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Tips For Successful Thrift Store Shopping

Tips For Successful Thrift Store Shopping

I love to shop. From shoes to shampoo and everything in between, purchasing makes me smile. I call it retail therapy: It’s cheaper than a shrink and better for you than drugs or alcohol. But, being a poor college student living on a tight budget makes this a little tough. In order to keep my head afloat among the sea of credit card debt that seems so popular with my peers, I’ve learned also to love a good deal.

Thrift stores are some of the best places to find bargains and to make the most out of every dollar. Some stores even have sales! It’s amazing what you can find if you are willing to look. And I love the fact that the stuff has already been used. It makes me wonder by who and what it’s been through. There’s a lot more to thrift stores than just the usual Goodwill or Salvation Army, both of which are good to visit. Each city has stores unique only to the area. But like I said before, it can be intimidating if you are new to the whole idea of shopping via re-sale, so here are a few tips to get you going.


Thrift store shopping takes a little more time and effort than just going to the mall. Remember, this is what people voluntarily gave away. Sometimes it takes a little longer than normal shopping to find something that strikes your fancy. But persistence is the key, as it is with most things. Make a day out of it and take some friends along! Just don’t rush yourself, or you will never find anything you really like and will walk away frustrated. If you aren’t looking for anything in particular, plan some extra time to be sure that you have thoroughly looked through the store.


People drop off new things literally every day, so new items will appear frequently. From furniture to coats, you’ll find it. Yes, I said furniture. For those who have never been, it will be quite the surprise what can be found at a thrift store. They seriously have a little of everything. The more often you go, the more likely it becomes that you will be able to find that hidden treasure you’ve been looking for. But be careful, it is easy to accumulate unnecessary things just simply because they’re available for cheap. Just ask my mother! Make sure you’ll actually use or wear what you purchase. This is a good idea for shopping anywhere under any circumstances.


Shop for items out of season. It is unlikely that a lot of people will be looking for a winter coat when its 100 degrees outside or shorts in December. Okay, maybe after reading this they might, but the odds are still in your favor. People are also more likely to drop off things that they are not wearing at the moment, which is good for the bargain hunter, you savvy shopper you! By looking for things at the opposite time of year, you better your chances of finding that diamond in the rough that is such a great buy that your wardrobe will never be the same again.


Thrift stores are an amazing place when looking for a one-of-a-kind, not to mention cheap, gift for someone. Whether it’s a funky hat or an old chair, thrift stores are full of items with character that are dying to be bought and given a new home. And it seems more personal than some of the other more aloof presents that can be given.

How many picture frames do you have that are just collecting dust and waiting to be re-gifted? Shopping at thrift stores allows you to think outside of the box and give someone a memorable (and did I mention cheap?) gift. Plus, they’ll really appreciate the fact that you thought so hard and looked so long to find them this absolutely fabulous gift that looks like it could have been expensive (wink wink!).

In additions to being a terrific place for getting gifts, thrift stores are a great place to look for costumes. Whether it’s for Halloween or a play, shopping this way is a unique way to find pieces that make costumes look authentic. In junior high I found the greatest pair of powder blue bellbottoms that were the perfect addition to my hippy costume when my friends and I danced in the school talent show. Thrift stores have so many practical uses; it’s amazing that everyone doesn’t already shop at them!


The items at thrift stores have already been used and are sold as is. Be sure to inspect carefully for any defects that you can’t live with. That isn’t a hole—it’s a well-worn mark of love! It is surprising what people will throw out just because a button fell off or a seam came unstitched, both of which are easily fixed even by the most inept sewer. Also, be sure to check sizes and smells. Yes, smells. Some things that have been in storage for a while can smell, well, funky. If you are up for a rousing evening with Febreeze, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you. Also, remember to wash before wearing because you have no idea where it’s been or if the person who donated it washed it before bringing it in.

Hopefully these tips will help your trip not be overwhelming. Let your creative juices flow and have fun. A list of stores in your area can be found either online or in the phone book. Typically the bigger the city, the better the finds. But small town folk, fear not! I’ve found some great things in my small farming community. And return the favor and bring in some stuff that you have lying around to donate. Even though it is worthless to you, you never know what someone else can do with it. Happy hunting!

[Erin Tolle is a 20-year-old communications student from Illinois who obviously loves to shop.]




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