Here are 20 great thrift store shopping tips:
1) Concentrate your efforts at thrift stores located in affluent areas. Donations are often higher quality there because people who earn more tend to buy more expensive clothes and household items (and donate them). But check stores everywhere; you never know where a gem will turn up!
To locate the stores in your area, check thriftshopper.com.
2) Get a frequent shopper’s card and ask if you qualify for a discount at Goodwill. Government employees, military members, seniors, and others are entitled to 10 percent off everyday prices. Once you earn a certain number of points through purchases, you also get an additional discount on one day’s purchases.
3) Sniff clothing and purses before you buy. The “moth ball smell” can be impossible to remove at home and it often isn’t detectable unless you put your nose right up to items you’re considering buying!
4) Scrupulously check white items. There’s generally a reason someone gives away a nice white piece of clothing — and it’s usually because they spilled something on it that stained it!
5) Watch for the “magic number” at Goodwill stores. Every day, a sign is posted in the stores in my area with a number on it — and any household item with a tag bearing that number is half off. (It might be worth waiting a few days until the “magic number” for the item you want comes up, if you’re willing to gamble it’ll still be there.)
6) Check armpits of clothing for shadows or stains. You don’t want to see the stain for the first time after you get it home. 🙁
7) Shop Goodwill on holidays. They often have 25 percent discounts on everything in the store on the days you’d think they’d be closed! You can get on the Goodwill mailing list to get email notices about these sales.
8) Commit to spending some time when you shop. It’s like a treasure hunt, and it takes a while to dig for the gems! I often spend an hour and a half at a big thrift store sorting through things because our local Goodwill stores sort all clothing by color, not by size.
9) Make sure the zippers work, and all the parts of multi-piece items are together before you buy them. If the store staples the price on the item, make sure it’s on a seam or sturdy part of the garment; if it’s on the fabric itself (like the strap of a tank top), it usually leaves a hole, no matter how careful you are when you remove it.
10) Ask if you get a discount on purchases the day you make a donation — and, if so, bring along some things to recycle as often as you can. (Our local Goodwill gives a 10 percent off purchases slip whenever you make a donation.)
11) Listen for the bell! Goodwill store employees in my area ring a dinner bell when they bring a cart of new merchandise onto the sales floor. If you zip over to it, you’ll have first dibs!
12) If you can sew, imagine how a minor alteration can transform a piece of clothing from dowdy into stylish. I once bought a dull-looking long-sleeved, wheat-colored suit that had a mid-calf length skirt; after cutting and hemming the jacket sleeves to above the elbow, shortening the skirt by a feet and pairing it with a vivid top, I got compliments every time I wore it!
13) Know the retail cost for various items, so you can tell if what you’re buying is a bargain. (I’ve seen household goods, in particular, marked with prices in thrift stores that are higher than the price for to buy them new at a retail store!)
14) Thoroughly wash or clean all purchases when you get them home, and don’t reuse the plastic bags they came in. (I wash thrift store purses on the gentle cycle and clean the inside of shoes with Lysol.)
15) Buy clothes or decorations out of season. Just don’t forget where you put them when the time comes to use them (mark your calendar?)!
16) Keep in mind you can sometimes use “pieces and parts” of thrift stores purchases. For example, if you find a woman’s suit for $7.99 and the jacket fits but the skirt doesn’t, it’s still a good deal for a blazer that might’ve cost $60 new. Buy a framed print just for the frame; throw away the print (or donate it back to the store) and replace it with one you love. Thrift store frames are real money-savers!
17) Wear close-fitting clothing that you can slip thrift store items (like shirts, jackets, etc.) over — in case the dressing rooms are packed. There’s usually a mirror somewhere in the store!
18) Check out thrift stores when you’re on vacation. (See #1 above to locate them.) In fact, if you plan to bring a lot of souvenirs home from your travels and have limited luggage space, it may be cheaper to buy and wear thrift-store clothes on vacation and leave them behind when you return home with goodies in tow.
19) Check your favorite thrift stores often. Popular stores have a quick turnover and get constant donations. Once a week is not too often!
20) Scope out the store’s policy on marking down items. The best store in this area cuts prices in half a week or two after they hit the shelf because they have such a turnover. (Just understand that the treasure you found may not be there when you come back — or someone may’ve stashed it in a completely different spot than where you originally found it!)
And — most of all — enjoy your treasures! If you make a mistake once in a while, be philosophical. You score more wins than you do losses, and you can always donate the item back to the store where you bought it, help someone else and get a tax deduction.
What are your favorite thrift store shopping tips?
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