20 Thrift Store Hacks for Saving and Making Money

By on February 23, 2019

Long before Macklemore made it cool, thrift store shopping, or just “thrifting” as I like to call it, has been saving (and in some cases making!) people a lot of money. If you’re new to thrifting at places like Goodwill, here are 20 tips that will help you make the most of your experience.


1.Go often! Part of the fun of thrifting is that you never know what you’re going to find, as they’re constantly putting out new items. We end up at Goodwill at least 2-3 a week most weeks. Some days we walk out with a cart full of awesome finds, and other days we leave with nothing. If your first visit is a wash, don’t assume your next will be the same way.

2.Be smart about which stores you shop at. I think a lot of people think thrift stores are full of junk, but you’d be really surprised at the super nice, brand-name things people get rid of. If you’re looking for higher-end items, try the Goodwill in the rich side of town. I’ll sometimes drive an extra 30 minutes to a specific Goodwill in a certain fancy suburb because I know they always have tons of designer jeans there.

3.Always check the “just donated” bins and carts first. Most thrift stores will have carts of random stuff around the store. These are items that have been priced but not yet put out on the floor. A lot of the best deals get snatched up before they even hit the shelves by people who know where to look.


4.Get coupons by donating your old stuff. Around here, Goodwill gives you a 25% off coupon whenever you make any donation, and most of the other local thrift stores offer similar discounts. You probably have stuff laying around that you would like to get out of your house anyway, and the donation process is generally easy and fast. In most cases you just drive up to their donation garage (usually behind the store), and someone comes out and unloads the stuff from your car and gives you the coupon good on a future purchase.


5.Shop on holidays for 50% off everything. Most thrift stores offer 50% off on these holidays: Martin Luther King, Jr Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Definitely go early in the day as things get picked over pretty quickly.

6.Be aware of other discount days. Many stores have a seniors day every week (where seniors may get 25% off, for example), or a kids’ day (our local Goodwills offer 50% off kids’ toys and clothing every Thursday). Most stores also have 50% off certain colored tags every week. If the store doesn’t make it obvious which specials they have running, just ask! Usually you can find a list of discount days/weeks near the checkout register.


7.Sign up for free rewards programs. Many thrift stores have free “loyalty” cards you can sign up for. Some are punch card-type programs where you get a discount after a certain number of purchases, while others give you access to special sales and discounts reserved only for card members.


8.Shop thrift stores for Halloween costumes and holiday decor. Seriously, Goodwill is where it’s at when it comes to costumes. They save up all the costumes that are donated throughout the year and put them all out on September 1st (or around that date). The selection is amazing if you go early! I not only buy our familys’ Halloween costumes, but stock up on dress up outfits for the kids to play with all year.


A lot of people think of thrift stores for Halloween, but they’re also the best place to shop for other holiday decor. One of the local thrift store chains around here (Arc’s Valu Village) sets up a whole “Merry Thriftmas” area every year, with huge displays of ornaments, stockings, tree skirts, lights, decorations and more. It’s a great way to build up your collection, especially for young families.

9.Don’t pass on something just because it’s dirty. You might be surprised at how well things clean up with a little bit of effort. You can make a pair of Chucks look like they just came out of the box with a little bit of nail polish remover and laundry detergent, and can get a rusty cast iron pan looking looking good as new by simply heating it in the oven and scrubbing with steel wool. Google will tell you how to clean just about anything you can think of.


10.Thrift stores are a DIYer’s dream come true. Browse the home goods and furniture sections for cheap pieces that can be restored. Just because something is ugly, doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful with a fresh coat of paint and some new hardware. These chairs were $1.99 apiece at Goodwill and all it took was some sandpaper and a couple cans of spray paint to freshen them up:

repurposed chairs

11.Know how to spot high quality items even if you don’t recognize the brand. Widely known brands are often marked higher at thrift stores simply because the person who priced the item knew the brand was popular. But there are plenty of expensive, lesser-known brands that end up flying under the radar. Be on the the lookout for stuff that looks and feels high quality regardless of the name on the tag. For shoes, that might mean anything with a genuine leather sole. For sunglasses that means heavy duty hinges and thicker lenses. You might see a pair of $60 MRSP Oakleys priced at $20 next to a pair of $200 MRSP Maui Jims priced at $2.99 just because Oakley has the better name recognition.

12.Ask if your local thrift store has a relationship with any retail stores. Here in Minnesota, Target sends their leftover clearance items to local Goodwills. You can get brand-new clothing, toys, home goods and more for a fraction of what you’d pay at Target.

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13.Be aware of return policies. Some thrift stores, like Goodwill have a 7 to 14 day return policy, while it’s final sale for some of the smaller shops. If there are no returns, definitely be sure to test all electronics before leaving the store–you can always ask to use an outlet if you don’t see one on the sales floor.

14.Don’t go looking for something specific; go looking for something awesome. If you walk into a thrift store thinking “I need to find a new cookware set today,” you will likely be disappointed. Target is where you go when you know what you need; the thrift shop is where you go when you to find that treasure you didn’t know you needed.

15.Follow your local thrift stores on Instagram/Twitter to get heads up on awesome scores. Lots of local thrift stores have social media accounts and will post when cool items come into the store.

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16.Buy things to sell on eBay. You can actually make some really good money buying stuff at thrift stores and flipping on eBay, but certain types of items are definitely better for that than others. Before buying anything you intend on reselling, make sure to look up similar items on eBay to see what they’re selling for so you know it’s worth your effort. More on good items for flipping ahead…


17.Check out the watches in the glass case. Many thrift stores have a glass case with jewelry, watches, cameras, and collector’s items. My dad, who I consider to be the Thrift Store Master himself, has found some legendary deals on old watches this way. A few months ago he bought an old Seiko Mickey Mouse watch for $2.25 and sold it on eBay for over $200. A lot of the time, the only thing wrong with the watch is a dead battery, which is cheap enough to replace.


18.Get a sweet deal on a lens by buying an old film camera. Another thing to look out for in the glass case is old film cameras. Often, especially with Canon models, the lens that is attached to the camera actually works on newer digital SLR cameras. So while the camera itself might not be worth much (and priced very low), the lens might be worth hundreds.

19.Keep in mind “vintage” today isn’t as old as you might think. A lot of people assume something needs to be super old to be worth anything in the vintage market. But the reality is there are a ton of people looking to recapture items from their childhood–things from the 70s, 80s, even early 90s. Old Gameboys, old Apple computers, certain vinyl records, discontinued LEGO sets/minifigures, these are all items that are good to snatch up when you see them.


20.Be curious. I saved this one for last because it’s one of the most important. After you’ve gone thrifting a few times, you’ll realize there are all sorts of weird things out there you didn’t even know existed. It’s often those oddball items that end up being the real money makers. If you don’t know what something is, but it looks interesting or expensive, whip out that smartphone and do some research!

Annnnd of course, have fun! Enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the pure delight that comes with knowing you just got yourself one heck of a deal.

About Kristin Cook

I'm the Managing Editor for Bensbargains.com. When I'm not hunting for deals online, I enjoy good food, good beer, and Star Wars.

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