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How to Shop at Thrift Stores

Shopping at Thrift Stores.

Thrift Store Shopping Tips

Want to learn how to shop at thrift stores? Shopping at second hand stores is a simple way to save money and reuse items that are still (usually) in great condition.

As I’m sure you know, if you want to save money on just about anything, you can do so by purchasing items used (at a thrift store, yard sale, consignment store, classifieds). This includes everything from clothing, to furniture, to toys, to dishes.

Want to save money? Buy used. It’s as simple as that.

I do most of my second-hand shopping at thrift stores. I like the variety and I like that I can take a good look at things before I decide to buy them. I know how to shop at thrift stores the “right” way, so I am able to save a considerable amount of money.

Unfortunately, thrift stores can often be very overwhelming. If it’s a large store, there can easily be thousands of items available for you to sift through. It could be hours, if not days before you get out of there.

In this article, you will find practical advice that will teach you how to shop at thrift stores in a way that makes it quick, painless and fun!

Go to thrift stores often

It’s rare that you will find a perfect item every time you set foot in a thrift store. Odds are, you won’t find anything for awhile, and then one day you’ll find something fantastic.

Try to visit your local thrift store once per week, or at least once per month. Thrift stores put out new merchandise on a daily basis, so there is always a chance to find something you love. The more often you go, the more likely you are to find that “perfect” item.

Always triple-check everything you buy

Make sure that everything you purchase is in the condition you expect. If you’re buying clothing, examine it closely for stains and tears. If you’re buying furniture, make sure it sits flat on the ground and doesn’t have any significant damage.

Pay special attention to things like toys, books and anything you need to plug in. Toys could be missing pieces (especially puzzles and board games), books could have pages torn out and items such as toasters and DVD players may not actually work.

Check everything.

Feel clothing for quality

Have you ever found a great article of clothing at a thrift store, looked at the tag, and not recognized the brand name? How do you know if this is a quality piece? If you’re not sure if an article of clothing is of good quality, give it the feel test.

Find a piece of cheaper clothing, like the 725 Walmart brand (sorry Walmart, but your quality isn’t that great), and feel that compared to the item you are interested in. If the feel of the item you want is the same or worse than the cheaper brand, the item may not be a very good purchase. If the clothing feels nicer, it’s likely of better quality.

Always go for the better quality clothing items if you want them to last you awhile.

Get to know the store employees

If you visit thrift stores often, you will quickly start to recognize employees – and they will recognize you. Smile. Be polite. Ask them how they’re doing.

When you’re friendly with the store employees, they are more willing to divulge exciting information, such as when the next sale is taking place, where to find the best items for sale (some stores have clearance racks) and any discounts that you can take advantage of.

Don’t look for something specific

Sure, you can go into a thrift store having something in mind that you would like to find, but don’t expect it.

Instead, be willing to look at everything and purchase items that you really love. You never know when you will come across something amazing at a thrift store.

Think of how you can change an item

If you come across a couch that you really like, but it’s in a colour or pattern you’re not crazy about, consider re-upholstering it (apparently that’s very easy!).

Also, paint can transform just about anything. Tables, chairs, light fixtures, shelving units, desks. Keep this in mind when you are looking at used items for sale.

There is no right or wrong way to shop at a thrift store, but by trying out at least once of the ideas above, I can promise you a much better thrift store shopping experience.

The amount of money you can save, and the remarkable items you can find at thrift stores is truly astonishing. Whenever possible, buy used. Not just for the savings, but for the adventure.

Do you have any tips to add? Please share in the comments!


  1. lender

    I was never interested in thift stores until recently – now it is my fav place to go.
    Ill try to hit it up on my lunch hour (which is difficult but it also puts me under pressure not to stay too long).
    The best part is a few items I have purchased people continue to compliment me – oh my gosh where did you get those boots? My sister was practically drooling over them. Yes, they are brown camel color leather boots by nine west. The price tag, $9.99. Even the cashier complimented my great find when I bought them.
    I got a beautiful white post bed for my daughter completed with headboard and footboard with rails – pricetag, $35.00. Not bad I say.
    And with the rate at which my daughter is growing through her clothes, I am avoiding buying new clothes for her at full price – im digging getting her mint condition gap jeans for $3.00.

  2. Arteme

    I used to absolutely love shopping at thrift stores – I found a lot of quality items very inexpensively this way. However, I live in a major urban centre, and every since bedbugs have started to make a re-appearance, I’m terrified of bringing anything home that might carry them. Is this a legitimate concern? Do you have any tips to avoid picking up any unwanted house guests?

    • Beckie

      I love shopping at thrift stores, since the bed bugs seem to be out in full force, I always double bag my items and throw them in the trunk. Since I wash everything in cold water, I throw all my clothes into the dryer first, since the heat will kill the creepy crawly things. Then into the wash and they are good to go 🙂 Make sure to inspect all of your items really well before you buy and you shouldn’t have any problems. I’ve also heard about Bed Bug registry websites where people can report incidents, it may be a good idea to check there to see if anyone else locally has had issues with a certain store.

  3. Mamasaver

    I love Value Village!! About every three months Value Village has a 50% off sale. I’m a mom of four and this is a great way to save money, I often find brand new clothing with the tags on. The closest Value Village to me is an hour away, the sale starts at 7 am. I make sure that I’m there by 6:30 am with my list of what each child needs.

  4. Carrie H

    I try to go shopping with a list – over wise I’m in trouble

  5. debbie

    Know the price of the general item you’re buying, when it’s new. I’ve seen way too many over priced used enameled roasting pans and used bread makers. I’m not going to pay $8 for a used slowcooker when I can buy a new one with some type of manufacturers warranty at XS Cargo for around $10.

    Also…t-shirts…look for the souvenir ones. People tend not to wear ones brought back for them or only wear them very few times before they make it to the thrift stores. I find the souvenir ones are usually decent-very good quality. Yeah you may not have been “there” but for wearing around the house or just out grocery shopping etc. they’re perfectly fine and cost less than the other ones on the thrift store rack.

    Don’t buy canning jars there…way over priced and you don’t know of the age of them.

    Buy games you already own…the thrift store game may be missing pieces but, you will have spare pieces for games you already own in case the kids loose pieces.

    One of the Tightwad Gazette books has a stain removal recipe that is supposed to be very, very good. Think about adding appliques or crocheted embellishments such as small flowers or lace to items of quality that may be stained or have a snag/small hole.

    • aww

      I love the idea of buying games you already own! If you pick up two of the same game you might be able to make one full game out of them too. What a great idea, thanks for sharing it.

  6. Jaedyn S

    I love shopping at thrift stores – I have found many wonderful things at them!

    My sister gave me a good tip when we were in the home textile section of VV. Throw pillows are very expensive in stores – even the pillow forms. I managed to get 2 long decorative pillows for $3.00 each – WAY cheaper than I could ever get them in the store. We love buying decorative pillows (even ugly ones, as long as the covers have a zipper) & recovering them!

    My MIL is also the QUEEN of thrifting. She works in home-care, and often has 2 hour breaks. About once or twice a week, she will use her time to go to a few thrift stores, and the things she finds is amazing!! She has been able to stock her playroom full of good quality toys for next to nothing!

    • Lori

      I cringe when I hear ppl buying pillows and other items that can’t easily be washed in very hot water. Bed bugs are a real issue these days that we need to be mindful of but I am most disgusted by thinking of someone elses body fluids, (think slobber), on something that will touch my face. Please be careful.

      • aww

        If you find a cushion or pillow you love, unstuff it, wash the cover, and then restuff it with new batting bought at Fabricland on 50% off events. Problem solved and no bodily fluids or bugs!

  7. Anna

    I agree with the comment about knowing the general price of items before you go. Often I see things at thrift stores that are not even half price of buying new. My tip is to scour the items they put in bags and hang on the wall. Often there are amazing things in those bags that aren’t visible with just a quick glance.

  8. Virginia

    I love VV 50% off sale. I try to get as much of my kids clothes for the season as possible during the sale. The VV near me isn’t that cheap. I once saw a shirt from Old Navy with the price tag still on and VV price was $1 more! I find the thrift stores in million dollar neighborhoods are cheaper and have much better selection.

  9. theresa

    I find that small unknown shops are the best. Prices cheap. Goodwill and VV are asking way too much these days. I can find better deals on clearance or on kijiji

  10. Kris

    I love VV, though not as much as I used to…prices have gone up and many of them don’t sort baby clothes by specific size anymore. (0 to 18 months all together?? really??) However, I am a collector of vintage dishes and glassware, so I love VV for that…99 cents for something I know I would have to pay $25 for on eBay? Yes please!
    I often find goodies at church or charity run thrift stores, like one in my town run by the local United Church, and another run by Community Living. And there’s always good old St. Vincent de Paul. 🙂

  11. Caroline

    Knowing your brands is key – I got a Talbots jacket for $6 at Sally Ann, and once my daughter learned that American Eagle jeans are at VV and Talize, she became a regular shopper too.
    It’s a great way to reduce, reuse and recycle.

    • Cassie Howard

      I agree – you MUST know your brands to save big!

  12. Laura

    A couple times a year, when I decide to update my wardrobe so I either buy or borrow from the library a few fashion magazine, People Fashionwatch and In Style are two of my faves. I pick out some items I like, make a list or if I buy the mag, tear out pics and have a good idea what I want when I hit the local Goodwill, these days you can do this online but I like a paper magazine. I also look at ads and try to get familiar with labels so I know if an item is a decent designer or a Target knockoff. This is most important with jeans, purses and shoes for me. By doing this, I go to the shop with a good idea what I am looking for and this makes it easier to stay on track. I have often made a list and come away in one or two trips with a thousand dollar wardrobe for $100. You do have to stay a bit flexible, you might find the perfect top in a different color or the perfect color in a slightly different style but you can put together a nice wardrobe for pennies on the dollar. You also know what the value is of an item when you see it. I have bought Michael Kors jeans, a Christian Dior suit and tons of other good designers at thrift shops by knowing who the designers were that were on the rack. All for less than $8 an item.

  13. Anna

    One other comment I’d like to make is that it really isn’t a good idea to buy every day children’s shoes at thrift shops. Shoes for special occasions sure. BUT what people don’t often think about is that a child’s foot is developing and if you put them in a pair of used shoes for any length of time (like running shoes worn daily) their foot will start to conform to the shoe…. so if the previous child had any foot issues your child’s feet are going to pay the price. I know sometimes it cannot be helped. But it might be better to save money elsewhere and buy a new pair at Walmart.

  14. rae

    and also always try on clothing before buying there are many times that I didn’t and i bought an item and it didn’t fit.

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