Some general advice…
Go Often– since thrift store stock is replenished daily, new stuff comes out all the time. Usually, to get the good stuff, you have make a ritual out of it!
Do Your Research– it’s a good idea to scour the web for info on your local thrift stores to find out store hours, location and maybe what kind of stuff they specialize in (furniture, clothing, books, etc.). If you’re planning to do some serious thrifting, you won’t want to waste your time heading off to places that aren’t open or only sell furniture when you’re looking for a dress or coat. Also, many smaller thrift shops are only open a few days a week, so be sure to check or call ahead of time.
Discounts– most thrift stores have discount days. Places like Salvation Army and Goodwill have regular weekly discount days (Tuesdays are 50% off, Thursdays are 30% off), while smaller stores will offer once-in-a-while discount days. Be sure to ask the volunteers when those are and write it down in your planner!
Go Green– all thrift stores pack your loot into plastic bags. Just say no! Tote your reusable bags in your car, so you can carry your treasures home the earth-friendly way.
Dress for the Occasion– if shopping for clothes, be sure to dress comfortably. If you’re short on time and don’t want to wait in line for a dressing room, wear clothing that you can easily slip things on over- like black leggings, tank tops, skinny jeans, shorts, and t-shirts. Make sure you bring socks or nylon booties for trying on shoes!
Inspect– when you find an item you love- whether it’s funky framed artwork or a cute vintage purse- give it a really good once-over to make sure it doesn’t have any holes, tears, stains, cigarette burns or other damage. Certain things like missing buttons or a bead or two are OK, because you can probably take care of those minor fixes at home.
Keep an Open Mind– if you own a sewing machine and know how to use it, you can morph that long sundress into a fabulous skirt of flowy tank. Think outside the box when your thrift shopping, and the possibilities for your next wardrobe addition are endless!
Bring Antibacterial Wipes or Hand Sanitizer– who knows if the stuff at the thrift store has been washed or dry cleaned, or how many other hands have touched it before you…better safe than sorry.
Different strokes for different folks…
Thrift Stores- can be found in most cities and are great places for shopping; will usually have a good mix of old and new items such as clothing (men’s, women’s and kid’s), household items (toasters, dishes, cookie jars), electronics, sports equipment, accessories (purses, ties, necklaces), shoes and furniture. Usually, the condition of items at thrift stores is good, but not always- make sure you check the item you’re thinking of buying for stains, holes, and other defects.
Vintage Boutiques- these types of stores have grown in popularity and offer solely vintage clothing, shoes and accessories. Since these boutiques usually buy from sellers, the prices of the items sold here are much, much higher than those of a thrift store. The condition of items sold at vintage boutiques is usually quite good, which is reflected in the price tag.
Consignment Shops & Sales- I would say these types of shops are somewhere in between a vintage boutique and a thrift store. Since consignment shops are usually very picky about the items they will take to sell in there store, the quality of the items is usually quite good. Places like Plato’s Closet will purchase your clothes from you (usually for a lot less than what they’re worth) and then re-sell them in their store. Consignment stores most oftentimes carry (newer) name brand and fancy-schmancy label clothing.
Garage Sales- anything goes at garage sales! Great places for bargaining on price. You can usually find good stuff for cheap at garage sales because usually the seller wants to get rid of everything in their driveway. Clothing, furniture, baby items, sports and fitness equipment, household items, tools…just be sure to get there early as garage sales can get picked-over by the end of the day.
Estate Sales- kind of like a garage sale, only someone has passed away and their “estate” is put on display and sold to anyone who walks through the house. Usually, an estate sale company will come in and price everything for sale. Then people will line up and be able to wander through the house to look at all of the items for sale. It can be hit or miss, with inventory as well as pricing- some estate sale companies will jack up the price, especially on collectibles and jewelry. Be prepared to wait in line!
Flea Markets- like a sea of garage sales! Flea markets can take up a whole day and can cover huge parking lots- so bring good walking shoes! Just like garage sales, flea markets are also good places to haggle on the price of an item for sale. You can also find new stuff (like tube socks, large bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and women’s accessories) for relatively cheap. Food vendors are usually present, too, in case you need to eat lunch and dinner there…Flea markets normally happen on a once-a-month basis- unless you are the Sebastopol Flea Market, which takes place every weekend!