15 Insider Tips for Shopping Thrift Stores

It seems like everyone shops at thrift shops today and why not when you can get “like new” household items and clothing for very little money? I’ve worked at our local thrift store for 10 years and have seen all of the good stuff that has come thru the doors. And I’ve also purchased quite a bit of it myself. So, I have some great insider hints with the best thrift shopping tips.

In my opinion thrift stores are the best places to shop for great deals. Flea markets, consignment shops, yard sales, garage sales, and other secondhand shops take a close second, then retail stores. I love local stores, especially charitable thrift stores, because they get items donated regularly, and their profits go to local charities. Win-win. And you just never know what great finds they will have week to week.

Some of my favorite things to purchase while thrift store shopping is designer handbags, decorative items for the home, and name brands for clothing. But you can also find a good deal on vintage items, jewelry, shoes, books, household items, and more.

shopping at a thrift store

1. Find out when the items are put out into the store

At our local thrift shop, we receive and process household items and clothing all day, every day, and merchandise goes out as soon as it’s ready. So, getting to the store early is a good idea. But, each store is different so you’ll want to find out when that particular store stocks their shelves and plan your shopping trip accordingly.

I remember every morning, first thing before our doors were even open, we would have dealers waiting in the parking lot to be the first ones to scour thru the new merchandise for hidden finds. I guess they wanted to get the good stuff before it got picked over.

Remember, every store has its own schedule so be sure and check with your favorite store to find out what their schedule is for bringing out merchandise.

2. Ask when the best donation days are 

We tend to get a lot of donations after the weekend, probably because of people donating items after a yard sale or after spending the weekend cleaning out closets or storage spaces.

But every store should be able to tell you when their most busy days are for donations. Obviously, the more donations that come in, the more merchandise that goes out. So you will know the best day to shop at that store.


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3.  shop thrift stores often

If you go into a thrift store and don’t see something you like, don’t give up on that store. Thrift stores are not like other stores that stock certain items. Most thrift stores get their donations from local citizens, every day, so you never know what they might get and the donations change constantly. 

If you don’t see something one day, go again, and again. You won’t be disappointed.

4. Don’t go looking for a specific item 

Chances are if you’re looking for a particular item, like a large yellow glass bowl, chances are you will walk out disappointed.  However, I have heard many customers say they found exactly what they were looking for 🙂  

But, if you can go into a thrift store with an open mind and an “I’m just looking” attitude, you never know what you might walk out the door with. And if you want to have a killer walk-in closet, this is a great way to increase your wardrobe for a fraction of what it would cost at a mall.  I swear 1/2 my wardrobe is from a thrift store.

Take your time too. Take the extra time to look through everything because you never know what hidden gem is hiding behind something.

5. Use your imagination

Thrift stores are great places to find inspiration and supplies for your next DIY or craft project.  If you can look past the condition of a piece of furniture or piece of art for example, you can furnish your home with some unique finds that you refinished or reworked yourself. 

And don’t forget to use your imagination to find items that can be repurposed into other items like an old picture frame into a chalkboard, or an old wooden crate into a padded stool. Learn to think outside the box. You’d be amazed at what a little paint can do.

6.  If you don’t see what you’re looking for, just ask someone 

We get so many items every day that we can’t possibly get everything out. So for us, we have items in our back room that are waiting for inspection, cleaning, and/or pricing. If you ask, and we have time, we may be able to take a quick look to see if we have what you’re looking for. 

However, that being said, you have to respect that particular store’s policies, and if it’s against the rules then please respect that. 

7. Ask for a discount on damaged items

Also, you can talk to an employee if you find an item that has some damage. Sometimes, the item will be priced accordingly to the condition, but sometimes they may have missed something or damage occurred in the store. Or some stores price all items the same, for example, all chairs are one price, and all women’s tops are one price. Ask at the checkout if they can adjust the price for the damage.

8. Test all electronics sold at thrift stores

Make sure you also test all the electronics you want to purchase before you buy it. Just find an empty outlet and plug it in and see if it works. If you are testing DVD players or cassette players, or something like that, either bring a DVD or cassette with you to try it out or ask an associate if they have one for you to try.

woman shopping a thrift store

9. Use your smart device to learn about merchandise 

You can also make money from your shopping trips! Many times thrift stores have merchandise that may be worth a lot more than what’s on the price tag. Use your smartphone to look up the retail price on sites like eBay, or Google it to find out more information about that product.

Look for items that are popular on the internet, valuable items for low prices, brand name items, vintage clothing, and other unique items in good condition.

We also use the internet to price certain items so we can get the most we can for our charities. You hear stories every day of people with a keen eye finding one-of-a-kind items that are worth a lot of money. 

You can also find items to repurpose into something new and unique to sell.

You can sell your thrift items on an online marketplace like eBay, or yard sale sites on Facebook, Etsy, or Amazon. Who would have thought that shopping in thrift stores could make you money? :}

10. ask about their return policy

Make sure to ask an associate about their return policy. Some thrift stores do not accept any returns and others will have a 7-day return policy. Also, certain items may not be returnable like bathing suits or underwear. If you’re not sure about an item then definitely ask about returns.

11. Find charitable thrift stores

Finding a charitable thrift store means you find great items for great prices and you help others at the same time. You should make sure the store is a legitimate charity though and ask what charitable organizations the money goes to. 

Ideally, you would want the money to stay in the local area. Or, you may be interested in a particular charity that they donate to. Either way, the store should have all of this information readily available for the asking.

If they cannot tell you, then I would question if they were legit and shop somewhere else. Not all thrift stores are charitable. Just make sure that if they say they are, they really are.

Shopping clothing at a thrift store

12.  Ask about seasonal changes 

Some thrift stores make seasonal changes pretty quickly and the old season’s items will go on sale or on clearance. Find out when the store will be switching seasonal items so you can be sure to hit some good sales and also get the first pick at the new items. 

The same goes for holiday items. We collect holiday items all year long, so when the holiday comes close we will make a display area just for that holiday and sell either until we run out or the holiday ends.

13. Be nice to employees and volunteers 

Working at a thrift store is not easy and employees and volunteers work really hard. Please be kind when shopping and keep in mind that they are there to answer your questions and make your experience at the store the best it can be. 

As a charity, we have many volunteers that work with our customers and really enjoy it, but it can be difficult to satisfy angry patrons. Please be nice. What’s that saying? You get more flies with honey than vinegar or something like that. If you’re nice to the employees they will be nice to you.

14. Get a job at a thrift store for even more savings

Did you know that most thrift stores offer employee or volunteer discounts? Not only will you save big on the already great prices but you can get an employee discount on top of that. And you will get to see all of the great merchandise that comes into the store before anyone else!

Many also offer military and senior discounts too! Just ask.

Some stores also have loyalty programs as well like Savers. Not only will you get more savings but you will also be notified by email of any upcoming sales and promotions.

15. Look for new items while shopping in thrift stores

Some thrift stores, like Goodwill, accept new items from other store closeouts and clearance items that don’t sell. Can you say Christmas shopping?


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Shopping at thrift stores can be so rewarding…and addicting. By using these tips you can make the most of every trip and hopefully score some really cool items. Happy Thrifting on your next visit!

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