Nifty, Thrifty Fashion: 9 Tips for Better Thrift Store Shopping

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Thrift shops, resale stores, call ’em what you will: repositories of randomness like Salvation Army, Goodwill and Savers take in hundreds (or thousands) of donated items every day. You never know what you’ll find there and half the fun is seeing what new items pop up from one week to the next. Clothing, shoes and accessories seem to be the biggest sections in every thrift store, sometimes for next-to-nothing prices. In most cases, your purchases are funding a charitable cause so you can walk out with your arms full of new duds and a clean conscience. But there’s a little art and science to this kind of shopping, so here’s a few pointers to make your experiences more nifty and thrifty…


Unlike shopping at department stores, nearly every item at a thrift store is one-of-a-kind. This brings out the competitive side in some shoppers sometimes. Some are there to find items to resell for a profit, others are hardcore collectors of certain items and so on. Don’t let this turn you off on thrifting, just be sure to go in with the right mindset.


Speaking of competition, I can’t tell you how many times this has happened: you’re unsure you really want a certain item so you put it down and walk away. A few minutes later, you change your mind and go back only to find it’s gone. If you see something that catches your eye but unsure about whether to buy, put in your cart and continue shopping. You can always take it out of the cart later.


Thrift stores can be merciless about what they put out for sale. There’s just too many items coming in every day for employees to look over each and every one, and some don’t believe in filtering out the bad from the good. It’s your job to examine clothing for tears, stains, missing accessories like belts or ties and so on. If the store lighting isn’t the best, walk your cart over to the largest windows for a better view before standing in the checkout line.


There is no science behind thrift store pricing: sometimes they’re priced too low, sometimes too high. Many times, this author has seen used items marked $2 that originally sold for only $1 at the local dollar store. As the old saying goes, “Buyer beware.” Fortunately, phones with internet access have made it a lot easier to check items and prices and see if that good deal is really a steal.


There are better and worse times to go thrifting. Despite what some may tell you, weekends are the worst. Why? Because everyone else is out shopping too, crowding the stores and snapping up all the good stuff. Worse, weekends tend to bring out the more belligerent types who do things like block an aisle with their cart so you can’t look at what they’re looking at. Weekday mornings seem to be best, and particularly Monday mornings when stores are putting all the new donations from the previous weekend’s yard sale leftovers. It’s not unusual to see a small line of ‘regulars’ waiting outside the store 10 minutes before opening on week days, followed by a mad rush as they scurry over to their preferred sections. Oh, and we should point out that Salvation Army stores are not open on Sundays.


Sometimes, the price you see is not always the lowest price. On Mondays, our local Savers offers half-off on nearly every item in the store. Salvation Army has specials that differ every day of the week, based on the color of an item’s tags. Be sure to check your stores signs and flyers for when they offer the best deals.


Here in the Chicago area, thrift stores in low-income neighborhoods tend to sell the worst items for the highest prices. Go figure. You’re generally much better off visiting stores in more affluent areas.


Some thrift stores don’t have changing rooms. If you’re shopping for wardrobe, it’s not a bad idea to wear a tee or tights under other clothes for quick-changes. Trust me, you won’t be the first or only person to ever try on a sweater or jeans right in the middle of the aisle.


Thrifting is a game of chance and there’s going to be times when you walk out empty handed. But the more frequently you shop the more likely you are to find something good too.


Article by Jim Jurica

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