Avoid These 9 Thrift Store Shopping Mistakes

Photo by goodluz / Shutterstock.com

I’ve been an enthusiastic thrift shopper for the better part of 30 years. It’s my entertainment, my therapy and a big part of what feeds my online resale business.

But successful thrift shopping doesn’t happen by accident; you have to know what to do and what not to do. Here are common thrift shopping mistakes to avoid.

1. Shopping for an immediate need

For all their benefits, thrift stores are the absolute worst places to shop for one thing: the thing you need right now. If you’re urgently in need of a specific item, it’s easy to drive yourself nuts trying to find it in a thrift store — the inventory is simply too unpredictable.

When time is the enemy, spend a few extra bucks to save your sanity. Hit the department store instead.

2. Shopping at the wrong times

In my experience, there are only two bad times to go thrift shopping: on weekends and during the two-week period before Halloween.

On weekends, inventory gets picked over quickly and staff are usually too busy to process new items and restock shelves. During Halloween, costume shoppers turn most thrift stores upside down (picture throngs of giggling teens competing to assemble the most absurd outfit).

Seriously, in late October, you won’t find me within 500 yards of a secondhand store. I take a Halloween hiatus and gladly let the kids have their fun.

3. Being in a hurry

Having a solid shopping strategy is one the most important thrift shopping secrets.

But it’s impossible to be strategic when you’re in a hurry. When time isn’t on your side, all those rows of used clothing, stacks of dinnerware and aisles of mismatched furniture become a migraine-inducing obstacle course instead of potential gold mines.

My advice? If you have less than a half-hour to devote to a single shop, save it for another day. With more time, you’ll enjoy yourself more and be much more likely to walk away with a wonderful find.

4. Shopping without a filter

Newsflash: There’s a lot of junk in thrift stores.

Avoiding damaged items takes a strong filter and an understanding of what commonly goes wrong with each item you’re considering.

For example, the soles of shoes can split, but they’ll still look perfectly fine until you flex them. Some hairline cracks in pottery and porcelain are difficult to see, but they’re easy to “hear” with a careful tap of the finger. Zippers break, buttons go missing, stains hide in odd places — the list goes on.

Shop smart by shopping with your filter set to “high.”

5. Not knowing values

Without knowing the market value of an item, it’s tough to spot a real bargain.

Don’t assume everything in a thrift store is an amazing deal. I’ve seen thrift shop prices that rival — and sometimes exceed — retail prices. I blame it on overzealous staff who’ve watched too many episodes of “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow.”

The bottom-line? Do your research and have a general understanding of what things are worth before you buy.

6. Buying too many project pieces

Thrift stores inspire the DIYer in all of us. Refinishing tables, rewiring lamps, making a cool mosaic from vintage dinnerware — the creative possibilities are endless. But shoppers beware: It’s easy to amass a houseful of to-do’s that never get done.

Avoid project creep by knowing the limits of your skills and buying project-worthy items only when all current projects are complete. Your significant other (and your garage) will thank you.

7. Shopping with disinterested friends

As much as I love thrift shopping, I learned a long time ago that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are put off by the disorder of thrift stores or can’t shake the “ick” factor of buying used.

If your friends just aren’t that into the secondhand scene, don’t force it. Instead, drop them off at the mall, shop your favorite spots distraction-free and compare notes later over coffee. Trust me. Everyone will have a much better time.

8. Getting ‘thrift-drunk’

What happens when inexperienced thrift shoppers mix the thrill of discovery with cheap prices? They get a little “thrift-drunk.”

Thrift-drunk is my tongue-in-cheek term for people’s tendency to overbuy when faced with a store full of bargains.

Avoid this level of intoxication, or you’ll soon be renting storage space all over town. Remember, an item is only a bargain if you truly need it, will definitely use it or can sell it for a profit.

9. Getting too competitive

Thrift shops can be competitive places. After all, when you miss out on an amazing find by mere seconds, there’s not a stack of 20 more in the stockroom.

But good-natured competition doesn’t involve racing around the store, using your cart as a battering ram and participating in shoving matches (yes, I’ve seen all these aggressive behaviors to one degree or another while thrift shopping).

Take it easy. Life is competitive enough. Remember, a bargain really isn’t a bargain if you have to hire an attorney to deal with the aftermath.

Are you an avid thrift shopper? What mistakes have you made that others can learn from? Share them below or on our Money Talks News Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
10 Common Ways Seniors Get Scammed

Here’s what to watch for to make sure you don’t fall prey to some of the biggest rip-offs targeting seniors.

20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

Maybe you’re not ready to leave the workplace entirely.

8 Common and Costly Homebuying Myths

Think you’re ready to buy a house? Don’t fall victim to these rookie mistakes.

Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off

A common behavior becomes increasingly dangerous for those who are 50 or older.

7 Tricks to Cleaning Your Bathroom Faster

These tips can get your bathroom sparkling with little time and no elbow grease.

View this page without ads

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

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

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

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

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

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

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.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

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

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

The rules are complicated when it comes to eligibility for survivors benefits.

27 Things You Should Never Pay For — and How to Get Them for Free

When you know the tricks, you can save big on all kinds of useful things that others pay for.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

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.