If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Collectible Starbucks City mugs
C4289N / Shutterstock.com

Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Starbucks coffee mugs

It seems like there’s a Starbucks on every corner in most cities. And lots of Starbucks means lots of Starbucks mugs. I recently started paying a bit more attention to these thrift store staples and was shocked to discover a resale market that’s — pardon the pun — extra hot.

Buyers around the world are in a froth (sorry) to get their hands on rare and unusual mugs from the coffee giant. There’s even an online collectors’ guide and a fan-run website devoted to collectible Starbucks mugs and holiday ornaments.

Though there are scores of collectible designs, I’ve noticed geographically-specific designs tend to fetch the highest prices in the resale market. In that category, the following series of mugs are among the most popular:

  • City mugs: First issued in 1994 as part of the Starbucks Collectors series, City mugs feature highlights from cities around the world.
  • You Are Here mugs: Launched in 2013, these mugs showcase cities, states and individual attractions in the USA and Canada.
  • Been There mugs: Launched in 2018, this line replaced the You Are Here series and features similar destinations.
  • Japan mugs: This series showcases different cities across Japan. Also, one national mug design is issued each year since 2002.
Collectible Hawaii coffee mug from Starbucks' Been There series
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Why buy it?

Starbucks was one of the first coffee companies in the U.S. to link coffee consumption with lifestyle. Mugs became an extension of its brand — worthy of high design and lots of local flavor. I own a few Starbucks mugs — not because they’re valuable, but because they’re large, durable and well-designed.

If you are interested in reselling for profit, Starbucks mugs are a buying opportunity. Most thrift shops ignore them, mistakenly assuming something so common and relatively new can’t be worth much. Their mistake is our good fortune. Pieces within the series mentioned above, as well as many other one-off designs, can sell for hundreds of dollars.

This unused Zacatecas, Mexico, mug from the Starbucks Collectors series sold for $2,800 on eBay. And this used Disneyland mug from the You Are Here series sold for $109.95. On Etsy, this 138-ounce mug (a 2016 promotional piece celebrating Starbucks’ 45th anniversary) is listed for $624.

Collectible mugs from Starbucks' City series
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

What to look for

I wish every company marked their products as thoroughly as Starbucks.

The familiar all-uppercase “STARBUCKS” wordmark appears on the underside of all mugs. The logo is encircled by legalese copy (copyright date, manufacturing location and related details). Mugs that are part of a series will have a separate series logo directly under the Starbucks wordmark.

If you’re hoping to mocha few bucks by reselling secondhand mugs, keep an eye out for the following:

  • New mugs in original packaging: Don’t toss the box! Serious collectors pay a premium for mugs in their original packaging.
  • Oversized pieces: Some mugs make a Grande look like a shot glass. These giant pieces (usually 45-150 ounces) are typically marked “For decoration only” on the underside.
  • Mugs from foreign locations: Location-specific mugs are made to be sold locally. Generally speaking, the more remote the location, the fewer mugs made — and the higher the potential value.
  • The “mistake mug”: In 2003, Starbucks’ Barista City Scenes series issued a Seattle mug with a misspelling. (The first “i” in Mount Rainier was missing.) When the error was caught, the mug was quickly pulled from the shelves. No price data is available, but the “mistake mug” is widely considered the rarest of all Starbucks pieces.
  • Holiday ornaments: Even mug-inspired ornaments are collectible. This 2015 NYC graffiti-themed tumbler ornament recently sold for $59.99 on eBay.

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.