10 Tips for Successful Thrift Shopping

I’ve been thrift shopping since high school, more than ten years now, and I’ve learned a lot over the years about finding the best items and the best deals. Here are my top ten tips for successful thrift shopping:

1. Go Often
This tip is number one for a reason, I honestly believe it is the single most important thing to do if you want to find great items. The nature of thrift shops (especially high-traffic ones) is that they are constantly getting in new merchandise and you never know what you’ll find. Even if you only have 15 extra minutes, take a quick glance if you can. The more often you go, the more you’ll catch the cool stuff before it’s gone!

2. Bring a Smartphone (if possible) 
I have to say I’m addicted to my Iphone in general, and I’ve found it comes in really handy when it comes to thrifting. For one, you can look up all the stores in your area- even the obscure ones you may have missed, and can easily scope out new stores when you’re traveling and visiting new places. Secondly, when you’re in a shop and you have doubts about whether an item is really worth the price the shop is asking, you can search the item on your phone instantly without even leaving the store- genius!

3. Don’t Overpay
You can get great vintage items in thrift shops for amazing prices if you look hard enough. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a trend in which shops, after identifying an item as “vintage” will inflate the price outrageously, often well beyond the item’s actual worth on the market! This is an instance where a smartphone really comes in handy. You can look up whatever it is on ebay or etsy and see what they’re going for, then decide for yourself whether the price is worth it to you. Additionally, if you like to browse antique shops, pay attention to what they are asking for certain items, especially ones you see in thrift shops often. That will give you a good gauge of whether a price is good or not.

4. Take a (Like-Minded) Friend 
Thrifting with a friend who also loves thrifting is so much fun! You can help each other find things you may have missed, and get each other’s opinions on items. My most common question: “Is this weirdly cool… or just plain weird?” Thrifting with someone who doesn’t like thrift stores?…Not so fun- no one likes to feel pressured to hurry up so the other person can leave! Find a good thrift store buddy and go together all the time.

5. Learn Basic Mending and Altering 
There are so many great clothing possibilities that open up to someone who can do some basic mending and altering. Being able to adjust hemlines, add trims. and remove sleeves can allow you to totally change the look of a garment. For inspiration, check out Marissa’s blog New Dress a Day, for which she wore only altered thrift store and garage sale clothes for an entire year! Dust off that sewing machine (or even just a needle and thread) and get creative!

6. Always Look Twice 
It’s really easy to get lost in the clutter on thrift store shelves and miss great finds the first time around. I make it a habit to always look twice at each shelf, or at least the ones where I usually find good stuff. Many times I’ll find something that I completely missed at first glance!

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Dig
If you happen to have the time, a little digging can really pay off. Oftentimes things like fabric, craft supplies, and kitchen utensils are thrown in big bins that require a good dig-through to see properly. Stacks of plates and bowls with ugly ones on the top can disguise good ones underneath. Give yourself time periodically to do a thorough dig and see what you can unearth.

8. Prioritize 
I always browse my local thrift shops in this order: 1) household items (dishes, etc) 2) crafts and fabric 3) shoes 4) belts and scarves 5) furniture and suitcases and 6) sheets 7) jewelry and 8) clothing (if I have time). There are certain sections I don’t even bother with, like men’s and children’s clothing, toys, appliances, etc. It saves time and effort to zero in on your favorite sections first. That way, you can get the most “bang for your buck” whether you spend a little or a lot of time that day.

9. If You Like It, Buy It Now 
I’ve had the situation arise where I was debating about a certain item and didn’t buy it right away, only to regret that decision later, return to the store the next day and find it long gone. So disappointing! That’s not to say that you should buy anything and everything you see, but the reality is that in most cases, it’s going to be gone soon, so if you like it and the price is right, snatch it up!

10. Learn About Sale Days  and Promotions  
My local Goodwill is one of my favorite places to shop. They are always getting in new donations and they have sales and discounts on certain days. Find out when the sale days and promotions are and put those student (or military or senior) IDs to good use!

(Bonus Tip!)
11. Learn to “Look Outside the Box” 
It’s all to easy to get fooled by the junk and clutter of thrift stores: the funky smell, the shelves of dingy glasses, the abundance of horrible logo coffee mugs, racks upon racks of outfits straight out of “The Golden Girls”- the list goes on. Sometimes a little imagination goes a long way when it comes to separating the gold from the dirt. Try to visualize an item in a different context: in your home, kitchen, bathroom, etc. before judging it.

Hope this was helpful and happy thrifting!