13 Essential Tips for Thrift Store Shoppers

Thrift store shoppers looking at a vase
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Thrift stores sell the same stuff you’ll find at flea markets and yard sales, including lots of vintage items and occasionally even some antiques. But, at thrift stores, you don't have to wait until warm weather and weekends to shop. Before you head out for a thrifting trip, here are 13 do's and don'ts for thrift store shoppers:

  • Do shop often. The thrift store that seemed like a waste of time two days ago may have lots of new offerings today.
  • Do take cash. Not all thrift stores take credit or debit cards and those who do may require a minimum purchase.
  • Do ask when the store puts new merchandise (new for that thrift store, that is) out for sale. Some restock throughout each day, as the employees have time. Others bring out the goods at specific times on certain days. If restocking occurs at scheduled times, those are the best times to shop.
  • Do ask about markdown and sale policies. Some stores welcome offers from shoppers. Others lower prices based on how long they've had the goods. Some offer percentages off on certain days based on the type of merchandise or based on the color of the tags.
  • Don’t take offense if a thrift store employee won’t haggle, or even refuses to hear your offer at all. It may be against store policy. Even if it’s not forbidden, that particular employee may not have the authority to negotiate.
  • Do treat thrift store employees with respect. Some are working hard for every penny. Others are volunteering their time. Regardless, employees who like you are far more likely to alert you to special sales. They may even give you a peek at goods they haven’t had time to put out on the shelves.
  • Do make a note of things you like that are priced higher than you’re willing to pay. Revisit the store in a week or two. If the pieces haven’t sold, they may be marked down -- or the manager may be willing to accept an offer.
  • Don’t assume you can leave a large purchase, such as furniture, for a later pick-up time. Some thrift stores don’t mind holding a paid piece until you return with a truck, but others refuse all responsibility for sold merchandise.
  • Don’t assume thrift store employees can help you load furniture or other large, heavy items. Some stores won’t allow employees to lift and load for insurance reasons -- and some employees don’t have the time or physical ability.
  • Don’t assume you can return an item if you change your mind. Many thrift stores have a “no returns or exchanges” policy. Take your paint chips, wish list, room measurements, and the rest of your secondhand shopping toolkit so you can make good buying decisions you won’t regret.
  • Do dress in easy-to-remove layers if you’re shopping for used or vintage clothing. Wear a form-fitting layer close to your skin. You may have to try on clothes in the middle of the store. Not all thrift stores have fitting rooms.
  • Do buy seasonal items when they’re out of season. The prices tend to be lower on goods that aren't moving at the moment. You may not need those Christmas decorations in July, but it's worth stashing them in the closet until winter if you can get them for a song.
  • Don’t limit yourself to thrift stores in your neighborhood. Venture out to nearby neighborhoods and towns, especially those areas where thrift store shopping isn't trendy. Depending on what you're looking for, the thrift stores in less desirable parts of town may yield the most desirable finds.