Shop at a thrift store like a pro

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I’ve spent a LOT of time in thrift stores over the years.  Afterall, I used to own one for goodness sake.  To think about all the hours I’ve spent browsing for items to resale and manning my own store, well…it’s way too many to count.  

Having spent a great deal of time with passionate thrifters, I have acquired helpful knowledge on how to make the most out of a thrifting trip. Over the years I have used these tips to discover many treasures that I’ve kept for myself and sold for substantial money.

You may be wondering what the key is to successful thrift store shopping. Do any special techniques exist to help in the search for the best deals? The answer is both yes and no. Let’s dive in and discuss the 30 ways you can shop at a thrift store like a pro.

Can You Really be “Proficient” at Thrifting?

Generally, having knowledge of various brands and product types will increase your chances of finding desirable items while thrifting. Nevertheless, it is also important to select the right thrift stores and spend a lot of time perusing the store.

Those with plenty of time to dedicate to thrifting are more likely to have success in finding the best thrift stores and uncovering great items. Conversely, those who are only able to visit thrift stores occasionally will have a tougher time consistently finding items of exceptional quality.

It is essential to be aware of the brands of apparel to target and the kinds of high-value items that can be sourced from second hand stores . This will certainly help you go further than the majority of people.

My Top 30 Tips to Shop at a Thrift Store

1. Explore Thrift Stores

No two thrift stores are alike. 

It is often suggested that one should explore large thrift stores located in well-off neighborhoods. The theory is that the wealthy citizens in the vicinity will have parted with their costly items. Nevertheless, this is not always the case.

I have had the most luck with my thrift store deals at small, family-owned shops or the Goodwill Outlet. This way, I can avoid having to pay extra at the larger stores, as well as the crowds.

In my opinion, it’s worth taking the time to explore any thrift shop you come across. I strongly believe that every single one of them holds a hidden gem that’s just waiting to be discovered.

2. Communicate With Employees

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had a contact who works in a thrift store to provide you with top-notch items? Well, in that case, thrift store staff could be the perfect people to help you out!

By developing a good rapport with thrift store personnel, one can enjoy a number of benefits. I’ve experienced employees being willing to venture to the back of the store to look for items on my behalf, as well as alerting me when certain items have been put in the return to shelf cart.

It is important that you do not ask the employees to do anything that would be in violation of their rules, as this could potentially lead to them getting fired.  Certain thrift stores have stricker rules than others so always be respectful if an employee declines your request.

3. Familiarize Yourself With The Restocking Timetable

Unless you are aware of the refreshing times of the thrift shops you frequent, you may be neglecting the chance to find some extraordinary deals. Many thrift stores restock regularly during the day, though some may mainly restock in the early hours, with certain items such as shoes being replenished in the afternoon.

When the thrift cart was brought out, I typically had the best luck with what I discovered. It’s a guarantee that other people are aware of the schedule and, if you don’t show up, there won’t be anything for you to take!

Gaining information on the restocking schedule is as easy as inquiring from the person who is taking care of it. This is not a confidential matter and chances are they will give you more details than you initially requested. This little tidbit of information will give you the advantage to shop at a thrift store like the pro you are and snag those awesome deals.

sales are one of the ways to save money shopping at thrift stores
Suit sale half price

4. Shop on Discount Days

Some thrift stores offer discount days.  For instance, a few stores I like to frequent have days where a specific color price sticker is on sale.  Mondays blue stickers are 20% off, etc.  These discount days can be great for picking up items that you love but don’t want to pay full price.

Larger thrift store chains offer email and text message savings too.  The Habitat for Humanity in my area has a point program where every time you make a purchase you get xx amount of points and earn a percentage off once you hit a specific amount.  Knowing the details of sale days and savings programs at your preferred thrift store can help you to find even better deals!

5. Inspect The Clothes Racks By The Dressing Room

It’s an obvious fact that people try on clothes in sizes that they think will fit them.  However, it’s often overlooked that the clothes that don’t fit people or they decide not to purchase are put back on a rack by the dressing rooms.  Don’t focus on the size you wear but rather on good deals on name brand items, if you’re looking for resale value.   If it’s for you then by all means shop your size and hopefully find a treasure that someone else couldn’t wear.

6. Dive Deeper

Obviously you like pre-owned items or you wouldn’t be shopping in a thrift store.  But I’ve noticed some people are a little, okay a lot, snooty or stuck up and act like they’re better than other people.  I say whatever because  1) I don’t care what other people think.  Like Gary Odman said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” 2) Jokes on them if I buy something and resell it, making lots of $$. If you’re interested in learning how to buy and resell items read this first.

Individuals of that kind (the snooty ones, I mean) are seldom come across remarkable things. Take the plunge and dive deep into those bins, shelves, racks, whatever! Last laugh will be on the stuck up people, I promise.

Those of us that take the time to look through the goods are rewarded with finding deals and steal (not really stealing – just a really, really great deal that you felt like you stole away because you got such a good deal on it).  

Be bold and remain dedicated. The effort will pay off in the end!

7. Listen to Your Intuition

Trust your emotions and gut instinct to guide decision-making.  If you see an item that you have a gut instinct about but no cell service to look it up…buy it!  Listening to my intuition has almost always paid off for me.

I’m not a fan of rummaging through thrift store bins touching all of the clothes to find name brand apparel or reading the label on every single purse on the racks.  My time is valuable so my strategy is to observe signs of quality, pattern, and feeling of each bag.

Fossil and Coach bags have a look, feel, and quality that you can spot from a distance.  There’s no need to look through every item if you know the type of quality you’re looking for in advance.

Can you expect to solve all your problems with this approach? Not necessarily, but it can be very beneficial if you have limited time!

8. Develop Familiarity with Your Brand

If you are a person who prefers to buy from certain brands, you can benefit from becoming more familiar with various brands. Get to know the top brands in the categories your shopping.  There’s a huge difference in quality and resale value between a $15 pair of jeans and a $150 pair of jeans.  Become familiar with the characteristics of each so you can quickly tell the difference.

If you’re looking for great deals, take a look brand guides to see the top-notch items that you can usually locate in thrift stores.

9. Consider Reselling Your Items

If you’re a fan of thrifting, you might consider reselling any items you find at these stores. This could enhance the joy of searching through the thrift store, while also giving you a larger thrifting budget!

It’s important to understand the in’s and out’s of the market when reselling.  Just because you love an item doesn’t mean someone else will.  Afterall, an item is only worth what someone will pay you for it! Read our guide to buy and resell items from thrift stores for an inside scoop.

10. Keep a List

I carry around a list of items I’m looking for and measurements if necessary.  For instance, I’ve been looking for a bathroom mirror to replace the square one in my guest bathroom for what seems like forever.  I have the measurements written down on a piece of paper and I carry a small measuring tape with me so I can make informed choices when I’m out shopping.  It’s terrible to fall in love with an item and get it home all excited only to find out it’s too big/small for the space you planned.

11. Patience is Key

Success in finding great items at thrift stores won’t happen instantly, and that’s to be expected. Don’t give up though! With continual visits, you will eventually uncover the perfect pieces for your list.

12. Refrain from Fixating on Particular Items

There are a few items, like my bathroom mirror mentioned above, that I’ve been searching for unsuccessfully for a while.  I also have items that I always look for.  I love bunny rabbits so I look for unique or rare looking bunnies for the yard, in pictures, etc.  I could go on with my list but hopefully you get the point.  These pieces are not necessarily rare, but they have proved to be very difficult to find, mainly because I’m picky. LOL

Thrifting is the thrill of the hunt so don’t get discouraged if you don’t find what you’re looking for quickly.  Try to slow down and enjoy the experience while you shop at a thrift store.

13. Check Items Closely

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten excited to find a name-brand item and put it in my cart only to realize upon further inspection that it has stains, tears, rips, or discolorations.

I usually fill my basket then carefully inspect each item for any tears, check the zippers, chips on plates/cups/glassware, and the like before paying.

Some stores may offer to exchange items but many have an all sales final policy.  Check your items before you leave the store so you don’t have to worry about returns.

14. Real vs Fake Items

I have had the luck to discover genuine Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Supreme, etc. items at thrift stores, but the number of counterfeits I have encountered is much higher than the amount of authentics I have spotted.

Though thrift stores do not guarantee the legitimacy of their products, they still charge high prices for counterfeit ones. Therefore, you should look into an item thoroughly before investing money into it.

15. Be a Fixer

If you have the know-how to clean/repair items you can acquire great pieces that others have disregarded.  Examples include sewing small tears, fixing zippers, getting out small stains, refinishing table tops to get rid of watermarks, replacing screws, and fixing electronics and clocks.

Having the ability to take care of minor clothing repairs, like stain removal and button-sewing, can broaden your opportunities when searching for items. Shop at a thrift store with new-found confidence when you have more choices knowing you can fix small imperfections or fix small details.

It is possible to outsource the task of fixing up items but beware of the expense as it can get costly. I’ve heard of people purchasing second-hand high-end dress shoes and then having new soles put on them for a much lower cost.

16. Consider Whether It’s Truly A Bargain

Most people love to shop at a thrift store because they can yield some excellent bargains, though there is a chance of getting scammed.

The employees responsible for pricing are sometimes not save about prices or don’t have time to do proper research on an item.

The shelves of Goodwill offer a variety of second-hand items.  I’ve personally seen Dollar Tree items for $2.99 each.  Or clothes from Walmart that originally cost $5-$7 priced at $9.99.

It is important to remain aware that many items can be purchased at a good price if bought new from retail stores, especially if you’re shopping sales and using coupons. Therefore, it is important to understand the market and not overpay for items.  If I can buy something brand new for less than used I will always do it.

17. Keep Your Belongings Close

When I shop at a thrift store I don’t dress to impress.  If it’s cold outside I wear a jacket but not my North Face jacket.  Why do you ask?  Because inevitably I’ll get hot, take my jacket off and put it in my cart.  If I leave my cart unattended for even a second, someone might come by and try to “shop” my cart and take my jacket!  Don’t laugh, it’s actually happened to me.  I learned this lesson the hard way.

Pay attention to where you place your purse when in a large second hand store. It is not uncommon for items to be lost or stolen due to the sheer number of products available.  I use a crossbody purse to make it easier for me to keep up with it, keep my hands free, and deter theft.

18. Check Out All the Sizes

If you have the opportunity, don’t just check out your size of clothing.  It could be worth taking a look at the other sizes and gender’s racks too! Many times I’ve encountered clothing that has been mislabeled in terms of size, put in the wrong place, or just randomly placed by someone who was not paying attention.

19. If in Doubt, Put it in Your Shopping Cart

If you come across an item at a thrift store, you must make a decision immediately if you want it or not, as it may be your only chance to get it.

The opportunity to locate an item before somebody else does is virtually non-existent. On multiple occasions, I had to abandon my search for an item, only to return and find it already in another person’s shopping cart.

If you are in doubt, keep the item. Later on, you can always return it.

20. Hygiene

Hand sanitizer and gloves are both effective in helping to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. Washing your hands thoroughly and wearing gloves can help reduce the chances of catching or transmitting illnesses.

Not all thrift stores are bad; some launder and clean their items before putting them up for sale. In contrast, the majority of them merely put their products on the shelves without cleaning them up.

If I am looking to purchase unsorted items or clothing by the pound when thrifting, I always make sure to put on a pair of gloves. And always be aware of smells.  I’ve found that some of the items sold at bin thrift stores are wet and moldy.  I’m looking at you Goodwill. Yuck!

21. Shop Online

If you have never shopped thriftily on the internet, you are in for a pleasant surprise!

At Goodwill’s eBay stores, shoppers can find a variety of unique and fascinating items that were donated to the organization.

It is always an idea to try out online thrift stores if the physical ones around you are inaccessible. 

23. Refrain From Purchasing Certain Items 

I recommend that you refrain from a few things, which I personally stay away from.

  • Baby furniture such as car seats and bouncers. It is not recommended to purchase these items from a thrift store as they may not have been properly inspected or have recall notices. This is why most thrift stores do not accept these items as donations.
  • Underwear. It is probably best to avoid buying second hand undergarments. 
  • Food items that are hard to clean. You should be careful about buying kitchen items such as pressure cookers and water bottle valves, as they may have spots that are difficult to clean and could be a breeding ground for mold.
  • Items with missing stickers. If the item has no sticker it is impossible to know if it is safe to use in a microwave or dishwasher. It is advisable to avoid these items.

Check out our list of items you should never buy from a thrift store for a more detailed list and explanation.

24. Take Advantage of Off-Season Shopping

When the temperatures decrease, thrift stores tend to run out of coats quickly, so it’s best to go there early to find the best selection.

Make sure to have a list of items that you need for your closet/home and carefully scan the store shelves every time you go shopping.

Shop off season for the best sales.  You can always store the items until the next season you need them.

25. Can You Negotiate?

Mom-and-pop thrift stores, which are essentially permanent flea-markets, can often be negotiated with by the customers.

In certain situations, even bigger second-hand stores can be talked into dropping their prices. If you spot an imperfection on something that seemingly slipped through the cracks of their pricing system, it may be worth asking for a reduction. The manager will have to inspect it and make the ultimate call, but there is no harm in inquiring!

Try clothes on before leaving a thrift store

26. Try Things Out

When you shop at a thrift store, always test items in the store to ensure they work properly before purchasing.  For instance, plug electronics in or up to a TV to test them, turn on lamps, vacuum cleaners, etc.  Hold CD’s and DVD’s up to the light to see scratches.  Roll suitcases in all directions to make sure the wheels don’t stick.  You know how things should work, so make sure they do work before you spend your hard earned money.

27. Seek Out Pieces That Can Be Inexpensively Altered

You may find it hard to believe, but thrift stores are an excellent place to purchase jeans, dress shirts and suits. The major benefit of doing so is that any clothing item which does not fit properly can be taken to a seamstress, who can make it fit better than a brand new item, for a fraction of the cost. Additionally, when you shop at a thrift store you are saving the environment and reusing/recycling clothes than could’ve ended up in the landfill.

28. Take a Test Run

Try things out in order to get an idea of how it works.

When purchasing items from a thrift store, the best advice I can offer is to try them on in the store. Avoid telling yourself that you’ll try them on at home then return them if they don’t fit, as it is likely that you will not end up doing so.

When you shop at a thrift store for clothes, you can expect garments from the last half-century, making it difficult to guess how they will fit. Even if you are familiar with the brand, the fit may not be the same as it once was. To avoid frustration, it is best to try on the clothes before making a purchase.

29. Benefit From Other People’s Bargain Purchases

It might be difficult to locate the exact item you are seeking, yet an idea that could be of help: someone else may have already come across it and is now trying to resell it through eBay or a similar website. You can still shop at a thrift store and support your favorite charity just in an online format. There are several charity based organizations that are adding an online shopping experience for their customers now.

If you are looking for a particular product at a discounted cost, purchasing it from a second-hand seller is a wonderful option.

If you are limited to buying only from eBay, you may want to try shopping around for better deals. Additionally, you can take advantage of our links to receive free coupons – how neat!

Postmark is an online selling/buying platform for clothes, shoes, jewelry and handbags. They have interesting and sometimes harder to find items which can be fun to shop. If you join Poshmark, make sure to use our invite code “GLAMANDTAN” for a $10 credit on your purchase.

30. Empty Handed

It’s perfectly all right if you don’t uncover anything while you shop at a thrift store! My best advice for you is to keep trying and come back. I have had numerous occasions in which I have gone thrift shopping and not bought anything.

It is far better to go home without a purchase than to spend money on something that is of no use to you.

There will always be plenty of deals another day!

In Conclusion

That’s it for my top advice on making the most of your thrift-shopping experience! It’s really not a complicated process – just go to a thrift store, discover items you like, then make a purchase. But if you really want to find something outstanding, or even resell something you’ve found, hopefully these suggestions will help you take your thrifting to the next level. Don’t forget to read our guide to buying and reselling items for more information. Best of luck as you shop at a thrift store for your next gem!

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