Top 10 Thrifting Tips of a Thrift Store Enthusiast

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Here are my top 10 thrifting tips to find the things you love, avoid over-paying, and not fill your house with junk you don’t need!

It’s probably no secret by now that I love buying things secondhand – everything from home decor to clothing to kitchen accessories – the list goes on!

A thrifted basket perfect for gathering flowers and veggies from the garden.

There are several reasons I love buying secondhand from thrift stores and consignment shops:

1. It can save money.

I say “can” save money because it will if you do it right. It won’t save you money, however, if you suddenly feel you can buy more and buy whatever you want because it’s cheaper – believe me, I’ve been there!

2. I love the hunt.

It’s just downright exciting to go thrifting! The inventory changes all the time and you never know what treasures you might find!

3. It’s being a good steward of resources.

Rather than letting things pile up in a landfill, thrifting gives items a second chance at life!

4. It encourages and sparks creativity.

Being forced to think outside the box about how to use an item or what an object could become with a few changes gets the creative juices flowing.

I would venture to say 2/3 of the furniture and decorative items in my home were thrifted or free! But you know what else is true? I have a lot of junk sitting in my basement that was also thrifted or free.

I’ve definitely learned a few things over the years and learned from my mistakes. Now I’d like to pass some of those lessons learned on to you!

Thrifted ironstone and other white china

Here are my top 10 thrifting tips:

1. Go thrifting often.

This is probably just common sense, but it’s actually the easiest way to be successful in finding good items! The more frequently you go and the more stores you visit, the more likely you are to have success just by shear probability!

That being said, don’t just go anywhere. Visit a variety of stores and you’ll start to get a feel of which ones have the best selection, greatest turnover, and what types of items get donated in those neighborhoods. Choose a few stores that most align with your style and needs and stick to those! I would ideally visit two stores about once a week if I had the time.

2. Don’t assume you’re getting a good deal.

I cannot stress this enough! Just because it’s at a thrift store doesn’t mean you’re getting a bargain price. Some stores are more on top of knowing the value of what they have than others, so I would encourage you to do a quick search on your phone if you’re unsure but really want the item. Paying a fair price for an item is not a bad thing – you just want to be sure you’re not overpaying!

You’d be surprised at the number of times you could get a brand new one for nearly the same price as used but without the wear and tear on the item, especially with certain brands of children’s clothing. Ultimately you have to decide if it’s worth that amount to you regardless if the price is a “steal” or not.

3. Don’t buy it just because it’s a good price.

It’s SO tempting to buy something we like just because it’s a good deal, isn’t it?! When we do that, however, we are setting ourselves up for overspending, cluttering our homes, and the burden of storing items that we may like but not love and don’t have room to display. Believe me, friends, I’m speaking from experience and have the boxes in the basement to prove it.

A vintage vanity and chair from a consignment shop make a great desk

4. Keep a running list of thing you’d like to find.

Keep it in the notes on your phone, tucked in your purse, or in your glove compartment… wherever you will have it accessible without having to remember to bring it along! This will help guide your shopping to check for certain items and remind you to check sections of the thrift store you might otherwise skip.

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5. Keep an open mind.

When considering any item, be ready to think outside the box. Even if it isn’t exactly what you imagined or planned, consider if it could become what you would like. The best way to do this is to ask yourself what CANNOT be changed about the piece. If the bones are good (the structure, the general shape, etc.) then almost anything else can be changed – paint color, upholstery, adding a new frame or photo, repurposing an item entirely…

Here are a few practical examples:

  1. A large piece of artwork where you like the size and shape of the frame but not the color of the frame or the print. Paint the frame a different color or use some Rub N Buff to give it a new finish, then replace the picture with art you purchased off Etsy.
  2. Repurpose a large vintage enamel bucket as a planter. Just slip your existing potted plant into the bucket, making sure it has a saucer inside to catch excess water.
  3. Start a collection of thrifted plates and hang them in a grouping on the wall as decor. You can hang them with these plate hangers (those are what I use – be sure to measure your plates and choose the proper size plate hanger).
  4. A wreath that’s the right size for your door but you don’t like the flowers or they’re out of season. Remove the bad flowers and simply freshen it up with new faux flowers.
  5. A small vintage table that is the perfect shape and size for your living room but too tall to be a coffee table. Shorten the legs by cutting them or replace the legs entirely with new ones to make it into a coffee table!
  6. A lamp that’s the right size and shape but the wrong finish and has an icky lampshade. Grab a can of textured spray paint and give it a few coats (follow the instructions and be sure to cover any electrical parts). Then add a fresh lampshade. Be sure to consider shade fitter type (harp, uno, or clip on).
This bench just needed a quick tune-up and a coat of paint to look her best.

6. Be realistic when considering projects.

When considering an item for a makeover, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Could this item become exactly what I want by investing time, money, and/or energy?
  2. Do I actually have the time, money, and/or energy to spend on this project?

If the answer to either or both is “no,” then you need to move on. Don’t settle for an item that won’t become what you want or will just sit around making you feel bad for not getting to it.

7. Keep a measuring tape and a list of measurements handy.

I keep a very small measuring tape in my purse specifically for thrifting. You might want to keep one in your car or purse if you’re in the market for furniture, paintings and other wall decor, rugs, light fixtures, etc.

It’s also helpful to know the measurements of your rooms when considering furniture. Jot those measurements down on a piece of paper or in your phone for easy reference when shopping.

Still one of my favorite thrifty finds, this chair got a complete upholstery job. You can find the tutorial here.

8. Be aware of color tag sales and rewards programs.

Most every thrift store I’ve been in has color coded tags. I believe this has to do with when the item arrived in the store and is a way they can run discounts on items. This typically changes every week and certain color tags will be 50% off. This is usually announced by signs throughout the store or on the door when entering. Keep that in mind while shopping!

Also, some thrift stores actually have rewards programs (St. Vincent DePaul, for example). You can earn points for money spent and those points add up to discounts. You might not think you spend enough to make it worthwhile, but if the program is free, why not sign up? You might be surprised how little purchases here and there can add up over time.

9. Examine clothing for broken/missing parts and stains.

One thing that really bothers me is when people donate clothing that is very obviously broken or very badly stained. It’s one thing to be missing a button, but when someone donates a baby sleeper where the entire front zipper is broken, it’s not really realistic to think that someone is going to want to fix that when the same store is selling not-broken sleepers for the same price right alongside the broken one…

…if the buyer notices, that is.

Can you tell that happened to me the other day? I was in Goodwill right at closing time and in my haste I threw a cute baby sleeper into the cart without checking the zipper…and of course it was totally broken. Won’t stay closed for anything.

Lesson in this is: Check the zippers and buttons and check for holes and stains, because I’m pretty sure the thrift store doesn’t check (or care?) and they’ll sell it to you for the same price as the nicer ones.

Second lesson: If you’re going to donate clothing, please ask yourself if you’d want to buy it in that condition. If the answer is no, you should probably rethink it.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Did you know those thrift store price tags have a date on them for a reason? It’s so items don’t hang around the store forever. Thrift stores want items to move and if they don’t then they get sent elsewhere or discarded in some fashion (did you know there is such a thing as a Goodwill outlet store?! It’s like the dumpster diving of Goodwill).

A couple months ago I was in one of my favorite thrift stores and spotted a cute side chair. The price was a bit higher than I wanted to pay and I almost walked away, but noticed the date on the sticker was over a month prior. That chair had been in the store over a month. I found an employee who got a manager; I pointed out the date on the sticker and made a reasonable offer – and they accepted!

I’ve been in other thrift stores where they are adamant they cannot adjust prices at all, so it varies by location, but moral of the story is it doesn’t hurt to ask!

A thrifted basket wall above the bed.

Well I hope this has been fun, helpful, and informative for you! Feel free to drop a comment below about your own thrifting experiences or tips!

As always, if you enjoyed this and want to share, it’s very appreciated!

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Please note that this page contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. I truly appreciate your support! Click here to learn more.

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