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Ten Tips for Shopping at Goodwill and Other Thrift Stores

Updated on June 16, 2016
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Out of personal experience, Chris writes articles about how to make items and accomplish tasks which are practical, helpful and proven.

Goodwill in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Goodwill in Albuquerque, New Mexico | Source

Shopping at Goodwill/second hand stores/thrift stores is a waste of time to some since, in their opinion, all you will find is junk. To others, finding just the right item seems to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But there are some who consider shopping at thrift stores to be a rewarding challenge. The challenge is to find items that are nearly new, items that they may really want or even need. Is there a way to make this activity less depressing, even exciting? Here are ten strategies I have found that may make shopping at thrift stores an enjoyable, exciting experience.

Go To Thrift Stores Often

Go often. In order to be the person who finds the high quality items at second hand stores, whether those are clothing, housewares, hardware, toys, electronics or anything else, you have to go to second hand stores often. You might even be able to discover when shelves and racks are restocked during the week so you can plan your visits at those times.

Know What You Are Looking For in Thrift Store

Know what you are looking for. Sure, browsing without a plan may be a good way to kill spare time, but spare time isn’t something many of us have. So know what you are looking for when you go to a Goodwill / thrift store. Also it is helpful to know what brands you are interested in. By narrowing the field of what is acceptable, you can speed up the process of shopping.

Decide Before You Enter the Thrift Store Which Departments You Want to Look Through

Decide before you enter the thrift store which departments you want to look through to find the items you want. Upon entering the second hand store, make a bee line to the first of those departments. Scan the shelves or racks for the exact items and brands that you are looking for. If they aren’t there, then move on to the next department and do the same.

If You Find What You Are Looking for, Put It Back Until You Are Ready to Leave

If you find what you are looking for, it may be a good idea to then return the item to its place and go on shopping. Later, when you have finished looking through all the departments on your list, go back and look at the item again. Is it really what you want or need? Is the price right? If so, then grab it and head to the checkout lane.

Is the Price Right?

Is the price right? What would the item cost new if it were on sale? It may be a better value to wait for a sale and purchase the item new, although I have found items of clothing at Goodwill / second hand stores that for all practical purposes were new. If those items had been worn by the previous owners, it was only to try them on and then decide for whatever reason, that they were not right for them. In that case, a ten dollar price tag really isn’t much because I would never find that piece of clothing on sale for that little money.

Check for Signs of Wear.

Check for signs of wear. Keep in mind that these things are used, so there will likely be some signs of wear. What is acceptable to you in terms of wear? For clothing, look for wear signs on the ends of pant legs, the top edge of pant pockets, knees, under the arms and the top of collars.

Take Something to Donate When You Go to Shop at a Thrift Store

Take something to donate when you go to shop at a Goodwill / thrift store. This will help keep down the potential clutter of shopping at second hand stores. When you donate, be sure to get a receipt for your donation. At tax time, pull them out and use the thrift store value (What the item would sell for at a thrift store) to calculate your charitable contribution. This way, you get additional savings.

Go to Thrift Stores Which Have a Large Turnover in Merchandise

Focus on thrift stores which have a large turnover in merchandise. That way you are getting a regular look at new items.

If It Doesn't Knock Your Socks Off, Don't Buy It

If it doesn’t knock your socks off, don’t buy it. But you might want to buy some new socks.

If You Already Have One, Don't Buy Another

Do you already have something similar? Then don’t buy another. This is most easy to do in the clothing department. Just because it is a great piece of name brand clothing doesn’t mean you should buy it. The question is, do you need it?

BONUS TIP! A few days ago I went to a thrift store looking for a coffee grinder. I knew it was a long shot, but when I got to there, I found three grinders on the shelf. One was priced at $12.99, another at $7.99 and one that had no price on it. I had already learned this lesson, so I took the one with no price tag. At the check out, a supervisor was called and he priced it at $3.99. That has worked out well on a few occasions for me.

Bonus Tip

BONUS TIP! A few days ago I went to a thrift store looking for a coffee grinder. I knew it was a long shot, but when I got to there, I found three grinders on the shelf. One was priced at $12.99, another at $7.99 and one that had no price on it. I had already learned this lesson, so I took the one with no price tag. At the check out, a supervisor was called and he priced it at $3.99. That has worked out well on a few occasions for me.

Shirts from second hand stores.  Patagonia, Columbia, The North Face, Jamaica Jaxx
Shirts from second hand stores. Patagonia, Columbia, The North Face, Jamaica Jaxx | Source

Some Thrift Store Purchases I am Proud of

  • A wardrobe of clothing by Columbia, Patagonia, TheNorthFace, Jamaica Jaxx and other high quality, name brands.
  • Jason Empire binoculars.
  • Bose computer speakers for $5. There wasn’t a thing wrong with them. I had bought these exact speakers a couple of weeks before for $100. I gave them to a friend. I know I violated number ten in the list above, but I wasn't going to pass this one up.
  • Camelback hydration system for backpacking.
  • Minolta Maxxum film camera lenses for my Sony Alpha digital camera. Awesome purchases.
  • Merino wool sweaters and pants.

Minolta Maxxum lenses for 35mm film cameras.  These fit the Sony Alpha Digital cameras without an adapter.  Purchased at second hand store.
Minolta Maxxum lenses for 35mm film cameras. These fit the Sony Alpha Digital cameras without an adapter. Purchased at second hand store. | Source

Reselling items on eBay, Amazon or Craigslist

I am an amateur photographer, so I am always watching for photography equipment at second hand stores and yard sales. I have found some highly sought after items at Goodwill stores and other thrift stores. I have turned around and sold those items on eBay for a huge profit.

Do you have knowledge about a certain craft or hobby which would enable you to spot good deals on items at second hand stores? You might be able to make extra money purchasing those items and selling them on eBay, Amazon or Craigslist.

If you go with a strategy and stick to the plan, shopping at second hand stores can be enjoyable and rewarding, if not addicting. Recently I was looking for clothing at Goodwill. I kept seeing shirts and pants I had seen on previous visits. I remembered the sizes and whatever flaws were in the items. I knew then that I may have a problem.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 15 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      kiddiecreations, I'n glad you found the article helpful. It sounds like you and your husband have found a mutual hobby to enjoy.

    • kiddiecreations profile image

      N Kiddie 15 months ago

      Great tips! My husband got me into thrift shopping when we were dating. Now we do it together pretty frequently. He has a very keen eye for valuable items, while I tend to gravitate towards the newer gems (brand name clothing from stores like Forever 21, J. Crew, etc. that is still in good condition). We like going to Savers a lot, and also occasionally Goodwill and Salvation Army. I like your tip about donating something when you go. We often do that because once you donate a few times to Savers, you get a 30% off coupon.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 20 months ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello, I have recently been frequenting the Goodwill stores in my area, after hearing a couple of friends sharing they found some awesome clothing there. I just never really considered it, even though I am a bargain hunter. I am amazed, and found so many clothing items that I got for such a low price, usually. Great hub!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 21 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Paula, I love thrift stores. I'm glad you enjoyed this article.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 21 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Cam...great hub. I'm a huge fan of thrift shops and consignment stores. I believe they are wonderful money savers & fun to visit. It's always a surprise of what neat items you might find. We all know the expression about "One person's trash...." I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 21 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Signed and delivered. Thanks for the idea and thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      peterpan56 21 months ago

      I like the idea of ShopGoodwill. The problem is they have not way of keeping the individual stores honest. Just look at the post at any rating site or type shoppgoodwill.com comments into any search engine and you will see the level of dishonesty that happens on this site. From my personal experience, last week I ordered a silver statue when I received it it has not silver at all in the statue. If the site had a rating system like Amazon or eBay this kind of thing would not happen. 

      Please sign the petition

      http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/make-shopgoodw...

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Becky, I love it. Great job.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I got a fleece coat this weekend, for $2.50. It is wonderful. I also got my husband a Gillette safety razor, still in the case with the blades. He has been wanting another one since his disappeared.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Deb, Yesterday I went to a thrift store here in Albuquerque and got a pair of REI hiking pants that are like new. I wore them today on a hike into the Sandia foothills that border the city. I guess since I have a lot of extra time, it is easy for me to go to these stores. Kind of a hobby of mine. Thanks for reading. I'll be stopping by your hubs right away.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      In this economy, many people have to have the best deals. This sure sounds like a winner to me. Good work, Chris.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Great tips for shopping at thrift stores. Many of them donate to good causes,too. Purchasing AND donating are really green things to do!

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 3 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Great tips! I grew up buying the majority of my clothing at Goodwill and I am so glad my parents instilled in me the value of finding great deals. I loved having brand name stuff that I knew hadn't cost my family a lot of money - and no one at school knew the difference!

      I would add one other tip - go to thrift stores in rich areas! We used to go to the Goodwill in Menlo Park (next to Palo Alto, where Stanford University is located) and find some simply amazing stuff.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      This is really good advice. I often don't have the time to go through all the stuff at a thrift store; I need something I am specific looking to find. I might visit one soon since I need a new futon frame, but not an entire futon. Great hub and voted up.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Randi, Thanks for showing up for this hub. I appreciate your input. It is a lot of fun shopping at these stores. I've been told that here in Albuquerque there are a whole lot of them. I will be getting out to many of them over the next few months, I'm sure.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      This is all great advice. We do the bulk of our shopping, seconhand, especially for the baby. I agree that yopu should know the price if it is on sale at a regular store as long as you are comparing apples to apples. I have seen things less expensive when they are brand new but they are a lesser quality. I also like the tip about putting something back on the shelf until I am ready. I often buy things just because they are already in my cart! Up+++ and pinning!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Dee aka Nonna, I am pleased that you liked the article. You sound like a seasoned second hand shopper. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 3 years ago

      First, let me say, I love your tip "take something when you go". I donate to thrift stores all the time, especially Goodwill and Salvation Army, but never thought of just taking something with me. I collect teapots and have found some wonderful, beautiful, and very different teapots that I love to display. I have a couple that I use as "everyday" teapots and not one was priced higher than about $6.00. On the $6 it said on the bottom "limited edition."

      On one occasion my 10-year-old granddaughter was with me. She has a real eye for a bargain. We found a dress that she loves....still had the original tags on it ($40). Goodwills price $8.00. She also found a complete set of Candleglow and Holly dishes (service for 6)...plates, cups, saucers, salad plates, 2 serving bowls, tea/coffee pot---complete set for $11.25

      Thrift stores are not full of junk....sure there is some.....there is junk in Walmart, etc as well, but you can find great bargains in thrift stores.

      Great articles. Loved it.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Becky, let's hope you don't need it anytime soon.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Bishop55, It sounds as though you have had some amazing experiences at thrift stores. As for shoes, I have bought two pair at thrift stores. The latest pair has turned out well. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I got a parka from northern climates, with the tags on it, for $5 at a yard sale. It is too warm to wear it here unless it is snowing.

    • Bishop55 profile image

      Rebecca 3 years ago from USA

      Nice hub! I love shopping at thrift stores, and Amish salvage. Even when I have an idea of what i'm looking for at a thrift store, I always keep my eyes peeled for the unexpected bargains. The only items I avoid buying are underwear (yuck), bra's and sometimes shoes, depending on how they can be cleaned. I've found a ton of great deals at shops near my home, many brand new items as well, with over an 80% markdown. My local store also takes coupons for 20% and 35% off, as well as hosts customer appreciation day with up to %50 off of everything. Great hub. Loved it!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      codebreak, Thanks, I hope the tips come in handy.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Christine, good job finding the Armani suit. I see a lot of Armani clothing for men, but it's not my style right now. Thanks for stopping in. Hey, just seven weeks on HubPages. Welcome. I hope we see some great articles from you soon.

    • Codebreak profile image

      Gwendolyne Black 3 years ago from Erwin, TN

      Very useful hub! Thanks!

    • Christine Ballano profile image

      Christine 3 years ago from New Port Richey, Florida

      I agree you can find some really good buys...Like the Armani suit I found for $6.00 They were sold separately but I found the match. Pays to take your time

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      That's what I like to hear, Bill. Doesn't it just make you all tingly when you find something like that. I'm jealous now. How much for the jacket?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are speaking my language here buddy. I have a North Face jacket, retails at $250, that I picked up at Goodwill for $14.95. It's lasted me five years and counting. Great tips!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Kids and dishes don't mix well, Becky. Me and dishes don't mix well. Thanks for stopping by.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Oh, so I've stumbled onto a pro at second hand shopping it would seem. Amvet, I'll have to check into that. Thanks for stopping by.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      I know exactly what you are talking about here, Jaye. I've lost a couple of things this way. But for me it is a good plan to follow. I need time to consider the purchase. If I carry it around, then it becomes mine far too easily. I suppose I could stash it in some other aisle and cover it stuff nobody wants, like old, smelly boots. :) Thanks for reading and sharing.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      caseymel, Oh, stuff for kids. A parent can go crazy in a place like that. The kids can too. Good luck, and I hope the tips come in handy.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      My daughter finds clothes all the time that she gets all excited about. I never seem to, I seem to be hard to fit. They are all too short, so I don't buy clothes.

      I have bought some Corelle recently. I seem to have lost a bunch of it over the years. My kids break it and don't tell me. I replaced a bunch for a small percentage of what it is new. That stuff is tough and has made it through many things that would have broken many other dishes. It is really hard to break, which is why I get on my kids when they DO break it. They are just being careless.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Awesome,

      Books, a Bike, Stepladder, fan, ........ Tools are cool. Great sunglasses.

      And I always take things to donate. We use Amvet type stores because I like the charity. My older children insist on it as part of "use less, re-use and recycle" it is great. Thanks

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I agree with most of your suggestions, but returning something you like to its shelf or rack until you've finished looking around is a good way to lose it to someone else. At least that will be money you won't spend, but it might be just what you wanted or needed. My suggestion is to hang on to something that seems "just right" until you're through browsing. Then, if you decide you don't want it, take it back to the place you found it.

      Taking donations is a good way to help others and clean out things you don't want or need (or perhaps don't fit) at the same time. Good tip.

      Voted Up, Useful and Interesting

      Jaye

    • caseymel profile image

      caseymel 3 years ago from Indiana

      I am going to a kids consignment sale tomorrow. Last time I went crazy and bought way too much stuff. This time, I will follow these tips so I can get out of there with only the things I really need. (-:

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