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An Insider's Guide to Shopping at Goodwill and Thrift Shops

I'm a type of old gumshoe with something to say, writing what I know. Goodwill is a good start.

Expert Goodwill shoppers and thrifters know that the deals don't stop when you walk through the door.

Expert Goodwill shoppers and thrifters know that the deals don't stop when you walk through the door.

Tips and Tricks of Bargain Shopping

If you like thrifting, you know that Goodwill and other thrift stores often have incredible discounts. But did you know that the bargains don't stop there? How can you get the most out of your money?

Learn the ins and outs of bargain shopping, from getting discounts on defective packaging to decoding tag colors. This article explores the best deal-getting tricks.

Goodwill's Color Tags Explained

  • Orange Tags: As stated, these almost never go on sale. Orange tags are used in the collectibles section on items that hold value and could otherwise be sold on eBay. (In all fairness, Goodwill does charge around half of what the price is on eBay.)
  • Black Tags: Black tag items also never go on sale. The black tag items are in the fashion focus section of clothing. These items are expensive and either in style or coming back into style. Designer labels are often found here, and while the price tag might look really expensive to the average shopper, bear in mind that these clothes could easily cost ten to twenty times as much in retail stores. Fashion focus items go on sale once a year (at amazing discounts), so watch closely for this annual event.
  • White Tags: White tags with the word "Goodwill" printed on them are often at a fixed price. Items with white tags tend to be newly introduced to the store, and generally stay at a fixed price. White tags are reserved for new goods. These items are brand new to the store and often cost the same as they would in retail stores.

Sale Prices That Will Change

Goodwill Color of the Week

A different colored tag will go on sale every week. The usual order is blue, green, pink, and red. Every Thursday through Sunday, one of these tags is 50% off. The best deals to find on each of these days are in the clothing, collectibles, houseware, and sports sections.

Shop Electronics

The electronics section is another good section to shop. You won't want to wait until Monday for electronics discounts because the managers instruct the employees to purge most items. If you can find a stereo on Monday for $1.29, you are either incredibly lucky or you were able to hide it successfully from the employees and the other customers. (Hint: You are not supposed to hide merchandise, but if you don't, one of the employees will probably dispose of the item before you can get back to it.)

Holiday Sales

Holidays are another good time to find incredible bargains. The stores usually open an hour or two earlier than normal and trust me, get there as SOON AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN! If the doors open at eight in the morning, make sure that you get there at about 7:30 a.m. One color will correspond to $0.99 prices while others will be 30-50% off. I know of people who have found leather jackets for $0.99. The best deals are in sections with jewelry, clothing, sports items, shoes, furniture, DVDs, and accessories.

On Which Items Can You Get a Bigger Discount?

Damaged or removed packaging

Sometimes a new item's package will be damaged or removed. The product will be discounted by about half and placed in the appropriate section.

Standard furniture

Sometimes the store will be overwhelmed by donated furniture. (A good idea is to bring something with you to donate in order for you to see how stacked up their donation line can be.) If they look packed to the gills, go inside to find out if they will drop a price for you; chances are they will want the item gone. (Hint: The older the tag, the more likely they will do it.)

Goodwill Items Sold at or Below Retail Price

Items at Retail PriceItems Below Retail Price




Light bulbs






Hand soap


Holiday decor



Thrifting Cheats

1. Have Connections

Knowing an employee of the store you shop at might be cheating, but so what? If you do have a friend who is a Goodwill employee, it never hurts to ask them where the best deals are to be found. Don't assume that a tag that is 50% off on a Sunday will still be there on Monday for the $1.29 sale. Either buy it on Sunday or hide it (yes, hide it!) and come back first thing on Monday. Hide it in the evening and retrieve it right when the store opens or chances are the janitor will find it before you.

2. Hide Items to Buy When They Go on Sale

Keep in mind that other customers will also be hiding things. If you saw something you wanted the day before, but now it is gone, search throughout the store in all the little hiding spots before you give up. (Things are usually hidden behind clothing racks, under linens, behind pillows, inside luggage, or in the various bins for hardware, bathrooms, and small electronics.) People have also been known to hide things on top shelves or under lampshades.

Thrifting Etiquette

Report Shoplifting

If you see someone stealing, tell an employee! One of the reasons that the prices seem high is because certain people rob the place blind! Unfortunately, people have been taught not to rat on others. Well, you can't have it both ways! If you want lower prices, then you need to be a rat and fink... or deal with the pricing. If you don't help catch the crooks, then you have no right to whine about the prices.

Do not approach shoplifters! Tell an employee or a manager and let them handle it. If you approach an unstable individual and call them out for stealing, they may lash out at you or another customer. We don't want anyone getting hurt over something so insubstantial. If you don't feel comfortable saying anything where you might be overheard, then ask the employee where the manager's office is.

I hope this guide will help you when shopping at Goodwill. Good luck and happy shopping!

© 2011 Herb Watson


Linda Jacox on February 27, 2020:

I went to good will last sat. In chicago on 95th. and had a coupon for 50% one thing they would not take because they said it was not in there area .That was the reason i went.

Mike on March 18, 2019:

I think this is a pretty good article for Goodwill beginners!

A lot has indeed changed in the past few years.

I’m an Amazon seller and EBay flipper , and I hit a range of 6-13 stores per week.

There are tons of crazy deals to be had at Goodwill!

I have bout VCR/DVD recorders for 10 and flip them on Amazon for $200!

Certain brands of shoes and other items go well too!

My #1 goal at Goodwill is books!

I scan books and collect quite a few gems for sale on Amazon.

Many times I have paid $1.39 for a hardback text book that sold for over $75 on Amazon.

I try to source at least $200 books per week and after shipping and fees I average around $900 profit per month on Amazon and average close to the same on EBay.

Needless to say, I’m a big Goodwill fan!

Herb Watson on June 12, 2018:

Get a life, morons. I wrote this seven years ago, I don't think they even do it this way anymore. I was just trying to provide some useful info to others, not start a rant from a bunch of dipshits who didn't read the article they just want to whine about Goodwill? Like I said, get a life!

H. Wallbanger on June 11, 2018:

I admit Im glad Goodwill is around but considering the items they sell are donated imo they do very little for charity work. If your in need and you call your local Catholic parrish they will give you a voucher for items needed. Sad thing is many people dont realize this and continue to donate to Goodwill vs Salvation Army or St Vincents. St. Vincents is incomparable to the good work they do in giving back. Goodwill? Theyll help you with a resume. They may get a car from time to time but its seldom. Im not impressed. Shame on you!

Amy on January 30, 2017:

No, they do NOT charge half of ebay prices. Most of the time goodwill charges just as much or more than ebay prices. Its getting crazy. The stuff will be in WORSE condition, LISTED on ebay for say $100, goodwill will also put $100. I asked a mgr about this once, and she said they do it like that so when it goes half off someone will pay that, but someone might buy it at full price!!!

I have news for you goodwill, just because something is LISTED on ebay for $100 doesnt mean it SOLD for $100. I can list crap on ebay for any amount I want, doesnt mean it will sell for that. A lot of people are going to thrift stores to try to make a profit, but cant do it when they are charging a few bucks less than ebay. Ill go to a garage sale and buy a shirt for .50 that a thrift store would charge $5 for.

Paula from The Midwest, USA on September 27, 2014:

I have a friend who finds some nice things at goodwill, for great deals. I hadn't been in a long time and decided to go one day. Their sale of the day was the green barbs on clothing were half off. Those items can't be returned or anything, but it was a great deal. I saw all kinds of people there too, everyone wants a deal!

U Neek from Georgia, USA on March 18, 2011:

Goodwill is one of my favorite stores! Thanks for the tips.