Thrift Store Shopping Mistakes to Avoid

woman shopping at antique store
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If you do vintage at all (or even just gently used), you know about thrifting. But, just showing up isn't enough to get you the good stuff. You also have to avoid these thrift store shopping mistakes:

Not Choosing the Right Thrift Stores

Every thrift store probably has someone wonderful once in a while, but why not increase your odds? Choosing the right thrift stores isn't about shopping those within the closest drive.

It's about selecting the thrift stores most likely to have the types of merchandise you most want -- and eliminating those that don't.

If you want vintage clothing, for example, a thrift store that sells donations from young suburban neighborhoods probably isn't your best choice. Or, if you're looking for collectibles you can resell, don't prioritize thrift stores that sell the better donations online or in their own off-location boutiques. 

Not Going More Often

Even after you've narrowed down your thrift store options, you won't find much if you only go occasionally. Though the things you don't want seem to stay on the shelves forever, the good items go fast. You need to try to be there to get them. Go at least once a week. Twice or more is even better.

Not Learning the Merchandise Schedule

Going often isn't as effective if you don't go at the right times. Make your thrifting trips more productive by finding out when (which days and at what times) the employees put the newest arrivals out on the sales floor.

Being Rude to the Employees

I don't care if you're hipper than hip, in a hurry, or just having a bad day. It's never a good idea to be snooty to the thrift store staff.

Aside from the obvious problems with being impolite, that thrift store employee knows things you don't:

  • the aforementioned merchandise schedule
  • what's in the back 
  • which items or tag colors are about to be discounted
  • whether she has any percentage-off coupons for your next visit

Do you really think she's going to share any of those things with you if you're rude?

Not Checking the Fit

You don't save money when you mistakenly buy things that don't fit your body or your home. If you're shopping for clothes, try them on before you buy. If your favorite thrift stores don't have fitting rooms, wear easy-to-remove layers with something formfitting as a base.

Keeping their sizes on hand helps when you shop for family members, but having their measurements is even better. Sizes vary by manufacturer with contemporary clothing. Vintage pieces may have an entirely different sizing chart.

Measurements are crucial when you buy things (furniture, curtains, etc.) for your home too.  But, size isn't the only factor. Those things also need to fit the colors and character of your space, so keep color swatches and fabric samples with you as well.

Not Shopping for Quality

Thrift stores are frequently treasure troves of good-quality merchandise of all types. They also have lots of junk. Remember, shopping at thrift stores lets you get good things without spending much.

The point isn't to pay even less for low-quality discount store stuff.

Not Checking for Damage

It's easy to get so excited by something you like that you forget to check it for damage. Cosmetic repairs (new hems, new hardware, or new paint) are easy enough, but moth holes, missing parts, and broken legs aren't. Make sure the pieces you buy can be put right. If you don't want to do any work at all, make sure your finds are pristine.

Taking on Too Many Project Pieces

Something about thrift store merchandise (especially furniture) makes the creative types want to buy, buy, buy. They plan, of course, to paint this and reupholster that and fix it all up. Unfortunately, there's never enough time and lots of those project pieces never get finished -- or started. Unless you flip furniture for a profit, pick your favorite pieces to redo and leave the rest.

Your car will thank you when it still fits in your garage.

Buying Things Just Because They're Cheap

Too many thrift store shoppers buy things just because the prices are cheap. If you don't love it and can't use it, it's a waste of money at any price. That includes both project pieces and things in perfect shape.

Paying Too Much for Cheap Things

Buying something at a thrift store doesn't always mean you're getting a good price. Now that thrifting is a trendy thing, some thrift stores try to cash in by using antique mall pricing. Sometimes employees price things too high because of their own preferences. Some think everything oldish must be valuable. Others assume newer is always better. The latter explains why the resin doodads occasionally cost more than the antique porcelain.

Buying Last Year's Trends

Thrift stores are dead trend graveyards. If you only like something because it's the latest thing, make sure it still is. When you spot a trendy piece you never got around to buying at Target or T.J. Maxx, it's likely there because the donor knew the trend was over.​