Savvy Thrifting Tips to Know Before You Go Thrift Store Shopping

FT Contributor
A woman holding a box of items in a thrift store.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Shopping is often associated with reckless spending, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to sacrifice your budget, compromise on that commitment to live sustainably, or give up on your financial belt-tightening efforts to go on a shopping spree.

If you need to purchase an item or want to get out of the house and spend some time perusing the aisles of a store, you can both stick to your budget and get what you need simply by thrifting.

What Is Thrifting?

Thrifting is the action of shopping at a thrift store — that is, a retailer that sells secondhand articles of clothing. Unlike a normal retailer or even a pawn shop, a thrift store’s merchandise has been donated to the establishment.

Thrift stores mainly sell clothing donated by the public. Many thrift stores are affiliated with a charity of one sort or another.

Thrift Shopping Guide

While shopping at a thrift store can feel overwhelming due to their often disorganized nature, many savvy thrifters still manage to find highly valued items at a fraction of the price. If you want to be rewarded by a trip to your local store, you’ll want to adopt the following tips ito enhance your chances for success.

Make a Plan

As with so many things in life, the best way to go about thrifting is by starting with a plan. If you don’t go into a store with a specific set of goals in mind, you’re going to find it difficult to sort through the myriad of options and come away with something that genuinely fills a need in your life.

A few things to keep in mind as you plan out your trip include:

  • Considering what items you actually need.
  • Deciding where you’re willing to compromise with each item — consider quality, quantity, brand, size, and condition.
  • Staying open-minded when it comes to how to find a solution to each need you have.

If you want to genuinely demonstrate financial wisdom as you shop, you should know exactly what you’re looking for from the moment you step foot in a thrift store.

Select a Location and Transportation

Next up, take the time to choose your location carefully. Some stores offer a discount if you donate regularly. Some are established chains and will thus be more likely to have a larger selection. Smaller, local stores may have a unique treasure trove, although you’ll likely have to search harder to uncover the truly valuable items.

Also, consider your transportation options. If you’re going to be purchasing clothing, you should be okay with a car. However, if you’re looking for something larger, like furniture, you’re going to want to arrange to bring a bigger vehicle or call ahead to see if the store offers delivery.

Dress for the Occasion

Make sure to dress comfortably for your thrifty adventures, as they may go on for quite a while. In addition, if you are going to be trying on clothes, make sure to wear an outfit that you can take on and off with ease.

Scan the Aisles

When you arrive at the store, start your journey by simply walking through the department you’re shopping in and giving everything a quick scan. Take mental notes as you go, and then pass back through to investigate the promising items.

Shop With Cash

If you want to keep in your budget, bring cash with you. That will put a natural spending limit on what you can purchase so that you can’t simply swipe your plastic and walk away with half of the store.

Best Items to Thrift

When thrifting, there are some items that are naturally better to look for than others:


While books may feel like an item of the past — after all, you’re reading this on the internet — sometimes you can find rare or valuable books for a few cents. Try downloading the eBay or Amazon apps in order to have a price checking option readily available.

Home Decor

When shopping for new decor, affordable options don’t last and quality options are too expensive. Thrift shops, though, are filled with quality options that are priced affordably. Looking for quality items that fit your style can be a great way to decorate on a budget.


When thrifting, you’ll often find quickly disposed of kitchenware that is actually worth a pretty penny. Sometimes it’s something simple yet durable, such as a set of Corelle Ware. At other times it will be a vintage teapot or an antique set of dishes. Either way, it’s worth keeping an eye out.

Lightly Used Furniture

While you’ll need to get it home, thrift stores often have high-quality furniture with very little wear and tear — and, of course, it will be priced at a bargain.

Thrift Store Clothes

Often, the bread and butter of thrifting revolve around clothes. However, you still want to look for quality items that fit your needs. Make sure to arrive equipped with things like sizes and fabric preferences so you don’t walk away with something that doesn’t fit you, your child, or whoever else you’re shopping for.

What Brands to Look for at Thrift Stores

While there are numerous brands to keep in mind, it’s always worth looking up the “big names” as you compile your shopping lists. If you’re hunting for shoes, look for the L.L. Bean label. If you need a suit, keep an eye out for a Tom Ford or Brooks Brothers set of threads. If you need a couch, look for the Stanley, Liberty, or Bernhardt stamp of approval. Whatever you’re shopping for, try to figure out what brands are built to provide quality — then buy them on the cheap.

Best Places to Thrift

Below is a list of some of the best thrift stores to shop at:

  • Goodwill: This is one of the most popular chain thrift shops. Many Goodwills have days when certain color tags are on special sales, too.
  • Salvation Army: A classic thrifting option, the Salvation Army has many deals as well, including as much as 50% off for seniors on certain days of the week.
  • Kid to Kid: An excellent choice for those with small children, Kid to Kid even has a loyalty program for those who donate and shop regularly.

Make sure to check the hours of your local store. While most thrift stores operate on a normal retail schedule, the specific hours may vary dramatically depending on the location and the chain in question.

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