Helpful Tips for Better Thrift Store Shopping

Now I know many of you who visit this site are veteran thrifters... garage sale mavens... and flea market officianados. You already know how to spot a bargain at sixty paces, and find just the right thing for any occasion.

And that's why I'd love to hear anything you have to contribute to the list of tips I'm about to share for better thrift store shopping. In a time when gas prices are soaring, thrift store shopping makes a lot of sense for the average household. And there are some general guidelines to use that can help make it more effective, fun and economical.

1.) Know the thrift stores in your area. Every thrift store has its strengths and weaknesses. Some are better than others for certain things. And prices can range broadly, even between stores of the same chain. A good place to start is at, which maintains a database of charity thrift stores for the entire United States, searchable by zip code. Attached to these entries, are visitor reviews-- and by simply registering with you can add reviews of your own. This offers are really solid starting point. And if you know of a thrift in your area that's not listed in the database? Let 'em know about it. They're looking to make their listing as complete and accurate as possible.

2.) Thrift regularly. Once you find the stores in your region, keep in mind that going regularly really increases your chances of finding some treasures. Merchandise moves quickly in many thrift store locations-- it's a little like shells that wash up on a beach. So by visiting your favorite thrift one or more times a week, you're much more likely to find real goodies. Also, don't be disappointed if you don't find something you can't live without the first time you go. It's all subject to what and when people decide to donate.

3.) Know what you like and can use. The better you know your own taste, the better you're going to be able to find thrift store items you're really happy with. If you're decorating using thrift store items, keep in mind the colors and styles of the rooms you'll be working with.

4.) Don't forget some helpful tools of the trade. It may sound silly, but it's not a bad idea to carry with you a small tape measure, as well as a notebook and pen. I can't tell you how many times the tape measure has come in handy for measuring small furniture. (No fun buying something if it doesn't fit in the car, or won't be useful in the space you have available at home.) The pen and notebook is great for marking down the books you may have found in a series, pieces of glassware you have, or are still looking for, sizes of spaces, or sizes of clothes. Thrift store shopping can get overwhelming, but a notebook can be a handy asset for your quests.

5.) Know your prices. Thrift store prices vary a lot. And while you can get some great bargains, some items end up being on the high side. Also, for newer items, you might be able to get the item new, cheaper than the price the thrift is charging. So it really helps to know what the things you want cost, and what you're willing to pay for them. Be strong about it, unless you need the item right away. I have this theory that eventually EVERYTHING shows up at a thrift store. If you're willing to be patient, you'll very likely be rewarded.

6.) Don't put an item down if you're still deciding you want it. I've mentioned this before, I think. Thrift store shopping can be rather competitive. So if you're not entirely sure you want an item, don't walk away from it. Take it with you until you decide, and then put it back if you determine you don't want it. This will eliminate the regrets. I can't think of how many people have said, "Oh, I was going to buy that" when I'd be in line with something. More often that not, that person was mulling it over in some other part of the store. While I can certainly sympathize, thrift store shopping is a first-come, first served sort of process. And as there is often only one of a particular item, it's better to be safe than sorry-- hold onto your treasures. And hone your decision-making.

7.) Think of what an item COULD be, and not just what it is. Certainly when decorating with thrift store finds-- particularly furniture-- it's helpful to think creatively. Paint, stain, decoupage, reupholstery-- all of these things can really change the basic look of an item without a lot of pain or expense. For instance, mismatched thrifted furniture can be tied together easily with a good lick of paint-- particularly if the styles are similar. So if a chair or table is in good condition, but isn't quite the color you'd want, consider how it could be changed. Often it's absolutely worth the effort.

8.) Knowledge is power. For collectibles, know the going rate in antique stores and on Ebay. For decorative items, know generally what the styles are and general time periods. This will help you a lot going forward to make good decisions on your purchases. I know this might seem like a lot of trouble. But by knowing that a style of a table is, say, the streamlined art deco from the 1920s and 30s, you'll be able to avoid trying to put it with, for instance, an elaborate French roccoco piece which might make your room look disjointed. By knowing that a certain milkglass vase came from the 70s and is pretty commonly found at thrift stores, you'll be able to price shop a bit, and ensure you get that vase for something you feel comfortable with.

9.) Thrift with serendipity. While it's always good to keep in mind the items you're looking for, there's a certain amount of serendipity when it comes to thrift store shopping. It's very hard to thrift on cue for something, and I almost would recommend not being too specifically goal-oriented when you shop. Some of my more favorite thrifted items were not ones I set out to find that day-- they just showed up. And I think that's one of the most enjoyable aspects of thrift store shopping. You just never know what's out there, waiting.

10.) Have fun with it. I've heard some folks speak with frustration, saying they never find anything when they've gone to thrift stores. Thrift stores do vary a lot by region, and some areas are just better for finding certain things than others. But that said, it really helps to just be a bit fancy-free when you go thrifting. Don't take it seriously. Have fun. And I guarantee, the more you understand yourself, your own interests and the creative possibilities of even the more mundane-looking thrift store items, the more you'll begin to feel there's just no end to what you can do on the cheap.

Do you have a tip you'd like to add? Just leave a comment and share your wisdom! And for newbie thrifters?-- Questions are always welcome.

Thanks for joining me today, dear friends!


Debbie said...

Hi Jenn...this is a great post! I kept thinking of things to add and I would read a little further and you mentioned them, soooo I don't have anything new to add to your post. :) To me, the most important thing is to pick up an item even if you are unsure about can always put it back before you pay out if you change your mind. Several times I've been carrying items I was unsure that I really wanted and another customer commented on that point I either offer it to them with the statement that I was about to put it back on the shelf, or reply that I really like it too and keep it.

Hope you are having a nice summer!


ThriftShopRomantic said...

Hi, Debbie!- Yes, it's definitely better safe than sorry. I've heard too many tales from thrift shoppers who have had been disappointed they didn't take action sooner on something they wanted, and then lost it.

Thanks for wracking your brain for added advice. I know how savvy you are with thrift stores and garage saling!

Hope all is going well for you. I miss talking to you in the Home and Garden forum. :)

Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
Great tips!!!
If you like it, buy it, because it won't be there later, or the next day. Same with the flea markets, I have gone back later only to find the item gone. I have learned that lesson the hard way.
Have a great evening,and week.

RecycleCindy said...

Wonderful tips on thrift shopping! One can never know all the good tips and you shared several new ideas that I found valuable. I also submitted it to SU so others can benefit too.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Cindy- Thanks so much-- that's very much appreciated. And I'm glad even a t-to-t expert such as yourself found it worthwhile. That just makes me happy.

Sugarplum Cottage said...

Nice meeting someone who loves thrifting as much as I do. My problem is seeing the potential in EVERYTHING, my husband says therapy would be cheaper. By the way I have a silver woven metal purse just like that, mine is red inside. Never would have thought I'd ever see another one.

Hugs, RoseMarie

Sujatha said...

Excellent, Jenn! Now I'm all set to try thrift shopping some day this summer.

timethief said...

This is a "must read" pillar post that will bring in thrift shop readers again and again. It contains 10 pints that are of value to both those who are actively thrift shopping now and to newcomers.

Stumbled :)
P.S. Please spread the word about pillar posts. Every blog could use 3-4 or even more of them.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Sugarplum Cottage-- but I thought thrifting and seeing the potential in everything WAS therapy! :) See, I think he's got it backwards.

Very cool about the purse-- I had no idea it came in other colors!

Sujatha- Well, there certainly are enough thrift stores in the area, if you're thinking to give it a go.

TimeThief-- Hey thanks! I agree. I think sometimes bloggers just need to be reminded that everyone has good info inside them they can share, and it's not all obvious to everyone. I appreciate your visit.

Carrie said...

Great review of important tips to keep in mind. Thanks!

Condo Blues said...

Thanks for the great tips! I love the Thrill of The Hunt thrifting brings.

Anonymous said...

Jenn, love your thrifting tips, they are very helpful. It is like a treasure hunt for me, and I just enjoy seeing what I can find each time. We have one close by that is closed on Sunday and Monday, one of the gals who works there told me that they restock on Monday, so now I always go there on Tuesday mornings! I have a couple other local ones that have "senior" discount days, so try to hit those when I can get the 20% off too. Things are a bit slow right now, but should pick up again in the Fall. Kay aka Luvs

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Carrie- I do believe you're one of the gals that doesn't need any tips! We know you're an expert at finding goodies effectively. :)

CondoBlues- Thanks for stopping by. It's true, that thrill-- the pursuit-- might just be more fun than the actually finding is. Plus, it's just a really tranquil way to spend the day.

Hey, Luvs!-- Ah, so you have an inside scoop for your thrift... Excellent. I guess this means we'll be seeing more amazing place settings from you? :)

Sher said...

Hey there, Jenn! Great tips, Sweet Girl! C'mon over when you get a chance. I've got a special June Giftaway (a bit bigger than usual). Maybe you'll win this time!!!

My Vintage Treasures said...

So True!!! Luv all your tips :)