Updated: Apr 23, 2019
One thing about thrift shopping is that you always have to be prepared to some extent. Not quite sure where to start or what to do? Here are a few tips:
Wear a crossbody purse, fannie pack or small bookbag. You want to make sure you're hands free and can easily leave your cart unattended. Lugging or babysitting a huge purse while shopping is the most annoying thing ever.
Wear leggings (to easily try on bottoms) and a fitted shirt/tee or layers with a cami (to try on tops). Dresses make things super easy too in the summer months. You may also want to wear comfortable shoes for standing and, if you're in the mood for shoe shopping, make sure you can easily slip them on/off. Most thrift stores tend to have a final sale policy and a lot of them don't have fitting rooms. So, if you want to make sure you can wear an item or check to see what it looks like before you make a final commitment, you may have to try it on in the middle of the store. Let the shame and the embarrassment go! This is perfectly normal in thrift land.
Ignore sizes. One thing about thrift stores is that they include a range of items across decades. Vintage sizes often run smaller. And, don't forget - sizes also vary by brand. All of that to say - if it looks like you can wear it, try it on for fit! Hey! Maybe you lost a pound or two since stepping into the store! Also check the men's section. Don't sleep on men's active wear, tees, sweaters, jackets and the like.
Sometimes the store location and timing matters. Sometimes it doesn't. I used to only hit stores near moderate to high income neighborhoods but have often found where stores in LMI (low to moderate income) communities are well stocked and have a better selection. At this point in my thrift career and the variety in Charlotte, there's no true science for me but there may be for you and where you live. Check a few stores out and get a feel for selection. Use that as your basis for future shopping visits. Some stores may also have a better selection of certain things like furniture, shoes, etc. In terms of timing, think about when people are more likely to donate - end of year for tax purposes, seasonally as they switch closets or revamp their wardrobe, summer as they move. I've also found that I catch the best deals early in the week or on Sunday. However, this, too, can be hit or miss. It depends on the store. A lot of stores stock during the week. But then you also have to think about when people donate - over the weekend - so add a few days for the store to price, tag and stock the items. Also, Saturdays are a frenzy and you're fighting for whatever is in the store or at a minimum, giving someone the uncomfortable eye as they're holding an item you want to snatch and run away with.
Know the return policy. As mentioned above, some stores have a final sale policy while others may only have an exchange policy within a very short time period. This will help you to gauge your commitment level on every item you purchase.
Have a plan or strategy. Unless you don't have a time restriction, I suggest taking a strategic approach to shopping. Are you shopping for anything in particular? Maybe you're redecorating your home and need to focus on furniture, bric-bracs or other decorative items. If so, the most logical approach would be to start in this section. I personally like to check out everything which is a horrible habit to have.
Set a budget. It's so easy to get carried away in a thrift store. Unless you have a pretty hefty rainy day fund, setting a budget will help to make tough decisions.
Always check for sales and discounts at the front of the store or cashier's wrap desk. Deals are even sweeter when it's even cheaper. Maybe the winter wool blazer wasn't too appealing for $5 but it's definitely more appealing at $2.50 (50% off). Some stores have entire store discounts or discounts organized by item type or tag color.
Make sure to inspect your clothing for rips, stains, holes and discoloration. Check for wear and scratches on shoes. The most disappointing thing is when you get home and realize there's a flaw that you can't work around.
Pack hand sanitizer/wipes. You're going to be touching a lot of used/worn items so tackle some of those germs upon your exit.
So, there you go! A few quick and easy suggestions to help you prepare for your excursion! Happy shopping!