Tips for Thrifting

Last week I went over some of the great things I’ve found on my shopping trips. Now I’ll go over some tips and some of the negatives of thrifting.


Tip #1-Have a plan. When you first start going to the thrift store you’ll need to get familiar with the layout. I (and many people) have a few stores that they visit regularly. I have one down the street that I go to almost weekly and I’ll use that one as an example. I hit the spots that I enjoy the most and have the best stuff then browse the rest if I have time. Clothing and shoes are immediately to the right and front of the store. Some people spend a lot of time in these sections and recommend really digging through to find they want. I do not buy shoes at thrift stores because, um, eww. I guess if I found a pair with tags I’d be open to it, but not generally. For clothing I briefly go through and look for anything that catches my eye. I’m not going to dig through the racks looking for a brand name simply because it’s a brand name. If it’s not a material, color, or pattern that is my taste I really don’t care that it’s normally a $75 sweater.

    If I’m not looking through clothes I normally go straight to furniture. Flipping furniture has gotten very popular lately and will be snatched up quickly if something good has come out. I’ve looked at a table before, walked around to think about it and come back to find it’s already been claimed. If you think you want it, claim it, then think about it. At Goodwill they will have a tag attached with a part to tear off if you want to buy it. Just take the tag with you to check out. If your store doesn’t have this just ask an associate to place a “sold” sign on it. After furniture I check out the frames and decorative “junk”. Frames are fantastic to buy at thrift stores if you don’t need ones that match. They are very affordable and easy to redo with some paint.  Next I’ll look through the Target closeout section. I’m not sure that every Goodwill does it, but the ones in our area get Target clearance merchandise that never sold. I’ve gotten some great stuff this way. After that I’ll check the book section for Buddy and can usually find a few. Next comes the kids clothes.


Tip #2-Check often. Thrift stores are very hit or miss. I usually find nothing or several things. Most thrift stores have a constant rotation and bring things out to the floor throughout the day. That’s why it’s so important to check frequently, especially with big ticket items like furniture.


Tip #3-Find out about sales. Goodwill has a tag color everyday that is usually 50% off. The sign is near the door as you walk in. They also have 50% off on holidays. These are great to take advantage of if you passed up on that awesome table you saw. It can’t hurt to see if it’s still there on these days.  Most places also have a senior discount. Consignment stores usually have a schedule they follow for marking down items. Ask an associate how long an item has to be on the floor before it get marks down and then how frequently after that. Most stickers on items have the date that the item was put out.


Tip#4-Not everything at thrift stores is worth bringing home.  As mentioned above with the shoes, there’s just some things I will not buy used. I only buy things that can easily be fixed or cleaned. That means no stuffed animals or upholstered furniture. Also no furniture that can’t easily be repaired. No underwear or socks (yes they sell that). Fortunately, most stuff at these stores can be easily fixed or cleaned.


Tip #5-Find the good ones. Some thrift stores are better than others and better than others for certain things. The Goodwill closest to me doesn’t get great furniture, but when they do it’s very reasonably priced. The Goodwill fifteen minutes away gets awesome pieces on a regular basis, but it’s usually outrageously priced. The one closest to me doesn’t get good kids clothes, but the one fifteen minutes away does. The one closest to me gets great “junk, but the other doesn’t. If you’re looking for something specific then go to the one you know can fit your needs. The Goodwill 15 minutes away is in a more affluent area and they tend to get a lot of name brand clothes. If I want to look for that, I usually check there first.


Now I will go over some of the things that I don’t like about thrift stores.


Pricing- Thrift store pricing can be weird and doesn’t always make sense. As noted above the same retailer can have very different pricing for the same type of item just because it’s in a different part of town. I know they have a general guideline for how to price, but it would be nice to see it a bit more standardized or more training for employees doing the pricing.  I went to the store further away and saw a king size Target closeout comforter for $60. I then went to the store closest to me and saw the exact same comforter for $35. Consistency would be much appreciated. The thrift stores also seem to have picked up on the fact that flipping furniture has become popular and are pricing their pieces accordingly. I’ve seen some very beat up dressers for $150. It’s gotten a bit absurd at a few stores. An outdated piece of furniture in good condition shouldn’t be $150, much less a piece that needs a lot of work. Obviously there are some antiques and collectors pieces that would be more expensive, but these aren’t your typical furnishings offered at thrift stores.


Strange policies- Goodwill will not sell anything that doesn’t have a price tag. Yes, you will need to leave it behind or give it to an associate so it can go  to the back and be priced. Yes, it is very frustrating. It would be nice if someone would just go “Oh, it’s a shirt, it’s $5”, but that’s most likely not what will happen. I doubt all thrift stores have this policy, but be aware that it may exist.


Cleanliness-Some items at thrift stores are just plain dirty, but it can be worth it if you’re willing to put some elbow grease into it. Most stores don’t have the time or resources to clean or sanitize everything that comes through their doors, so be aware.


Display- The upkeep of some stores is just outright offputting. I went to one that smelled so heavily of cigarette smoke that I had to leave after a few minutes. Most stores don’t take the time to organize their goods and you have to really dig through to find good things, but that’s also part of the fun. Just bring hand sanitizer (homemade!) Goodwill has done a great job lately of redoing their stores and brand to take away the stigma of thrift stores and make them feel more like “real” stores, but some places still have that feel to them.


Keep in mind the difference between consignment stores and thrift stores. Most (but not all) consignment stores are making a profit for an individual or business owner. We do have a thrift store locally who gives the profit to a local church and their programs. Places like Goodwill and Salvation Army are charitable organizations so you are not only helping the environment, and your wallet, but others too!  Donating is also a great way to help them out and you can ask for a receipt to use for tax deduction purposes. Thrifting is win-win for everyone!