Thrift Store Shopping Tips: 13 Helpful Hints


13 Thrift Store Shopping Tips

Somehow or another I kept missing my Saturday morning yard sale runs this summer – but I made up for it with thrift store trips!  I love shopping the thrift store and one of the BEST times to save big bucks at the Goodwill is coming right up (Halloween costumes!)

Looking for some thrift store shopping tips?  Here are our 13 favorite:

While thrift stores seemed very uncool and gross when I was a child – (my struggling family did a lot of our clothes-shopping there), as an adult I see them as a treasure hunt.  Thrift store shopping is a great way to save money, recycle perfectly good items and find some truly unique pieces along the way.

In order to help you save the most money and have the best experience – here are my 13 favorite thrift store shopping tips.

Pre-Trip: Find Thrift Stores!

Find thrift stores near you before you go.  Here are the links to several – but there are often little gems tucked away in “bad” parts of town as well.  Another great tool is to just head over to thethriftshopper to find all the thrift stores in your city.


Learn About Sales:

This is the thrift store shopping tip that will save you the MOST money!  Many thrift stores have 50% OFF sales each week on certain colored tags.  My local Goodwill, for instance, advertises a new color each week and sometimes two colors at once.  Since not all of them advertise it well, it’s best to just ask as soon as you walk in the door (Or even better, call ahead and see if there’s a sale happening.)

Ask about a half-off day or a “bag day”.  My local Goodwill marks everything in the store half-off on the first Saturday of each month.  Other thrift stores I’ve been to will occasionally let you fill a bag for $1 or $5.

Shop on Mondays :

The weekends are typically when people have time to clean out the basement/garage or have their yard sales.  While they haul everything to the thrift store on Saturday or Sunday – most thrift stores don’t put it out until Monday. (The Goodwill, for instance, doesn’t even have any “hangers” working until Monday)  Mondays are great for finding stuff that just came in from the weekend.


Shop the Fitting Room Rack:

I always go straight to the fitting room discard rack before I head to the rest of the clothing racks.  Why?  Because you’re not the only one who will flip through 900 pair of jeans to finally pull out this season’s Ann Taylor beauties.  Someone else already did the looking for you and – hopefully – they looked terrible in them :)

Make Friends:

Besides the fact that you can make or ruin someone’s afternoon by how you treat them – it’s always helpful to be sweet to the employees.  While I was knee-deep in my Ebay selling days, I knew everyone by name and even when most of them worked.  They would sometimes cut me a deal on an item I really couldn’t afford – or hold something back for me because they knew I’d been searching for it.


Ask About Coupons:

Some thrift stores will put a coupon in the local money-saving paper. Ask before you go – it could really save you a chunk of change!  This weekend I picked up a coat-rack bench for $41 instead of $60 because the cashier liked me enough to tell me that I should be using a 30% OFF coupon.  I didn’t have one – but she discounted it anyway.  See?  Make friends!

Grab a Cart and Stuff It:

This thrift store shopping tip might seem like you’re being greedy – but it’s really just giving yourself an extra few minutes to make an informed decision.  Always stuff everything that you even MIGHT want into you cart – because if you don’t, someone else might snag it while you’re waffling.  Then once you’re done loading it up – go through and weed out the ones you’ve decided against.

Wear “Try On” Clothes:

I’m just going to be blunt here – sometimes thrift store dressing rooms are a place where people may/may not have used the bathroom.  They’re just gross.   If that’s not it – then dear God, someone needs to take out the urine-scented air freshener.  Still – I’ll get dressed in there if I need to.  The thing is – lots of thrift stores have NO changing rooms.

I remember as a kid my mom always had us stand between clothing racks and made a curtain by holding up sheets around us so we could try things on.  That works too – but unless you have a couple friends who are game for spend an afternoon playing “curtain” – it’s easier if you just wear something like a tank top and skirt.  That way you can pull jeans on under the skirt and try shirts on over your top.  Easy peasy.

Inspect Carefully:

Look your item over very thoroughly to see if there’s something really wrong with it.  If there is and you still want it – you might be able to haggle it down a little with the manager.  It might be a fool’s errand – but it never hurts to ask. (especially in the smaller, less regulated thrift stores)

Sample Script: I was planning to buy this fancy fruit bowl – and I just noticed one of the feet has broken off.  Would you be willing to go down a dollar?


Shop the Seasonal Rack:

Thrift stores usually put out a rack full of seasonal items right before a holiday or big event.  For instance – the months before Halloween you won’t see a single costume because they’re HOARDING them all in back.  But a month before – out comes a rack just loaded with goodies.  Prom season is the same way.  If you’re anxiously awaiting something holiday-related – save yourself some trips and just ask the manager when they’ll be putting it out.

Do NOT Buy…

Wigs, Hats, Stuffed Animals or Underwear.  Unless you want to end up with lice or some other bad thing.  Then go for it!

Go Early and Often!

On big sale days – show up early or you won’t get much that’s worth getting.  Honestly – the vultures really come out for those big 1/2 off Days and they are Not. Kidding. Around.  Have you ever had people driving by your yard sale at like 5:30 in the morning?  Then you know what a 1/2 Off day is like.

And if there’s a thrift store in the path of your other weekly errands – try to just pop in often here and there.  This is mostly helpful if you’re looking for a piece of furniture or something worth hunting down a bargain for.  I was in one thrift store last week and then again this week – and somewhere in between my visits they received and promptly sold 5 bean bag chairs which I’d been hunting.  Argh!

Lower Your Expectations:

Last but not least – go in with reasonable expectations so you won’t feel your trip was a failure.

DO give yourself a reality check before you go – things will not be as cheap as yard sales.  Shirts will be around $4 and jeans and sundresses will be $8.  It will feel like bitter betrayal when you first see the price tags.  Move past that.

DON’T let that keep you from finding awesome deals or super-swank name brand clothing for a song.  Those Kathy Ireland 1992 Kmart jeans aren’t such a steal at $7.99 – but that Dooney & Burke bag for $2.99 was totally, totally worth it.

DO let your eyes wander.  You might not score a big fabulous treasure – but those 4 marshmallow roasting sticks taped together for just $.50 will be great for camping trips.  No sense in ignoring the practical knick-knacks just because they’re not exciting.

Happy Thift Store Shopping!


  1. Karen Novak says

    I have to disagree with one thing you said. Undergarments. I buy all my Victorias Secret items at my local Goodwill. Some even have the tags still attached. I merely wash them prior to wearing. Stuffed animals. Not my forte but even if it was many can be washed. Key thing is to wash what your gonna put on your body!!

  2. says

    I love to thrift store shop. But I agree with you on the changing rooms, they are just awful. I have found that a few stores in our area get higher quality clothing so I try to shop those stores more often. A few weeks ago I grabbed three shirts, a wool sweater and three pairs of pants for $26. Everything but one item was half off.

    • says

      I totally agree Shelly! Ew! And good job on the half off items – seems like most times when I go in there I can hardly find ANY items that are actually the color that is half off ;)

  3. Melissa L. says

    Great article, Jamie! lLove how you always pepper the helpful tips with a nice dose of wit! Been la fan since the “cheapskate” days!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>