! for $20, great for every day wear as the mini cleats don't damage floors (retail $80- $120 !) A long scarf for $10.00, still had the original price tag on it for $69 ! A nice heavy duty canvas cross body bag , $10 ! Retail $30 and up. 5 nice wooden white dining room chairs, $4.99 each ! Nice ladies jeans , 7.99. A beautiful warm cashmere sweater $12.00. I try to visit once a week, and keep an open mind. You just never know what you're going to find !!
Here's a tip if, like me, you donate more than you shop. Box up those unwanted holiday items and label them "Donations October". I dropped off some items at our local Teen Challenge store in January. They thanked me most sincerely when I gave them the good news that none of them were Christmas decorations and that I would be back in the fall with two boxes currently stored in a hall closet.
I LOVE this post! Sounds just like what I would be thinking. As a fellow thrift store addict you had some really new and good advice I hadn't thought of (aside from the hand sanitizer lol). Thanks a bunch!
I love your post! As a fellow thrift store junky myself I learned a few new tricks I haven't thought of yet (aside from the hand sanitizer lol).
Thanks a bunch!
If any of you visit Florida, (at least along the east coast) there are many Goodwill stores not far off 95. You will find all kinds of things because there are a lot of fancy neighboods but also a lot of older people who have bought all kinds of goodies they do feel is just "old stuff".
Also people who are just downsizing so they can travel or whatever. We have Salvation army stores too but other than that they are all stand alone shops. It is fun to get to know some of the owners and drop your donations at the stores that you have the most fun shopping at.
Loved your tips and humor too as everyone seems to but I have to ask...what are the magnets in your purse for? Lol
I like to carry a small blacklight flashlight to shine on Vaseline glass. If itlights up, its the real deal.
I know that this is a pretty old post but I would still like to say thank you for this tip because a friend and I were discussing how I might be able to recognize this type of glass, thanks!
It works best on the greener uranium glass. You're welcome, happy treasure hunting!
I make sure I have band aids. Picked up too many items with sharp edges in the past.