How To Thrift Like A Pro (37 Tips For A Successful Shopping Trip)

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I did some math. I hated it but it had to be done.

In the past 5 years, I reckon I’ve spent well over 2,000 hours in thrift stores. As someone who flips thrift-store finds full-time for a living this isn’t super surprising. But the idea that I’ve bought nearly 10,000 items during that time is still a bit out there.

During my time thrifting and hanging out with other full-time thrifters I’ve learned a thing or two about how to have a successful thrifting trip. In the past couple of months alone I’ve used my skills to find Gucci loafers, a painting that I sold for $1,400, a $13,000 couch, and much more.

So what’s the secret to unlocking a thrift store? Are there magical thrifting tips that will help you find the goods? Well, yes and no.

Related Reading: 12 Most Valuable Thrift Store Finds Of All Time

Is Thrifting A Skill?

In general, the more brands and types of items you recognize the more success you’ll have while thrifting. However, finding great items is also a function of choosing the right thrift stores and spending lots of time looking.

The best thrifters are those who are able to spend a ton of time thrifting. If you are only able to pop into a thrift store once a week you’ll have a hard time finding the best thrift stores and finding anything great on a regular basis.

With that being said, knowing the brands of clothing to look for and the types of expensive items you can find at thrift stores will take you a lot further than most people.

How To Thrift – 43 Of My Best Tips

1. Visit Different Thrift Stores

Every thrift store is different.

Many people recommend that you visit big thrift stores in “rich areas”. The idea is that the affluent people in the area will have donated their expensive items. However, it doesn’t always work that way.

Nearly all of my best thrift finds have come from mom-and-pop thrift stores or the Goodwill Outlet. That way you avoid the markup at large thrift stores as well as the crowds.

However, try them all! If I have time, I never pass by a thrift store. I’m a firm believer that there is something awesome in every thrift store. You just have to find it.

2. Talk To Employees

thrift store employee

How cool would it be if you had an inside man at a thrift store that could funnel awesome items to you? Well, thrift store employees can be that person!

If you are friendly with thrift store employees there are quite a few things they can do to help you out. I’ve had employees go into the back to search for items for me, tell me that the rest of a cookware set was hidden in a goback cart, etc.

My best thrift experience, however, took the cake:

I was thrifting and found a bunch of Lululemon leggings for my wife. The cashier girl mentioned the number of leggings I had found and I was like, “It’s a great brand!” The next time I went into the store she told me she had been saving “that brand” for me and grabbed 10+ Lulu pieces out of the back!

Just don’t ask employees to do anything they aren’t allowed to do. You don’t want to get them fired after all.

3. Learn The Restocking Schedule

If you aren’t aware of the restocking schedule at the thrift stores you request then you’re likely missing out on the majority of good finds. While many thrift stores restock throughout the day, some restock mainly in the morning, some restock shoes in the afternoon, etc.

Most of my best thrift-finds came off the cart as soon as it was wheeled out. You can be sure that other people know the schedule and, if you aren’t there, they aren’t leaving anything behind for you!

The best way to find out the restocking schedule is simply to ask someone who is doing the restocking. It’s not really a secret and they’ll probably tell you more than you wanted to know.

4. Visit on Sale Days

If you’ve been thrifting for very long you probably remember Saver’s 50% off days. They were terrible. The line for the changing room was longer than any of the lines when I was just at Disney World.

Now, however, the sales days are reserved for Savers Club members, and coupons are sent out via text or email. If you are aware of how your favorite thrift stores do sale days you can get even better deals!

5. Check The Changing Room Racks

As a reseller, I often forget that most people only buy clothes from thrift stores that fit them. I have heard so many people on the thrift store on their phones trying to find someone in the family that would fit into a really nice item they found.

Since I’m flipping the items I thrift, size doesn’t matter much. It’s mostly about style and brand. So I routinely peruse the changing racks and pick up all the expensive brands that people found on the racks, tried on, and had to put back because they didn’t fit.

6. Dig Deep

If you are not put off by buying used items, go all in. I’ve seen so many people walking around thrift stores like they’re too good for the place and looking down on everyone around them.

Those types of people rarely find great things.

The great finds go to the weirdos (like me) who are on their hands and knees, digging into the back of the purse rack, or willing to stand in the records section on my phone for an hour and look up every single thing.

Lose the embarrassment and be persistent. It will pay off!

7. Source By Feel

I hate thrifting purses to resell. However, there is such good money it in that I can’t just pass them by. So I compromise and don’t actually look at all the purses for sale. I simply stroll down the aisle looking for markers of quality and touching as many purses as I can.

If you have handled many luxury items you’ll know that expensive leather and materials have a very recognizable feel. I can stroll down a purse aisle and pick out all the Fossil Bags, Coach Bags, etc. just by feel.

Will you find everything will this method? No, but it can work wonders if you’re short on time!

8. Increase Your Brand Knowledge

If you’re a brand snob, learning about more brands will greatly increase the number of quality items that you find and buy. Even with all the time I’ve been thrifting I often have a hard time telling the difference between a $20 sweater and a $200 sweater if I haven’t heard of the brand.

Check out some of our brand guides to see the best items that you can regularly find at thrift stores:

9. Considering Flipping Your Finds

Reselling the items that you find at thrift stores is a great option if you love thrifting. It increases the thrill of the hunt 10x while also providing you with a bigger thrifting budget!

In addition to making great money as a full-time seller, I’ve had so many buyers thank me profusely for thrifting and listing items they had years ago but had no hope of finding on their own.

You can sell pretty much anything you want but knowing where to sell it is the real key.

We sell on three platforms so we can help you decide which one is best for you!

10. Have A List Of Things You Want

-avoid unnecessary

11. Remember: Finding Good Things Thriftings Is A Long Term Game

You don’t have to find what you’re looking for the first time at a thrift store and, to be honest, you probably won’t. Don’t let it discourage you though! That’s just the nature of thrifting. Finding unique and well-priced items will take time so just go consistently and you’ll eventually be able to mark everything off your list!

12. Don’t Get Stuck Looking For Specific Things

As a full-time thrifter I have a number of dream items (“White Whales” in the thrifting community) that I have never found. Some of them are not even uncommon but have provided elusive.

For example, I have been looking for an Abercrombie & Fitch 2XL Muscle Fit Hoodie for more than 3 years. During that time I have found myself lots of great hoodies but not that one.

If you are stuck on being happy only if you find a specific item then you should prepare yourself for disappointment.

Instead, look for styles or general items that will fill your need.

13. Thoroughly Check The Condition

I can’t tell you how many times I have stuck an amazing brand in my cart only to get home and find something disappointing or nasty about it (hello period-stained pants…)

I typically fill up my cart and then park it near the dressing rooms so I can go through everything methodically to check for holes, test zipper, etc. before checking out.

If you’re not willing to be that thorough in the store, at least save your receipt and keep the tags on the item so you can exchange it next time you’re there.

14. Know How To Authenticate Items

Too many times I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news on Instagram and tell a very excited person that the Louis Vuitton item is not authentic. (Or Lacoste, Lilly Pullitzer, etc.)

While I have found real Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Supreme, etc. items at thrift stores, I have found dozens of fakes for every authentic item I have found.

Thrift stores do not guarantee that their items are authentic but price luxury fakes sky-high anyway. Do some research on anything you’re thinking of buying before giving them your hard-earned money.

15. Learn How To Clean And Repair Items

My wife is an absolute wizard when it comes to getting stains out of clothing (including removing sharpie). She often buys very nice items that someone donated because they dropped mustard on it, got a small snag, etc. Because has the skills to clean/fix items she is able to buy great items that other people pass on.

Learning how to remove stains, sew on buttons, etc. can really increase your scope when looking for your white whale.

If you don’t want to learn the skills yourself, remember that you can always have someone else do it! I’ve thrifted several pairs of high-end dress shoes and had new soles put on them for cheap!

16. Think If It’s Actually A Deal

While there are great deals to be had at thrift stores, it’s also very possible to be ripped off.

The employees doing the pricing rarely look anything up and are usually teenagers or college students with minimal college experience.

I’ve seen dollar store plates for $2.99 apiece, empty yogurt containers, and even empty disposable water bottles for sale on Goodwill shelves.

While those are extreme examples, be sure to keep your brain engaged as many things are just as good of a deal if you buy them new on eBay or an eBay alternative.

17. Be Careful With Your Personal Items

It’s freezing cold in Utah for a good portion of the year. However, thrift stores always manage to be boiling hot. This means that I’m in a store for about 5 minutes before my jacket ends up in the cart.

I try not to wear expensive things to thrift stores but I still watch my cart like a hawk. Having my jacket “sourced” from my cart by another seller would not end well.

Similarly, be careful of where you decide to stick your purse. Having things stolen (or just lost) is commonplace in a store full of hundreds of thousands of used items.

18. Look Through Multiple Sizes

If you have the time, look through all the sizes not just your own. In fact, you might want to look through racks for the other gender as well! Many times we’ve found clothes that are tagged as the wrong size, put on the wrong rack, or just stuffed somewhere by a lazy shopper or employee.

19. If In Doubt, Put It In Your Cart

Assume that, if you find something at a thrift store, that will be your one and only chance to decide if you want it.

thrift tips nothing haunts us quote

The chance of being able to go back and find something before someone else gets to it is almost nil. I’ve passed on items before while I try to look them up only to run back later and see them in someone else’s cart.

If you’re unsure, just hold it. You can always put it back later.

20. Hand Sanitizer/Gloves

Thrift stores are gross. Well, not all of them. Some thrift stores wash their clothes but most just stick things and try to sell them as fast as possible.

Not to put you off but I’ve found shoes full of poop, containers of human teeth, used vibrators, and other nasty things at thrift stores.

I don’t normally wear gloves while thrifting but if I’m looking to buy unsorted items or clothing by the pound I’ll always don some protective gear.

21. Remember That You Can Return Things

Don’t like something you bought? Return it!

Most thrift stores will allow returns (or at least exchanges) if the item still has the tags.

This is especially true for electronics that are difficult to test at thrift stores. Just be sure to test your items as soon as possible as many returns are limited to 7 days.

22. Check Online Thrift Stores

If you haven’t ever thrifted online then you’re in for a treat!

Goodwill’s eBay stores are stocked with some of the most interesting and unusual items that come through their donation bays.

If you are unable to visit thrift stores in your area, trying online is always an option. Especially if you’re looking for amazing deals and can master the art of automatically sniping a bid on eBay.

23. Consider Thrift Store Alternatives

If you love the thrill of finding new and unknown items at thrift stores there are some other options that can be just as exciting!

Imagine if you could buy a pallet of random clothing or electronics for dirt cheap and have them delivered right to your door. Or maybe a pallet of returned Amazon packages?

Whatever your reason for thrifting is you can find some of the same benefits from the following places:

24. Join Your Thrift Store’s Text List, “Club”, etc.

If you want special treatment at a thrift store, join their member’s club! Joining their club is usually free and gets you access to additional discounts, sales, etc.

For example, our Savers Club Card earns us 1 point for every dollar we spend. When we hit 100 points we get 20% off our next purchase!

25. Avoid The Things You Should Never Buy At Thrift Stores

I’ve seen entire laundry lists of things you should never by at thrift stores. Usually, these things are simply things that the prude-ish writer finds “icky” and the probably don’t even shop at thrift stores anyway.

What’s more, if things are at thrift stores, someone is going to be buying them.

However, there are a few things that I avoid and would advise you to do the same:

  • Car Seats, bouncers, and other baby furniture. Unless you’re willing to inspect it very thoroughly and check for recall notices, baby furniture is too big of a risk to buy at a thrift store. This is the reason that most thrift stores won’t actually accept tese items as donations.
  • Underware. You do you but I usually give the undies a pass. Having said that, my wife does not conider bras to be undies so I guess those are fair game!
  • Difficult to clean food items. Some kitchen items (such as pressure cookers and water bottle valves) have uncleanable spots where mold can grow. If you’re going to be using something for food or water be very careful.
  • Questionable items with missing stickers. Is that serving dish you just got microwave safe? Will it come apart and ruin your dishwasher? Who knows?

I’m sure there are other items that I can’t think of at the moment but, in general, I would advise you to be cautious but not squeamish. If you would accept it used from a family member or friend it’s probably safe to buy from a thrift store.

26. Shop Off-Season

If you wait for the first cold snap to look for coats at the thrift store you’re going to just find an empty rack when you go.

Keep a running list of items your closet/home is in need of and look through the racks every time you go.

I find the best swim suits in the winter and the best coats in the summer. As a reseller this doesn’t matter to me at all as it’s always winter/summer somewhere!

27. Take Shorter Trips More Often

Unless you rely on thrifting for income, shorter trips a couple of times per week are likely more fun that a thrifting marathon. I often enjoy popping in looking through my size and then leaving rather than pushing a cart around the entire store and feeling like I need to check out everything.

28. Find Out If Your Thrift Store Takes Offers

Many mom-and-pop thrift stores are really just permanat flea-markets and the owners are glad to make a deal with you.

Even large thrift stores are able to negotiate prices in certain circumstances. For example, if you find a damaged area on something that you think was totally overlooked during the pricing process, ask for a discount. The manager will likely have to come look at it and make a decision but it never hurts to ask!

29. Test Items

I torture items as well as I can at thrift stores.

If I’m buying a tape player I got and get a tape to make sure it works.

If I’m buying a computer you can bet that I’m going to find all the cords and a monitor to try and fire it up.

If I’m buying shoes I roll them up and twist them around to make sure the sole isn’t going to crack the first time I wear them.

Long story short, I’m terrible at returning things and would rather no flush my money down the toilet by buying something that will spend a couple of months in my hosue before I figure ouwhat to do with it.

30. Get Donation Coupons

Goodwill and Savers (Value Village, depending on your location) all offer discounts if you donate items. We rouintley go through purges and take out items to donate so we can earn as many coupons as possible.

Just be aware that some thrift stores only give you one coupon per donation (no matter the size) so we usually take several small trips to rack up the discounts.

31. Look For Items That Can Be Cheaply Tailored

Believe it or not, jeans are the perfect item to buy at thrift stores, So are dress shirts and suits. The reason is that you can take an ill-fitting clothing item to a seamstress and she can tailor it better than a brand new item for sure cheap.

seamstress tailoring thrift store clothes

The seamstress by my house tailors jeans for $15 so, if I find an expensive pair that doesn’t quite fit, to the tailor they go!

32. Try Things On

If you’re buying clothing from a thrift store the best tip I can give you is to try them on. Don’t say that you’ll try them on at home and return them because, let’s face it, you probably won’t.

Thrift store clothing can be from anytime in the past 50+ years so how a size fits can vary wildly. Even clothes from a brand you know well may have changed over time so save yourself the stress and just try out the clothes before you buy them.

vintage items fit small

34. Don’t FOMO To A Thrift Store Every Day

When I’m in a thrift store and see new carts coming out I get serious FOMO. In fact, it gets a bit hard to leave. I have to remind myself that there is always another find at another thrift store. You don’t have to find everything today!

35. Dress To Match

My wife and I have spent many hours in thrift stores looking for a certain color of clothes to wear in some extended family member’s pictures. Here’s a hot tip if you have to do the same: wear an item that is the same color or matches. A picture isn’t enough.

Being able to compare whatever you’re looking to buy with the real thing means that it’s much more likely to actually work together.

36. Take Advantage Of Others’ Thrift Finds

If there is a specific item you’re looking for, you might never find it. But here’s a tip: someone else probably found it and is trying to resell it used on eBay or another platform.

Buying an item used from a reseller is a great way to find very specific item for a great price.

If you are stuck buying only on eBay, you should branch out a little as there are typically better deals to be found elsewhere. Plus you can sign up through out links to get free coupons, how cool is that?

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37. Remember – It’s Okay To Go Home Empty-Handed

If you don’t find anything at a thrift store, that okay! The best tip I can give you is to be persistent and get back out there again. There have been many thrift trips that have left me empty handed.

However, going home empty handed is much better than buying some garbage that you don’t need simply so you don’t leave with nothing.

There’s always another thrift store!

Conclusion

And that’s a wrap on the best tips I have for a great thrifting trip! Really it’s not rocket science. You just go to a thrift store, look for things you like, and buy them. However, if you’re really looking to find something amazing (or maybe resell your finds) I hope some of these tips will help you take your thrift-game to the next level. Good luck!

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