Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

Photo Credit

Summer is coming and looking at my warmer weather clothes makes me realize that I need some.  As a bargain hunter extraordinaire the first store I will hit will be my local thrift store.  I will hit garage sales as well, but since I need some clothes now I will be visiting Goodwill first.

Luckily I love shopping at thrift stores and I do not have any problems buying and wearing previously worn clothes.  I really don’t. I am very picky about the clothes I buy and the best part is that there are usually so many clothes at the thrift store that you CAN be picky.  Here are some of my tips for thrift store shopping success:

Shop with a plan. Thrift stores can be treasure troves of goodies. Unfortunately, I find that it can lead to overbuying.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been to the thrift store and left with something that was “so cheap” but ultimately ended collecting dust somewhere.  Therefore, I advice that you visit your thrift store only when you are looking for something in particular.  Maybe it is clothes for you, your children or your spouse, or maybe kitchen items.  Window shopping at thrift stores can be a lot of fun put make sure to ask yourself if you actually NEED something before buying it.

Take time and preferably go without kids.  Thrift store shopping takes a good deal of going through racks and racks of clothes or shelves full of items.  You need patience and you need time to be able to find the gold nuggets among the rubble.  If possible try to shop without your kids so you can devote your time and attention to what you are doing.  In the end it will result in less time spent at the store and also better finds.

Look for quality items.  I have been able to get some really great finds at thrift stores on really expensive clothes.  My latest awesome find was a pair of 7 for all Mankind jeans for only 4 bucks!  these usually sell for $150+.  Plus they were in incredible shape!  These finds are a matter of luck but also of digging and most importantly it takes knowing which ones are quality brands.  So make sure to be cognizant of quality brands that fir YOU well and look for those.

You MUST try on the clothes that you are hoping to buy.  This is key.  If what you are buying doesn’t fit you right then even if it is cheap you are just wasting your money.  This is another reason why it’s a good idea to shop with time on your side so you can invest time in making sure you buy quality that will serve you well.

Be persistent.  If you maintain an ongoing list of needs for your family or household chances are you won’t find it all in one trip.  Make sure to visit your thrift store often and browse for the items you have not been able to find yet.  The best strategy for scoring great finds at thrift stores is persistence.

Having shared these tips, I intend to take a trip to my “new Goodwill”  this weekend.  I have never been to it but like I said, I need clothes so I need to pay a visit.  I will make sure to share my finds with you.

What are some of the tips you use to score great finds when you go thrift store shopping?  What are some of your best finds to date?  Make sure to share in the comments.

Share This Post


  • Jen Kennedy

    i like finding games and puzzles and other activities at thrift shops for my kids! i don’t ever seem to be able to go w/out them though so its very rare for me to be able to find the really good things b/c they won’t let me, lol!

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Tips for Thrift Store Shopping | Common Sense With Money --

  • Paula

    In some towns they have have goodwill outlets. The one we go to sell all the clothes that are left at other goodwills at 1.25 each. I have a closet full of name brand clothes for less then a 100.00

  • Kara

    One tip for going with kids is to check out the books first. We often find some great board books for only $1. My son enjoys reading it while we shop and is quieter for much longer.

  • I think it’s so smart to shop resale. They know me by name at my local Goodwill. Once you wear a new item just once it becomes “used”. So why not buy used from the beginning and save a ton if money? I did a post on Goodwill shopping and how to check the garments before you purchase.

  • Nancy

    I LOVE thrift stores. I always score big, but I have a few tips: firstly go early in the day so you can check out “new stuff” first. Second go to thrift stores close to affluent neighborhoods. You’ll score AMAZING finds. So many times I get designer “used” clothes that still have tags on them. Check for rips/stains/worn spots carefully. True you haven’t lost a lot of money if you buy a dud, but it’s better not to lose at all. Also watch for half price days or “sales”. You can score even more then.

  • Michele

    I ditto Kara above, when I take the boys with me I’ll either visit the book section or toy section to find something to entertain them so I can look at the racks without too much distractions/hassle from them. I found our local Goodwill was a God send after I had my 3rd son – I knew I won’t be in a bigger size for too long so I didn’t want to invest too much in a new wardrobe – I purchased 3 pairs of jeans and as I lost the weight, re-donated them and purchased another 3 pairs until I was back into my original sized jeans again. Plus, with having 3 boys – you can never go wrong with broken in clothes for them since they grow so quickly.

  • Pingback: Eagle River Webs » Blog Archive » Tips for Thrift Store Shopping | Common Sense With Money()

  • sharon

    My Starbuck Barista for $4 has been my best find.

  • I love thrift store shopping! I have managed some incredible finds. A 48.00 mini-bundt pan brand new in the packaging from “Bed Bath and Beyond” for 4.00 at the used store (that’s going to be my Christmas gift to me), a new DVD-VCR combo with remote for 4.00 (it’s just missing the RCA cables). I also scored a slighty used but still in great shape dresser for my son for 5.00 and some brand new “in the package” toys for 1.00 or under. And I have bought my kids’ clothes at the used store for years and can regularly find Old Navy, Gymboree and Gap clothes for under 2.00 for them. I also got a brand new pair of Gap pants for me recently for 1.50 on sale.

    The biggest thing for me is that I don’t really go into the used stores with a plan, but I have one that is literally two seconds from my bank so when I deposit my husband’s paycheck we stop by once a week and look around. I have a mental list of things as I need them or things that I’d love to find and if I find them, bonus! Sometimes we find cool stuff and sometimes we don’t. I ALWAYS have my kids no matter where I go, so I always pick them up a book (preferably from the “free” books at the entrance to my favorite store) or a cheap toy to keep them occupied.

    Really with thrift stores the biggest thing is don’t give up. If you don’t find anything your first time out…go once a week or once a month even and keep going. Eventually, trust me you will find some cool stuff.

  • Norah

    I love goodwill and the thrift stores! My kids rarely get “new” clothes and I can find some really good deals @ goodwill for the home. I got my hubby a $150 tea kettle for $4. He didn’t belive me, until he checked the website and saw how much it was.
    **Here’s a little advice, though. I had a friend who worked @ goodwill and suggested that you always wash anything cloth with Borax. When I asked why, she said that the thrift stores often get clothes from questionable homes. While they get rid of the stuff asap, sometimes it contaminates other clothing lots and you can bring “bugs” of all sorts home. The Borax kills most microscopic bugs, like lice, fleas and scrabbies. Everything I get now goes directly into a hot washer with Borax!***

    • Joy

      Good tip. I always wondered about that. Been shopping at thrift stores for almost 5 years now and never knew that about the Borax. can you use Borax on colored clothing?

  • Norah, that’s great news. I use 20 Mule Team Borax in every load. It really helps detergent work better. (Also, it’s surprising how well it cleans shower stalls when other more aggressive cleaners fail entirely.)

    Thrift stores are terrific places to shop – though you do need to find the ‘good’ ones. My children love-love the book section and are getting old enough to enjoy looking at the clothes, too. I try to steer clear of the toys since the girls get a little crazy looking at them.

    Often, I find that the best thrift stores are not Goodwill nor Salvation Army. Try the lesser-known charities’ shops. Each city has something different. Even the for-profit stores can have superb deals, perhaps because their volume is so high that they can’t take time to price things carefully.

    Last point: As Nancy mentioned, many stores have specials on certain days of the week. Almost all have senior discount days, but check for the ‘half-off purchases before 11am on Thursdays’ – seriously – I’ve seen exactly that.

  • Kirsten

    A Goodwill near me is the graveyard for Target merchandise – things on clearance that never sold. I bought picture frames for a song and then spray painted them to go with my daughter’s room.

    Salvation Army has half-price Saturdays and I got a Kate Spade bag for $2 – and it’s authentic.

    Definitely go without kids – I find many clothes w/o size tags and need time to try on or size up.

  • Joy

    Forgot to add my tip. Look in the opposite gender of kids’ clothing for hidden gems. I have three boys, but I always look in the girls’ pant section because sometimes the thrift store staff mistakenly puts boys’ pants there. I have found NWT Old Navy boys’ pants mixed in with girls’ stuff. Either that or people are hiding the stuff there. LOL.

  • Melody

    I LOVE thrift stores especially Goodwill. I do it out of necessity but would love them even if I did not have to. My best find by far was a brand new in the box, which had not been opened, Sony Bravia 32 inch flat screen tv. Ours was going up and we had been looking for quite some time but they were so expensive. We had looked at this particular one and at that time it ran around $800. We got it for grand sum total $200 plus tax. We still are enjoying this tv today!

  • Rachel W.

    Our best find was a replacement coffee pot for our coffee maker – for $1.00 at Goodwill vs. $12.00 in the store!

  • Jen

    A tip from my exterminator husband-put everything into the dryer on high heat for 20-30 minutes as soon as you get home. Otherwise make sure you can somehow wash or steralize your finds (don’t buy beds, sofas, etc). I shopped Goodwill while I was doing Weight Watchers. My size dropped every couple of months so it was a cheap way to stay clothed!