10 Thrift Store Shopping Tips

woman shopping for vintage record player in a thrift store
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Thrift stores are incredible sources for decorating your home stylishly on a small budget. You'll find a constantly changing selection of furniture, lighting, accessories, textiles, and housewares — even original art. For the best finds and the biggest savings, follow these 10 thrift store shopping tips:

1. Find Thrift Stores

Lots of thrift stores are connected to charities, local and national. Check the yellow pages or a search engine for listings in your city. Some of the largest have multiple locations you can search through their websites:

2. Take Your Tools

Though some thrift stores have return policies, it's safest to assume it's yours forever if you buy it. Take your wish list, color samples, measurements, and a tape measure when you go.

3. Be Friendly to the Staff

The workers could be employees or volunteers, depending on the store. Be nice to them either way. If you become a regular and aren't known as a pain, you just may find them pointing you to new merchandise, stashing things you might like until you arrive, and telling you how to get additional discounts.

If you spend more than $25, one of the thrift stores in my area gives you a 50% off coupon for your next visit. I've noticed the checkers forget to issue coupons to rude customers, yet I often get one for spending only $10 or so.

4. Ask About Sales

Thrift stores don't always post their sales clearly — and sometimes the sales are confusing. You have to ask. One store might offer discounts on different types of merchandise on different days, while another takes off a percentage based on the date on the tag. In one of my favorite stores, you have to look at a board to see which color tags are half off that day.

5. Ask When New Merchandise Arrives

If you want to beat everyone else to the good stuff, ask when they restock. It could be a certain day of the week or a certain time each day. New furniture stock might arrive on a different day than smaller items. Find out, and hit the stores on those days and times.

6. Shop Often

Thrift stores aren't like new stores, where the merchandise is selected at market and predictable. The store that's a bust today might have treasure tomorrow. You never know when someone will buy new furniture and donate a Herman Miller dining table. Go regularly and sometimes you'll score something fabulous.

7. Shop Declining Neighborhoods

Unless you're certain to be murdered as soon as you get out of the car, don't hesitate to shop thrift stores in the so-called bad parts of town.

I've found far more in these stores than in trendy neighborhoods. The stores are less trafficked by other enthusiasts — and local shoppers in economically depressed areas are likely shopping for necessities. They probably aren't hunting for funky artwork and vintage decor. This isn't mercenary; you're putting money into an area that really needs those dollars.

8. Expect Pricing to Vary

Thrift store pricing is typically a little higher than at yard sales, but lower than most other secondhand sources. You'll encounter exceptions in both directions. Sharing display space at the same store, you might find a dollar store poster priced higher than an original painting by a listed artist. I've seen it happen.

9. Go Ahead and Haggle

Unless the store has a posted policy of not negotiating, go ahead and try haggling. It varies from store to store. The clerks don't usually have the authority to decide, so ask for a manager. Even if they have a posted policy, it's worth making an offer if you're considering a big purchase or multiple items. The worst they can do is say no.

10. Donate

Keep a box handy at home for castoffs, and then take it with you when you go. You'll get a tax receipt for your donations, keep your house decluttered, and you may get some slack on pricing if the manager knows you donate regularly. Some thrift stores even give you coupons when you donate.