Mar 23, 2013

18 tips to get the most
out of thrifting!

until last year, i had no regular experience with buying vintage items. however, after purchasing a house, two cars, and saving for new windows -- i became interested in buying "used" out of necessity...and in the process, became addicted to the thrill of the find!

after giving some thrifting tips to jennifer at {pure and simple organizing}, i decided to expand on my thoughts -- based on my experiences -- in a full-on blogpost. it turns out i have a lot to say on the subject! i was forced to break up my post into at least four parts. i'm not done writing yet. it may turn into five parts.

first up:

these are my tips for thrifting in general: 
from goodwill...to garage sales...to grandma's basement.

1. go early: when a store opens, when a yard sale starts, etc. the early bird gets the very best worms. yum!
     1b. for shops, go not only early in the day, but early in the week. most people donate their items over the weekend and you should see that reflected in a store's inventory by monday or tuesday.

2. go often: there is almost always a high turnaround of stock in resale shops.

3. discover the discounts! ask shops if they have a reward program. inquire about discount days. if there's a store you frequent often, check to see if they have a social media presence. you may be able to gain access to special coupons. ...or sign up for alerts on new inventory!

4. give yourself time: thrifting in a rush because you have to pick up your son from preschool in 15 minutes is never as much fun as it sounds.

5. always carry cash in small denominations: ones, fives, and tens. there's nothing worse than negotiating a lower price on a ten-dollar item, then asking the seller to break a fifty. ...okay, there are worse things in the world, but this is still pretty bad.

6. stash a large bag in your car that you can take with you when you go into stores or stop at a sale. you don't want to pass on something because your hands are full. you also don't want to set your items down to grab something else -- then find out someone else took your treasures.

7. keep a generalized list of what you're looking for. it's very easy to become distracted when thrifting.

8. related to the last tip: keep a measuring tape in your bag. it doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) a big, clunky one. they sell key-ring miniature versions at the hardware store. i usually see them near the checkout lanes. when you're wondering if a sofa will fit in your space or if that table is big enough to set your tv on, measuring tape will come in handy.

9. bring a smart phone if you have one -- for taking pictures (ask permission first... unless you're at goodwill) if you need to think about an item or consult with friends/family to make sure you're not crazy...and for researching if a piece is being offered at a fair price (i usually check google, ebay, and/or etsy.).

10. look for labels, know your brands. ^ but hey, if you don't recognize the maker, you can look it up on your smartphone.

11. look with an open mind -- sometimes items just need a good cleaning!

12. while your mind is open...think beyond what an object is traditionally used for. my best repurposing to date is my wooden floor grate turned washi tape storage

13. inspect: look at the top, the bottom, all the sides (including the INside) of the item for dents, cracks, chips, etc. if you're interested in a piece of furniture, open and close all drawers. try wobbling it to make sure it's steady. if you find an imperfection, decide if you can fix it (does it just need a fresh coat of paint?) or live with it (rust adds character!)
     13b. be realistic about your ability to fix something. if you don't have the skill set (or the desire to learn the skill set) or you're too busy to strip and sand an entire dresser, it's a waste of money no matter how cheap it is.

14. inquire: don't be afraid to ask questions -- about material (what is it made of?), age, history, authenticity, use...for example, i thought these glass insulator caps were beautiful, but i had no idea what they were.

15. don't be afraid to negotiate. i'm still trying to get comfortable with this. know everything has a value to someone -- set in your head the highest price you're willing to pay and start (reasonably) lower.
      15b. the more you buy, the stronger your negotiating position. "i'll give you ten bucks for everything in that wagon."
            15c. buy a garage sale-ing wagon. kidding.

16. keep towels, blankets, or tarps in your car. you can use them to wrap delicate items...and to protect your car from any not-so-clean finds.

17. don't be afraid to leave it behind. another way to say this: it's not really a good deal if you don't love it or if you don't envision yourself ever using it.

18. ...don't stress. thrifting is fun!

what do you think?
do you have any tips you'd add to this list?

are you an old pro at thrifting or new to the sport?

interested in my thrifting series?
      - 25 sources for vintage home decor: part one, part two, part three
      - keep up with my thrifting buys on instagram @meandering_mari!

* mari

Home Sweet Home Giveaway by HomeSav


  1. GREAT tips! I even shared them with the thrift store shoppers in my family and friends. :-) Really looking forward to your next blog entry - the top 25 sources for vintage home decor. Sounds like one that's not to be missed.

    1. i'm glad you enjoyed! thank you for your kind words, kevin - and for sharing the post. i appreciate it! :-)

  2. I think you about covered everything--thanks for sharing. I would add just because the item is at a thrift store, doesn't mean it is a good price. The thrift stores in my area charge a lot for clothes--I can find cheaper things brand new in the store.

    Also, I get the best deals at garage sales a little later in the morning as the people are more willing to negotiate their prices towards the end of the sale than at the beginning.

    1. thank you, susan -- and excellent point! i have a garage-sale specific list coming next week and i did mention going earlier for the selection or later for a better price. always a toss-up! :-)

      GREAT point about prices not always being a good deal just because it's in a thrift store!

      thank you for your input! :-)

  3. Great post! Not sure I would have anything additional to add and I totally agree with #11 & 12. I have found some of my best items while browsing with an open mind! Oh, I guess the only thing I would add is (and this relates more to those annual resale events that schools and churches throw) that it is good to arrive early but if you are really ambitious and have time returning the last hour typically pays off too bc a lot of times they mark everything 50% off at the end of the event. Can't wait to see your next post as I LOVE finding new places to thrift!

    1. thanks jennifer! i listed church resale shops in a post coming up, but i ((sadly)) haven't been to a rummage sale yet -- good info to know!

  4. By far one of my favorite thrift tips post! :)

    I think having time to browse and be opened minded is SO helpful! I found tons of vintage DVF, Trina Turk, and St.John at a Salvation Army Family Store. But I had to browse the racks -- all of them. :)

    I need to get better about getting there when they open!

    1. thank you jennifer! yes, us shoppers have it rough sometimes...not enough time in the day.... ;) :)


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