My Best Tips for Thrift Shopping

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of thrift and consignment shopping. Shopping secondhand is a great way to find unique pieces, save money, and prevent gently used items from ending up in a landfill somewhere.

While thrifting can be a fun way to spend an hour, I also think it can be a bit overwhelming. And, more than a few times, I’ve found myself with buyer’s remorse, regretting my purchases but unable to return them for an exchange or refund.

I love this Loft jacket I found at Goodwill recently.

For today’s post, I’ve gathered my best tips for thrift and consignment shopping. I hope they help take the guesswork out of buying secondhand and make the process more fun.

1. If you’re short on time, shop with a plan.

Since thrift stores usually only have one of each item, it can take a looong time to get through the store. Some stores will have items grouped by size, color, or style, but others aren’t as organized. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself spending hours in a store, looking through each piece of clothing individually.

While this is a fun way to spend a leisurely Saturday, now that I have a toddler, I honestly don’t have the time to do that anymore. If you’re short on time, go into the store with a plan and limit your search to one or two sections.

2. When looking for something in particular, call the store ahead of time and ask about their daily inventory.

Calling ahead is a big time-saver. Thrift store inventory changes daily, and store employees are often knowledgeable about what’s available day to day. If they aren’t sure, they can usually check for you to give you an idea of what to expect.

3. Follow your favorite store on social media.

My favorite local consignment store has a great Instagram page where they frequently post the “hottest” new items that were just added. If you see something you like, you can even comment on the post and they’ll hold it for 24 hours for you. Every store might not have this resource, but many higher-end consignment stores do.

4. Look everything over carefully before buying. 

Several times, I’ve excitedly bought something without looking closely at it, and regretted the purchase later. While I’m sure the store employees try their best to avoid buying items with holes or stains, nobody’s perfect, and defective items can slip through the quality control checks.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to look at every garment carefully before you commit. A real-life story: I once found a great Nike Dry-Fit workout tank for about 70% off retail price. I didn’t look very closely at it. When I brought it home, I realized there was a large, weird stain on the side of the shirt. It was pretty gross, so needless to say, I didn’t end up keeping it.

5. Don’t overpay. 

Prices are sometimes determined by using a generic calculator that compares the value of items in similar condition. If you suspect something is listed for more than it should be, try to haggle the price down. If the item shows signs of wear, this provides more evidence for your case. Thrift stores are usually overstocked, so sometimes they are just trying to get rid of things and therefore may consider a reasonable offer.

Also to note: most Goodwill locations run a $0.99 cent special on clothing items on Sundays. They will post a “color of the week,” and any clothing tagged with that color is included in the sale. Depending on the store, they may also run a 50% off everything day or other special promotions. Check your local store’s website for details.

6. Try it on before you buy.

Return policies vary from store to store, but don’t expect the same flexible return policy you’d get in a conventional store. To be sure the clothing fits right, always try it on.

7. Wash clothing before wearing, even if the item looks clean or is new with tags.

The truth is, you don’t know where these clothes have been before, so it’s always a good idea to wash all secondhand items in hot water when you get home.

8. Keep your eyes peeled for the deal of the century.

While some items can be overpriced (see number five), others can be way underpriced. Always be on alert for these incredible deals, because they happen!

A real-life story: I bought a genuine Kate Spade necklace at my local consignment shop for $2. Yes, you read that right. I’m guessing the employee didn’t look at it close enough when it was listed for sale. I did a quick Google search right there in the store and discovered its retail value was close to $100.

9. Beware of designer knockoffs.

It seems like the designer knockoff trend has died out over the past ten years (thankfully!) but they’re definitely still out there. Before dropping big bucks on a designer piece, it’s a good idea to check the store’s authenticity policy, or at the very least, read up and be knowledgeable on how to tell a genuine piece from an imitation.

10. Always remember the “don’t buy secondhand” list.

Being thrifty is great, but sometimes it’s not smart or hygienic to buy secondhand. Everyone’s “don’t buy used” list will be a little different, but mine is something like this: I never buy underwear, swimsuits, most hats, most shoes, car seats, mattresses, or makeup gently used. For more on this, check out Best Life’s guide to 15 Things You Should Never Buy at a Second-Hand Store.

If you liked this post, be sure to share, comment, and subscribe to my email list. Check me out on Instagram at @haileighsenatore. 

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