10 Tips for Shopping Thrift Stores

Spring is the best time to go thrift store shopping because spring cleaning mania helps super-stock the stores. In fact, one of the advantages of buying used is that you can combine your trip with a charity drop-off and declutter while you get what you need.

I don’t get all my clothes at thrift stores (thank you, Marshall’s), but I do love to hunt for treasures a few times a year. My sister and I make an annual trip to the Salvation Army near my parent’s house. Much to my mother’s chagrin (who would like to see us a little fancier), we come home with heavy bags of jeans, sweaters, tops, and blouses — even greeting cards, magazines, bags and glassware — and we’re only about $40 poorer.

Here are my tips for making the most of this thrifty pursuit:

1. Scout around your town until you find a good thrift store. I personally like really big ones. You have to paw through tons of stuff, but there’s more of a chance of finding what you need, prices are usually low, and you can be kind of anonymous.

2. Wear tight-fitting clothes in case there is no dressing room (or a long line) so that you can try things on in the aisles.

3. If you are bringing your children, pack activities and snacks, and set ground rules beforehand about purchases. For example, “We’re not buying anything for you today (just Mom),” or “You can only buy one dress each. No toys or anything else.” And stick with it, unless you want to be badgered every time.

4. Once you find a store you like, ask when they have sales. My favorite one, for example, has half-price Wednesdays. The only downside to this is that the place is packed on sale days. Sometimes avoiding the lines and having a stress-free shopping experience is worth the few extra bucks.

5. Check out your closets before you go and take stock of what you need and what you don’t need. This is something I don’t always do, but I regret it when I don’t.

6. Don’t get carried away by the low prices. It’s easy to go nuts when pants cost $4, but overbuying just ignites a new cycle of weeding out and giving away.

7. Bring wipes or hand sanitizer. Thrift stores can be dusty, dirty places.

8. Check clothing for “dry clean only” tags, or your savings could be lost in dry cleaning bills. Many dry clean only items can be washed by hand, but if you don’t think you’ll go to the trouble, then it’s not worth investing in the piece.

9. If you go to Salvation Army, watch for signs near the cash register that announce which price tag color is 50% off that day. If you can’t decide between two items, a discount can help break the tie.

10. Use the TheThriftShopper.com to discover more stores in your area.

If you really like thrift shopping, make it your new normal. Not only will you take more seriously the $5 you pay for a sweater, but your clothing costs will plummet.

Can you add some more tips to this list?

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  • Marcia May 3, 2011, 9:09 pm

    Great tip regarding the hand sanitizer or wipes, Jen. My favorite store is dirty and dingy and I find myself washing my hands a ton after I unload my haul at home.

    And I second the suggestion to leave the kids at home. You’ll be able to focus better and get through the store faster without children tagging along. Or at least MY children tagging along. They are not the best shoppers. :)

    • Marcia May 3, 2011, 9:10 pm

      Oops, I meant Amy. Sorry about that, Amy!

  • Jen @ Jen Spends April 30, 2011, 3:13 pm

    I love thrift store shopping! I have a milk glass collection on display in my living room, and I always find one or two pieces under $2 when I check Salvation Army. I also stocked up on odd-and-end picture frames to create a grouping of my son’s artwork (which reminds me, I need to hang them all). Due to the area I live in there are usually slim pickings as far as nice clothes are concerned, but every once in a while I find a bargain. It feels good to know I’m doing a little bit for charity when I shop, too.