how to save money at the thrift store pt. 2: getting the best deals

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!

tips and tricks for getting the best deals at the thrift store - save money

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!

Like thrifting? Check out my circle skirt made from a thrifted duvet cover, and this little girl’s skirt with attached shorts made from a thrifted men’s tee.



  1. 1

    Jacqueline says

    Yup, I agree! I would also add: know your thrift stores. For some odd reason, different thrift stores tend to have better selections in different items. Also, consignment shops and Goodwill tend to be pricier than thrift stores run by charities.

  2. 2

    Avalon says

    I stopped by a local hospice thrift shop last week and picked up some maternity jeans for my daughter, at $4/pair (guys! I’m going to be a grandmother! Yay I think..?! Help me adjust!). I was afraid she’d be offended but no, she was tickled, because they were a great bargain, very good quality, and very comfortable. I didn’t like the few maternity tops available, but we’ll be shopping around – there are a number of charity-run thrift stores nearby.

  3. 3

    Andrea says

    I try to go to a local thrift store on Thursdays after work. The store has had a few weekdays to stock up on items and it’s before the Sat rush.

    My local thrift store also has offers available on groupon or amazon local. Spend $20 for a $40 credit. I buy as many offers as I can because I know I will use them.
    I started thrift store shopping a little over a year ago. Probably 80% – 85% of my clothes are from the thrift store and I dress a lot better now than I used to!! Average price is around $5.

    If you see anything you like at the thrift store, put it in the cart!! If you don’t it may be gone when you go back. You can always put it back if you decide against it.

  4. 4


    I just went to my local Salvation Army today. They had all their clothes half off and I picked up a bunch of clothes for my girl, some pjs and a nice shirt for my oldest boy, and two really nice sweaters for myself, all for under $20. I don’t go there very often, but I usually find some really good stuff at Salvation Army. There’s another thrift store I go to a lot with my mom and they offer a bag of clothes for $1 or 2. It’s hit or miss there. I love going to a variety of thrift stores.

  5. 5

    Kim says

    I don’t do as much thrift store shopping as I would like, but since I have three little ones I do go to a used children’s clothing store called Other Mothers. Prices are great at $1-$7 from shirts and socks to jackets and snow gear. ..they also have toys and maternity! Once or twice a month they have their 25cent sale weekend! Each item is only a quarter! Now these may be things that have small stains or tears, but a lot is really nice and if you like strain lifters and a sewing kit, it’s well worth your time!
    Also they have a program so when the kids grow out of their stuff, I can take it in and get in store credit for the good stuff and I can always donate everything else to the quarter sale! 🙂

  6. 6

    LuAnn says

    I also find some of the little thrift stores have better buys and brand names are alot cheaper. I bought in our little town Salvation Army 4 Under Armour shirts for $2.50 each What a find . Now I try to go there twice a week


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