My Best Thrifting Tips

My Best Thrifting Tips

Over my years as an upcycling blogger, I’ve been asked to give thrifting tips on more than one occasion. And I always try to give insightful advice or suggestions when I answer. But the truth is this: successful thrifting is never guaranteed, no matter how many tips and tricks you read about or try. Like gambling, there is a lot of chance and luck involved. But there are ways to improve your odds of having more scores and better hauls when you go thrifting. These thrifting tips may not be revolutionary to some, but they’re good reminders before your next secondhand shopping adventure.

When To Go Thrifting

music city thrift

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Those of you who work a traditional job Monday-Friday aren’t going to like this, but weekdays are the best time to go thrifting. In fact, I avoid most thrift stores on Saturdays if I can help it. Since many of them are closed on Sundays, Saturdays tend to be mobbed with shoppers and I stay as far away as I can. I can’t stand jockeying for aisle space with my cart or dealing with people blocking my view, so you’ll usually see me thrifting Tuesday-Thursday.

Why those days in particular? Well, where I live, Mondays are often a “closed” day for local thrifts- so it just makes sense not to bother. And Fridays tend to be more crowded for whatever reason- weekend excitement, working folks taking a long weekend- who knows. I simply find that Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the least crowded and give me the best chances for more treasures.

Art of the Cart

thrifting tips for using a cart

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Thrifting is, at its core, impulse shopping, isn’t it? Unlike mall shopping, there aren’t 10 identical items of everything on the shelf or rack. And “thinking about” treasures you leave on the thrift store shelf is a huge gamble that often doesn’t end well. Which brings it back to impulse shopping.

I’m certainly not telling you to buy every single thing you like while thrifting; it’s a slippery slope towards hoarding, after all. But, smart thrifters will put “thinking about” items in their cart while walking around. If you leave something on the shelf- especially something unusual, vintage, or insanely low-priced- there’s a good chance it won’t be there in 10 minutes, or even 30 seconds.

Thrift-stalking is very real and pro thrifters absolutely snatch up things if a less-committed shopper picks something up and puts it back…to “think about”. For instance, another shopper stood in front of this carved wood whale wall decor for at least 15 minutes. As soon as she walked away, I snatched it up.

vintage whale board at a thrift store

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

True, not all thrift stores offer carts, especially smaller local shops. But you can always ask the cashier to set something aside while you wander; if you change your mind, offer to put it back right where you found it. No harm, no foul- and at least you didn’t completely miss out!

Local Thrift Shops

diversity thrift store in richmond

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

One thing my readers constantly complain about are their local Goodwills, Salvation Army Stores, and Habitats. And I don’t hold any personal grudges against these national chains; in my opinion, there’s a place and purpose for all (charitable) thrift stores. But usually, the national chains aren’t my favorite thrift stores in any given town.

The truth is, I’m like a heat-seeking missile when it comes to small local shops. Longtime readers know that thrifts that benefit an animal welfare agency or a domestic violence shelter are of particular interest to me. But whichever non-profit they support, local shops bring a variety of benefits to their communities. Whether they offer lower prices (sometimes, not always) or better inventory thanks to wealthy benefactors that donate their wares, local shops just win me over every time. The advantages of seeking out these local thrift stores are almost too numerous to list.

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Prices

thrift stores charleston sc

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Ahh, thrift store prices. It’s almost as controversial as politics and religion these days- at least in the thrifting community. Pricing is universally problematic- usually erring on the side of “too high” or “are they crazy?”. But, it’s absolutely an inexact science- subjective at best- and there’s a lot of blame to go around. Including bloggers like me who tout the benefits of thrifting. People like me who can afford to buy new but choose not to, for varying reasons- and some thrift stores have figured this out and adjusted their prices accordingly.

Describing thrift store prices as “complicated” is understating it, but that’s just how it is. My best advice? Use pricing as a filter and decision-making tool. If it’s overpriced (by your definition) and you can live without it, then the item won’t haunt you if you leave it behind. 

But if you can live with the price and you really love it- then, in some ways, the item is priceless. And who knows- another benefit of locally owned thrift shops is their pricing flexibility. I’ve hemmed and hawed over furniture at local thrifts and they offered a price cut without me even asking. The big national chains will never do this- I can all but guarantee that!

How to Approach the Aisles

thrift stores franklin tn

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

One thing I know for sure is this: If you make a single pass along a thrift store shelf, you will miss something- or worse yet, several things. Other shoppers move things around, pick stuff up, or put it back, and the entire shelf can change in a matter of minutes. Which is why I never, ever go up or down the aisles once.

I always go up AND down the same aisle from different directions. I’ve been astounded multiple times by spotting something new on the second pass, something I positively did not see a few moments earlier. Especially if the shelves are jumbled or jam-packed; you will absolutely see items on the second pass that you didn’t see on the first.

This may or may not apply to clothing racks- I just don’t thrift for clothes nearly as much as I do for housewares and other smalls.

Bottom’s Up

thrift stores charlotte nc at value village

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Along the same lines, the middle shelves are what everyone sees. Eye-level shelves get picked over quickly, but those top and bottom shelves? A completely different story! While I can’t guarantee that they hold all the best treasures, they’re easily forgotten or ignored by less seasoned (or committed) shoppers.

Top shelves are, admittedly, a complete pain in the behind for a shorty like me. BUT. But. I know they’re a spot where I’ll likely find extra tall items (think vases, bottles, sculptures) and/or lightweight items (particularly baskets). I don’t know about you, but I’m quite interested in tall vases and pretty baskets, so that top shelf is prime real estate. If I can stand back a ways and scan it a few times, I might just strike gold.

I’ll just need a taller person’s assistance to retrieve it!

Conversely, the bottom shelf often goes completely overlooked. Sometimes there are boxed items that amateurs aren’t interested in investigating, or items are pushed all the way to the back. But curious treasures like vintage tools, heavy solid wood items, and larger platters and trays might be lurking in the shadows.

Seasonal Thrifting

sweater for upcycling project at goodwill

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Whether you’re in the market for clothing or seasonal/holiday decor, there’s a lot to be said for thrifting out of season. One thing I learned when I first started out as a blogger was that thinking/planning six months ahead was common practice. Similar to magazines that start gathering content at least six to eight months in advance, the same concept applies to blogging. And in a roundabout way, it also applies to thrift shopping.

As someone who wrote the book on flannel crafts, I’ve always reminded my readers to shop for flannel shirts (and wool sweaters) at the height of summer. There’s less competition from fashionistas and casual thrifters off-season. And not only is the selection greater (or at least less picked-over), but some thrift shops run color-tag sales on off-season clothing.

To some degree, this is a good approach for seasonal decorations, too- IF the shop displays them year-round. Thrift store shelf space may not allow Christmas decorations to be displayed in, say, April. But it’s always worth checking if you are a seasonal decorator or crafter.

Reliable Recommendations

richmond thrift stores

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Maybe I’m unusual, but I love to sing the praises of good thrift stores when I find them. And they’re certainly not paying me to do so! In fact, I’ve only worked with national chain thrift stores in the past, and you’ve already learned that they’re not my favorite(s). Bloggers (or influencers- a concept I loathe) are also supposed to disclose anything sponsored or paid, as well. 

If you see hashtags that include ‘ad’ or ‘sponsored’ then you know money has changed hands. But again, a lot of online personalities don’t openly disclose these paid partnerships, unfortunately.

But there are a LOT of honest, forthright thrifting/upcycling bloggers who will happily share their favorite shops if asked. Not for nothing, but if you subscribe to their newsletter or ‘like’ their Facebook or Instagram page, mention that when you message or email them. You’ll probably get an even more thorough response in return. 

Newsletters and Social Media

thrifting and antiquing in richmond

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Speaking of social media and local thrift shops, marry the two together and you have my next thrifting tip! A lot of small/local thrifts have newsletters and social media footprints. And if you have a favorite shop or two in your town, I highly recommend signing up for emails and following their accounts.

Because we’re talking about smaller shops, your inbox won’t be overwhelmed with their emails. They’re likely being sent out by volunteers, after all (not hustling bloggers like yours truly!). But newsletters often highlight upcoming sales and even unusual items in the store. The same goes for Facebook and Instagram accounts- if they post photos of current inventory, then you know when it’s time to go thrifting!

Road Trips

thrift store furniture in florida

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

I launched my blog more than 10 years ago, and I’ve been publishing upcycle tutorials ever since. But I’ve also been publishing secondhand shopping itineraries for cities and towns across the Southeast, as well. As a business owner, it makes sense because a lot of my organic Google traffic comes from people searching for thrift stores in the towns that I’ve blogged about.

But as an avid thrifter, I just LOVE going on road trips to check out new-to-me shopsWriting a blog post about my thrifting adventures is simply icing on an already delicious cake.

So, if you’re feeling disappointed or completely underwhelmed by the thrift stores in your town, it’s time to zoom out on the map. Are there modest-sized towns within an hour or two of your neck of the woods? I bet they have some thrift (and antique) shops that are worth the drive- all it takes is a little Google research and a tank of gas to shake up your thrifting game. 

Avoiding Discouragement

thrift stores nashville

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

Look, I get it- leaving empty-handed after thrift shopping is an awful feeling. You see all these amazing scores, hauls, and cart shots from other thrifters and you wonder why you’re not having the same kind of luck. But trust me- all thrifters have bad days, sometimes more often than not. The things is, all it takes is one amazing score to completely erase the memory of several disappointing attempts.

How to avoid thrifting discouragement? Go often and change up which stores you go to. Take a different route through the stores you hit regularly. Take a friend if you typically go solo, or vice versa if you rarely thrift alone. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to feel dejected or discouraged after unsuccessful thrifting. But I also think everyone has opportunities to “spice things up” in their thrifting routine.

Even yours truly (hence all the time I spend on Google looking for new shops to hit and road trips to take!).

Thrifting Tips and Common Sense

best thrift stores in charlotte nc

Image credit: Sadie Seasongoods.

I hope these bits of advice have recharged your thrifting engine. Like I said at the beginning- there is a LOT of luck, chance, and “right place, right time” involved in the Game of Thrifting. But I’ve held nothing back- these are truly the efforts I’ve made over the years to keep the thrifting thrill (and occasional success) alive.

I sincerely want everyone to find the same kind of joy in secondhand shopping that I find. And successful, fruitful thrifting is key to feeling that sense of “Thrift Joy”, after all.

Thrift on!


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thrifting tips and tricks

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Sarah Ramberg is the owner of Sadie Seasongoods, a website that celebrates all things secondhand. From upcycling ideas and thrifted decor to vintage-centric travel itineraries, Sadie Seasongoods is a one-stop shop for anyone who loves thrifting and approachable repurposing ideas. Sarah is also the author of “Crafting with Flannel” and has been featured in numerous media outlets and magazines.

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