6 Tips for Succesful Thrifting

I grew up with a love of the second hand. This love of thrifting was cultivated in me from early on. When I was young, my mom and I would spend Saturday mornings rummaging through church sales, thrift stores, and yard sales. Just the two of us, we would set out, snacks packed in a cooler, ready for the day! A trip to the library usually topped off those mornings and I carry some really fond, fun memories from those Saturdays.

Thrift stores can be a sort of wonderland for kids. Your allowance stretches a whole lot further when you're buying used trinkets and games for less than a dollar. I would buy anything, from goofy dress-up items, to gaudy knick-knacks, to puzzles and toys. There are some amazing second hand finds for kids out there!

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I continue to love second hand shopping to this day. Prices may have increased (partially due to the area I currently live in), but my love of second hand items has never wavered. There is something wonderful about being able to give a used object a new home and save some money in the process!

Through my years of thrift shopping and garage sale-ing (yes, I made that a verb), I've come up with a few tips for having second hand shopping success.

* Give your object of interest a good once (or twice!) over.


This is especially true for clothing items, but is a good practice in general. I once tried a blouse on, walked out to show T and he pointed out a huge tear in the back that I hadn't seen before!

Carefully, look over the item in your hand. Are there any imperfections that bother you? Is it still worth its marked price with those scratches or that small tear? If you are at a yard sale, you may be able to talk down the price with the owner. However, large thrift stores are fairly set in their pricing. Here are a few things you may want to look for:

Clothing/Fabrics: You will want to look carefully at the item for snags and small tears. Look at the seams and make sure none are loose or coming apart. Check the underarms, hems, and collars for holes. Look for any stains and discoloration on the item. I find that greasy/oily stains and make-up stains are very hard to get out and I normally pass on items that have these. Try the item on, if possible.

Electronics/small appliances: Ask if they have a plug-in where you can test the item. Look for wear on the rubber coating around the wires. Make sure the prongs on the plug aren't bent.

Dishes/Bakeware: Look for scratches or large patches of wear on any non-stick surfaces. Watch out for stains, chips, and cracks in glassware.

Puzzles/Games: If you can, check that all or most of the pieces are in the box. If pieces are obviously missing, try to think if they are easily replaceable. For example, with monopoly you could replace the game pieces (car, hat, etc.) with small plastic toys or even spare change! Puzzles are always a risk since you can't really count out all 500 pieces, but I've found brand new, unopened puzzles at thrift stores before.

* Be aware of what the new price of an item is.


This doesn't necessarily mean writing down the prices of a bunch of items and carrying them all with you. Just know a general range of what the price would be buying it new. Many times I've found that prices at garage sales are not much lower than the original price of an item, even though the item has obvious wear. In these cases you would probably be better off buying the item new.

In some cases, the opposite is true. It may shock you how much something is second hand, but when you compare it to the new price of that item, it is obviously a good deal.

Recent real-life examples of when buying new wins out:
Cookie sheets at the thrift store, all stained and warped - marked $0.99  
Cookie sheet, brand new, from Dollar Tree - $1.00

Woven baskets, thrift store, all have at least one area with broken twigs, large one -  $4.00
Large woven basket on clearance at Kroger Marketplace store, brand new - $5.00

Recent real-life examples of when buying used is the clear winner:

Cashmere cardigan, thrift store, very good condition, brand: J. Crew - $10.00 
Cashmere cardigan, brand new, from J. Crew - $178.00

Small, leather, Dooney & Bourke purse, a couple of scuffs (which came out later, BTW) - $6.00
Comparable size bag, similar features, brand new, Dooney & Bourke - $345.00

Cardigan and purse.

Obviously, the cardigan and purse were a pretty rad deal! But, I didn't know exact prices until I looked them up later. In my head, I figured that a nice cashmere cardigan would probably run $75 or more and the D&B bag would be at least $100. So, even though I may set a limit (see below) of say $4 for buying purses, spending the extra $2 would be worth it here.

Finding out the real prices is just a bonus!

*Know your limits.


 Your limits are like your guidelines for second hand shopping. If you don't set any limits, you end up going crazy over all the bargains you're finding and just buy everything in sight...and then only use/wear half of it. Even if you got bargains, you're still wasting money at that point and your items will likely land in the donate pile again. Think about some of these things:

What can you reasonably fix, re-do, or make-over? Where do you draw the line on prices for certain items? How much fixer-upper is too much for your taste?

These are all really good questions to consider before going second hand shopping. And I do mean before. Otherwise, you'll be all caught up in the moment, dreaming of how you could re-cover a side chair (Pinterest style) when you've never actually done something like that before.....and aren't even really sure if you want to spend the time doing it.

So, just take a minute before you head out to think about your limits/guidelines.

Need an example? Here are some of my limits:

Anything that has to be changed with sewing needs to be simple, only shortening/hemming, not taking in the sides or re-working the sleeves, I'm just not practiced enough to know I could do these things.

No more than $5.00 per piece on clothing items (special brands/fabrics are sometimes an exception).

No drastic furniture re-dos.

No home decor items/knick-knacks unless I know exactly where they will go.

No more than $1.00 per book.

These are just examples of my limits. Its a personal thing, so come up with shopping guidelines you are comfortable with.

* Scout out different stores.


So, you've been going to the same two thrift stores for ten years. Its time to find some new stores! As long as there are more in your area of course...

I've found that some stores are really great for one or two categories of items(ex: clothes and handbags), but another might be really good for a totally different category, like furniture or home decor. By scouting beforehand, you can more easily look for a specific item you want, without wasting time at stores that probably won't have what your looking for.

For example, I may want to find some cheap used books for summer reading. I know to avoid one of my favorite thrift stores, just because they never have very good selection in books and have pretty high prices....On the other hand, this store is really good for finding fancy clothing brands (J. Crew, Eddie Bauer, Banana Republic, etc.) in my size. So, I usually hit this one first if I'm looking for clothes.

Scouting also allows you to figure price differences, brand differences, and general layout between stores. This is handy for future reference and can streamline your second hand shopping (for the days you can't spend hours at each store).

Another note: look for sale days at the stores you scout. Many thrift stores will have a half price day, where everything in the store is 50% off. Or some stores may have special days where certain categories of items are marked lower than usual. Find out when these are and take advantage of them!

It may take a couple of visits before you really get the feel for what a store does and doesn't have, but its worth it.

* Consider the possibilities.


...or what else could this item be used for?

Try to think outside the box when picking up an item in the thrift store. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, Pinterest is a great resource for finding cool new ways to use household items.

Some examples from my home:
If you sew, buying large pieces of usable fabric can be expensive. Look around your local thrift store or a garage sale for items that might be re-used for the fabric. One of my main, go-to, categories for this is home linens. Sheets, tablecloths and curtains are excellent sources of fabric. I currently have a plaid tablecloth sitting in my closet waiting to become cloth napkins; I can get 6-8 napkins out of it and I only paid 99 cents for the tablecloth! My mom also mentioned using large clothing pieces for fabric, like gathered skirts, dresses, and men's shirts. So, if you see a print you like, it may be worth it to grab the item!

Another idea would be using mugs/teacups for storage of small items. I use a plain, simple, white mug in the bathroom to hold all of my makeup brushes. A cream-colored teacup holds small lotions and a nail brush in our half bath. Think of office or craft storage, too. You could create pretty, functional storage for as little as 25 cents!

So, always consider the possibilities when looking through second hand items.

* Have fun.


This is such a cheesy way to end this, but stay with me here.

Part of the reason second hand shopping appeals to me, is that I find it fun. If you're not having fun, you won't want to do it again, no matter if your getting good deals.

Try something new! Second hand items are a cheap way to try new styles or items that you may have been curious about. Want to learn to knit? Pick up that bag of yarn and pair of knitting needles, then look up some videos or tutorials online. Think skirts instead of pants may be your next big fashion investment? Grab a few in your size, second hand, and see if you'll actually wear them consistently before putting a lot money into a brand new wardrobe.

Part of the fun of second hand shopping is all the crazy stuff you find between the good items. So, go ahead and try on that crazy dress, just for giggles. Take a picture of yourself in it if you're brave! Or buy that piece of ridiculous art for your bathroom. You'll grin every time you step in to brush your teeth.

I hope this was helpful to you!

Any other tips/advice/ideas for second hand shopping? I'd love to hear them!

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  1. Great post Brandi Lee! I especially like the limits concept. I've bought way too many things at garage sales that end up not being used and donated back to a thrift store. I love 2nd hand stores though for great deals!

    1. Thanks! I'm totally the same thing, I currently have some home decor I got several months ago and I'm thinking it may end up in the pile to donate. :/ Live and learn, right?

  2. I love shopping at thrift stores! Great info. :)


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