Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale

There are many great reasons to be a thrift store shopper.  It is good for the environment, saves you money, can help a good cause, and is fun. Before you launch into hyperspace across the thrift store galaxy, here are some thrift store tips to start your training.

Thrift store tips summary

  • Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.  Know which stores carry what.
  • Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.  They range from vintage boutiques to random bin warehouses.
  • Thrift store tip 3: Top ten items to seek:  Weekend clothing, wooden furniture, and housewares top the list.
  • Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid: Items that can harbor bedbugs are no deal.
  • Thrift store tip 5: Process clothing: Keep items in a sealed bag until they can be treated.
  • Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.  Learn the promotion schedule or join the mailing list.
  • Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.  Be proud when your money goes to a worthy cause.
  • Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle. Return the favor by donating regularly.  Your closet and garage will thank you.

thrift store aisles

My experience

I started shopping in thrift stores because I had to.  Now I shop in thrift stores because I love to; you never know what you are going to find. I enjoy the challenge and knowing that I am shopping conscientiously.

Since I am so cheap and have no sense of style, it would be pretty natural for me to do all of my shopping at Costco, JCpenney, Target, etc.  However, I know that this type store and their short-lived products take a toll on the environment and the global community.  Thrift stores enable me to be cheap and responsible, which brings balance to the force.

Over the years I have completed my training by mastering thrift stores in Los Angeles, Vermont, and the Philadelphia area. My thrift store tips can take you from errant young-ling to the resale Jedi council.

Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.

When you pull up to a unfamiliar thrift store, you have no way of knowing if your are headed to the dark side.  This can be fun unless there are really some items that you need.

Spend some time getting to know the thrift stores in your area.  Reach out with your feelings (or use google maps.) Spend some time visiting the stores when you don’t need anything in particular.  You will discover that some stores emphasize furniture, tools, housewares, clothing, media, and so on.  This will save you time and frustration later.

thrift store books

Scouting thrift stores general rules:

  • Stores in low-income areas may not have the droids you seek.  This makes sense.  People in these areas are highly motivated to take the best items quickly.  Additionally, stores near affluent areas tend to get some pretty sweet donations.
  • Keep travel to a minimum by avoiding the outer rim and frequenting stores near places you go anyway.  If thrift shopping is hassle, you probably won’t do it.  If your interests or occupation take you to an area often, check out the thrift store landscape as it may offer better options than where you live.
  • Know thy self.  Do you expect everything to be processed carefully and organized or are you OK with sorting through a mess?

Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.

You may think thrift stores are not for you, but hold on my very young apprentice; a key thrift store tip is that there is a thrift store for every shopper.  After scouting the stores, decide which type works best for you.

1) Fancy Boutique

These stores are generally small, selective, and located in an area with a lot of foot-traffic.  They only accept items that are appropriate for their discriminating clientele.  They are very clean and well-staffed, but this care is reflected in the prices.  If you seek designer brands or stylish jewelry, these are the shops for you.  Examples include Green Street and The Cinema Glamour Shop.

2) Epic planet of savings

awesome thrift store 130

Every once in a while you find a huge thrift store that is also clean, organized, and loaded with kyber crystals.  They seem to show up in buildings that were formerly grocery stores. This is my favorite type of thrift store. Examples include 2nd Avenue Value Stores and Heaven’s Treasures.

Note: Some Goodwill Stores, Salvation Army Stores, and St. Vincent De Paul Society stores meet the criteria of an Epic Planet of Savings.

3) Run-of-the-mill thrift stores

Most Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul Society, and church basement stores are like the mines of Kessel.  They tend to smell a bit like a Ton-ton and be a bit scruffy looking.  They may have just what you are looking for, but patience you must have.

4) Bin warehouse

thrift store bins 120

As cheap as I am, my thrift store tip is to skip these options.  They usually take the refuse from another thrift store.  There is little-to-no organization and much of the inventory has missing parts or a defective motivator. I am sure many have had success in these thrift stores, but it is like trying to hit a womp rat in a T-16.

Many of these stores sell goods by-the-pound based on category. Examples include Goodwill Outlet and the Salvation Army by-the-pound program.

Thrift store tip 3: Top 10 items to seek

Once you become a resale padawan learner, you will discover that there are some things that are almost never worth buying retail.

1) Weekend clothing

Why pay retail for clothes you are going to wear playing softball or milking thala-sirens?  I am pretty rough on my clothes generally, so I expect them to get ruined in short order.  A thrift store shirt can catch a glob of mustard just as well.  If you find something that actually deserves some care, consider it a bonus.

2) Wooden furniture

We are not really looking for another set of IKEA bookcases. You will be amazed how many neat pieces from the past you will find. Old furniture is often better made, and wood furniture is easy to refresh or repair and won’t bring unexpected house guests (more about bedbugs later).  For this thrift store tip, remember that a couple of screws, some polish, stain, or paint can go a long way.

Thrift store furniture 120
Plywood dressers at particle-board prices

3) Housewares

Some people take amazing care of their plates, utensils, glassware, etc.  When these people die, their kids donate these items, and I reap the benefits.  Again, some this stuff is of much higher quality than you will find in Target.  When I found the potato masher of my dreams for a dollar, I knew that I had brought balance to the force.

thrift store housewares

4) Tools

Like heirloom light-sabers, good tools are hard to find and easy to lose.  Most thrift stores do not carry tools, but, when they do, I am on it like a Wookie in a butcher shop.  These tools are often better quality than you will find at the Home Cheapo.

thrift store tools 120
Even this tiny assortment of tools is worthy of my attention.
thrift store clippers
I got this hedge trimmer for seven bucks. Don’t be afraid to plug things in before you buy them.

5) Sporting goods

People tend to give up sports over the years.  For example, I had to stop throwing my shot-put in the park after “the incident.”

Before going to Dick’s or Modell’s, look for that baseball glove, bike helmet, or Tae Kwon Do target at the thrift store.  This is especially true if you have kids who are trying out different sports through the years.

6) Media

Books and records are my main targets. It is nice take a book on vacation and not have to bring it back. I also love finding weird kitschy albums to add to my very strange collection.

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Rendezvous Polka.  What else is there to say?

Related post: Collecting Vintage Vinyl for Cheap Beginners

7) Kids Toys

You know that your kids can make any toy look used in about five seconds.  You also know that they are going to lose interest in it faster than you can say, “That thing’s operational!”  Follow this thrift store tip so that you can tell them to pick out whatever they want and abuse it however they like.

8) Jewelry

This is my wife’s addition to the list.  After scouting the stores, you will find that some have great selections of jewelry, especially if your tastes are a bit playful or eccentric.  You probably will not find anything with a hidden monetary value, but who knows?

9) Gag gifts

Every year I have to find a ridiculous item to serve as the trophy for my fantasy football league.  The thrift store is great for this type of thing. One year I found a massive, novelty stein (probably holds 3-4 gallons) to present.  Another year I found a huge trophy where the figurine appeared to be having a gastrointestinal episode. (Don’t ask me what sport it was signifying.)

Related post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

10) Vintage curios

I like to fill my home office with esoteric scientific instruments and antiquated instructional aids.  These are things that you are not going to find at Home Goods.

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid

This is predominantly a list of things that might contain bed bugs or other unwanted guests.  Bed bugs are the number one reason why people avoid thrift stores.  Heat treatment is the key.  Anything that cannot be easily put into a hot wash and dry or otherwise heat-treated is not worth the risk.

Link: Thrift stores and bed bugs

Stores may give items a visual inspection, but they do not treat for pests.

  1. Upholstered furniture

  2. Pillows

  3. Comforters

  4. Mattresses

  5. Things with many parts

    You may find a cool camping tent or a fancy cappuccino maker, but beware.  Even if the item was donated in complete and working order, the parts may now be lost in an asteroid field.  The odds of finding the right replacement parts at a reasonable price are approximately 3,720 to 1.

Thrift store tip 5: Handling clothing

I had a chat today with the manager of one of my favorite thrift stores.  I told her that I was a bit worried about bedbugs even though I had never had a bad experience.  She said that when she gets home from work, her clothes go straight into the hot cycle, and she has never had a problem.

Keep your newly acquired thrift store clothes in a sealed bag until they can be heat-treated in a washer and dryer or taken to the dry cleaner.

Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.

thrift shop entry 120

This can be a hard thrift store tip to follow.  Many stores do not have updated websites or clear schedules.  Most stores rely on posted notices and handouts at the register, so pay attention.  If the store has a newsletter or email list, sign up.

Case study: I went to one store today because they sell records for 97 cents on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I didn’t realize that they also had a one-day, store-wide discount of %35.  I proclaimed, “Coatee-cha tu yub nub!” (“Celebrate the freedom!”)

Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.

Many stores use your money to do good.  I love that Goodwill Stores make an effort to hire people with special needs and that shopping at Salvation Army stores helps people recovering from addiction.  Whether you are helping a charity, church, or cause, feel good about where your money is going.

Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle.

This last thrift store tip isn’t about shopping.  Complete the cycle by donating often.  After all, who wants to bother with craigslist, clothing swaps, or selling on consignment? Furthermore, if you are sending items that are worthy of resale to the landfill, shame on you.

Keep a donation box in some out-of-the-way location, and make sure that everyone in the household knows about it.  If you itemize deductions on you income taxes, don’t forget to ask for a receipt when you drop off your goodies.

Conclusions on Thrift Store Tips

Whether you need or want to spend less, thrift stores are a great option.  You can help the environment and a worthy cause. Join me in following these thrift store tips, and together we will rule the galaxy (of thrift stores.)

Note: National thrift shop day is August 17

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

3 thoughts on “Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale

  1. Hilarious, and helpful! Don’t forget wool moths are (almost) as bad as bed bugs. Heat treatment can be bad for wool items so remember you can freeze those wool items to protect yourself from wool moths, or dry clean them too.

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