How to Save Money at Thrift Shops

How to Save Money at Thrift Shops

I still remember the first time it really clicked with me that thrift shops were the place to save money.

I was a broke college student, and a friend of mine brought me to an eclectic thrift store off the beaten path.  I was thrilled to find jeans for just $7 a pair.  And then I went to another thrift store and found some dishes for my first apartment.  Another secondhand shop turned up lamps, tables, and furniture.  I was hooked.

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I also learned that as easy as it is to save money at thrift stores, it’s just as easy to waste money.  Give in to impulse shopping at the thrift store, and you’ll quickly clutter your home and empty your wallet.

Here are some ways you can still get the great deals and save money at thrift shops:

Shop with a plan.

Before you shop anywhere, you need to know what you have and what you would like to buy. Then make a list. It’s all too easy to walk into a great thrift store and buy more than you need when you find cool items at great prices.  The list will help you stick to your plan (and budget).  I like to use Evernote to save time and money by putting my lists on my phone so it’s easy to keep track of what I am looking for.

Stick to cash.

Shopping with cash prohibits you from overspending.  You can’t spend what you don’t have! Many thrift shops prefer cash, too, because they don’t have to pay debit or credit card processing fees.

Shop early and often.

The early birds catches the worm, and that’s especially true when you shop secondhand stores. Wait to shop until the end of the day and some of the best inventory will be gone.  And because the inventory at thrift shops changes constantly, you should check back often to find great deals on the items you want.

Shop the sales.

Thrift shops have sales just like any other store, and you can score some amazing deals on those days.  Look for sale signs in your favorite shop or ask the clerk when the next sale is.  Some thrift stores even have bag sales where you can fill a big bag full of stuff for just a few bucks.

Pay attention to details.

Thrift stores usually have a “No Returns” policy, which means that once you’ve bought it, it’s yours.  Avoid wasting money by examining your potential purchases closely.  Try on the clothing.  Look for stains or tears.  Check the zippers and buttons.  Plug in electronics (if your store allows).  If something is broken and you aren’t 110% dedicated to fixing it up, just leave it at the store.

Make friends with the thrift store staff.

The staff at your local thrift store is a great resource for potential savings.  They can help you find what you’re looking for and alert you to sales.  If you’re a regular customer, you may even be able to get them to drop the price on an item that’s been there awhile or ask them to keep an eye out for a particular item. You can also find out about opportunities to volunteer at your local charity thrift stores.  It’s an unpaid gig, but you get first glance at new inventory.

Sign up for rewards programs.

Some thrift shops offer frequent shopper programs, like punch cards.  When you fill the card, you get money off your next purchase. These loyalty programs can help you save even more money.

Explore thrift shops throughout your area.

While it’s tempting to stick to your favorite neighborhood thrift stores, you can also find some amazing deals by shopping in other parts of your city or even in neighboring communities.  The inventory in the stores in other parts of your area can vary dramatically, especially in more affluent neighborhoods. In addition, some departments stores donate their unsold inventory to certain shops, which means you can score great deals on items new with tag.

Turn thrift store finds into cash.

Keep your eyes open for great deals on items that other people want to buy.  A skilled thrift store shopper can pick up these deals and resell them on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or Facebook for considerable profit.   Name brand clothing in like new condition, quality pieces of furniture, rare books and collectibles are all big sellers.

A word of advice on thrift shopping

Finding awesome deals at thrift shops is great.  Keeping things out of the landfills by buying secondhand is also a good thing.

Just remember to only buy things you truly love or truly need.  Your wallet will thank you for it.

About Christina Brown

Christina is a wife and mother dedicated to figuring out how to live a simpler, happier life on a budget.


  1. Sue Clark says

    Thrift shops are a great place to pick up items you forgot or don’t want to pay to bring on the plane when traveling. While on the road I Google “thrift shop” + the name of the city I’m in to find nearby thrift shops. is a great site for finding thrift shop locations, along with open hours, addresses, phone number, etc. However, I always call in advance to make sure the shop is still open and hasn’t moved to another location.

  2. Marta says

    Thrift shops are brilliant. I’ve started making them part of my exercise routine. Seriously. I’ve started a collection of second-hand workout DVDs, and I don’t have to feel bad about disliking one or two and replacing them with new ones once in a while because they’re only a few bucks. It also keeps my own selections relatively fresh so I don’t get bored and stop exercising.

    On volunteering or working at a thrift shop: I’ve noticed that the Goodwill stores in the DC area have a sign at the entrance indicating that the store’s staff are not allowed to shop at that location. The objective seems to be to give everyone (ie, the public) a fair shot at the goods. I don’t know if other stores have this policy. I had never heard of that policy before I came here.

    • tedi says

      I used to work at a Goodwill in AZ and we weren’t allowed to shop at the location we worked at. Our family could but we couldn’t.

  3. Cathy says

    I volunteer at a church based thrift store (don’t have to be a member of the church tho ) with all profits earned going back into the community. As a volunteer we get first shot at items, course we pay for them too. We have bag sales on a continuous basis, the more you buy the more you save concept….. :)

      • Cathy says

        yep, you are right Christina, moderation is the key, it’s easy to go overboard, but hey, this is a cheap vice as compared to a lot of other things. Plus if you get bored of something, just recycle it at the thrift shop…. :)

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