How to Shop at a Thrift Store

by Crystal Collins on January 29, 2013

in Frugal Living

How to Shop at a Thrift Store Main How to Shop at a Thrift Store

With the new year come new challenges.   Many people are challenging themselves to reduce, reuse, and recycle more.  Some people are pledging not to buy any new merchandise for a year.  Others are just trying to find more ways to save money.  Whatever your goals or resolutions for the future, I hope that my tips on how to shop at a thrift store will help some of you meet your goals.

Shop Often

My best finds happen a little here and a little there.  I pop into the thrift stores often just to hit the clearance section or checkout the newest batch of furniture.  Because inventory has such a quick turnaround, I can keep abreast of all the seasonal changes by buying out of season.

I saved a ton of money on winter coats, hats and gloves when I bought them in early fall.   I also buy bathing suits any time of year because we swim a lot and I have kids in all size ranges.  If I waited for things to be in season, the competition for the good items would be much greater.  So shopping often and shopping the clearance rack every time I drop in saves me time and money in the long run.

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Keep a List

I keep a list my purse (actually on my phone) of all the sizes of shoes and clothes for everyone in my family.  That way when I find an item that I think is a great deal, I can determine if it’s going to be used now or later.  If it’s a very inexpensive deal I usually just make the purchase.  But if it’s something that won’t be worn or used for over a year, I determine if the hassle of storing the item will really be worth the money I intend to spend.

I have a friend that keeps a list of books she’s read and wants to read.  That way when she’s in the book section, she can glance at her list to make sure it’s something she doesn’t already have.

Some other tips about book shopping:

  • We often shop at a resale book store which has books at half off of retail.  But the books at my thrift store are all less than a dollar.  Now that’s worth the time of wading through shelves considering a child’s picture book can cost $20 new!
  • Make sure that you check for water damage.  Books can be completely usuable if they’re worn and dusty and even have a few scribbled notes in the margin.  But water damaged books can harbor mold and nobody wants to bring that home.

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Know What You Like

Unless you’re looking for acid washed jeans or an ugly sweater for a special theme party, there is no need to finger through every item in the clothing racks.  Usually I just scan the rack of jeans for dark jeans in a brand that I know fits me.

We’re all different and that’s okay.  So if I know that all size 10 jeans are not going to fit the same, I can just spend my time picking out and trying on labels that I know have been successful on my body type in the past.  Oh, and I mostly skip the floral print denim.  Mostly.

The same applies to children’s clothes and shoes.  If you can recognize the brands you like (Children’s Place, Baby Gap, Gymboree, or whatever it may be) then you’ll gravitate toward those items and save yourself a lot of time flipping through.

My friend who is a professional wardrobe consultant (how cool is that?!) says not to buy any piece of clothing unless you can mix it with several items you already own.  That’s a great tip for those of us who tend to buy an item but have no idea what we’re going to match it with to make it useful in our wardrobe.

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Buy a Memory

People love taking a trip down memory lane.  Jump over to the records, comic books, or movie section at your thrift store and surprise your family at the next gift exchange.

I surprised my husband a few years ago with a collectible pop-up book from his childhood.  This was to thank him for taking the time to find me a hard-to-find VHS of one of my all-time favorite movies.  It’s neat to see what you’ve forgotten you loved from the past.  These gifts meant more to us than expensive jewelry or fine fragrances because they reminded us of memories that we cherish.

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Learn the Sales

I know the sale cycle at my favorite stores.  This helps me plan my purchases.  If I know that the item I am considering will be fifty percent off tomorrow, I might take the chance to come back and buy it then at a much lower price.

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Know the Policies

It’s important to know if the deal you’re getting is really putting you at risk for disappointment once you get it home.  Ask questions and get to know the staff.  They want you to be a happy customer.  Part of this is knowing the store policies regarding returns, exchanges, store credit, and exclusions.  Knowing before you buy makes you a better consumer because you’re taking a measured risk.

For instance, in my favorite thrift store there were no changing rooms for years.  But their return policy was no questions asked and you got store credit instead of refunds.  Now that they have changing rooms, returns and exchanges on clothing are not allowed.  This definitely changes the way I shop.  I’m much more diligent now to carefully inspect each piece because once it’s purchased it’s mine forever.

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I hope you’ve found some tips on how to shop at a thrift store that will encourage you to shop often, take a list, and know before you go!

Leave me a comment below with your favorite thrift shopping tips!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sharon k. dolan January 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm

My home was destroyed by a tornado last year. I’m in process of building a house. I have been hitting the Habitat Restores and local thrift stores. Yesterday I found 2 medicine cabinets,brand new, still in the box from Lowe’s for $20 each. When I checked on-line,these are $138 each. Saved $216!! Love me some bargains!


Margaret February 10, 2013 at 11:52 pm

I love shopping at thrift stores..almost all of my families clothes are now purchased there..all brand name and mostly new or lightly used.

I can’t really imagine ever paying full price for clothing (except jeans..which are a little harder for me to find as I’m almost 6′ tall and need talls).

Margaret @ Live Like No One Else


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