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Thrift Store Shopping Tips

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Many shoppers find exceptional bargains at their local thrift stores. This is a guide about thrift store shopping tips.
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By 9 found this helpful
February 7, 2008

I was just reading the comments on the "Saving Money On Jeans" post, and I agree with the poster who said that Goodwill is getting "expensive"! There was a bigger, nicer Goodwill building built here in my city a few years ago, but on recent trips there, I've noticed that the prices are rather high (at least for a thrift store, in my opinion). My best friend used to work for them, and said that they often get brand new merchandise donated to them from Target and other stores. However, there are at least two other different thrift stores here in my city, and I know that at least one of them also gets donations from Target, and they have much lower prices.

Once I bought a Target item from Goodwill, only to find it about $1.25 cheaper at Salvation Army! So my tip is to check out all the thrift stores in your area and compare prices. You might find some of the same items there, and get them cheaper than you would at Goodwill. I do still shop at Goodwill, but after I've looked at the other thrift stores first!

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By Lisa from Kenosha, WI

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December 19, 20090 found this helpful
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Remember the Goodwill help others.

Goodwill may be expensive, but they literally saved my ex-father-in-law's life when he was living on the streets about 30 years ago. Eventually he worked his way to becoming one of the higher-up's & started helping others (it's a very long story). So I just wanted to remind you, that when you shop at Goodwill, you are helping lots of people get back on their feet. Goodwill also helps the handicapped, both the physically handicapped and those with mental handicapped that can't get other jobs.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army are a wonderful organizations & are having a very hard time this year because people that usually donate money don't have jobs & may need help themselves.

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Don't get me wrong, I always shop where the prices are cheap, but it does take a little bit of the sting out of the higher prices when you remember that you are helping others with the extra money you spend!

Another tip, look for other Thrift Stores that are run by volunteers working to help organizations like this. In Seattle we have a wonderful thrift shop that's totally run by volunteers that helps kids without money or insurance at the Children's Hospital Thrift Store. You can even get a tax credit if you donate to them. We also have several thrift stores run by local churches and one ran by the American Cancer Society. It's always nice to know you are helping others with your donations and your purchases.

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December 20, 20090 found this helpful
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As a former Goodwill Production Manager I completely agree with you Lisa. Goodwill knows that people will keep shopping their stores so they will keep raising the prices. It has gotten out of control and outrageous over the past few years. They know it!

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I now shop at the local Habitat Store for a mere 10¢ on the exact same item at GW for $2.00. To me, it is worth the extra mile of gas to get the much better deals.

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December 21, 20090 found this helpful
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I've discovered the St Vincent de Paul thrift store in our town to have excellent merchandise at great prices. In spite of the good I know Goodwill does (I'm a former client after a car wreck going on 7 years ago,) I've found their prices consistently too high.

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December 21, 20090 found this helpful
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I used to donate to Goodwill on a regular basis - every time I cleaned out my closet or house. Last time, as I was pulling away from the behind the store drop off, I observed one of the employees throwing my NEW pair of woman's boots into the dumpster. I now take my donations to Salvation Army and shop there and church thrift shops avoiding Goodwill if at all possible.

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I have talked to the men from Salvation Army and they showed me how, when they have an abundance of clothes, they bundle extra items and ship to 3rd world countries to help them. Nothing is wasted. And, they keep their prices lower so others can afford to dress warmly and neatly.

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December 21, 20090 found this helpful
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I have found that Goodwill & Salvation Army are entirely different even in the same city. Local managers have a lot of room to make changes and they usually do as they please as long as money is coming in. Gainesville, FL has a "new" Goodwill that looks like a dump all the time. Their Salvation Army is a true dump. Prices are still not cheap.

Ocala, FL has a beautiful Salvation Army that sells great items but prices have recently gone up also. Goodwill here is known as the "Goodwill Boutique" because of the high prices. Another Goodwill sells everything by the pound so sometimes you can find a good buy but it takes a lot of time sorting through as lots of stuff is just thrown in "tubs".

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Bargains are usually found at church or true charitable thrift stores and some yard sales. It is also very difficult to find truly disabled workers at the Goodwill stores.

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January 3, 20100 found this helpful
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I have been volunteering at a church thrift store for the last year .And for the last 6 months now, they have free stuff Mondays, (clothing,books household and more). And have given things for a lot of causes. Very nice and clean place and very low prices, 80% of all clothing is always .50 each. A real old fashion thrift, on the north side or racine, (revival thrift store).

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By 12 found this helpful
October 27, 2011

Communicating with Goodwill offices, I learned they are changing their marketing strategies due to the availability of new goods coming off shelves of failing/going out-of-business/bankrupt stores. I have found a plethora of NEW in-the-box with-the-manual items at tremendously low prices.

I find NEW items: A Bodum cordless teakettle ($79) for $6, a pair of Stuart Weismann pumps ($400) for $3.99, a pair of Hush Puppies ($90) for $2.99, a Nordstrom leather vest ($189) for $2.99, a small (this was used) china cabinet ($2500) for $100, a kichen butcher block/island ($259) for $49, a vintage beveled mirror ($800) for $15.

The mirror was too large, a leaner, and I sent it to a consignment shop who sold it for $300.

I find Ralph Lauren, Liz Clayborne, Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer, JC Penny, Target, Jones of NY, many, many famous top-of-the-line retailers at Goodwill. Just shop carefully.

Goodwill needs cash. YOU need their stuff. Help them by recycling so they can continue their mission of helping the less fortunate and saving yourself money. If I tire of an item, I donate it back to Goodwill. After all, I did not pay the true value and price for the item and some good comes of it once again when they resell it.

RECYCLE, FOLKS! It is a good thing for planet Earth and you.

By Avis from Boulder, CO

Do you have a frugal story to share with the ThriftyFun community? Submit your essay here: http://www.thriftyfun.com/post_myfrugallife.ldml

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By 15 found this helpful
November 1, 2011

I have found treasures behind or under the glass at our local thrift stores. That is where they keep the items (sometimes with those names you may love but never would pay for) like bags, jeans, leather jackets, etc. I have found zippers can be a problem, usually these items are priced way too high in my opinion because of the name, not the condition they are in.

If you find a great deal, look inside really well to examine the lining, look outside for any stains that have been ruined by someone trying to remove something, leaving the item not worth paying for just a name. That's where you get to point it out and bargain.

If they are willing (not all are) to lower the price, knowing how to bring the item back to its almost new condition for pennies of what it cost, for me is exciting. I don't resell items but many do. So be careful these are some of what is on eBay. Always ask, if you are one who buys used leather, expensive jeans, hand bags, etc. online, if it has been restored.

My friend had been looking for a Levi jacket for so long, but was unable (or unwilling) to pay store cost. On one of our trips, there was a perfect condition jean jacket in her size for $12.00. This isn't what I usually look for or does she, but once in awhile, we all have that special something we are hoping for.

Leather jackets, if they haven't been worn in awhile, have a couple things to look for; make sure the zipper slides easily, it isn't off track anywhere, and look at the leather. Check the lining - I have found it has been taken out; which means sometimes it had been worn hard, or could be there just was a rip or stain so it has been removed. If you sew, this may be an easy fix, if inexpensive, to get done. I have only redone the "vest" part of a leather jacket which was easy, not expensive for that style of jacket, and worked fine. Look at the cuffs - if it hasn't been taken care of, that is one place you can really see tatter. If the jacket has room to shorten the sleeves, is quality may still be worth the investment. Elbows on the sleeves and the collar is where I also look for the hidden wear, not just a stain popping out or a tear that is in plain sight. I take very good care of my leather, therefore I have a motorcycle jacket still in style that is a couple decades old. Where I live, I have found usually not the case, some donate great quality leather jackets with names I could never think about buying so its worth looking. Sometimes anyone can get lucky.

For hand bags, it's the same thing really. Look at them. Just because they are under lock and key doesn't always mean it's a treasure. It is always the name, that's why they keep them locked up. If it's in good condition on the bottom of the bag and the lining is intact, check out the straps to see if they look worn (I don't mean not new, but really used). Make sure you look where your hand bag get worn out the most. I have found it's usually the same 2 or 3 places.

Always check zippers on both leather jackets, skirts, jeans, and handbags. Make sure they are in working order, on track or if it's something easy like just sticking you know what you are dealing with so you can maybe get a deal, or at the very least, not over pay if they over-looked something. If you don't know how to fix or replace a zipper yourself, my alteration place has good prices, however sometime if you have to replace a zipper, it may well not be worth your find. If it's just sticking or jammed you usually can tell right away. Always make sure it's on track (the bottom isn't ruined). Zippers being stuck easily can be fixed with DW40; it works for me every time. That is what I would recommend, if its only a zipper that is sticking and it's something you want and worth the money.

If the leather itself has a spot on it, it could save you money by pointing it out and be something you can fix. I have a great pair of boots that I tripped in the first time I wore them and tore the leather, making the toes look black, not the brown boots I had bought. Any craft store sells paint that is water proof, used for leather. Even if its an "off" color like mine was, I mixed 2 of the paints together and to this day only my son and I know it ever happened. So if there is a place on a bag, jacket, or pair of boots some of it can be redone for around $5.00 making it well worth it. When I say redone I don't mean the entire bag or jacket, I mean worn spots on the elbows, or spots of wear on a bag can be easily matched with this paint and made to look new again.

For example my own bag, which I love, is a mustard color. Where I keep my hand sanitizer there is a worn spot, but the rest of the bag is still in perfect shape - matching that and fixing it myself is what I will do, not get rid of my Tignanello. I promise it was a gift I will have for years to come.

Leather can be cleaned up and reconditioned in a few ways without costing you a bunch of money; talcum powder removes grease from leather, so just because there is a spot of oil or grease may not mean it's not worth seeing if they will give you a deal, or if it is a great deal may be worth a second look. Remember you can buy leather cleaners, water proof products, or if like me, use olive oil for cleaning and keeping my leather in soft, subtle shape costing hardly nothing. I have heard coconut oil works well. It comes in a jar and is very hard making it easy to put on a cloth and rub into the material. Also remember if it's brown, black, rust, or a color easily matched and has a small spot or maybe creases from prior use, shoe polish will soak into the spot, making it appear the same color. When using shoe polish on anything other than shoes, make sure you polish a couple of times, using a small amount each time and always getting any left over polish off. If you don't, it will come of on something you don't want it to; like your shirt, coat, etc. The liquid shoe stains do not do this. If using one of them make sure you have matched up the leather before applying. These things can also make an item you have look new again.

Jeans, another thing found behind the counter or in the glass case, are always based on name brand. $25.00 for a pair of brand name jeans may be something many are interested in, but look out for knock offs. The people working at Salvation Army or Goodwill especially, will not know how to recognize fakes. The small independent thrift stores or consignment stores know more of what they have, and its worth. I know polo type shirts that have a little symbol on the right side, aren't always a real polo (Ralph Lauren), or another brand, but they have copied the "tag" or taken it from another item. If you don't look close, you wouldn't catch it until too late. Not everyone cares about labels, but if you are paying for it, you should get what you pay for - new or used.

They keep sun glasses and jewelry there locked away also, these are so easy for people who steal to take. It doesn't always mean they are anything expensive to begin with. I have found the neatest jewelry behind the glass in bundles sometimes and on a half price day. Keep in mind these things are already marked down like everything else in the store.

Cameras, CD players, and watches are just a few of the other things that seem to be out of reach. If you ask they will gladly open the case. Make sure it's working (if it needs electricity or battery) - it's usually a good idea to carry some batteries with you if you are looking for any items that take them. That way you know its in good working order. I got a beautiful, expensive watch for $10.00 from my church thrift store and they said if you take it and get a battery, if it doesn't work, bring it back. Not everywhere would do that, so ask to be sure. For the cost of a watch battery, I have a watch I could never afford, wouldn't even have thought I could own one.

Sometimes these locked away treasures are worth asking, maybe bargaining, putting in a little time. Other times it's better to know when it's not a treasure at all; just locked away. Items found behind the glass can make the best gifts. Although they may not be your usual purchases, don't be afraid to look. I wrote in one of my posts where I had gotten a blow dryer that was worth well over $100.00, but I knew what I was looking at. Like I said, "some people make a living doing this" - most of us do not, so knowing a little bit about what you may be bargaining down could pay off. I always look at what is in style, what is in the magazines, and when I see name brands it helps knowing a little bit about what you may be "hoping" to find. Always try to look on the days they have 50% off or any other special your local thrift store has.

Finding a bargain is so much fun. Once in a while, it is like finding hidden treasure! I keep up on magazines and look at what the price "new" is to see if it is really a deal when buying anything that isn't obviously my usual thrift purchases. Good luck with your treasure hunting!

By Luana M. from San Diego, CA

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September 9, 20096 found this helpful

If anyone needs a reminder, though, please remember some thrift stores are done really well: having nice clothing and blankets, as well as

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By 4 found this helpful
November 28, 2017

I go to my local thrift store at least once a week. You never know what you are going to find. Today I found an Alex and Ani bracelet for $1, which my daughter will love. This bracelet would have cost $28 new.

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By 6 found this helpful
August 12, 2010

Every year Goodwill has a membership drive -I think it's in April. They sell memberships for $5. You will get 1/2 off anything you buy that day ,and they mail you 12 coupons good for each month of the year for $5 off any $10 or more purchase.

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May 3, 20061 found this helpful

I grew up in a family of 4 children, a stay-at-home mom, and a father who didn't make a lot of money. We had everything we needed but I did wear a lot of boys PJs inherited from my older brother and cousins.

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August 10, 2010

Think you can only get clothes and household items at thrift shops? There is often a lot of electronic and computer gear there, too. When our computer keyboard fritzed out last week, my hubby went out to the thrift shop and bought a new keyboard for about $5.00!

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By 2 found this helpful
February 8, 2013

I frequently shop at Goodwill for clothing, household items, etc. I found that for only $5 I can get a mailing of monthly coupons for $5 off if you spend $10.

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November 27, 20171 found this helpful

Shopping at thrift stores can be a good way to find inexpensive gifts for family and friends. Sometimes money is tight and having a thrift store christmas is the best way to celebrate the gift giving associated with Christmas.

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July 27, 20162 found this helpful

There are definitely bargains to be found at your local thrift store. If you know how to look, you may come upon a lovely piece of silver hiding under that tarnish. This is a guide about finding silver at thrift shops.

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March 1, 20050 found this helpful

Go to the best town (most expensive real estate) and comb the thrift shops. Rich people throw things out too and sometimes new or near new. The quality may be better and you still pay thrift store prices. By JANET

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September 7, 20050 found this helpful

Our local consignment shops have been doing stuff-a-sack (Walmart sack) for $3. I have been hitting them for the past 3 months and have gotten some great stuff.

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April 11, 20170 found this helpful

Thrift store shopping can be a fun and very successful way to shop for clothing and many other items. This is a guide about 7 tips for making thrift shopping a breeze.

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By 0 found this helpful
December 27, 2016

Shop in January for fantastic deals. People unload new, unwanted Christmas gifts, and older models of items they have upgraded. Also, people take advantage of the charitable contribution tax donation by donating by December 31.

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October 2, 2006

I got a nice black leather bag for $1 at a thrift shop. You can tell leather from vinyl by the smell. Leather wears so much better.

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November 17, 20040 found this helpful

Many times they have a super sale like a bag of clothes for $5. I've bought new hooded sweatshirts for my granddaughter with 6 fitting in a bag. Recently, they had women's clothing for $.50 each.

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August 7, 2007

I realize that I do most of my shopping nowadays in various thrift shops. It's gotten to the point I get sticker shock when I go into a REAL store!

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July 20, 2007

When I am in thrift shops, I always look for little gift items - there are so many occasions to give little gifts - besides birthdays, there are get well gifts and so on.

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