You hear all the time that thrift stores are a jackpot for inexpensive hidden treasures. But every time you set foot in a Goodwill or Salvation Army, you never seem to find anything. Is it really true that you can walk out of Goodwill with a Coach purse, Le Creuset dutch oven, and a new-in-box pair of Nikes just for a few dollars? Yes! That person really can be you! You just need to be an expert shopper. Here are ten tools you should always be armed with to help you achieve thrift-store success:
1. Fanny pack
In a crowded thrift store, the last thing you want to do is deal with a giant purse or bag getting in your way as you dig through racks and shelves. So to free up your hands, leave your purse at home and just bring the basics in a fanny pack. Can’t handle the thought of wearing a fanny pack? Try a small cross-body style purse and only carry the essentials. Better yet, bring nothing at all and put your credit card or cash your pocket.
2. Slip-on shoes
If you’re thrifting for clothes, make it as easy as possible for yourself and wear the best possible clothes for trying things on. Don’t wear shoes with laces or buckles so you can easily slip on shoes to try them on. And even if the thrift store has a fitting room, it might be a long and frustrating wait behind other customers who have shopping carts full of clothes to try on. So wear leggings or yoga pants so you can try on dresses, skirts, or even pants over them and not have to deal with the line.
3. Reusable tote bag
Instead of grabbing a shopping cart or basket, which can be cumbersome and get in the way, bring your own bag. You’ll have more freedom to move throughout the store. Toss in items as you come across them. Before you check out, do a gut check, reassess what’s in your bag, and decide what you really want to buy.
If you’re a little queasy about sifting through donated items from who knows where, and especially if you’re shopping at a thrift store outlet where you’re digging through bins, consider wearing gloves. You could wear simple kitchen gloves, or pick up an inexpensive and thin pair from Target.
5. A set amount of cash
One of the most difficult parts of thrift store shopping is exercising restraint. Since the deals are so plentiful at thrift stores, I’m frequently tempted to buy every single thing that catches my eye, especially if it’s a name-brand piece for a really great price. But then I end up spending money just to create closet clutter, because many of those too-good-to-resist deals are pieces of clothing I never wear. Spending $5 on something I wear once or twice is just as bad as throwing $5 away.
Prevent this from happening to you by bringing a set amount of cash or by deciding your spending limit ahead of time. This will force you to buy only the things you really want or need and leave the so-so stuff behind.
If possible, leave the kids at home when you thrift shop. You need patience and time to dig through all the shelves and racks, and it’s not a fun activity for the kiddos. For your own sanity and for better deal hunting, shop alone. Plus, you can pick out the best thrift store toys for your kids instead of buying whatever toy distracts them in a moment of boredom as you’re busy shopping. And if your kids come along, they might end up in the stuffed toy section, which you should definitely steer clear of — stuffed toys are susceptible to carrying lice.
If you’re in the business of reselling thrift store items (as I am), it’s useful to have some tools handy to check the resale value of an item before you decide if you want to buy it.
This is where having an iPhone or Android smartphone comes in. I use the eBay app to check for the going price for name brands, and Etsy to look for vintage items. If I can find a similar item for sale on one of those sites, I can use the selling price to determine how much I might get for it. If I can’t make a certain amount of money off of reselling an item, it’s not worth the trouble of buying it, washing it, taking pictures, posting it and shipping it.
8. Stain-remover pen
Many of the items donated to thrift stores are in perfectly good condition, save for one minor imperfection the original owner couldn’t be bothered with fixing. But even though the prices are low, a stain is still a stain. Keep a stain-remover pen (like Tide to Go) handy to test out stains as you shop . If the stain comes out right away, it’s a keeper. If the stain is persistent, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth purchasing as-is.
9. Sewing kit
Don’t overlook clothing with minor imperfections. Fix loose seams, missing buttons, and small tears with a simple needle and thread. You don’t need to be an expert seamstress. All that’s required are a few simple sewing skills. If you don’t know how to sew on buttons or make minor repairs, search YouTube for a tutorial.
10. Silver polish, window cleaner, bleach, and other cleaning supplies
Other shoppers may pass over items that look tired and old. But oftentimes, the shiny like-new surface is just a quick scrub or soak away! Bring new life to that old tarnished platter or dusty mirror with silver polish and glass cleaner. Soak children’s toys in a bucket of diluted bleach water to sanitize them. After cleaning them, these items will look as good as new, and no one will be able to believe that you purchased them secondhand!