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4 Helpful Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

There is real talent when it comes to thrift store shopping. I’m lucky to live near two of the top thrifters around, Allison and Kami. These ladies are skilled in their approach and attack! After going with them on a recent trip to the thrift store, I learned a thing or two. Here’s a few tips for the next time you go thrift store shopping.

1. Get there early! I arrived just before 10 am to my local Utah thrift store and witnessed close to 30 people lined up to get in. They are the real bargain hunters. Kami and Allison are usually among them! They say most people head in towards the collectibles first, seeing what’s new for the day. You could probably go every single day and find something new.

2. Pile it in, decide later. It can get pretty hairy in there, people spying in your cart to see what you’ve got. So if you’re thinking about a specific item to buy, just put it in your cart. Allison’s cart is piled high, both of them. She likes to make sure it’s all in her cart, so no one else can snag it. Then decides later if she’s really going to buy it. (She’s got an iron grip on those carts! ;)

3. Will I use it? If you’ve got something specific in mind for an item, like Allison’s really cool jug or this clock of Kami’s or this mirror that’s going to get a fresh coat of paint, then get it! But if you’re not going to use it, don’t buy it. It’ll just be adding more junk to your junk.

4. Go with a friend. This tip is helpful with tip #3. I was constantly asking them their opinion if I should buy something. Should I get this or this? What would I use it for? Can I borrow your black paint? Will I really end up wearing it? It’s nice to go with someone who can tell you yes or no, otherwise you might buy a whole bunch of stuff you really don’t need.

Here’s what I found and purchased. I’m beyond thrilled with my wooden lollipop tree. My grandma had one of these out at Christmas when I was little and I’ve been wanting to find one ever since. (That dude behind me is totally eying my find, I know it!)

My baby also got a cute dress, I have a new fun red purse, a couple of plates that will start showing up in recipe posts, and a tissue box cover that Kami convinced me to paint (I’ll share the new look when it’s done).

What thrifting tips and tricks do you abide by when shopping at thrift stores?


  1. But the best of all can be the buy-by-the-pound Goodwill outlet stores (depending on the community).

  2. I’m a fan of thrift stores too! If only they were open late so I could shop after my kids go to bed! One thing I do is find out when the thrift stores have their discount days. Our Salvation Army Store has half-price clothing on Wednesdays; Goodwill has a monthly 99 cent clothing sale. I can save even more money by going to the stores early on these days, busy though they are.

    Additional ultra-thrifty ideas are here:

  3. Oh my… I’m from the UK and I am an obsessive vintage treasure hunter but we have nowhere that even compares to the size of that thrift shop! I wonder if my other half could be convinced into a trip to the US (and whether he’s mind a bit of thrifting while we were there?!).

    I have a very bad case of thrift-jealousy at the moment.


  4. I love the DI. I usually always find something every time I go. I always picture what things would look like in a different color and that helps me decide whether or not to buy it. Lamps are my favorite thing to buy. So many old, ugly lamp bases turn out to look fantastic with a coat of spray paint and a new shade. I’ve saved so much money buying most of my lamps there.

  5. I learned from a girl who used to work at DI that they put items out constantly – so going early isn’t always necessary. Although, the store is probably more organized then…

  6. My tips…
    1.small box of tools. Sometimes you need a screwdriver or a hammer to nail something in or pry it apart to get it to fit. Take bungee cords. (One time I found this GORGOUS hutch & they wouldn’t hold it for me….sad day & it was gone when I came back.)
    2. some wipes & handsanitizer. I always feel better if I can wash my hands after leaving. My friends say I’m a germ phobe but I’ve no problem eating & drinking after the kids or family/friends…but Aunt Sally’s (Salvation Army) & Uncle Will’s (GoodWill) house isn’t always up to par when it comes to clean.
    3. ALWAYS leave the kids at home. If they have to come know it’s trip that’ll last less than 30 minutes, have a drink for them, a snack for them, seriously get the point across of not touching & staying out of the racks (I have fears they’ll get lice from being in the clothes. ….I see my friends have a reason to ’cause me a germ phobe…
    4. Wash the clothes BEFORE putting them on your child. I was a home care provider way back when. One mother sent clothes for me to put on her child who was potty training. The tags were STILL on them & that included the underwear. No, she didn’t forget to remove the tags b4 washing…they were paper & as someone who has missed a tag they’ll be all messed up if they’re washed…this was straight from the store. I used my kids clothes & claimed to have missed the clothes she had brought. Hello passive aggressive.
    5. Try to come home to an empty house. There is nothing like coming home & being able to start on your new project. As a mom who refuses to buy brand new clothing (unless it’s a killer clearance deal) it’s nice to wash,dry & put away for the next size without monkeys running around. Plus I shop for their Christmas & Birthday gifts too.
    6. Don’t try to figure out if it’s an antique. If you like it, have a use for it & have the space for it buy it. If not go home! ;)

    Oh …and pull your hair back & wear layers (even in the summer).

  7. Great tips! ONE TIME I saw something and said, “I’ll think about it”. Newbie mistake! Now I grab it. It can always be put back on the shelf if I change my mind.

  8. I am loving all these tips!! So many of you are already experts. I’ve gotta start going weekly!

    Aly – Kami bought that mirror. I can’t wait to see what she does with it! It is inspiring.

    Jenn – Love your comments about the dude behind me. I think he does think I’m crazy!

    Sandra – SOOOO funny about competition. I was eying that mirror Kami found! But I’m gonna let her do the re-purposing!

  9. You’re hilarious to go thrifting with, I loved it! You covered a lot of my tips, but I usually have a running list in the back of my head of things I’m looking for which helps narrow the process.

    Any day of the week, I’ll be your thrifter buddy.

  10. I LOVE going to thrift stores. But I never, ever go with a fellow crafter. why?

    Be friendly and courteous to salespeople, sometimes that can result in “inside info” and even discounts at the register. Don’t snobbish or condescending.

    I took doughnuts to one of my favorite stores and now I am one of their favorite customers!
    People like surprises, especially something sweet!

    Don’t see a particular item? inquire about it, sometimes “treasures” are hidden in a backroom and have not been displayed yet or forgotten. “If you don’t ask you don’t get!”

  11. I love going thrifting with you. Great tips Marie! My favorite part was how excited about the lollipop tree you were.

  12. I love going to thrift stores but we don’t live near one any more so I hit the yard sales and rummage sales. I take the opposite approach and go late unless they’ve advertised something I’m interested in, then I go early so I can snag it. You can usually get the best yard sale prices later the in day then first thing in the morning!

    BTW-I love the expression of the fella behind you in the background. It says “why the heck are you so happy to have that piece AND you needed a picture of yourself with it INSIDE the store!?!”

  13. I think go with a friend is a great piece of advice! It makes it fun and they might see something in a way you don’t, good or bad.

    Mindy’s right too, don’t take the kids. Mine are 3 1/2 and 15 months . . . both boys. Waaaaay too hard to thrift with them.

  14. I love thrift shopping! Since my kids are so young it hasn’t really worked to go there very often. The one tip I really found useful from back in the day when I was a more avid shopper was to go on rainy days. People tend to go to the mall to shop on rainy days and don’t go to the thrift shops – or at least that’s my observations.

  15. Hey Marie, Here’s a tip specifically for the DI (You know I’m married to an expert). You don’t necessarily have to go early to find the good stuff. Yes they put things out overnight, but they do throughout the day as well, so pretty much whatever time you go there’s a good chance of seeing the “new” additions.

  16. I have been wanting to go to the DI for…months. I never thought about going early, good tip.
    I personally can’t wait for the yard sale season!! So fun!

  17. My biggest tip: Alway take a tape measure with you and the dimensions of any space for which you’re trying to find a specific piece. It’s so easy to fall in love with something at first sight and then find that it doesn’t fit where you were hoping it would.

    I compiled my own list of Top 10 Tips for Thrifting on Craigslist. I thought it might be helpful for you or your readers.

  18. I love love love thrift stores, consignment shops and Goodwill! I try to go to Goodwill on Monday morning when they change the “half-price” color tag. I want to get the best clothes I can for my family. I wrote a post about keeping track of your purchases because most of the time I shop ahead for my kids and forget what they need and what I’ve already purchased for them.

  19. I go to Goodwill every week, sometimes 2 times a week. I keep a list with me of things I’m looking for to complete various projects/events. Of course, most times I run across MANY things that just jump out at me to be transformed. You MUST look past the obvious use for the item.. and it’s color. Have a favorite color? Like black? When you see something that catches your eye, imagine it in that color.

  20. I bough about 10 12×12 picture frames . Painted them and glued fabric around a 12×12 sheet of metal. . I took the glass out and I have magnet boards How cool was that?I love thrift shopping. We have a great place just a few miles away!

  21. I LOVE thrift shopping and enjoyed reading this post! My most helpful hint, as I learned firsthand the other day, is LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME! Now older children may be fine, but I have a 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 and thrift shopping was NOT their idea of fun. I think I even ended up buying more than I should have just because I couldn’t think straight with all the distraction of trying to keep them in the cart, getting along in the small cart and not pulling things off the rack. :)

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