15 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

15 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

I love to shop in thrift stores and have been thrifting more lately than I have in quite a while. You'll see a lot of thrifted pieces making their way onto my blog soon, and I've already featured some. I've been shopping in thrift stores for as long as I can remember, but I know that some of my readers are less familiar with it. So, I want to provide you with a few tips to get you started. Forget any ideas you had about thrift stores because you're going to discover that if you are in the right place at the right time, you're going to find everything from vintage clothes to designer labels. Here are a few hints to help you find something amazing!

1. Find out the locations of your local thrift stores.
• There are Goodwill and Salvation Army stores in most cities, but there are even more locally owned stores, varying in size from Goodwill-type stores to small boutiques. You’re likely to pay more at a smaller store, but that’s not always the case, so be willing to try new places and know that just because you don’t find something on one day doesn’t mean you won’t another time. The merchandise at a thrift store is always changing.

2. Visit often.
• Once you know where your favorite local thrift stores are located, figure out a schedule that works for you and visit on a regular basis. You may come out empty handed one day but find lots of things you like on your next visit. If you have a large number of thrift stores that you like to try, work out a schedule where you rotate which ones you go to each week or so.

3. Learn your local store’s discount schedule.
• Many thrift stores offer discounts that vary according to day of the week. For instance, Monday might be senior citizens’ day or they might offer 50% off certain colored price tags or the merchandise in certain departments on a specific day. Many offer 40% to 50% everything in the store at least once a week, so read the signs in the store and if you don’t see any sale advertisements, be sure to ask.

4. Don’t go in with specific expectations.
• While it’s okay to hope you might find one specific item, it’s easier to shop in a thrift store with an open mind. Hope for a bargain, not a leather jacket. The merchandise is so varied, and only available in one size, so it’s difficult to find one specific item, exactly how you want it. It’s better to go in without expectations.

5. Take your time.
• Make sure you have plenty of time when you go thrifting. Be sure to walk up and down each aisle that you might find something in, and even those you aren’t sure about. I usually make a beeline for jewelry, accessories and dresses, then try to go through shirts, skirts and pants. But you can go through the store in any order you like and remember to look in unexpected places; some of my favorite thrifted pieces have come from the menswear side of the store. Don’t forget to go slowly when you’re walking up and down aisles. Take your time looking over the racks so that any piece you might be interested in has the opportunity to catch your eye.

6. Try things on.
• It’s crucial to try things on. Items in a thrift store are generally pretty cheaply priced, but if you are buying several items, they tend to add up quicker than you realize. If you buy a lot of things and it turns out that none of them fit, you can potentially waste a lot of money. You’ll also want to make sure you take hand sanitizer to use after trying on clothes.

7. Take a friend.
• If you’re a busy thrift store, I can almost guarantee you’ll need someone to guard the fitting room door and your cart, since most places tend to be strict on the number of items allowed in a fitting room at a time.

8. Have an open mind.
• Because what is in a thrift store is generally determined by donations, you’re not going to find a wide range of sizes in any one style and most of the clothes you find won’t be from this season or last. Try to think outside the box. The most interesting outfits are the ones that you wouldn’t ordinarily think to put together but that seem to work anyway. Be creative and have fun. If you like it, that’s all that matters. Keep in mind that the term ‘in style’ has gone out of fashion. If it was ever in, it still is. As long as you are happy and comfortable wearing it, you can pull off anything.

9. Remember what you already have.
• It’s easy to be tempted to buy things similar to what you already have and like when you find them on sale. It’s also easy to buy several similar items when they’re very cheap. And it’s okay to have four jean jackets or five pairs of black heels, but take into consideration how you can use what you already have and how often you’ll wear something, before buying repeats.

10. Carry cash.
• Most thrift stores don’t accept credit cards or checks, so make sure you have cash with you.

11. Look over everything before making purchases.
• Check zippers. Check for holes. Make sure there are no missing buttons. Don’t buy damaged items unless you really plan to fix them.

12. Check the washing instructions.
• You’re likely to find some things you really like that are dry clean or hand wash only. If you don’t want to pay $10 to have a $3 shirt dry cleaned, or if you know you’ll never hand-wash something, there’s no point in buying these.

13. Consider where you’re shopping.
*If you’re looking for more upscale clothes, try thrift stores in more upscale neighborhoods. You’re likely to find designer names for a fraction of their normal price. But remember that as thrifting has become more trendy, lots of stores have begun marking up their designer and vintage clothes. If you find a store that doesn’t do this yet, you’re really in luck.

14. Trade in your used clothing.
• Many smaller thrift stores will pay for your used clothes. But better yet, many give store credit that is sometimes double the amount of cash they would offer. If you take this route, you can free up space for new finds and walk out with some great new finds for practically nothing.

15. Have fun!
• Thrifting is fun. You don’t always have to look for designer labels or clothes you would normally wear. This is your opportunity to try new things. However you end up shopping and whatever you look for, just enjoy it. The only thing that really matters is that you’re happy with your finds.


  1. Great tips! I've recently become a poor college student, so I thrift shop very often. It's my favorite hobby :)

  2. It's one of my favorite hobbies too, Leo! I have to tell myself I can't go too often!

  3. Nice suggestions. I think these are really important.

  4. Meagan, Love part one, too! I like the idea that this is a good place to try something new. I will remember that on my next thrifting trip. And I love this, "Keep in mind that the term ‘in style’ has gone out of fashion. If it was ever in, it still is. As long as you are happy and comfortable wearing it, you can pull off anything." Good point!!! Debbie http://thriftygirlvintage.com