One of the main complaints I hear about thrift stores is that the prices are too high. If you can get new stuff on clearance for the same price, why buy used instead? Well, if you know what to look for and when to look for it, you can save BIG at the thrift store – easily hundreds of dollars a year. Last week I shared the best things to save money on at the thrift store, and today I’m sharing my top 5 tips for getting the very best deals. As always, I’d love to hear your tips too – leave them in the comments!
1. Know what you can save the most on. Some items make a lot more sense to buy at the thrift store than others. I don’t buy very many clothes for little kids there – they are often worn out and have prices too close to a sale price at the actual store. Clothing items that start at a higher price and will get grown out of before they get worn out are the best things to save a bundle on at the thrift store (think winter clothes, church shoes, etc). Additionally, there are lots of household items you might not have considered buying at the thrift store (life jackets, coolers, dishes, etc.,) that you can get great deals on – visit this post for a list of my favorite things to buy at the thrift store.
2. Be willing to go more than once and know what you need. Don’t worry, I’m not saying you need to be thrifting once a week to find deals. What I am saying is if you only go once a year and try to find everything you need at once, you’ll be disappointed. I go to the thrift store about once a month, and I check for anything I might need in the next few months. For instance, I start checking for snow gear in the summer – that way if there isn’t any in the size I need I know I have a few more months to round up the sized I need. It’s always worth checking out the kids’ jeans, because I know we’ll always need more of those. It really helps to keep a list on your phone of what clothes you’ll be needing for the next season – that way when you see something that looks good you’ll know if you actually need it or not. Some thrifting trips are gold mines, others are a bust – but that’s ok if you’re willing to go more than once a year.
3. Know when to go. The thrift store I visit most frequently has raised the prices on most items enough that I’m not often willing to pay the ticket price. However, there are lots of opportunities to get those items for 30% or even 50% off, which usually makes them a great deal. It’s a good idea to chat with a store employee and find out when things get marked down, when new items are put out on the floor, etc. Here’s what my store offers (it’s a for-profit thrift store and part of the national Value Village/Savers chain):
About 5 or 6 times a year (on holidays) they run a 50% off sale on everything – days like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, etc. All the kids’ clothes that seemed a little overpriced for $5 a piece are now a steal at $2.50 each, so it’s a great time to stock up. Sale days are very busy, so plan to get there early and avoid the dressing rooms. TIP: Veteran’s Day is the least crowded half off day since most people don’t get it off work.
If you sign up for a “member card” and give them your email, they’ll notify you of special 50% off days just for members – these are much less crowded.
If you “donate” old items to the thrift store, you’ll often get a 20% or 30% off coupon. I usually donate our old items to non-profit organizations, but occasionally keep a bag to “donate” to the for-profit thrift store just to get that coupon – 30% off a big shopping trip can save tons of money! (The for-profit thrift store does pay a small amount to a local non-profit for each bag donated).
Each week the items that have been in-store the longest are half off – they keep track of this using a color on the item’s tag. The color that’s half off changes each Monday, so Monday is the day to go to grab anything good at half off before someone else does.
4. Check out different thrift stores in your area. All thrift stores are not created equal! Pricing can vary widely between thrift stores in the same town. One of the stores near me has better prices on housewares, while the other store in town generally has lower prices on clothes. Sometimes thrift stores in more expensive areas tend to have nicer brands for the same price. Some thrift stores vary prices based on brand, while others just charge a flat rate for each item, i.e. $6 for every pair of jeans.
5. Be willing to pay when it’s worth it. I’m so cheap, guys. I admitted last week I’ve never bought new church shoes for any of my 5 children – I’m not sure my kids know you can buy Sunday shoes other places than the thrift store. But we save money, so that’s great! But sometimes I can be so cheap that I shoot myself in the foot. For example, say one of my kids really needs new jeans. So I go to the thrift store and see that the nicest pairs of jeans are all $6 each. And then I remember that at the beginning of the school year The Children’s Place has jeans on sale for $7 all the time, so why would I buy them for $6 at the thrift store? I think “way too pricey”, walk out of the store, head home, and realize it’s February, jeans aren’t on sale anywhere, and my kid still needs some. Bottom line: even if $6 feels like too much for a pair of used jeans, if my only other option is to pay $14 to get them new at Walmart, $6 for gently used jeans is worth it! Not to mention I can probably find gently used GAP brand jeans at the thrift store that will hold up better than the new Walmart ones will.
In case anyone’s wondering why I haven’t mentioned yard sales, let me just say this. Garage sales are also a great place to get good deals, and prices at garage sales are usually far lower than at the thrift store. However, I like the convenience of going to one big thrift store instead of hitting a bunch of different yard sales that each only have clothing in a few sizes. And I hardly ever do my shopping on Saturday mornings, so thrift stores work better for me. But yard sales are great!