Pro Secrets For Saving Double at the Thrift Shop

Shannon Quinn - May 8, 2021

If you love going to the thrift shop, you’re likely to be someone who loves getting a good deal. But did you know that you can save even more? For years, I had a reselling business where I found items at thrift shops and antique stores to sell online. Here are some of my best secrets for saving 50% or more at the thrift store.

Almost every thrift shop has a tag sale once a week. Credit: Canva

30. Show Up For The Weekly Color Tag Sales

Almost every thrift stop has one day a week where they mark down the prices of their items by 50%. The way they manage this is through color coordinating tags. For example, this week it might be the blue tags that are 50% off. And next week the red tags are scheduled to go on sale. It’s always designed to make the oldest items go on sale every 6 weeks or so. If you’re willing to go back every week, pay attention to the items that are going to be on sale the following week.

Something that I used to do to make sure I got the best deals possible was to show up the day before the sale. Ask the cashier what the color tag will be for tomorrow. Then look through the aisles and find the items with those color tags. The next day, show up early in the morning and go straight for those items. Keep in mind that some managers tell their employees not to inform customers of the color schedule, since they don’t want anyone to get an unfair advantage. But it really just depends on the policy of your local thrift shop.

Ask if your thrift shop has a loyalty program. Credit: Shutterstock

29. Join Their Loyalty Program

Many thrift stores will have a loyalty program. You can collect stamps every time you shop there, and it will help add up to a discount in the future. Goodwill has a loyalty program where you shop a certain number of times and receive 50% off your total order. They also have a Goodwill app that will help you find thrift shop locations and specials.

Privately owned thrift shops sometimes have their own loyalty programs. But it’s most likely going to be the old school cardboard punch cards that you leave in your wallet. Depending on how much you go shopping there, this could be worth it if you’re saving up for a larger purchase. I personally know people who save up their punch card all spring and summer, and cash in the sales price when it’s time to go back to school shopping for their kids.

Pro shoppers go to different stores on different days of the week. Credit: Shutterstock

28. Shop on Alternating Half-Off Days

Every thrift store has a different day of the week where they offer half off deals. For example, in my local area, there is a 50% off sale happening almost every day of the week. Goodwill has their half off day on Sundays, The Salvation Army has it on Wednesday, and the privately owned thrift store is on Saturday. Obviously, this might change across state and city lines.

Also never assume that two Goodwill locations will have the same schedule. Few people actually realize that Goodwill is a franchise. This means that private business owners can open a Goodwill thrift store. Even though they have the corporate name on the sign, they are allowed to make their own policies about the sale schedule. So you could possibly go to the town next door, and it’s not going to be their 50% off day.

Try to find stores that allow you to donate items for store credit. Credit: Shutterstock

27. Ask About Trading Items In For Store Credit

Certain thrift stores and consignment shops have a store credit policy. This means that you can exchange your clothing and items for store credit. More often than not, they will offer you more in store credit than they will in cash. For example, at my local Plato’s Closet, they will potentially offer $1 cash for every $2 of store credit. If you’re in the market for new clothing, it only makes sense to bring in your old clothes and get some money back to go shopping there. Sometimes this will also work out at a pawn shop.

However, in larger chain stores like Goodwill, they won’t have a trade-in program. Many of these thrift stores receive so many donations, they don’t want to pay anything for the items that they receive. Goodwill receives so many donations that they often have to turn away the items and send them directly to the outlet to be sold by the pound. So it would literally be a waste of money for them to pay anything for inventory. High end consignment shops are more willing to do a trade in program than the stores where you find low quality items.

Finding high end brands for lower prices is the best deal. Credit: Shutterstock

26. Learn About Brands to Get Better Deals

One of the best ways to save a lot of money at the thrift stop is to know what you’re looking at. For example, if you’re always shopping on a budget, you might stick to brands like Old Navy or Walmart clothing. So you might not recognize some of the brand names on labels. But if you educate yourself on somebody high-end brands, you know when you find a genuinely good deal.

For example, it might be a good deal for you to find a shirt that cost $10 at Old Navy, and you can pay $1 for it at the thrift stop. But it’s an even better deal if you find a $100 shirt and pay a dollar for it. Once I started educating myself more about fashion brands, I began to find amazing deals at my local thrift stores. No, I have a wardrobe filled with designer clothing that cost me almost nothing to buy.

The earlier you get to the thrift store, the more money you can save. Credit: Shutterstock

25. Show Up Early

As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. This is also very true when it comes to getting a good deal at the thrift shop. If you can get there early in the morning when the store first opens, you’re more likely to find a really good deal. A few hours later, most of the good stuff has been picked over. The sale is still going on, but you might not get the things you actually wanted if you had showed up earlier. Just keep in mind that on the Goodwill 50% day, people will line up in front of the door an hour early in order to get to the good stuff first.

Sometimes showing up to the thrift shop early can feel chaotic, if I’m being honest. So if you have anxiety around crowds of people who don’t seem to care about social distancing, you might actually want to avoid these busy times. If you have the vaccine, maybe you’re ready to throw caution to the wind and get great deals with the other early risers. But if you get nervous easily, just show up later in the day.

Every thrift shop is going to have a different schedule for new items. Credit: Shutterstock

24. Ask About The Store’s Delivery Schedule

Finding good deals at a thrift stop often has a lot to do with the day of the week that you show up. For example, if the store has a delivery truck of new items every Wednesday, it means that Tuesday is the worst day to show up. On Tuesdays, they’re running low on absolutely everything in the store. So you’re only going to find rejected objects and clothing that people have already picked over. But if you give them a day to restock and show up on a Thursday morning, you’re likely to find the best things. But you’re never going to know this information unless you ask someone who works there.

Some stores will have different days of the week where they restock certain categories of items. For example, maybe they have people working in the back sorting donations 7 days a week. On Monday they bring out clothes, Tuesday is housewares, etc. You’ll never know their schedule until you ask. Show up on the days when you can find the newest items in your particular category of interest.

Furniture is one of the best deals you can find at a thrift shop. Credit: Shutterstock

23. You Can Save The Most on Furniture

One of the biggest savings that you can find at a thrift stop is furniture. When people move, they often cannot take their furniture with them. This is especially true if you live in an area with a lot of apartments or college students. More often than not, thrift shop furniture is still in great condition. And since it takes up a lot of square footage, the thrift store owners are incentivized to keep it moving. In fact, a lot of my local thrift stores will even put their older furniture out by the curb and put a “free” sign on it, because the square footage in the store is more valuable than the thing itself.

Obviously, you may want to think twice about buying a used couch. However, you’d be shocked to know that sometimes, you can find like-new pieces at the thrift shop. If you go somewhere like Ashley Furniture, you can expect to pay thousands of dollars for brand new furniture. But if you go to a thrift store, they will never charge you more than a few hundred dollars. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are also great places to buy used furniture.

If you can sell something on eBay for profit, the rest of your items may be free. Credit: Shutterstock

22. Finding Things to Flip

This next tip isn’t necessarily about saving money. But rather, it can be a great idea to find things to flip for a profit on eBay. If you can make some money by selling something you found at the thrift shop, the rest of your purchases will likely end up being completely free. Sure, this takes time and effort to find something to sell. But when it’s done properly, it can seriously pay off. Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone. So it should be quick and easy to make extra cash.

Next time you find something at the thrift store that you suspect might be valuable, open up the eBay app and check that item under the “sold” listings. This will show you if the item has actually sold recently. It’s very important to check completed, sold, and the number of people selling this same object. The quicker you can flip the item, the better. This money will end up deposited in your PayPal or bank account. Obviously, this takes time to get your money back. But it becomes almost like a rebate that pays for your other thrift shop finds.

Working at the thrift shop won’t always help you get good deals. Credit: Canva

21. Working There Part-Time Will Not Always Help

Some people assume that if they got a part-time job at a thrift stop, it would mean that they got first dibs on the best things. In some cases, this is true. My grandmother worked at a small hospital charity shop, and she always brought home great things for me when I was a kid. However, many thrift stores have the opposite policy. If you work for the Goodwill Outlet, they have a rule that you’re not allowed to buy anything in the store while you’re working

I used to sell things on eBay full time. So I became friends with the people who work at the Goodwill Outlet. Many of them would have to hide items that they wanted underneath the register and ask her friends to buy it on their behalf. But if they were to get caught, they could be fired for it. Or, you might have to call your parents or siblings to show up at the store and buy something that you want. From my perspective, it seemed to be a very frustrating position to be in. I appreciated being a customer who had the freedom to buy whatever I wanted without restrictions.

The Goodwill Outlet has items that cost only $1 per pound. Credit: Shutterstock

20. Pay By-The-Pound at The Goodwill Outlet

One of the cheapest places to go thrift shopping by far is the Goodwill Outlet. There are other thrift stores in the United States that also have a pay by the pound policy. According to The Family Pickers, there are 114 thrift stores out there that allow you to do this. Make sure you check out your local area, and definitely give it a try.

I personally have only been to the Goodwill Outlet. Everything there is only $1 per pound and books are $0.25 each regardless of the weight. This means that most pieces of clothing will only cost between 10 to 50 cents each. You can’t get any cheaper than that, unless you got something for free! This is also the best place to go if you want to try reselling things online.

Find even better deals at thrift stores in the clearance aisle. Credit: Shutterstock

19. Check the Clearance Section

This next tip might seem obvious, but you should really check out the clearance section of your thrift store. Just like regular stores, thrift shops also put things on clearance, and you can save upwards of 75% off the ticket price. These are usually items that are out of season, or have been in the store for a very long time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad items either. These are things that could have been overlooked. After all, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

I have found some great deals in the thrift store clearance section. For example, I found a Longaberger picnic basket for only three dollars because it was in the middle of winter, and no one was going on a picnic. These normally sell for $150 each. I got an amazing deal because I understood what this brand was, and I understood its actual value. Obviously, everyone else who saw that item had no idea what it was.

Most thrift stores have a large truck that they use for delivery and pickup of heavy items. Credit: Shutterstock

18. Ask About Delivery and Pickup

If you’re trying to buy something large from a thrift shop like furniture, you might assume that you have to rent a U-Haul truck to get it back to your house. However, many thrift stores will actually deliver pieces to your home for you. The fee might cost roughly $50, but this is still cheaper than renting a truck. Some places will even do free delivery if you spend a certain amount of money.

Same goes with bringing donations to the store. Many thrift stores will come to pick up donations for free oh, because it means that they can get free inventory for the shop. This can be a really useful way to have things taken away quickly and easily. Just call your local thrift store to see what kind of items they accept. Keep in mind that they will not accept everything. So don’t try to force anything on them once they arrived at they were not comfortable with taking.

Look for clothing out of season, because you can find great deals. Credit: Shutterstock

17. Shop Out of Season

Most thrift stores try to get rid of their older clothing by putting them on sale. However, there will sometimes be clothes that sit there for months without getting purchased, and they just sit in a certain section of the store. These out-of-season items tend to be the cheapest things you can find in the store, because the owners prefer to have popular items sold in front. If you can wait until this item gets out of season, you can find amazing deals.

For example, I once got my mom a London Fog peacoat for $5 that was brand new with its $200 price tag still on it. I also found a $100 Nautica jacket for just $8, because it was being sold at the end of the season when jackets went on clearance. With that being said, a lot of these things will be picked over by then. However, sometimes the most expensive items are left over, because they were out of someone’s price range. You in some cases, you are literally saving the best for last and making out like a bandit.

Be prepared to buy things that are unexpected. Credit: Canva

16. Bring Enough Cash for Unexpected Deals

You can’t take advantage of great deals if you don’t have the money to buy them. Many small charity shops and family owned thrift shops are cash-only. This seems hard to believe in a time when so much of our life is now digital, but it’s true. So if you are not normally in the habit of carrying cash, make sure you have enough on hand before you go to a thrift shop. Same goes with a yard sale or flea market. You should always carry more money than you anticipate needing, because you never know what you will find.

A thrift shop may be willing to hold an item for you if you promise to run to the ATM and be right back. Or, they might require you to put down a deposit. This has happened to me at cash-only thrift stores before. However, it’s simply better to show up with cash in hand. If you don’t already have one, consider getting yourself a new wallet or even a coin purse for your cash.

Your thrift shop might have additional discounts for members of the military and seniors. Credit: Shutterstock

15. Check For Military and Senior Discounts

Most stores will offer an additional discount to active members of the military, veterans, and senior citizens over 65 years old. This discount may only be 10 to 20%, so it just barely covers the tax. However, this small discount compounds over time.

Obviously, this only applies to people who qualify for the discount. However, you can invite your grandparents or parents to go thrift shopping with you, and take advantage of their discount! Trust me, they will be happy to spend time with you.

Some thrift stores will have text alerts set up for opportunities to get a sale. Credit: Shutterstock

14. Sign Up For Text Alerts

With the help of modern technology, many thrift stores now have a system in place where they can send text alerts. Obviously, you would have to sign up for their loyalty program, and give them your personal information. By signing up, they usually give you a one-time discount for your purchase. Then, you will get alerts on your phone every time there is a sale.

You might not want to take advantage of every sale that comes through on your phone. However, this is a great way to get notified of a sale that you might have otherwise missed. This tip is also applicable to pretty much any store, not just the thrift shop. Clothing stores like Lucky Brand, American Eagle, and more all have text alerts to notify customers of their upcoming sales.

Some items may be misunderstood, which gives you an opportunity to save. Credit: Shutterstock

13. Look For Misunderstood Items

Sometimes, you can find a really great deal at a thrift shop if you find something that has been misunderstood. What I mean by that is that the person putting out the items and creating the prices has no idea what that thing is. So they might put something more valuable into the wrong section of the thrift store. When a mistake has been made, you might be able to get something at a huge discount simply because the employee was misinformed about what it was.

This has happened to me on multiple occasions, mostly when I was looking for older antiques. It tends to happen more often in my local college town where Goodwill employees are students just looking for a part-time gig. Obviously, older people and private shop owners are more likely to have the experience to know how to price something correctly, and you’re not going to get as good of a discount.

If you’re friendly with the cashier, they are likely to give you the inside scoop on good deals. Credit: Shutterstock

12. Make Friends With the Cashier

The great rule of thumb for almost anywhere you go is to become friends with the cashier. Remember that when you work in the retail or service industry, you run into a lot of mean customers. So people really appreciate when a friendly customer comes through the door. They will be glad to see you knowing that their job is just a little bit easier for a few minutes. After a while, you might even consider them to be your friend. You may never get drinks with this person or hang out outside of the building, but there’s still someone that you can have a friendly conversation with for five to ten minutes.

When you become friends with an employee, they are more likely to give you their own personal tips on how you can save money. They might even put things aside for you so that you can buy it when you want. This would happen to me a lot when I work full-time as a reseller. If my friends working at the stores knew that I was going to come in at least once a week, they would hold things behind the counter for me so that I could personally be the one to buy it.

It’s a good idea to look outside of your normal section if you want to find good deals. Credit: Shutterstock

11. Shop Outside of Your Normal Section

A great money saving tip for finding clothes is to quickly check all of the sections of the store. It doesn’t matter if you normally shop in the women’s section. Take a quick look in the men’s or even the children’s section. You just might find some piece of clothing that was put out of place by a customer. Or, you could find something that is your style, even if it belongs to the other gender. Another thing is that you could pass on the information to other people in your life.

My local Salvation Army has an amazing men’s section with high-end clothing that barely gets touched. This is because most of the customers who walk through the door are women. So it makes sense that the women’s section is more picked over with fewer things available. Because of this, I have taken all of my brothers and my father to that particular store so that they can look for the clothes. Even though I rarely find things for myself and that store, I know that it’s an amazing place for all the men in my life to go. Just because you personally can save a lot of money doesn’t mean that someone else in your life can’t benefit.

Once you find out where the new items go, you can get amazing deals. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Find Out Where Local Businesses Donate Their Leftovers

Many large businesses will donate their leftover inventory to a thrift store because they can use it as a tax write-off towards a charitable donation. For example, my local Target donate their clearance items to Goodwill. And my local privately owned thrift shop gets a weekly delivery of brand new Tempur-Pedic mattresses. Because of this, it’s possible to get brand new name brand items at a fraction of what you would have paid for them otherwise.

Keep in mind that many of these leftover items have already gone through the process of being lowered down to 90% off at Target before they end up in the thrift shop. So you’re going to find a lot of ugly designs, or clothing that is size 00 or XXS. However, one of the best scores you can find is holiday items after Christmas or Halloween.

Your mom might help you get a better deal at the thrift store. Credit: Shutterstock

9. Bring Your Mom

As strange as this may sound, you really need to bring your mom to the thrift shop. And it’s not just because moms love bargains. (It’s also not for her senior discount.) Your mom is most likely going to spot brands and objects that you would have never known about before. My own mom has taught me a lot about various ceramic brands, because she really loves fine china and glassware. I know way more than the average 30 year old about this information, just because I listened to my mom.

Your own mother might be really into fashion, vinyl records, or something else that they sell in the thrift store. Learning knowledge from an older generation is how you find some amazing hidden treasures. Even if she’s not super materialistic in any way, your mom will have a lot of fun shopping with you, guaranteed.

Rich towns have much better stuff in their thrift stores. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Find a Thrift Shop in an Affluent Area

The best thrift shopping hack ever is to shop in a rich town. People with money obviously have better stuff. And they’re usually more willing to donate their things when they get tired of it. Personally, I love to go shopping in the rich Philadelphia neighborhoods, because I find designer clothing and shoes on the regular. Large cities like New York and Los Angeles also have amazing things and their thrift stores. On the flip side, if you go to a poor city, you’re not going to find anything worth writing home about. Some of the worst locations I have ever visited were Atlantic City and Knoxville, Tennessee, because the stores were in low-income communities.

For some of you, it might seem like a paradox. Aren’t thrift stores supposed to help poor people? Yes and no. The overarching organizations want to raise money for their respective charities. So it actually makes the most sense to keep the money flowing in affluent areas. Some organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army move items around the state to make sure every location gets inventory. But the smaller independently owned thrift stores don’t have the money or man power to do that. So they can only source from local donations.

If you find dollar store items at the thrift store, you might accidently overpay. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Be Careful Not to Overpay For Items at the Thrift Shop You Can Get Cheaper Somewhere Else

One of the most common mistakes that I see people make when they buy things from a thrift store is that they assume that they are getting the cheapest price possible. In reality, the prices of the objects being put on the shelves are being made up by the employees. Sometimes a manager will intervene, but most of the time it’s a guessing game. There have been multiple occasions where I walked into a thrift store and saw an object selling for more than what it was actually worth. Even Dollar Tree items had been marked up to $2 to $3, and people bought them anyway.

I’ll never forget the time when I went to the Goodwill Outlet and a woman was filling her cart with plastic clothing hangers. She was excited, and said that she couldn’t believe that no one else was going after these hangers, too. In her mind, she found a goldmine, since everything was $1 per pound. When I told her that she could buy 5 plastic hangers for $1 at the Dollar Tree, her face dropped. She realized that she had made a mistake, but she went ahead and bought them anyway. In reality, she overpaid for something used she could get brand new somewhere else.

If you see something you want at the thrift shop, you should buy it before it’s gone. Credit: Canva

6. Don’t Hesitate, and Follow Your Intuition

One of the best ways to save money at a thrift stop is to take advantage of the good deals when you see them. The moments I regret the most about thrift shopping are when I did not jump on the opportunity to buy something. Even though my gut was telling me that it was a good deal, I hesitated and thought that I might come back later. Every single time, that thing was gone by the time I came back the next day.

Sometimes, it’s good to listen to your intuition and follow through with buying something. (Unless you have a problem with shopping addiction or hoarding.) Unlike regular stores, most items in thrift stores only have one thing in stock, and then they’re gone forever. If you regret your purchase, you can always return it or sell it online later. Most items you find at a thrift shop are under $10 anyway, and it’s not going to make or break you financially.

A thrift shop may be more popular because of the charity it gives to. Credit: Shutterstock

5. The Charity Shop’s Cause Matters

Here in the United States, most of our thrift stores are not outwardly associated with a charity. And even if they are, most people don’t know what the cause is. Most of the shops actually do put money towards a charity, even if people don’t realize what it is. For example, Goodwill puts their money towards employing people with special needs and disabilities. And most people don’t realize that The Salvation Army is actually a religious organization. But in the more affluent areas, we do have hospital charity shops or the Jewish Women’s League. From my personal experience, the American version of charity shops tend to have better stuff, and better prices. These charity shops are staffed by volunteers who are more interested in raising money for charity than making profits for the store.

In the UK and most parts of Europe, they have charity shops instead of thrift stores. Depending on the cause they are raising money for, they might have better donations coming through. According to a study, the British Heart Foundation was the most popular charity shop in the UK with Oxfam and Cancer Research UK coming next in line. When you look at the list of charity shops in the UK, it’s clear to see that people want to donate to heart disease research the most. This is likely because they had someone in their family who was affected by it. So if you have more people donating and shopping there, it’s likely to have the best stuff available.

Sometimes, thrift stores will give away items for free. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Ask Management About Freebies

Believe it or not, thrift stores frequently give things away for free. This happens for a few reasons. There might be an item that is borderline unsellable, but they don’t want to throw it away. Or, it could be something that has been sitting in the store for so long, it’s taking up too much space. Another reason could be that the store received an abundance of cheap items that they’re never going to get rid of.

These free items might be at the front desk, or they could be at the front of the store on a nice day. Ask the manager of the store if they ever give out free items, and how you could go about getting them. My local thrift shop frequently tries to give away furniture for free. Like I said, these pieces often have some kind of defect, and will need a bit of TLC before they are usable. But this is still a great deal for someone on a tight budget. Also check out the Craigslist free section.

If you aren’t finding good deals, it may be that you need to go to a new thrift shop. Credit: Shutterstock

3. Go to Different Thrift Stores and Antique Shops

Sometimes, the best advice for saving money at the thrift stop is simply go to a different location. The prices are usually dictated by the owner or the manager of the store. This can be drastically different depending on where you go. For example, at my local Goodwill, men’s neckties were $1 each no matter what brands or condition they were in. But I traveled to a different Goodwill location, and they wanted as much as $12 per necktie. The price difference was absolutely ridiculous.

It turns out that at some stores, the manager will go on eBay to see how much that item was selling for online and price it that way. Obviously, this is not a great deal for you as a customer. They are going to make you pay near-retail price of these things that should be cheaper, since you’re at a thrift store. So if you go to a store where the manager has literally printed out an eBay listing to show people how much something costs, don’t bother. You’re likely not going to get a good deal. Simply visit a different thrift shop or antique store.

Sometimes your friends can spot things at the thrift store that you missed. Credit: Shutterstock

2. Bring a Friend as a Second Set of Eyes

Whenever you go to a thrift store, flea market, or yard sale, it’s always a good idea for you to bring a friend. There is so much inventory packed into a small space, it can be difficult to spot everything. It’s kind of like looking at one of those I Spy books. Most people are not taking the time to look through every single object on a shelf. For one thing, they don’t want to take up the space for too long, because it means that you aren’t giving other customers a chance.

So if you have a friend with you, they are the second set of eyes to help you look for those amazing deals. Before you go inside of a thrift store, make a game plan. Communicate on the items that you are looking for. If one person finds what the other person is looking for, all the better. Teamwork makes the dream work. Hopefully your friend isn’t competing with you on the same items, though. In most cases, you should be able to find someone to shop with who won’t take your deals away from you.

The more often you visit your local thrift store, the higher the likelihood will be that you find something. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Visit Your Local Thrift Shop as Often as Possible

Last but not least, you are more likely to find a good deal at your thrift store if you are shopping there often. If you only go to a thrift shop once a month on the weekend, it’s likely that you’re not going to find a good deal at all. In fact, a lot of the best deals happen in the middle of the work week or in the morning hours when most people are busy. Take some time to ask the employees when the slowest or the best time is for you to come in.

Now that more people are working from home, it may be possible for you to have flexible hours during your work day. Many bosses don’t care when you get the work done, as long as it’s finished by the deadline. So if it’s possible for you to go to a thrift shop on your lunch break, you should seriously consider it. For a lot of people, this seems like too much of a hassle to do. However, the people who make the effort are the ones finding the best discounts.