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When I was a kid, my mother and grandmother loved to go to thrift shops — much to my everlasting embarrassment.
I didn’t share their zeal for these places. I thought they smelled musty. I also believed that middle class families like ours shouldn’t be anywhere near them.
But I’ve changed my mind over the years. And I’ve found some incredible things at thrift stores like Goodwill. In this age of social media, they don’t have the same stigma they once did.
They’ve actually become downright trendy.
Take a quick look on Instagram. You’ll find influencers by the bucketload showing off their thrift shop finds.
Thrift stores are a wonderful hunting ground for frugal shoppers. There’re so many amazing treasures in these shops waiting for you.
But don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty (and you will get them dirty). I guarantee you’ll come across something that will delight you! You’ll be so satisfied after a long day of thrift-store shopping.
And you’ll have a lot to choose from. Thrifts stores all over the country are up to their eyeballs in donations. Some people blame Marie Kondo.
If you don’t know who she is, she has this popular Netflix show.
On the show, she encourages every person in her audience to get rid of things that don’t “spark joy.”
It seems people are taking her up on her suggestion. This is great news for thrift shop bargain hunters everywhere.
1. Check the Back Racks
After trying on a clothing item, a person will put it on the rack in the back of the store. Right near the dressing room where they tried it on. Since somebody took the trouble to search it out, it might be something you want to try on too.
Even though the previous individual decided she didn’t want to buy it, doesn’t mean you won’t.
2. Inspect Your Items For Damage or Insect Infestations
In the poor lighting of the store, it’s difficult to check for damage. I’m talking about things like loose threading, missing buttons, and stains. All these things will detract from the value of the item.
But you need to do it, lest you get an unpleasant surprise when you get home.
So, look over everything in your cart before heading to check out line. Check clothing for rips and other defects. If possible, try a piece of clothing on.
Sometimes, you can’t see rips or tears until you do this. You can refurbish some clothing items at home for little cost. Consider doing this if your haggling with the clerk ends in dismal failure.
For faded clothing, use a little Rit dye to make it look new again. A bottle of it at Walmart only costs $7.15 for a two-pack.
Choose a color close to the original hue of the garment.
Or, you can dye it a completely different color. If you find a wool sweater with pilling, use a sweater shaver to remedy the situation.
If your clothing item has worn embellishments like sequins and fringe, remove them.
Make sure you turn the clothing article inside out. And if you find a defect, ask for a discount. This goes for non-clothing items, too.
With DVDs, open the case to make sure it’s the right movie and that the movie actually is in there. If you find a broken or damaged item, it can’t hurt to do a little haggling.
With furniture, you want to be sure it’s not harboring any pests. So, take out the drawers, and look for any signs of them.
Always test electronic items in a store outlet before bringing it home.
3. Launder Clothing Before Wearing
For hygienic purposes, wash and dry your clothing before wearing them.
Check each item’s laundering tag for special wash instructions. Some might be fine in the regular wash, but others may need hand washing or dry cleaning.
Pretreat stained areas before doing so.
4. Be Attentive to Discounts for Special Groups and Pick up Discount Cards
Often, thrift stores have designated sale days. These are the days when you’ll get the best discounts. Some stores even offer discounts if you use cash.
You can also join Club Goodwill. This is a rewards program offered in many states. This membership gives you a percentage off depending on how much you spend.
Red, White & Blue thrift stores offer daily 50% off specials for everybody who walks in the door. There are 21 locations in 10 states. The only day this discount isn’t available is on Wednesdays, because this day is their senior citizen day.
Buy a discount card at raise.com and save an extra 5% off your purchases. When I checked, these gift cards were out of stock. This is because raise.com is a marketplace for gift cards, and they can sell out at any time.
But you can sign up for email alerts if you want to know when they’ll be in stock again.
Most thrift shops offer senior citizen discounts.
Salvation Army offers seniors discounts that range from 15% to 50%. These discounts may only be certain days of the week. Wednesdays are their most popular discount day.
Goodwill also has senior discount days.
5. Shop Off-Season for the Best Buys
You get the best deal when you do your thrifting off-season. This is true for thrift stores as much as it is true for stores that sell brand-new stuff.
The best deals are on things no longer in high demand.
Buy your Christmas decorations in July. Or swimwear in January. Thrift store donations also seem to spike during spring and summer. This is the time of the year when everyone is having garage sales.
The things that don’t sell at these sales are often donated to thrift shops. Some stores celebrate the end of a season by having huge blow-outs.
Big retailers often donate surplus merchandise that’s brand new to thrift shops. For example, Target donates swimwear when summer ends.
6. Remember That Thrift Store Merchandise Comes From Surrounding Neighborhoods
If you want swankier merchandise, try to shop in swankier neighborhoods.
Often, wealthy people don’t cherish their inner miser like we do at frugalforless.com. Richer folks often donate their old junk for free instead of putting it on Craigslist.
Plan your thrift store shopping if this appeals to you.
Think of where the rich people live and try to shop at stores there. These people also buy expensive things and get rid of them at a higher rate than poorer folks.
I had a boss who always hit up thrift shops in Newport, Rhode Island when he was on vacation. He did this because he got unique stuff he couldn’t find in his local thrift shop.
If you want trendier merchandise, shop in thrift shops in a neighborhood’s art district. For example, Lotus House Thrift Chic Boutique in Miami’s highbrow Wynwood neighborhood.
This is the place if you need a mint-condition Valentino pantsuit, an Armani dress. Or a Juicy Couture skirt. Plus, they run a women’s shelter and all their profits go to it.
7. Use Your Smartphone
We, – here at Frugal For Less – are all about the apps. You’ll find a plethora of articles on our site telling you how you can leverage your frugality by using apps.
So, it’s appropriate that I bring them up again when we’re talking about thrift stores.
There’s Thrift Shop, a mobile app which claims to “put the adventure back in shopping.” Or the Goodwill mobile app, which helps you find the closest Goodwill store. And, it’ll help you get store hours, services available, and turn-by-turn directions.
You can also sign up for tips to improve your thrift shopping experience.
Use your smartphone to see if a particular piece of clothing is vintage. You do this by using the label resource at the Vintage Fashion Guild.
8. Shop Online Thrift Stores
Online thrift stores are all the rage now.
For example, there’s Poshmark. It carries 25 million items from 5,000 brands. Anyone can list items and set prices. It’s one of the best online thrift sites for both buying and selling.
And, the app has a great user experience, making it super easy for people to list and buy items.
To list an item, snap a photo of the item you want to sell with your iPhone or Android device. Then, fill in a description, set a price, and you’re good to go.
You can even attend a “Posh Party.” These are virtual buying and selling gatherings that happen in the app.
You can browse, buy, and list with your friends.
Thred UP sells high-quality women’s clothing. It bills itself as “the largest online consignment and thrift store.” The site asks people to send them their clothes.
Then, they photograph the items and list them.
They sell all your favorite brands at up to 90% off retail. They make sure that every piece of clothing that arrives each day is 100% authentic. And in such fabulous shape, you’d think it was new.
You can also find amazing bargains at GoodTwice. Most items are less than $20 on this site. Shipping is only 99 cents on your first order.
9. Harness The Power of Social Media
Thrift shops are thriving…Unlike some traditional retailers like Sears that are closing their doors. And, they’re harnessing the power of social by reaching out to customers on places like Facebook.
Savvy shoppers curate stunning secondhand finds on social media. One of the places where these influencers do this is on Instagram.
This platform has become the place for connoisseurs of the secondhand clothing market. You can follow these smart thrift store shoppers on both Instagram and Pinterest.
One of these shoppers is Andrea Pelzel. Goodwill named her brand ambassador because of the great things she buys. She highlights these things on Instagram in inventive and creative ways. You can find her there at keepinitthrifty.
Who knows? If you play your cards right, Goodwill could name you a brand ambassador. It might spark a whole new career for you!
10. Upcycle Boring Junk Into Trendy Art Pieces
You might find yourself getting bored at times during your thrift store excursions.
Because even with a constant influx of donations, thrift stores sometimes get stuck in a rut. You walk in and see the same old stuff, with nothing unique in the mix.
A frequent thrift store shopper can get bored. You can ward off this tedium by upcycling items. By doing this, you can make one-of-a-kind objects of art.
For example, use bowls and vases as flower pots.
Or, spray paint wicker baskets to match the décor of your home. Turn ashtrays into eye-pleasing coasters. Fire up your oven to turn old records into retro bowls.
Andrea Pelzel (who you already met) is an undisputed master at this.
She says “I look for items that are unique in form but could use a little paint. Have an open mind when you go thrifting for home décor. Look at the pieces and think how you can transform them with a little elbow grease.”
There’s so much you can too with a smidgeon of creativity. You can make any item your own with a few DIY tricks.
11. Look For Markets of Quality in Furniture
There’re a few things you need to look for when buying thrift store furniture. If you can feel the grain and see a pattern that varies, it’s solid wood.
Solid wood furniture is of higher quality than veneer or laminate furniture.
Solid wood has the same grain all the way through. Furniture made from veneer only has a thin layer of solid wood (less than 1/8 inches thick). You’ll find less expensive wood underneath.
Solid wood furniture is also quite heavy. If it feels a bit on the light side, chances are it isn’t solid wood.
You can also check the drawer construction. If it has a tongue and groove build where the drawer connects to the front, it’s solid wood.
Lift up the furniture piece. If you see unfinished wood, it’s solid wood and not laminate. Laminate covers every inch of the furniture’s surface.
Also, if the wood has ornate or carved detailing, it’s solid wood. You can’t carve into laminate or veneer.
If the piece you’re considering buying is solid wood, look past any scuffs or marks it has. It’s cheap to refurbish this type of furniture.
Put a little time into refinishing a piece that’s a little worn but otherwise high-quality. Then, you’ll have something you can be proud of.
Also, you might even be able to sell it for a lot of money.
How to Spot Veneer on Furniture
Take a look at the sides and underneath. If it has a veneer, you’ll be able to see from the side where the veneer attaches to the front of the furniture. Veneer always has a horizontal grain on the edges.
Solid wood has none.
You can sand veneer along the grain. You can even paint and sand it because it’s real wood.
Take a look at the sides and underneath. If it has a veneer, you’ll be able to see from the side where the veneer attaches to the front of the furniture. Veneer always has a horizontal grain on the edges. Solid wood has none.
Identifying Laminate Furniture
Laminate is thin pieces of wood or synthetic material with a shiny surface. It resembles wood grain, and they make it using a process like printing.
You’ll find laminate in low-end furniture that needs to be durable. Of course, laminate is cheaper than solid wood. It’s even cheaper than veneer. Laminate furniture is easy to clean and is perfect for children’s rooms.
Look for marks or emblems in furniture. To do this, open up all the drawers. Try to look at the bottom of the drawers for a mark indicating where the piece came from. If it has a mark, you might have a quality piece on your hands that could be quite valuable.
For example, if you see a Mainline by Hooker stamp (a Danish manufacturer), you hit the jackpot! Look up these emblems on your smartphone to be sure.
Tip a Chair Over
Now I’m not asking you to be a hooligan. But, tipping back a piece of furniture can often tell you if it’s worth buying. The first thing to notice is wobbly legs.
Sometimes you can fix wobbly legs. But sometimes you can’t.
Now check the frame to see what’s holding the parts together. It’s better if it’s held together with nails or screw heads rather than staples.
Then, look at the upholstery. If the frame is in good shape, barter for a better price if the upholstery has seen better day and the frame is good.
Check cushion condition
Sit on furniture to feel for areas of unevenness, springs poking out, or sagging. High-end seating has heavier cushions than lower-quality furniture.
If any cushions are removable, pick one up. Compare them to cushions of higher-quality furniture.
A zippered cushion is a good thing. This is because you can take the covering off for cleaning. Open the zipper to check for the quality of the foam.
12. Go to Thrift Shops While on Vacation
You can even thrift shop on vacation. Thrift shop in the swankiest parts of Malibu, and you might be lucky enough to get a celebrity’s castoffs.
Useless to them now, but valuable treasure to you.
Going to a thrift shop while vacationing can be a better experience than going to outlet malls. These places bore me with their insufferable sameness and overpriced goods.
When you’re enjoying the fun and the sun, you’re going to do some shopping.
Why not shop at a place that has a whole lot of more character than tourist traps? Besides, you get to be frugal. And if you’re reading this right now, that’s a trait you value.
The Goodwill in Falmouth, Maine is going to be different than the one in Austin, Texas. So, if you’re a true connoisseur of the unexpected delights in these stores, it pays to visit them while away.
You can search for thrift shops on Yelp. Read the reviews to get an idea of what people like about it, and what they don’t like.
You can also search out thrift shops on MapQuest, Google, or thriftshopper.com. Ask the proprietor of the hotel where you’re staying where they are.
Or, you can ask the locals where they’re hiding all the good thrift shops. This gives you a chance to talk to a colorful character. This will definitely improve your vacation experience.
When you’re done with your shopping, leave a little review. This will help the next shopper in her thrifty adventuring.
Sometimes, you can find items while vacationing that aren’t available at home.
13. Hit the Shoe Racks First
Thrift store employees display shoes in a manner that makes them easier to see than other items. This means they get picked over fast.
14. Check Out the Rolling Racks
This is where employees are bringing racks of new merchandise out. If you do this, you’ll get first dibs on the new stuff.
You can turn your thrift store experience into an amazing adventure. By doing so, you turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
I’ve given you some incredible tips to save truckloads of money in thrift shops. Thrifting also strikes a blow against consumerist society.
You’re recycling instead of buying new things. Which is cool.
But you got to have a strategy. A plan so that you get the most bang for your buck.
So, take these tips with you wherever you go. Whether that’s your local shop. Or, one along the highway as you take a road trip across this beautiful country of ours.
Which tip did you like best?
Which one do you think will snag the most money?
I hope I got you excited to try thrift store shopping if you never tried it before. You’ll be so good at thrifting you’ll be able to open up an online store to sell all the wonderful things you find.
You know you can do this.
It takes a good strategy and a good eye. So, go out there today and wade through everything. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Pretty soon, you’ll be shopping like a true thrifting champion!