Goodwill is one of my favorite stores to find deals on clothing and household goods, both when shopping for myself and for items I resell online. Their stores are typically clean and well organized, the deals are plentiful, and I frequently find name-brand items for a fraction of their retail price. In fact, one of my greatest regrets is passing on a Le Creuset dutch oven I found at Goodwill because I thought the $40 price tag was “too expensive.” Of course, when I rushed back to buy it, it was gone.
Plus, there’s the added benefit that shopping at one of Goodwill’s 2,600+ retail stores goes beyond simply getting good deals. Their revenue serves more than 4 million people through employment and career training programs and serves more than 10 million through personal and family support services.
It’s already common knowledge that the prices at Goodwill are already lower than you would find at department or big box stores. But did you know Goodwill locations run their own sales and promotions so you can save even more? As an experienced Goodwill shopper, I’ve learned that you can score the best finds and save as much as 50 percent off the tag price if you know how to shop. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years; just please let me know if you see a Le Creuset dutch oven so I can snag it before it’s too late!
1. Shop early and shop often
This tactic is, hands down, the best way to find the best pieces at Goodwill. Try to shop during the off hours such as early in the morning, and avoid weekends when stores are the busiest. Then, you can dig through the racks at your leisure without elbowing or competing with other shoppers. Just like couponing, it requires patience to find the best deals. The fewer fellow shoppers, the more time and patience you will likely have.
And if you don’t find anything worthwhile today, don’t give up. A whole new set of items might be moved onto the floor tomorrow. Stores accept donations every single day, and stock is constantly moving. Keep in mind that Goodwill also buys final clearance items from big box stores like Target and Walmart by the pound. Once Goodwill staff prices and tags these items, they’re often moved onto the floor all at the same time. Often these items are brand new with original tags. The trick is, you just never know when the next batch of items will arrive. The more often you shop, the more likely you are to catch them. And, the more you shop, the more you’ll get to know the staff. Although every store policy is different, the more friendly you are with the staff, the more likely they might be to keep an eye out for certain items for you.
2. Learn the sale cycles
Just like any retail store, Goodwill needs to free up space for new stock by discounting out-of-season or less popular items. The good news is, since most stores receive a lot of donations daily, these sales happen more than once a season. Oftentimes, it’s once a week!
Stores are usually grouped together by region or state, so the sales and promotions are not the same at all Goodwill stores nationwide. But if you ask the manager or visit your location’s website, you can quickly learn how to save money at that particular store. Many stores have a “color of the week” and give you 50 percent off any item with a certain color tag. Some even drop the price further on all color of the week merchandise come Sunday. Most stores also offer students, military, and seniors a discount on certain days.
One reason I love shopping at Chicagoland Goodwill stores so much is their Club Goodwill loyalty card, which is valid at southeastern Wisconsin and Illinois locations. Benefits include scratch off coupons the 15th of every month (worth 10, 15 or 25 percent off your order), 5 percent off any purchase over $20, email newsletter coupons for up to 50 percent, and coupons on my birthday.
3. Shop outside the box
Did you know that Goodwill has its own outlets and auction site? If you’re really after a bargain, search for a Goodwill Outlet location in your area. Check About.com’s Frugal Living for a list of Goodwill Outlets nationwide. Many shoppers describe the outlets as a grab bag of sorts — you really need to dig in the bins to separate the good stuff from the not-so-great stuff. But there are many success stories of shoppers finding quality merchandise at a Goodwill Outlet that they either kept for themselves or resold for a very high profit. And the prices are hard to resist. Many Goodwill Outlets charge by the pound.
If you’re looking to score a particular item of value or something rare, check out shopgoodwill.com, which is an auction-style site similar to Ebay. You’ll find antiques, collectibles, books and much more. Participating stores from across the country list items pulled from their inventory of donations.
4. Celebrate the holidays
If you think holiday sales are limited to major retailers, think again. Goodwill is just as savvy when it comes to timing sales exactly when people are planning to shop. Don’t discount Goodwill for Black Friday deals! Many stores offer 50 percent off everything the day after Thanksgiving. Presidents’ Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day sales are also common. If your store has an email newsletter, sign up; it’s the best way to find out about upcoming sales as well as new store openings (which often come with additional sales and coupons as well).
You can also find many seasonal items at Goodwill. Many were overstock or final clearance items from the year before. Knowing the popularity of these items when the holiday rolls around yet again the following year, Goodwill holds onto them. If you need a last-minute Halloween costume, a Christmas tree stand, or Valentine’s Day cards, look no further than Goodwill.