Thrift-Shop Smart: A Buyer’s Guide To Thrift Stores

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It’s been said that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, and although this saying can pertain to a lot of different areas in life, one place where this particularly holds true is in the thrift store.

Secondhand buying has become one of the most popular ways to get items on the cheap.


What’s more, you may even be able to make a little cash for yourself by reselling those items you buy at a discount.

But before you go strolling into your neighborhood thrift shop thinking you’re going to uncover a valuable ancient treasure or make a fortune on the items you find and sell, you’ll need to know a few things.

Patience is a (much needed) virtue.

If you’ve never been inside a thrift store before, you might think you’ve hit the promised land when you walk in the door.


From blenders to paintings to that childhood game you stopped playing 20 years ago, you can find just about everything you need—and even more that you don’t.

Because of this, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, and you may want to throw your thrift store dreams out the window.

But you can get past this. The trick to finding that hidden treasure is patience, and lots of it.

Finding a gem takes a lot of patience.

“You really have to invest time when thrift store shopping,” says Tracy Hemmer, a 10-year reseller and thrift store enthusiast who lives in Maryland. “You have to be willing to look through every rack. There are a lot of ugly clothes that get donated. Finding a gem takes a lot of patience.”

Be willing to travel for a discount.

In the thrift store shopping world, there’s a belief that the area in which you get your browse on makes all the difference in the quality of items you will find.


In other words, hitting up stores in higher-income areas means you’ll find fancier labels and higher-quality merchandise than you would in areas that aren’t as economically prosperous. It makes sense if you think about it. But is it actually true?

I do think that the location matters in respect to the kinds of items that are donated,” says Rob Stephenson, who along with his wife, Melissa, offers reselling classes and runs the website Flea Market Flipper. “Thrift stores near a more affluent neighborhood will most likely have higher-end items at a very discounted rate.”


Stephenson also believes his particular location is beneficial for his reselling business.

“We aren’t far from Disneyworld, so that plays to our advantage sometimes,” he says. “We can sometimes find Disney items at a lower cost.”

Hemmer, however, hasn’t found that the areas in which she shops makes much of a difference.

“I do not feel the location of the store matters, at least at thrift stores versus consignment stores,” she says.

Get the inside scoop on when to shop.

There’s lots of buzz about when to go to stores and if visiting them during certain times of the week will save you more dough. Some shops offer discount days, but with that comes an increased number of shoppers, which means the store is more crowded (and hot, uncomfortable, and potentially aromatic in a bad way). Plus, items will likely be more picked over than usual.


You may be able to find high-quality merchandise, however, by knowing the ins and outs of your favorite thrift shop.

“I will say if you can time it when they first put out a new lot of items, or when they are discounting some items, that is always good for finding items at a low cost,” says Stephenson. “We love checking out our local thrift stores on a weekly basis.”

The next time you shop, ask a manager when the store typically puts out new merchandise and on what day they usually mark down their products. And get there soon after they do it to get your hands on those hot-ticket items first.

While we’re on the subject, staying friendly and developing relationships with the folks who work there can help you get an in on when to shop.


“I have good relationships with most of our local thrift shop owners,” Stephenson says. “This is a great thing because if I find something I am interested in buying, sometimes they will cut me a deal. They also notify me if something I might be interested in comes in even if it might not even be for sale on the floor yet.”

Go in with a plan.

One of the best things about thrift store shopping is you never know what you’re going to find. This melting pot of previously unwanted items can provide you with great joy but can also leave you feeling fed up. You may be able to beat those secondhand shopper blues by knowing what to look for.

“I find a lot of kids’ Under Armour, which is always nice,” says Hemmer. “Good kids’ clothes are a great find because they outgrow them so fast!”


You should also know how much the product you’re about to buy is sold for in other stores.

“Any item is a good find if you get it for a great price and it’s still in very good condition,” Hemmer says. “If you get at least two or three uses out of it and it cost you less than 75 percent retail, it’s worth it.”

Is reselling for profit your calling?

What do you get when you combine a love for finding items on the cheap with a passion for making some cash on the side? The answer for many is reselling.

This extremely popular way to get your side hustle on involves purchasing discounted products and then reselling to others for a profit. Sounds like a dream, right?

But don’t go putting in your two weeks just yet. Reselling is a lot of work, and it may not be worth it to you.

Know what you’re getting into.

Thrift store shopping isn’t exactly a “get rich quick” type of prospect, but there’s a lot of potential to make good money. And just like most things in life, you’re not going to get there unless you get your hands dirty.

This business is like any other: You get what you put in.

“This business is like any other: You get what you put in,” says Stephenson. “That being said, if someone is willing to figure out the basics on how this works, it’s realistic to say someone can make $500 to $2,000 per month in five to 15 hours per week if they are putting some effort in.”

Stay realistic when it comes to the Benjamins.

While some people really hit it big in the reselling world, others have less success. Although you can definitely earn some extra cash by delving into this industry, it helps to have realistic expectations before you start thinking about going into early retirement.

Buying used to sell at consignment isn’t really profitable.

“Buying used to sell at consignment isn’t really profitable, because you only get 40 percent from a consignment store,” says Hemmer. “Ebay, Mercari, and Poshmark are all good online reselling options, but they, too, will eat into your profit. The best things to sell online are high-value, good brand-name items.”

You should also play it smart when it comes to pricing.


“I am not a fan of what a lot of resellers do, which is find items that will make [a] $3 to $10 [profit],” Stephenson says. “To me, that is not a high enough return on investment to be worth the effort of buying, taking pictures, posting, selling, and shipping; $50 is really my lowest profit that I can make to make it worth my time.”

And it’s always good to make your customer feel like they’ve made a huge score, says Hemmer.

“Just be prepared for people to try to negotiate,” she says. “Price high so you can lower it and make the buyer feel like they negotiated the lower price.”

Get ready for the haters.

There’s a difference between being a cynic and being realistic when it comes to how people will respond to your new venture. Just sayin’.

But as with any business or money matter, you’ll likely find yourself feeling some friction with a customer or two in just a matter of time. And as long as you remember that haters gon’ hate—and their shenanigans have nothing to do with you—really, you should be just fine.

“Every once in a while, people think that we are taking advantage of someone,” Stephenson says. “But that is far from the truth! We keep good relationships with both our vendors (thrift store owners and flea market vendors) and our customers.


“We definitely aren’t out to scam people. Our local thrift stores make some good money on us on a monthly basis, our buyers get to buy an item at a discounted cost, and we get to benefit from a payment for our time for finding an item and connecting it to the person looking for it, and at a discounted cost. It’s a win–win for everyone!”

Just remember why you’re doing this.

Unfortunately, many find that turning what they love into a job becomes more of a job instead of doing what they love. This doesn’t have to be your sad tale, however, as long as you remember why you started in the first place.

I love the hunt so much.

“Hands down I love the hunt of finding items,” says Stephenson. “It is a thrill for me. It’s exciting looking for items and trying to figure out which will have the best return on investment. I get an extra pep in my step on days that I am visiting thrift stores because I love the hunt so much.”

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