If you’re working to make the most of your budget, then shopping at thrift stores probably isn’t new to you. Buying things used instead of new is a great way to save money, but it doesn’t stop there!
With some extra effort, you can maximize the amount of money you save at the thrift store. After years of thrift store shopping, I’ve come up with some best practices that help me to find even more treasures and save even more money.
I first started shopping at thrift stores for clothing when I was a teenager. Shopping at the thrift store, or “thrifting” as we called it, was actually cool. I loved finding unique, high-quality name brand items that worked with my tiny teen budget.
That was only the beginning for me. Through college and motherhood, buying used instead of new has become the norm for me. I’m fine with buying most things secondhand. Of course, there are some things that I won’t buy used, but that list is pretty small considering all of the other things that I’m thrilled to find used.
Whether you’re a regular thrifter or just thinking about it, here are a few ways to make your dollar go even further at the thrift store.
1- Go Often
I’ve known some people to give up on shopping at thrift stores (or garage sales) because of their “hit or miss” nature. It’s true that sometimes you will go and leave empty-handed (I did that just yesterday). Don’t give up if you’ve only gone once or twice. That just doesn’t give you a complete idea of the possibilities.
Thrift stores receive new donations daily, so their inventory is always changing. Going often will give you more opportunities to find great things. Now I’m not talking about going every day or even every week, but figure out what can be “regular” for you.
2- Keep a list
Going to the thrift store often can be dangerous because you’re giving yourself more opportunities to spend money. The important thing to realize, especially if you’re going to start thrifting regularly, is that you don’t need to go up and down every aisle and comb through every department each time.
The solution to having time to shop the thrift store and not tempting yourself to buy what you don’t need is keeping a list. Have an ongoing list of the needs and wants of your family so that when you walk in the door you know exactly what to look for.
For example, I always take a peek at the kids shoes. With four kids, if no one needs shoes now, they will in the coming months. If I find shoes that meet my standards and will fit any of my kids now or in the coming year, I’ll get them. This practice alone has saved me so much money over the years.
Keeping a list will help you stay focused, so your frequent trips to the thrift store take less time and don’t result in extra stuff you don’t need.
3- Think ahead
This goes along with keeping a list, but deserves its own mention. In addition to keeping a list of your current wants and needs, look ahead at your upcoming needs. It might seem odd to be thinking in June about how your daughter will need a larger snowsuit and new boots next winter, but the forethought will pay off.
When you’re at the mercy of a constantly changing inventory, giving yourself more time to find the items you need makes you more likely to be successful.
Besides success, I’m also able to find higher quality by thinking ahead. Because I keep a list and shop ahead (before the need is urgent), time is on my side and I can be more selective than if I were buying in a rush.
Like I mentioned, I buy most all of my childrens’ shoes secondhand. Since I buy them well in advance of when my kids actually need them, I only buy when I find name brand, quality shoes with little wear.
4- Learn every store’s prices and promotions
Get to know all of the thrift stores in your area, not just the one of two that you’re comfortable with. Learn about the way they price their items. Is it blanket pricing (i.e. all jeans $4) or is it individually priced? There are benefits to each.
Each store has its own set of special promotions. Learn about their promotions and when you can get the best deal. Thrift store promotions get pretty creative sometimes.
Here are some of the promotional practices I’ve seen:
Some stores have different colored tags and choose a different color to discount every week. In fact, one of my favorite thrift stores has three different colors on sale each week (25% off, 50% off and 75% off).
Most thrift stores have a certain day where seniors get a certain percentage off.
Our local chain of thrift stores has a sale on the first Saturday of the month where the entire store is half off.
Many thrift stores will choose a certain department (furniture, linens, women’s pants, etc) to discount each day. Sometimes it’s planned and they’ll give you a calendar of upcoming sales, but for other stores it’s just a wild card.
Some thrift stores give you a special coupon for a percentage off or a dollar amount off when you donate. Not only is it a great way to give back and save money, but it’s also a great way to keep clutter down!
5- Do your research
So now that you’ve got a list of the items you want or need, do your research and decide what you are willing to pay for them. Just because something is at a thrift store doesn’t mean the price is a great deal.
For example, I’ve noticed that canning jars are often really overpriced at thrift stores. You can get brand new canning jars for around $1 each (that come with a flat lid and ring), but I often see thrift stores charging this price too, even without lids!
In your research, especially for bigger ticket items, pay attention to brands that are good (or bad). With smartphones, you can even do research on-the-go. Before I finally got a smartphone, I would call my husband from the store if I found a potential deal and have him look up the value or specifications online for me.
At charitable thrift stores, those doing the pricing are not experts. Some items are overpriced and others are under-priced. If you know what an item is worth (and what you are willing to pay) ahead of time, you won’t unknowingly over pay. Research is especially important if you plan to sell what you buy to make a profit.
6- Get the inside scoop
If there is something in particular you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to ask. Thrift stores offer some refreshing differences from big box stores. You get a much more personal touch with a local thrift store. Often, especially if you’re a regular customer, the staff are willing to help you out with specific requests. I’ve had workers or volunteers offer to call me if they get any [whatever I am looking for] in.
Don’t hesitate to ask for information that will make you a smarter shopper. You can ask what day (or what time of day) is best for new [what you’re looking for] inventory. For example, they might have a specific volunteer who prices all of their electronics and only comes in on Wednesdays.
Be friendly with the staff and be open about what you’re interested in. You might find some clues that will help you find the treasures you’re looking for.
While thrift stores will save you money just by their nature, don’t stop there. Come up with your own strategy to make the most of your money.
How about you?
- What are your tips for saving even more money at thrift stores?