10 Goodwill Thrift Store Tips & Tricks

I have been meaning to write this post for some time now. But first, try to say that title 3 times fast. Okay, I cannot either. Anyway, as I shop my local thrift stores these days looking for resale deals and fodder for my YouTube videos, I am often reminded about a few things I have wanted to share with you. At least those things that work for me or I have noticed in my travels.

So here you go. My Goodwill & other thrift store shopping secrets, tips & tricks.


1. Visit Often


Sounds crazy and simple, but I mean set a schedule. I calendar the visits and take notes looking for restocking schedules. They differ at every store. Once I find a sweet spot, or "the good day" I will visit usually once a week, sometimes twice if I have the time. Do not give up if you strike out a few times. There have been lots of days I walk out completely empty handed. Some days I score big with incredible finds and those are like crack. But you will never know unless you visit.


If you’ve never had any luck, its typically you went on an “off” day.


2. A Prime Time


Here is a good one. Hit the stores on your first lunch break after the weekend. If you are not a full-time picker, and thrifting to make a little extra money or just want a crack at the good stuff, visit that first Monday or Tuesday after a long weekend when people have off and typically do their “spring cleaning.”

When the yard sales in your area are in full swing, chances are your local Charity Thrift will get a spike in merchandise as well. And if you hit the shops after a holiday weekend, expect an even better selection since most people have had more time to purge.


I visited several stores right after Easter and they were packed with all kinds of great stuff. Or shall we say, fresh to the market merchandise.


If you can, visit early. Some days I manage to get to a Goodwill when they open. But I am not the only one. There is typically a line, 5-10 people deep. I have told you before, this is a subculture, right? I cannot promise anything, but I like your chances for a great find if you can hit just at opening time on a Monday or Tuesday. Now do not blame me for the Walmart stampede.


3. Have A Plan

I have a long list of genres in mind that I am always on the lookout for. I have my route planned out for most of my regular haunts. I typically hit the toys, then the art. I sweep thru the electronics and last if I am still empty handed, the household goods. Everyone is different and attracted to what they like, makes them money or is their area of expertise.


Recently, I have been on a run of good Mid-Century Lamps in the home goods section. That is why I try to keep sharp, on what is hot and what is not. What was in vogue yesterday can quickly change, so I like to follow weekly auction results to see what's selling.


Oh yes, that was a plug for my show, Last Week at the Auction. I follow the sales, so you don’t have too.


4. Don't Second Guess Yourself


Trust your gut. Some people are blessed with a good eye, and others must learn the hard way. But at thrift store prices, are a few mistakes an expensive education? And, if you liked the thing when you bought it, was it really a loss or just the fair market working the way it is supposed to.


Also, put it in the cart and drive it around a bit. You can always put the item back. Remember, the best items are not on the floor for long. I may just grab it while you are deciding.


I was just looking up an interesting print when a man came up beside me and grabbed it. I cannot blame him. What could I say, "Hey, I was liking that.”? But I did feel my 6ft socially distanced shopping circle was invaded.


5. The Price is Right


I am sure you can tell; thrifting has increased in popularity and do not think the thrifts stores have not noticed. Some of my favorite stores have begun to price accordingly. I cannot get mad. That is economic market forces at work. It just means you need to sharpen your skills. They still miss a lot, and they know they survive off us pickers so, not to fret. This too shall pass.


And remember, do not buy something just to buy something or because it is there. Chances are others will not buy an item priced too high. If you frequent the place, you can come back in a day or two when it is marked down. There was a French Print I had my eye on here locally that was priced at $25. I just could justify it as I could not find any more information about it and the genre is soft. I picked it up on several visits until the last time I saw it when it was on the $1 wall!



6. Give Back Too


To keep from hoarding, I try to take something to donate every week. It keeps the garage happy and ready to accept my next find. If you are not displaying in your house and you are not reselling it for a profit, what do you have it for? Because is not an answer. If you think you might have a problem, or know someone that does, I got a blog post and YouTube video for you.


7. The Neighborhood Matters


I am blessed to live on the outskirts of one of the wealthier neighborhoods in our city. I cannot believe some of the expensive pieces simply donated regularly. I guess it is all a matter of perception and convenience for some and thank you. A beautiful bronze statuary table lamp is one man or woman’s trash, but my $50 find.


I am by no means saying you will not find amazing things in the more impoverished areas. You will. It is just interesting to see the how the merchandise and the prices vary. I see the same items priced 2 and 3 different ways from store to store too.


8. Buy What You Like


I always do best shopping in the genres I like. Also, it is much nicer if you get stuck with it. So, I say if you do not like it or are not excited about its potential, do not buy it. It is easier to regret something you enjoy than something you would have never bought.


Notice earlier I said I head to the toys, art, electronics, and home goods. I did not say furniture, vintage clothes, etc. I know a lot about antique furniture and vintage clothes, I just do not care for them. I find furniture a back breaking albatross and vintage clothes, a pain to photograph and resell. That is just me. For many of my friends, that is their bread and butter.


9. It is All in a Name


When it comes to art, fine jewelry, décor, etc. it is all in a name. Be it the iconic brands like Tiffany and Cartier in jewelry, Picasso and Dali in art, or Herman Miller and Theodore Alexander in furnishings, they all have one thing in common: they are “the money.” At auction or on the secondary market, these items can still command the value as they are the names people think of when they think of luxury and expensive, high quality items.


When you really delve into thrifting, the hidden gems are those high-end brands that are not household names. When inspecting those fine, high-end looking items, always look for a name. Typically, if I have not heard of it, it is most likely I just did not know anyone that could afford it. And that is a good sign. Or I am about to learn a lesson that will cost me a few dollars. Like taking a college class. It is how we all learn this business.

10. Know the Sale Days


Learn your favorite thrift store’s sale days. Many offer discount programs. Check their websites or ask an associate. It is typically posted online and onsite. Goodwill, in particular, has a Customer Value Program and an Email Club with special discounts. My local St. Vincent’s has a wonderful loyalty card program.


But that is all for now, and I hope that helps in some way. Please share your tips and better yet, tell me about your scores. I love hearing about those even more!


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