Want my best shopping hacks for the best thrift store finds? I’ve been a fan of thrift stores for more than 20 years. In the last 10 years, I’ve flipped items for profit – almost all of them found on the shelves of thrift stores. I love a good thrift store bargain. And you don’t have to be low income to shop there – even those with middle and high incomes can benefit from the bargains at thrift stores.
If you’re new to thrift store shopping, the disorganized shelves and crowded racks can seem intimidating, exhausting, and overwhelming.
But with a few thrift store shopping secrets from a professional thrift store buyer, you can enjoy the thrill of the thrift store hunt and find the best deals possible.
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#1 – Go Often for the Best Selection
Since thrift stores are generally dependent upon donations for items to fill their shelves, what’s there today can’t be counted on tomorrow. The more often you go to thrift stores, the more likely you are to find great thrift store finds for yourself or for resale. Even if you love online thrift stores, you have to check regularly since inventory changes so quickly.
You will probably find more deals with a quick stop in to browse the shelves a few times a week than a thorough scouring of the store once a month.
#2 – Be Nice to Employees and Managers
When you’re shopping at a thrift store, being nice to store associates is the right thing to do. But being nice may also get you clued in to upcoming sales or inventory resets – so you can be the first available to snag desirable deals.
Thrift store employees may also tell you how often stock is rotated – they may rotate all inventory every evening, so going in the morning on a certain day may net you the best thrift store finds.
#3 – Seek Out Special Discounts for Thrift Store Finds
Shopping for things you need at thrift stores usually offers a significant discount over retail. But you might be able to score additional discounts on your thrift store finds if you know how. Try these tips:
- Sign up for email from the store, letting you know about special sale days or coupons.
- Ask if there are everyday military or senior citizen discounts if those apply to you.
- Some stores may allow you to ask for discounts on bulk purchases. Ask the manager if you want to buy a large quantity of items at a thrift store – they may cut you a deal.
#4 – Keep a Shopping List
It can be fun to just wander around a thrift store just to see what’s out there. But if you want to maximize your time and find great deals on a variety of items, keep a “to find” list on your phone or purse of the thrift store items you need.
For example, right now when I go to thrift stores I’m looking for:
- A picture frame with mat to hold my son’s band photos from this year
- A pair of curtains to match my new kitchen wall color
- A funky gift for my mom for Christmas
- Craft supplies
- Black jeans for my husband
I keep current clothing sizes of my family members on my list, along with items I’m currently looking for. That allows me to get the best thrift store finds when I see them.
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#5 – Carry a Thrift Store Shopping Kit
Many thrift stores do not test donated items. So you could end up with an item that doesn’t work and is not eligible for return or store credit.
Keep AA and AAA batteries in your purse and look for an in-store electrical outlet to quickly test electronics before you buy.
It’s also useful to keep a small measuring tape in your purse, so you can measure dimensions and know if any furniture will fit in your home or car. I like this tiny retractable one that takes up very little room in my bag.
#6 – Check Potential Pieces Thoroughly
You can’t rely on the thrift store employees to ensure that the pieces to an item will be included. Many, many people donate stained or ripped clothes or items missing pieces or parts.
Here are a few tips to ensure you’re happy with your thrift store finds:
- Carefully look over any clothing or linen items. Look for stains or holes in the cuffs, armpits, and crotch areas.
- Take the item to a well lit part of the store or use your phone’s flashlight to check for stains.
- Smell clothing to identify any mustiness or funk that may not wash out.
- Evaluate the outer condition of boxed items. You may not want to take a chance on an item in a box that’s water damaged or musty smelling.
- Check books for spine damage or writing/highlighting before purchase.
- Ask to open taped boxes (or find a way to peek inside) of items you want to buy.
- With puzzles and board games, look inside before purchase. Unless the items inside are sealed in plastic, keep in mind you’re likely to be missing some parts.
#7 – Know the Return Policy
Every thrift store’s return policy is different. They may accept items for store credit, they may only offer returns in the first week after purchase, or they may not allow returns at all. Knowing the return policy before you buy will help you avoid frustration.
#8 – Be Willing to Put in Some Elbow Grease
There are amazing deals to be had at thrift stores. Sometimes, though, you can find awesome items that just require a bit of elbow grease.
If you are willing to shine shoes, clean the dust or grease off of an appliance, or run a plush stuffed animal through the washing machine, you’ll be able to score incredible bargains. Be willing to put in some work to make your bargains shine.
#9 – Peruse Pay by the Pound Thrift Stores
If you’ve never shopped at a pay by the pound thrift store or outlet, you’re missing out on incredible bargains and thrift store finds. Pay by the pound thrift stores are by far the best bang for your buck when it comes to thrift store deals.
Typically, pay by the pound outlets assign one price to everything (like $1.00 a pound) or different rates for different categories ($0.50 per pound for glass and $1.50 per pound for clothes). You might find items stacked up in large cardboard boxes or you might have to reach into large open bins.
Pay by the pound outlets (Goodwill has these around the country, as do other thrift store chains) are often the last stop before items are sent to a landfill or textile recycling so there are incredible deals.
When shopping these outlets, you have to be willing to dig and maybe even get dirty. Many people wear protective gloves, because you could easily cut yourself on broken glass.
Other shoppers at certain stores may even be overzealous (read: pushy and aggressive) when searching for their own thrift store finds, so be aware. Take your own bags because they may not be offered by the store.
If you love thrift store shopping, be willing to give a pay by the pound outlet a try.
#10 – Go Beyond Your Neighborhood
Thrift stores in more affluent neighborhoods can be a treasure trove of bargains. You may be more likely to find pricey vintage items or designer labels among the clothing racks. If you’re visiting a wealthy area on vacation, check out their thrift store finds to see inventory different from your neighborhood.
#11 – Get a Gift Card Discount
Did you know you could buy discounted Goodwill gift cards on Raise.com? If you’re a diehard Goodwill shopper, buying Raise.com Goodwill gift cards will net you a 5% discount. Nice thrift store shopping hack!
#12 – Focus on Off Season Items for Great Deals
You could look for Halloween costumes in October. But if you snag a great costume on November 15 and store it until next year, chances are you’ll net a big discount.
Thrift stores have limited space available due to the overwhelming amount of donations they receive, so they prioritize moving inventory with deep discounts after the traditional buying season.
I’ve been scoping out thrift store finds for decades and I’ve often seen deeper discounts after the season on coats and jackets, boots, swimming suits and shorts, and Halloween and Christmas décor.
#13 – Keep a Donation Box in Your Car and Get a Coupon
Some thrift stores like Savers offer discount coupons of 20 or 30% off your purchase when you make a donation. That can net you some serious savings in store!
Keep an empty box or bag in your car or garage of unnecessary items – you’ll keep your home clutter free and donate to a good cause.