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10 Tools for Thrift-Shopping Success

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.

4. Gloves

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.

6. Babysitter

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.

7. Smartphone

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!

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27 thoughts on “10 Tools for Thrift-Shopping Success”

  1. Jeffy Walker says:

    I have to disagree with the Ebay pricing, most of the stuff on that site is way over priced!

  2. mlw1ofakind says:

    I bought an entire trash sack of Tommy Hilfiger clothes, sizes 2t-3t for 10 cents each when my son was a baby.

  3. Mrsahoutz says:

    I also suggest that you try it on! I have come across brand name items that I think wow I this is cheap only to discover how ugly it is on me. So its important to be smart. Also its all about patience and not necessarily waiting for sales. Our thrift stores have 50% off days but that doesn’t mean I will get the 50% off if I wait for the day. Sometimes its better to pay two dollars and get it right away then save a buck. Best deal in the last week was 129.00 jawbone bluetooth for $5. Gotta say it was an awesome find!

  4. catlover says:

    When we travel we always check out the Goodwills & Thrift stores in other towns.

  5. Bear's Mom says:

    Does anyone have any tips on WHERE to thrift shop in the Dallas area?

  6. switchie says:

    This is a great article! I love finding gently used toys and clothes for my son at our local thrift store. I have found Baby Gap, Tommy Hilfiger jeans, and so much more for cheap cheap prices! It pays to search through those racks :)

  7. Julia Hoover says:

    I Love thrift stores I have been finding some really nice clothes & some amazing purses & my thrift store has 50% days sometimes…

  8. I have found great stuff at Goodwill and Savers. I love their 50% off days! I was able to buy my DH three pairs of mid to high end jeans, three collared shirts, and a pair of Doc Martens for my daughter for under $40! Everything was either new or like new, retail would have been around $300!!

  9. Kikoi says:

    I always have great luck in thrift stores. The other day I bought a pair of brand new Paper and Denim Cloth jeans(Retail from $198-$215) for $6.99. Another time a Betsey Johnson dress for 5 dollars which retails for 213. I always get lucky!

  10. PresleyGW says:

    I thrift for resale on Ebay, I find EXTRAORDINARY items, Burberry, Thom Browne, R13, TART, etc….
    My most recent nugget was a practically new, pristine Dooney & Bourke Credit Card Wallet. .99cents.

    I only buy my clothes there now, upper middle brand names for no more than $3 a piece.

    I just discovered the linen department, I have bought 2 sets of 100% cotton sheets & a king size cotton comforter, Spent $20 for all of it.

    A lot of what you find in thrift stores isn’t even from your area. Stuff gets processed & shipped everywhere.

    I have found that living far away from the city is better, nothing is picked over & a lot of folks do not know the upper to high end brand names.

    But that is my own personal experiences. Also scored entire set for 4 of Culinary Arts Porcelain dishes, bowls, salad plates & cups, it worked out to a $1 a piece.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The people who work at thrift stores take all the good stuff for themselves before the public even sees it. Pizzaz has donated perfectly good underwear many times and have never ever seen them displayed. :(

    • tanya hughes says:

      Not all thrift stores do this. I label shop. Thrift stores know what stuff costs. I can buy Miss Me jeans for $20 to 40 they run $99 to $140 new and Rock Revival Jeans from $30 to $55 bucks a pair. They keep them locked up to avoid shoplifting.

      • Anonymous says:

        That makes sense!
        What kind of sick world do we live in where people steal from a thrift shop? The day is coming where thieves will be robbing our underwear at gunpoint. It’s truly sad!

        • justsusanhere says:

          It’s a totally sick world, hardly any morals left…. a few weeks ago, I was at a local Goodwill store and I went to pick up a Whitney Houston CD, and the case was EMPTY!!!! Who would shoplift something like this, if they were selling the CDs for a dollar??? Only a true lowlife would cheat a thrift shop out of a dollar… It is VERY sad!!!

    • Sandbear says:

      Well, maybe they don’t sell perfectly good, used underwear…:/

      • Anonymous says:

        I wish they made underwear with pockets; great place to hide money & coupons.

        • mlw1ofakind says:

          My husband gets mad at me because I carry EVERYTHING in my bra :P, money, credit card, drivers liscense on the right, cell phone on the left. Then I sort my coupons into- know I’m gonna use it on the right, and might use it on the left. I know Pizzaz would appreciate this, but I suggest buying your bra one size larger if your a woman. If your a man, I can’t help you!

      • justsusanhere says:

        or maybe the workers bought them??? ; )

    • They do! It’s terrible. Time to get a job at a thrift store, I think…

      • Anonymous says:

        Thrift stores should hire the homeless. After all, the whole idea is to help them, I think…

  12. Julie says:

    Wearing thin gloves is a bit much :) If the thrift store is that dirty, I wouldn’t shop there no matter what great treasures were to be found (fyi–for some reason dirty thrift stores don’t have hi-end brands or items with all of their parts–go figure?!). I shop at a lot of Goodwill stores and I just bring my travel hand sanitizer with me.

    For better success, shop at thrift stores in a city (or larger population area). The closer people are to hi-end stores and/or outlets, the better clothing treasures you will find. The higher the income levels, the more likely they are to donate a brand new designer piece with tags as well!

    If you are interested in re-selling, stick to items that will make a profit (all of which need to be in like new condition)… such as designer sun dresses (spring/summer months), embellished tank tops, tunic tops and modern maternity wear. Also, most clothing tags that are found on the inside bottom of the garment will have a date on them that will tell you how old the garment is. For example, it might say 1Q12 (Winter 2012) or 05/12 (May 2012). This will help you determine if the garment would still be fashionable if you’re not sure about the design or cut.

    Brands I’ve recently found at Goodwill: ZARA, Eddie Bauer, Banana Republic, O by Oscar de la Renta, Coldwater Creek, Hurley…

  13. NewCouponMomOf3 says:

    We grew up thrift shopping with my mom. She was a single mom with 3 kids so “new” clothes didn’t happen very often. I remember when Goodwill would have their $10 bag days. When you went in they’d give you a bag and whatever clothing items you could fit into the bag (including shoes) you’d only pay $10, regardless of what the total price of the items were when individually totaled. We got some great finds! In fact, I was voted “best dressed” all 4 years of High School and we only thrift store shopped. After we got married, I introduced my husband to thrift store shopping and even he was amazed at what you could find at such a small price! It’s amazing how many people donate new items still with tags attached! What a great article! There’s such a stigma attached to thrift store shopping but I feel the ones who judge it and never shop at thrift stores are the ones who are missing out. :)

    • “In fact, I was voted “best dressed” all 4 years of High School and we only thrift store shopped.”

      That’s awesome! Thanks for sharing — we think thrift shopping is pretty great, too!