Thrift Shopping Tips & Tricks

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It’s a new, exciting season for our family. I will be making a career transition back into the non-profit world!  One of the things that I have missed most has been dressing up for work each day.  The past year, I’ve worn jeans and t-shirts to the office.  Now it’s time to trade in my casual style for pencil skirts, blouses and blazers.  Though I had some slacks stored away and tops tucked in bottom drawers, I was in need of a wardrobe update.I am a terrible shopper.

I find it very difficult to spend money.  I can talk myself out of any purchase, and rarely do I want to pay full price for anything.  What does work well for me, however, is a good thrift shop.  The prices and variety can’t be beat.  I like the fact that I’m recycling and typically supporting a good cause.  It’s also like a grand treasure hunt.  I find satisfaction in finding that one diamond in the rough.

To find true gems, it does take patience and a keen eye.  I wanted to share my strategy behind thrift shopping, in hopes that you find your own unbelievable deals.


Tip #1: Schedule plenty of time for your shopping trip.
Thrift stores are often unorganized and messy.  Sizes are out of order, genders are often mixed up, and sometimes there is just lots of junk to sort through.  It’s more difficult to find what you are looking for.  Make sure to set aside plenty of time to sift through racks upon racks.  It’s not a quick way to find an outfit, but patiences does pay off in the end.

Today I spent two different hours in two different stores.  I split my time up so I didn’t get bored or feel overwhelmed.  And I made sure my husband knew I would be out for a while.

Tip #2: Take advantage of sales, half-off days and free stuff.
Most thrift shops have some type of deal.  It could be a clearance-type section where prices have been marked down.  Often times each article of clothing is noted by a colored tag, and the store will have 50% off days for a specific color.  Additionally, some stores have “free” items, and allow you to take a certain number of free merchandise with your purchase.  Keeping an eye out for these deals, which make the savings even better!

At the first store I visited, it was 50% off yellow tagged items today.  I made sure to note the tags and most of the items I chose were on sale.  The second store had a clearance section with many things marked down 50% to 75% off and items marked “free” scattered throughout the store.  I picked up lots of items that were only 99 cents and got a free blazer!  


Tip #3: Look for brands you love for guaranteed quality. 

You will find every brand you can imagine at thrift stores – from department store brands to designers.  It helps to know which brands you like most and which brands are the best quality.  When you are searching, pay attention to the tags and research online if you find a name that isn’t familiar.  It’s amazing what you can find that people have donated.

I found clothing from Loft, Banana Republic, BCBG and my favorite, Old Navy, today.  I know these will be good quality, last longer and feel more comfortable.

Tip #4: Examine every article of clothing closely for any problems.
Because these are second-hand items, some of them will have problems.  It’s important to check for stains, holes, tears and worn fabrics.  Most of the time, I don’t run into any issues.  Occasionally though, I will find something I really like, that has a defect and I put it back.  I wouldn’t want to buy anything, only to realize at home I won’t be wearing it.

On this trip I did see two items that I wanted to get, but they had issues.  One shirt I liked the color and cut, but it had a hole in the back that could not be repaired.  I also picked up a skirt, only to find it had a stain on the bottom.  Generally, if you see a stain on an item in the thrift store, it is permanent.  You can almost bet that the previous owner attempted to wash the stain out before getting rid of it.  Also, you may find items that are brand new, still with original tags!  Two of the things I purchase today had their original tags.  Those are true steals!! 


Tip #5: Always try it on.
Because of the large variety and unknown brands, it’s hard to count on sizes.  I’m sure you know that a 6 in one pair of pants does not fit like a 6 in another pair.  It’s amazing how sizes vary in tops and bottoms.  Try it on to make sure the fit is what you are looking for so you aren’t disappointed later.

The clothes I brought home vary is size.  I have skirts ranging from size 4 to size 10, shirts that are extra small to medium, blazers that are also varied.  In addition, I tried on a large range of items I didn’t purchase in my size, simply because they didn’t fit right.

Tip #6: Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap.  
This is where a thrift shopping can get you in trouble.  Or it gets me in trouble anyway.  I want to buy all the things because they are such good prices!  But, I know that if I were just going off price, I would buy clothing that I would never wear.  I always ask myself, “if this item were not this price, but more expensive, would I still want it?”  If the answer is no, I won’t get it.  If the answer is yes, I take it home.  This may seem silly, but I’ve wanted to buy several things just because it was a good deal, instead of because I actually thought I’d wear it.

I carried many items around the store debating whether or not I really liked them or would wear them.  I put several items back on the racks.  In the end, I walked away with clothing I knew I liked, I knew it fit me well, and I knew I would wear it.

Today was very successful!  I came home with 7 blouses, 3 blazers and 5 skirts all for under $40.


What deals have you found thrift shopping?  Are there any tips or tricks you’d add to my list?

2 thoughts on “Thrift Shopping Tips & Tricks

  1. Thanks for posting this Sara! These tips sure are helpful! After spending just a few days working in a fashion clothing store, I have become amazed by how much women will spend on items, and believe some deals are really good deals when in reality they are not. I’m not too good at shopping in thrift stores because I lack the patience of sorting through everything, but it does seem well worth the time and effort!

    1. I bet you are seeing a lot of interesting trends working at the mall! I’m just too frugal with my money to spend large amounts on myself. I do splurge sometimes, but normally I find more excitment over a good thrift store find than shopping elsewhere. I think it’s just a personal preference though 🙂

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