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How to Shop Thrift and Consignment Stores for Bargains and Treasures

Updated on June 29, 2017
mactavers profile image

I've lived in Arizona for 70 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books and travel.

Thrift Store Casual Outfit

Funky T-Shirt $3.99, Riders Jeans $5.99, Boho earrings $2.50, Old white plastic bracelet $1.99, Brighton red leather purse $15
Funky T-Shirt $3.99, Riders Jeans $5.99, Boho earrings $2.50, Old white plastic bracelet $1.99, Brighton red leather purse $15 | Source

A Few Words of Wisdom Regarding Thrift Stores

Many years ago when stores selling previously used items were called junk and second hand stores, and the items sold within those stores were called cast offs and rummage and old instead of vintage, Saturdays would find me happily shopping those stores with used goods for a variety of reasons. I was addicted to shopping in Tucson at the Assistance League Store, the Salvation Army Store, the Tucson Symphony League store, The Buffalo Exchange (clothing and accessories), and a variety of second hand furniture stores. It was true that I had student tuition to pay, two rapidly growing daughters and only a part time student job that paid about $3 an hour, and a husband who was working hard to support us. While we were not poor by any standard, and rich in all of life's important things, money was tight. Those days were the start of my love of thrift stores, but over time, I've become even more a fan of thrift store shopping which isn't so much focused on bargain shopping. Last week, I was visiting Green Valley Arizona and I'd heard so much about the White Elephant Thrift Store, I had to stop and experience it for myself. There was a crowd waiting at the door for the opening, a lady playing lively tunes on an organ and a wonderful array of merchandise. I asked if there was anything special happening at the store that day, but was told that the store is packed every day. The White Elephant Store was spacious, the items well organized by type and priced to sell, the antiques and vintage items in a separate area and there were lots of volunteers to help customers. The store really impressed me as the best of thrift shopping and made me consider all the reasons to shop at thrift stores.

Don't be afraid to look for clues on when special items will be routinely placed for sale. For example, one thrift store I usually stop at each week has one lady who comes in Tuesday mornings to sort and restock the book section. Another thrift store I frequent, has Tuesday as their pick up day for furniture donations. Therefore, new furniture is priced and ready for sale every Wednesday morning.

Funky and Fun Summer Thrift Store Outfit

Eileen Fisher brown t-shirt $7, Green and brown print scarf $2, Bangles (4) $1 each, Brighton summer woven purse $12, Chicos Palm Tree Cotton cropped pants $12.
Eileen Fisher brown t-shirt $7, Green and brown print scarf $2, Bangles (4) $1 each, Brighton summer woven purse $12, Chicos Palm Tree Cotton cropped pants $12. | Source

Adding to Collections

Thrift store additions to my Mexican pottery collection.  Green caserole $9.99, small bowl. $1.99, mug $2.99
Thrift store additions to my Mexican pottery collection. Green caserole $9.99, small bowl. $1.99, mug $2.99 | Source

Keeping Your Budget and Repurpose and Recycle

The best way to shop thrift stores is to know as much as possible about them to plan where you may find the best price and quality for the items you want to shop for. A small thrift store may specialize in only clothing and accessories, whereas, a larger store can afford the space for furniture and household in addition to clothing. Other thrift stores specialize in a variety of children's items. Some thrift stores tend to sell merchandise that reflects the organization that they support. Such as my closest thrift store supports our local humane society. Therefore, many of their volunteers and donors are animal lovers. It is only logical that they always have a variety of pet crates, beds and animal toys at great prices.

I recently heard of an upscale kitchen resale shop in Phoenix Arizona where great bargains can be found on dishes, cookware, utensils, gadgets and food containers.

Be a detective about when new merchandise is put out. For example, I collect vintage Christmas ornaments and some stores do not put out their Christmas items until the day after Thanksgiving. Some stores change their displays and put out new merchandise on a certain day or days. Some stores offer special discounts, sale days or senior discounts on certain days. Other stores have a systematic way of putting their merchandise at half price after a certain date.

I read recently about a Mom who shops thrift stores for games for her children, but often found that the boxes were in sad condition. Her way to revamp, was to place the perfectly good games into new tins or boxes with computer designed labels made personal for each child.

While saving your hard earned money, isn't it great to know about the millions of items that don't reach our land fills because they have been repurposed and recycled back into use. It is true that someone else's donation is just what you are shopping for.

Outdoor Furniture

Red and yellow motel chairs 1950s $40 each, tile topped table $25
Red and yellow motel chairs 1950s $40 each, tile topped table $25 | Source

Art, Crafts and Collections

For many people, thrift shopping is not as much about price as it is finding the unique and vintage. One of my first thrift store "buddies" got estatic about finding an item of clothing with ususual or old buttons. She couldn't wait to get the items home and begin to cut the buttons off. Another artist friend takes apart existing jewelry and beads to create wonderful funky new jewelry. I recently met an artist who creates lamps out of tea cups and saucers. Those who quilt and sew also find unique ways to create new items from vintage ones. I met a lady last summer who specializes in creating aprons and sun dresses from vintage sheets. All good.

For myself, I admit to always looking for books on Arizona, old Mexican pottery items, charms, and postcards. With the advent of television shows such as Antiques Roadshow, Pickers, and Pawn Stars, most thrift store managers are pretty savy about what items might be worth. Some thrift stores have adopted a boutique section with higher prices, or have a periodic auction or a list of antique dealers who will pay a fair price for collectible items. While you might not find a painting that turns out to be worth a fortune, the chances are good of finding an occasional real treasure.

If you are inclined to shop at thrift stores for items for your personal collections or to resale, it's very important to be aware on what current prices on the items you are looking for are. Sometimes thrift stores have no clue what to charge on an older item, and the item is priced way higher than an on-line store or antique store.

This prompts me to say that as a general rule, most items should be at least half of what their current retail price is to be a good bargain. For example, my favorite clothing retailer is Chico's. Last week I bought two new tank tops in their store at the bargain price of buy one and get another half price. The final price was $15 each. That same day, I stopped at one of the more upscale thrift stores and discovered two used Chicos tank tops were each priced at $12 each. True $24 at the thrift store was cheaper that $30 retail, however having two brand new crisp shirts for a difference of $6 more seemed to be a better value long term.

Looking Good and Community Good

Most of us would benefit from cleaning and reorganizing our closets and cupboards once or twice a year. Since our sizes and our tastes usually change at some time, thrift store shopping allows shoppers to freshen their homes and wardrobes without spending a fortune.

Sometimes an item is needed for a special occasion such as a couple of extra chairs or a large platter or a costume. Think of purchasing at a thrift store as being cheaper than a rental, and then consider giving the items to others or back to the thrift stores where they were originally purchased. Give back whenever possible.

Thrift stores finance many wonderful community charities. Some benefit the homeless, some care or meals for the elderly, some benefit abused women's shelters, some benefit Veterans' groups, some benefit some type of health care, others benefit art or performance groups, but all have a meaningful purpose.

Since I first published this Hub, there has been a number of on-line thrift and consignment stores established. While an on-line thrift is a bargain from retail shopping and the cost of driving to thrift stores, in most cases, by the time you purchase an item, the cost of shipping and some sites have handling charges, the item may not be such a great savings. However, specialty thrift shopping such as for maternity clothing or kids clothing, or for an item that is not readily available in thrift stores, I believe on-line thrift fills specific niches.

I enjoy compliments on my finds, and I always tell others about my bargains. Thrft store shopping serves many purposes, and for many people it is both interesting and fun.


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