5 Expert Tips for Better Thrift Store Shopping

secondhand shopping
Photo by gabriel12 / Shutterstock.com

In the hierarchy of frugal strategies, buying secondhand has always been one of my favorites.

I love the idea of dodging depreciation on everything from furniture to sweaters, and dishes to tools.

So, how can you buy better and smarter inside that bastion of frugality, the humble thrift store? It’s half art and half sport — and with the right frame of mind, you can master the game.

After about a quarter-century of avid thrifting — with the bargains prove it — here are my best strategies to land sweeter deals at any thrift shop:

1. Understand that each store is unique

Every secondhand store has its own distinct personality. Some seem to get better furniture, others pull in a better selection of books.

Respect and capitalize on the vibe of each store and use it to inform your shopping strategy.

2. Go with the flow

Understanding your local thrift and secondhand market is key to scoring the best items before anyone else.

On which days of the week do folks in your area typically have yard sales? Look for an influx of unsold yard sale items to hit secondhand-store shelves a day or two after those yard sales end.

Also, pay special attention to larger stores’ shipment and processing schedules. Learning which days and times your favorite thrift stores restock with fresh donations can keep you one step ahead of the competition.

3. Develop primary and secondary shopping patterns

Popular secondhand stores can be a bit chaotic. From the die-hard shoppers on a mission to merchandise in a constant state of disarray, thrift stores are an exercise in shopping endurance.

To keep my head about me, I like to give each store a quick once-over the moment I arrive. This primary search is my chance to gauge the general quality of the merchandise and see if there are any obvious treasures waiting to be plucked.

Once the primary search is over, I can relax and go deeper into each section of the store that interests me. During this secondary search, I focus on individual items. I thumb through books, try on a coat or two and compare prices. Here, the goal is to get granular and sift efficiently through the junk to find the gems.

Admittedly, I probably think about my strategy far more than the average thrifter. But the primary and secondary shopping approach takes a lot of the stress out of my thrifting experience. Shoppers who don’t pace themselves in this way tend to get overwhelmed.

4. Shop for tomorrow

It’s nearly impossible to find what you need at a thrift store on demand. Unlike department stores, the inventory in secondhand stores is generally inconsistent and unpredictable.

If your kid needs a white oxford shirt with a 15½-inch neck and 32-inch sleeves by tomorrow morning, you’d better beat a hasty path to Target. But if you know a week or two in advance, it’s entirely possible to find the perfect shirt for $3.

That’s why successful thrifting requires planning ahead and predicting with some level of accuracy what you and your family will need next month, next school year and next summer. Doing so ensures that the bargains you score today will be put to good use tomorrow.

5. Check and double-check for quality

Intoxicated by the heady mix of a finder’s high and bargain prices, it’s easy to gloss over an item’s flaws. Don’t let that happen.

Most thrift stores don’t allow returns or refunds. So, unless you’re a whiz with a sewing machine or a stain stick, pay attention to such details as split seams, missing buttons, stuck zippers or discoloration on clothing. Likewise, understand your handyman limitations on furniture, appliances, bicycles and other items.

Even the best bargain sours if it’s left to languish as an unfinished project on a to-do list. Focus on items in good, serviceable condition, or those with only minor defects that you’ll have the time, skill and motivation to address yourself.

For more thrifting tips, check out:

What’s your best thrift store find? Share it with us by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Read Next
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them

If you commit either of these credit card sins, you are likely losing money every time you use a card. Here’s how to easily right this wrong.

This Chase Card Is Great for Groceries and Cash Back on Everything
This Chase Card Is Great for Groceries and Cash Back on Everything

You could earn more than $600 cash back in your first year just from grocery shopping.

7 Gadgets Under $60 That Can Boost Your Health
7 Gadgets Under $60 That Can Boost Your Health

These Amazon finds can help ease foot aches, boost energy and even protect your heart.

Eat This Food If You Want to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease
Eat This Food If You Want to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease

One type of food associated with the Mediterranean diet offers especially large benefits.

15 of the Most Outrageously Overpriced Products
15 of the Most Outrageously Overpriced Products

Retailers mark up products by hundreds of times their cost — but you don’t have to pay the premium.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

This Is the Most Popular Age for Claiming Social Security
This Is the Most Popular Age for Claiming Social Security

Both men and women are most likely to start receiving Social Security benefits at this age.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?
Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?

You could save more than $30,000 by setting aside these costly expenses for just one year.

6 Things You Should Never Buy at Trader Joe’s
6 Things You Should Never Buy at Trader Joe’s

We love Trader Joe’s for plenty of reasons. But think twice about this handful of products.

Don’t Toss These 7 Household Items — Sell Them
Don’t Toss These 7 Household Items — Sell Them

Here’s how to earn cash as you give new life to these unwanted items.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

11 Expenses That Quietly Drain Your Wallet
11 Expenses That Quietly Drain Your Wallet

It’s scandalously easy to overspend in these areas of your life.

9 Dumb Ways You Are Ruining Your Home Value
9 Dumb Ways You Are Ruining Your Home Value

Homeowners, beware these mistakes that can drive away potential buyers.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon
10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon

These freebies are available to anyone — no Prime membership necessary.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

11 Disgusting Household Items You Should Toss Already
11 Disgusting Household Items You Should Toss Already

Never keep these items past their prime.

18 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
18 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

10 Surprising Foods You Can Freeze — and How I Freeze Them
10 Surprising Foods You Can Freeze — and How I Freeze Them

How many of the foods have you thought to put in the freezer?

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.