Thrifting: the moment when persistence meets potential. An art form, hobby, maybe even a full-time job, thrifting takes planning, determination, and a true love for a great find. And although some shopping trips to vintage land will be more successful than others, it’s all about the hunt.
So whether you’ve never had a thrifting moment or you’re an experienced shopper hoping for some helpful hints, we’ve rounded up the five best tips for shopping at a thrift store. And hopefully, with our help, you’ll be able to find an item that was well worth the wait.
Tip #1: Make regular visits to your local thrift shop
This may seem like common sense, but it’s true — the more you visit, the more you’re likely to find. Especially with the nature of a thrift store and its endless turnover of items, it’s a good idea to visit often in order to increase your chances of finding something great. Frequent visits will also ward off any impulse purchases, because you know you can always come back tomorrow to see if that special item is still waiting for you there.
Tip #2: Shop during the week and less on the weekends
Weekends seem like the natural time to shop, but shopping during the week results in better scores. If you can, stop by during a lunch break or even after work to see what your local thrift store has to offer. Because weekends can be hectic with other shoppers, thrift stores tend to be picked over, leaving few items worth purchasing. During the week, less shoppers mean more opportunity for success.
Additionally, it’s important to make friends with the employees at your thrift shop. They are the ones who can offer helpful insight when it comes to searching for a specific item. Employees can also let you know when the store restocks new things, making it easier to plan your visit.
Tip #3: Consider the neighborhood
Try taking your thrifting adventures to new neighborhoods where you may find some great hidden gems. The Krazy Coupon Lady finds that “small towns frequently don’t get enough donations to stock their store, so inventory is shipped in from large cities with a lot of extra.” As long as you feel comfortable going outside your ‘hood, it’s good to expand your thrift shopping to nearby cities and towns.
Leah French from the website The Spruce recommends shopping in declining neighborhoods, as long as you feel safe. “I’ve found far more in these stores than in trendy neighborhoods,” she said. “The stores are less trafficked by other enthusiasts.”
Tip #4: Learn to distinguish quality
With so many options to choose from at a thrift store, it’s good to learn how to discover quality pieces. Name brands are naturally a source to pull from, however, it’s best to avoid a name-brand article if the thrift store has priced it similar to a retail store where you could buy it new.
The Krazy Coupon Lady also has her own tips for finding quality — for instance, when looking at furniture, she explains, “Hardwood furniture is better quality and will last longer than veneer. Hardwood will have the same grain all the way through, and furniture with a veneer will be made of plywood on the inside and feel less porous.”
She also explains that natural materials are more expensive. For example, wool in clothing like blazers will mean an article of clothing is more expensive, and woven tags (not printed) will show an item’s worth as well. When you do decide to make a quality purchase, it’s good to remember that it may take extra funds to care for an item of this caliber — consider future dry cleaning bills or any additional resources you’ll need.
Tip #5: A damaged item can be bargained down
Yes, you can ask for a discount at a discount store! If you really love an item, but it’s scratched or has some minimal damage, ask what the store can do for you in terms of a lowered price. Some stores offer 20 percent off or more on an item that is damaged. Just make sure that you can somehow correct the hole in that sweater or fix the knick on that dresser before purchasing. It never hurts to ask — sometimes you have to be persistent in order to find the potential in a pre-loved purchase.
There is something about thrifting that keeps us coming back. Maybe it’s the hunt for a great deal, or maybe it’s the gratification that comes with the possibility of making something new again. As the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Shopping at thrift stores has an ethical dimension, too. It shows care for the resources we’ve been given when we reuse items instead of throwing away and buying new. And goods come to the stores as donations, which allows the sales to support a charity that serves a marginalized population. So, not only are you getting a deal, but your dollar is helping someone in need.
When it’s your turn to move or you’re ready to upgrade your furniture, consider returning the favor by donating used items to a thrift store, rather than trying to squeeze an extra dollar out of reselling it on Craigslist. The St. Vincent de Paul Society has a network of thrift stores that are always looking for donations (and volunteers) — they are a Catholic organization that offers free food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention to anyone who needs it, regardless of their background.