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Top Ten Tips for Successful Thrifting

Ten Tips for Successful Thrifting
Thrifted: white and brown stool // terra cotta pot // white sheet turned into curtains

Give me a Saturday and a babysitter and a cup of coffee and I’ll most likely choose to spend it walking the isles of a thrift store looking for that perfect linen dress or a big ol’ basket for my living room blankets. I started going to thrift stores more often after we got married, started having kids, and started living on a tighter budget. But I’ve always loved finding a good deal, coming across that one treasure in a store full of junk, and giving things a new home that someone else has decided they don’t want anymore. I used to think other people just had all the luck when it came to the great finds from thrifting, but the more I’ve done it the more I’ve realized that there is a little strategy involved with successful thrifting. Here’s a few of my favorite tips.

Go Often

This may be the most helpful thing I know to do when it comes to finding good deals when thrifting. If you expect to walk into a random thrift store one time in the year and come out with just what you wanted, you just might be disappointed.

There is one thrift store less than five minutes from our house, and it’s right next to a grocery store. I’ve made a habit of stopping in there fairly often, sometimes once a week, and doing a lap around the store. Because I’ve been there so much I know where everything is and how their deals work, so it’s usually a really quick stop. I’ve found some of my favorite things through these quick, frequent stops rather than long Saturdays committed to thrifting.

Know Your Area

We live in a big city that, like most, is pretty diverse and has a whole range of types of neighborhoods. That means that thrift stores all over the city have quite a range of things being donated to them. For instance, my little ol’ castoffs that I donate to our local thrift store are nothing super spectacular.

We keep a pretty tight budget and don’t buy a lot new, so if we’re getting rid of something, there’s a good chance it was a hand-me down or bought second hand. I’m just saying, the nicest part of town may have the nicest donations to the local store. You might want to check there even if it’s a bit out of the way.

Ten Tips to Successful Thrifting
Thrifted: large shallow basket // wooden candlesticks

Check More Than One

I mentioned in my first point that I visit the thrift store nearest our house really often. But that’s not the only one I go to! There are three fairly nearby that I try to make frequent stops at. When I’m in a new part of town, I’m generally keeping my eyes out for any that I haven’t visited before. And I also know of several that are a little farther from us, but that I can check whenever we’re near them or if I’ve got a free Saturday to drive around by myself thrifting all day (Theoretically. I’m not sure if that’s actually ever happened, ha).

Also, we’ll just say different thrift stores have their different strengths and weaknesses. Like all of us, right? Some just seem to have all the good clothes, some have an endless supply of beautiful baskets, and some make my heart thump when I see all the twenty-five cent books. We can’t expect one thrift store to be all things to all people. Be reasonable.

Compare Prices

I know I’ve said this in different words already, but not all thrift stores are created equal. Some overprice everything, some just make everything $.25, and some meticulously price each. individual. item. Of the places I go often, I know which ones overprice. However, if I’m looking for something really specific and haven’t been able to find it anywhere else, I might still pick it up for a couple dollars more than I would have wanted to pay for it (I’ll talk about this more later).

Ten Tips to Successful Thrifting
Thrifted: wooden cutting board // basket with handles

Have a Running List

Shoes, playlist, water bottle. Oh wait, no, not a running list. A running list! A running list of things that you want to keep your eyes open for. And if your memory is like mine because you have three kids and haven’t slept a full night in three years, you may want to write it down. I keep a list in a note app on my phone. It’s also really easy, then, to add something to it when I see that room I just love on Instagram and realize a copper candlestick is just want the shelf above my couch needs.

Real life story: I’d been wanting a rocking horse for the kids for a while and had a pretty specific kind I wanted. Basically, wooden and as simple as possible. I researched online all the places I would normally buy something like that and then all the other places I might possibly find one and decided I’d just have to wait out finding one used. It went on my running list and I checked for one every time I went into a thrift store. Sure enough, I finally came across one exactly like I was looking for on one of my quick stops in on a regular weekday morning. For three dollars. ‘Cause that’s how it’s done.

Top Ten Tips to Successful Thrifting
Thrifted: wooden rocking horse

Know Your Cutoff Price

I kind of talked about this earlier, but knowing how much I’m willing to pay for something really helps to keep me from buying all the things. Just because I find one of the things on my running list at a thrift store, doesn’t mean it’s the time to buy it. If it’s anywhere as much as buying it new, it’s not really getting me a deal. If it’s not in the budget, it’s not in the budget (like the accent chair I saw at the thrift store this morning that was just what I’ve been looking for for a while, but just not necessary this month).

Also, sometimes I have a total amount that I’m willing to spend in the store, because it keeps me from buying all the treasures that are such great deals on their own but end up much more all together.

Circle the Store

This is also a great idea in any store (read: Target) but if I find a treasure at a thrift store I just love, especially something that’s not on my running list, I stick it in my cart and just let it sit there while I walk around for a while. Most times if it’s not something I really want or really want to spend my dollars on, it goes back on the shelf before I end up leaving. This has saved me from a lot of lamps, picture frames, shirts, and baskets that I didn’t actually need. I’m working on simplifying and decluttering in life right now, so bringing home another little filler without it being just what I wanted isn’t going to help.

Top Ten Tips to Successful Thrifting
Thrifted: large shallow basket, wooden candlesticks

Go Alone

This definitely isn’t always (or even usually!) an option for me. Usually I have four helpful little hands with me, and we do a lot of training in listening when Mommy says, “Don’t touch,” or, “No, we can’t get that humongous stuffed pink talking hippo.” But it’s just the way it is that thrifting involves a lot of meandering and slow searching and unhurried considering and having kids along isn’t always conducive to that. And that’s okay! But if you get the chance to look by yourself without any helpers, take it. You may just find that rocking horse you were searching for behind the weed eaters and golf clubs because you were able to take the time to look a little closer.

Be Willing To Walk Away Empty Handed

This is maybe less about successful thrifting and more about not spending money you don’t need to spend. But really, if you get discouraged every time you leave a thrift store empty handed, you will probably stop going, which means you won’t ever get a great thrift find. So be okay with sometimes not finding anything. It’s just how it goes.

Take Advantage of the Deals

I’ve more recently started to pay attention to this, and have been surprised how much  I could save, even if it’s only off a $10 or $20 purchase. One thrift store I go to, if you bring your receipt back on the following Thursday, you get 50% off your order. Another one, certain days have 50% off certain colored tags, and I like to get extra deals on clothes that way. A few weeks ago I was able to walk away spending just a few dollars or quite a bit of stuff because they had a manager’s special where you drew a card to determine how much off your order you could get. True, shopping at a thrift store is going to be pretty cheap to start with, but I love being able to get even more of a deal through being aware of these different things.

Top Ten Tips to Successful Thrifting
Thrifted: wooden frames // globe // basket with handles for toys // white sheet turned into curtains

So there you have it. What would you add to the list? What’s been your favorite thrift store find? I seem to have a lot of success when it comes to small things for the house or kitchen, but I’d love to get better at spotting a good deal on furniture and bigger pieces. I’m always scared I will get it home and it will be infested or fall apart :/. Send me all your tips!

2 thoughts on “Top Ten Tips for Successful Thrifting”

  • Woo hoo! I really enjoyed reading this post! I used to LOVE thrifting and going to garage sales in college, but ever since being married and having kids, I hardly ever go. Which is sad because I probably need to be thrifting more now. But these are good tips that have inspired me to try again! I always get hung up on clothes…buying clothes I don’t really love or need because they’re so cheap. So I’m trying to develop a new practice of not buying any new(to me) clothes unless I really love the piece. Thanks for sharing!

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