12 Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains

There was a time when thrifting used to be solely the remit of students and grandmothers. But these days, frugal fashionistas and vintage decor lovers —not to mention the eco-conscious— have also realised it’s a great way to save money on quality clothing and other treasures.

Celebrities have made it more popular, too, with artists like Janelle Monáe saying ‘she used to spend all of her money at thrift stores’. The singer told CNBC that she and her friends loved shopping at charity shops because they could find clothes no one else had. So, if you’re ready to find a vintage gem or retro treasure, here are some tips for bagging the best-preloved bargains and thrifting like a pro.

12 Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: cottonbro studio.

The art of thrifting has become a fun activity for all ages and budget sizes. People love the thrill of finding a vintage item for the home, a rare piece of clothing, or something valuable. Since most charity shops get their stock from donations, you never know what kind of bargains you might find. These days, you can also thrift from your phone or computer, too. With online resale communities, you can score everything from designer items to everyday basics from home.

The Benefits of Second Hand

Other than being great fun, thrifting for second hand bargains has lots of other great benefits.

  • You May Find Unique Pieces: charity shops often have one-of-a-kind items that no one else will have. So if you’re looking for a unique find, thrifting is the perfect solution.
  • Affordable Prices and Great Deals: One of the biggest draws to thrifting is the incredibly low prices. You can pick up some excellent items for a fraction of the cost without breaking the bank.
  • Find Items to Upcycle: Junk shops are full of exciting items that can be upcycled and given a new life, such as furniture, craft items, and more.
  • Resale Potential: Thrifting can also be a way to make money. Many people love flipping their thrift store finds and reselling them at a higher price on sites like eBay, Mercari, or Etsy.
  • Eco-Friendly: Thrifting is a sustainable way to enjoy fashion as you recycle existing items rather than creating more demand for newly manufactured pieces from fast fashion brands.
Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: cottonbro studio.

Ways To Go Thrifting

While a thrift store might be the first thing that comes to mind, there are many ways to shop for used items. These include:

  • Second-hand stores (British Heart Foundation, Oxfam, Salvation Army, etc.)
  • Vintage boutiques used clothing, or consignment stores
  • Garage sales (online or physical)
  • Flea markets
  • Estate sales
  • Online marketplaces (Facebook, eBay, Vinted, etc.)

At these stores, you can find brand items (new, never used, sometimes with the tags still on) to gently used items.

The Best Items To Find at a Charity Shop

A charity shop full of stuff can feel overwhelming for a new shopper. Before you go, remember the best items to search for in second-hand shops. While it will vary from store to store, these are generally the categories that offer the best value and function.

  • Furniture: Look in the furniture section for unique finds and statement pieces. This might include vintage pieces or cheap furniture to upcycle to bring new life.
  • Books/Records/CDs: The books and media section of a charity shop can be a source of exciting finds. Especially if you’re a reader, collector, or music enthusiast.
  • Kitchen Items: Vintage kitchenware, small appliances, cookware, and other housewares can often be found at bargain prices.
  • Kid’s Clothing: Kids quickly outgrow, rip, and stain their clothes. You’ll find great options if you want name-brand clothes, play clothes, or a few items free of stains and rips.
  • Jewellery: To find antique jewellery or costume pieces, check the costume jewellery section of the store. You can also find vintage watches here as well.
  • Jewellery and Accessories: Keep an eye out for for vintage hats, scarves, belts, and handbags. And if you’re into costume jewellery, you can often find great deals on necklaces and earrings.
  • Shoes: Shoes are one of the most popular charity shop items. Look for gently worn shoes to find some of the best deals.
12 Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: Lopsan.

Thrifting Tips for Bagging The Best Charity Shop Bargains

With all the basics in mind, these tips will be a great starting point for helping you become a master bargain hunter.

1. Get Inspired Before You Go

To make your thrifting experience more fun and productive, explore some fashion sites for outfit ideas. Or check out Pinterest for upcycling and other unique item ideas. This will help you stay focused on the items you’re looking for.

2. Think Outside the Box

When thrifting, it helps to have an open mind and get creative. You never know what you might find that could spark a new idea for a project.

3. Set Your Limits

Going to a secondhand shop with a few general ideas will prevent impulse buys for things you don’t need. It helps to arrive at a budget and a few items you’d like to consider if they are available. Plus, if it’s more than you’re willing to spend, don’t buy it! That way, you will be okay with your purchase later.

When you enter the store, set a time limit to avoid getting stuck in thrifting land for too long. This will also help you stay focused and prevent impulse buys.

4. Get to Know Your Stores

There are many second hand shops out there offering different things.

One may have more of one specific thing you like to shop for than another. For example, some charity shops just specialise in furniture. Others specialise in books. Try to explore all the different thrifting options in your area and find which store is the best fit for you. 

On the other hand, if you live in a small town without many thrifting options, you can explore your online charity shop options or plan a fun shopping day in a bigger city nearby.

5. Shop on Restocking Days

Many charity shops have a specific day (or two) of the week when they restock their shelves. These days are the best for finding new items and getting the best deals.

6. Don’t Get Overwhelmed

When you enter the shop, don’t let it overwhelm you! Take it one section at a time. For example, you could start with the clothing area and pick some of your favourite items. Then move to furniture and accessories.

Consider sticking to one or two sections, depending on what you’re looking for.

Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: Beyzaa Yurtkuran.

7. Figure Out Sales Days

Many charity shops will have certain days when they offer discounts or special sales. Keep an eye out for these and plan accordingly. For example, some shops have certain colours on sale on specific days of the week. Traditional sales days like Black Friday might also offer additional discounts.

12 Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: Sam Lion.

8. Know What’s Worth The Money

Some items are worth paying more for, while others may not be. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of good deals and buy more worn things than you realise.

Always pay close attention to quality and wear. Test toys and electronics and double-check that all parts are included. For clothing and shoes, look for stains that’ll likely not come out, holes, and signs of wear.

You can also download apps or do your own market research on places like eBay or Amazon to see what the item you find is worth new and used.

9. Use Your Bargaining Skills

This option depends on the store and your personality. Some charity shops allow you to haggle for a better deal, so feel free to ask if it interests you, especially if the item is damaged and needs some repair.

10. Shop Online When You Need Something Specific

Try shopping online when looking for a particular item or need something quickly. Many online thrift stores and marketplaces offer quality used items at affordable prices. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the hassle of going to a physical store or finding parking.

11. Use Your Discounts

Different outlets may offer discounts for signing up for their email newsletter, loyalty rewards, or a bonus discount for donating items.

Many stores also offer student — or over 60s— discounts, or other special offers. Remember to ask about these before you start shopping.

12. Have Fun!

Thrifting is supposed to be a fun experience, so remember to have fun! You should feel like a pirate on the hunt for your buried treasure.

Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: Ahmed ツ.

What Type of Thrifter are You?

Now that you know the best places to shop and how to bag the best deals, you’ll likely discover just how fun thrifting can be.

A lot of bargain hunters shop almost exclusively this way, once they get the hang of it and realise the potential savings.

You might even become one of these seven distinct types of thrifters:

  1. Savers: These thrifters seek out items to save money. They often specialise in basics like clothing, household items, and books. They may also look for things that can be repaired and reused.
  2. Resellers: The resellers look for items to resell for a profit. They often specialise in one or two areas and have an eye for vintage, designer, and collectable items. One of the most popular items for resale is shoes or childrens’ clothing.
  3. The Stylists and Treasure Finders: These thrifty bargain hunters seek unique items to create a fashion statement. They often scour charity shops for clothing, shoes, jewellery, and accessories that add an exciting twist to a basic outfit.
  4. Collectors: These are the hobbyists who collect certain items. This thrifter category often specializes in vintage toys, rare books, or antique furniture that may be challenging to find anywhere else.
  5. DIYers: These thrifters love to upcycle or repurpose items they find at the thrift store. They often specialise in upcycling furniture, clothing, and other things they can transform into something new with creativity. They might also be looking for their next piece for home decor or a design project.
  6. The Occasional Bargain Hunter: These are the people who may only visit a charity shop or second-hand store occasionally.
  7. Eco-Warriors: These thrifters seek items that are sustainable and eco-friendly. They often specialise in clothing, accessories, furniture, and other goods made with recycled materials or designed to last longer than usual.

    Plus, they shop for used items to reduce the need for newly manufactured items.

Whatever type of thrifter you become, follow these tips for the best thrift shopping experience. With time and effort, you can become a thrifting pro, find incredible bargains, and get the most out of your thrifting journey.

Tips for Thrifting the Best Preloved Bargains
Photo credit: cottonbro studio.
About the author
Kathy Owen

Kathy is the founder of PetticoatJunktion.com, a home décor blog focused on repurposing and upcycling furniture, old hardware, rusty stuff, thrift store finds, and just about anything into unique home décor. She shares complete tutorials on painting furniture and reinventing her found items. Kathy’s projects have been featured on the Home Depot Blog, Plaid Crafts, Behr Designer Series, and in numerous magazines.

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