Thrift stores have become all the rage. And what’s not to like? You can get some super amazing bargains and you are helping the environment by using what would otherwise end up in the landfill.
But now that everyone has discovered all the advantages of shopping thrift stores, thrift store prices have gone up and it requires a little more savvy to get the most out of thrift store shopping.
Here are some tips I’ve learned to ensure that I’m still getting the best value for my money. You can get some amazing deals at rummage sales, auctions and estate sales, so most of these tips also apply there, as well:
Find out their new product day.
Many stores will have one day a week where they put out all their new stuff (usually Monday, sometimes Wednesday.) If you want the best selection, this is the day to go shopping. If you want the best prices, shop the day before New Stuff Day. That’s when they usuaully have a half-off or bag sale (Everything in a bag for $2.) Get there early on these days to ensure you get the best selection.
Sign up for email alerts or “like” their Facebook page
This way you can be notified of sales. Some stores will have a one-day special–all linens 25% off, all children’s clothes half off, etc. They will also usually have a rotating sale. Store usually have four or five differently colored tags, one for each week of the month. Every week one of those tag colors will go on sale, usually half off. This is how stores ensure that nothing stays on the shelves longer than a month.
Take advantage of coupons or customer loyalty rewards.
Saver’s will give you a 20% off coupon every time you donate items. They also periodically have stamp cards that, when filled with ten stamps, earns you 30% off your total purchases. Each donation and $5 purchase gets you a stamp on the card. The local ARC stores give points for your purchases that can then be redeemed for cash off future purchases.
Bring a measuring tape and keep a list of important info
A small retractable measuring tape that fits in your purse or pocket is a must-have for thrift store shopping. I keep a list of the shoe and clothing sizes of my kids and grandkids in my purse. I also keep the model number of my printer and other small appliances, room measurements, etc. That way when I find printer cartridges or appliance parts, I know if they’ll fit. When I’m looking for furniture, I have my room or wall measurements so I’ll know if they’ll fit.
Know your prices.
My rule of thumb is the item needs to be at least half of what it would cost new. Quite often I find canning jars selling for 99¢. But I can buy a box of twelve new jars for $8, so why would I pay 99¢ for a used jar? When I see what I think are unreasonable prices, I’ll point them out to management. I’ll tell them what the item would cost new in the store. They’ve often given it to me at a reduced cost, so we all come out ahead.
Related to this: set a limit on how much you will spend on an item at an auction. It’s really easy to get caught up in a bidding war and end up paying much more than a thing is really worth.
Think outside the box.
Sometimes you’ll find helpful items that can be repurposed. I was looking for planters for my garden, but found some cute ceramic cookie jars and bowls that made great planters. I just drilled drainage holes in the bottom and now they’re perfect for putting plants in the garden. Thrift store bedsheets are just the right thing for protecting my crops from untimely frosts in the spring and fall. Book racks can make a nice trellis in the garden. My favorite seedling tray is a storage bin (with no lid, so it was only $1) cut down to about 2″-3″ high. Think about the size, shape and color of the object rather than its originally intended purpose and you may discover some clever items for repurposing. (And did you see the picture at the top of the page?)
The biggest place I’ve begun thinking outside the box is to look at the elements of the item. As you know, I enjoy sewing and advocate sewing as a great way to save money. But fabric has become so expensive that sewing rarely saves you much money. And most fabric today is for crafty things–quilts and fleece blankets. It’s getting harder to find fabric to sew clothing or, you know, useful stuff.
I used to say you could find good fabric deals at the thrift store, but now the scarcity of good fabric in the fabric store has spilled over into the fabric selection at the thrift stores. You may still find good fabric deals from time to time, but it may take a bit more searching.
But lately I look for fabric and notions in the clothing and linen section of the store.
Here are some examples:
- I found some nice place mats to make a zippered case for my son’s scriptures.
- I found some cute curtains with a darling border of teddy bears that I will use to make a sundress for my granddaughter.
- Once I needed buttons to replace the missing buttons on my coat. I found just what I needed on a $1 dress. Even with a coupon, those buttons would have cost $8-10 in the fabric store.
- A chenille bedspread or fuzzy blanket will make a nice bathrobe for just a fraction of what the fabric would have cost in the store.
- I cut up a prom dress to make a “princess dress” for my granddaughter. That same fabric would have cost me $20-25/yard in the fabric store. I got about 4 yards from that dress for $6.
So don’t just go in looking for a specific item. Instead, look at the elements of that item. Look at the fabric itself, the notions, the lines and textures. You may just find a new (and better!) purpose for that item.
Happy thrifty shopping!
*I say “thrift stores” but I’m also including garage sales, estate sales and auctions in the whole conversation. These are all great places to get good bargains.