Tips and tricks for shopping the best deals at Goodwill and thrift stores.
This post has been a loooooooooooooong time coming. Actually, there probably aren’t even enough Os in that word.
I walk through those automatic sliding doors of my neighborhood Goodwill and suddenly I’m a straight up boss. Macklemore style. (Did you really think you’d be able to read a thrifting post without that reference? Mission accomplished, friend.)
I sorta kinda maybe most definitely absolutely have a Goodwill addiction. But in a good way. Not in the way that you’d catch me on an episode of Hoarders; thank goodness.
In one year, we furnished the majority of our entire house by shopping at Goodwill and Craigslist. I already wrote ways to score on Craigslist a few months ago, but Goodwill can be equally as rewarding, if not more. Really thrift stores in general rock, but I’ve just been very lucky with the Goodwills in my area and have learned the tricks.
So here ya go. Goodwill shopping secrets revealed: (Pardon my low-quality cell phone photos.)
1. Visit regularly.
I visit my local Goodwill usually once a week, sometimes twice if I have the time. Ours is literally 5 minutes from our house, so it’s easy to pop in often. Some days I score big with incredible finds. Other days I walk out completely empty handed. But I’ll never know unless I stop in and check out the goods.
If you’ve never had any luck at Goodwill before, it might just be because you went on an “off” day when their stock wasn’t so great.
2. Stop in at prime times.
I’m not even kidding in saying I almost don’t want to reveal this little tip. But honestly, what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t? When the yard sales in your area are in full swing, chances are your local Goodwill will get a spike in merchandise too. (Winter can be a bit of a dud.)
Since most yard sales are on the weekends, I tend to have the most luck on Mondays after items have been donated. Most people usually clean out their closets and storage areas over the weekend. And if you hit up the store after a holiday weekend, you can expect an even bigger selection since most people have more time to purge their stuff.
I visited my store last week the day after Memorial Day and it was packed with all kinds of great furniture. Just the week before, there was hardly any furniture at all.
Visit early too. Some days I manage to get to Goodwill when they open and there is already a line 5-10 people deep at the still locked doors. It doesn’t happen often for me. But when I arrive at opening time on a Monday or Tuesday, I can pretty much guarantee an amazing find.
3. Know what you’re looking for.
I keep a list in mind of items I need to be on the lookout for. I have my route planned out and typically stop in at the furniture section first, followed by the frames/mirrors, home decor, lighting, and holiday sections. Yes, holiday sections. You wouldn’t believe all of the great Christmas decor I find smack dab in the middle of summer. I decorated for Christmas last year with tons of it for dirt cheap.
Do you spy what I spy? That ornate scroll mirror is way too pretty to be homeless. But I left it for someone else to enjoy.
I’ve found a vintage typewriter, desk lamp, and globe for our office, a lamp for Olivia’s room, a dome clock to transform into a cloche, and all kinds of books, sheet music, and prints to decorate with- so many little things get a new life at our house.
4. Think outside the box and get creative.
This could probably be a whole ‘nother post all by itself, but just know that so much of what you find can be repurposed and madeover for what you want with a bit of imagination.
I saw this dinged up coffee table for $5 last week. (It was already sold though…boo.)
It didn’t look like much, but with a little paint and some wood planks on top, it could end up looking like this:
Source: Centsational Girl
5. Don’t hesitate.
If you see something you like, snatch it up. Take that furniture tag and run. (Not literally out the door…you know what I mean.) As you shop, you can make the decision if you really want to buy it. You can always put the item back. But the best items aren’t on the floor for long, so don’t miss out while you are deciding.
I was actually standing and looking at a beautiful vintage birdcage sitting on a shelf the other day trying to decide if I really wanted one more. And a lady came along and grabbed it right from under my nose. I mean wow. It’s a ruthless jungle in there with some people.
6. Make sure the price is right.
Since thrifting has increased in popularity, Goodwill has taken notice. And sometimes they do seem a bit pricey. Don’t buy something just because it’s there. Chances are others won’t buy an item priced too high either and you can come back in a day or two when it’s marked down. This coffee table I madeover was originally marked at $50, and I managed to buy it at $20 a few days later. Patience pays off sometimes.
7. Donate something every time you go.
To keep my thrifting/hoarding tencencies at bay, I try to take at least something to donate every time I visit. It keeps the hubby happy. 😉 And makes our house look less like a crazy junk lady lives there.
8. Visit stores in higher-end neighborhoods and/or multiple locations.
I’m lucky to live on the outskirts of one of the wealthier neighborhoods in our city. I can’t even believe some of the expensive pieces of furniture I find for total chump change regularly. This dining table I spotted recently was a looker! Some liming wax could really make that yellowy wood sing. Those chairs had major potential too.
I don’t really find as many great things in the more impoverished areas. But I still sometimes get lucky, and it’s interesting to see how much the merchandise can vary. The more rural areas are more likely to have country style decor, and that can be fun. I’m still on the lookout for an old milk can though.
9. Only buy items you are truly excited about.
If you don’t totally love it in the store or aren’t excited about an item’s potential, leave it. Don’t buy something just for the sake of buying it. Walking out with nothing is okay. You’ll have better luck next time.
I so wanted to take home this china cabinet. That quatrefoil has come back into trend and would come to life with a fresh coat of paint on the piece. It was being sold at $65. Not too shabby.
10. Remember that paint can fix (almost) anything.
If you find a beautiful dresser with lots of scratches, chalk paint will fix it right up. Don’t like the color of some pictures frames? Paint those bad boys. Almost all of the frames on my gallery wall came from Goodwill and they were all different colors.
Transform an old brass light fixture into something that will match the rest of your lighting. I found our stairway light for $17 at Goodwill, luckily ready to hang. Paint would have been an easy fix if I had wanted to change the finish.
Even upholstery can sometimes be painted (just make sure the upholstery is still in good shape and doesn’t have a smell…ew.) Don’t let the color of something limit you.
11. Look for quality.
If you find a dresser with dovetail drawers, that’s a winner. If a chair is nice and sturdy, it has lots of potential. Brand names are a plus too. Our dining chairs were made by a high end company called American Drew that sold me on them.
This console table I madeover was made my Broyhill, a brand I knew, so I felt confident in buying it.
I even found a set of 8 Crate & Barrel white coffee mugs for 50 cents each a while back. They’re my favorite!
12. Know the sale days.
(Note: Sale days and discount programs vary by region, so check with your local store as it might be different from these.) Tuesdays are student/military discount days and you can get 20% off your entire purchase with your ID. On Wednesdays, seniors 55 and older can get 20% off the entire purchase. Goodwill has a Customer Value Program and Email Club with special discounts and coupons too.
There ya go. I just spilled all my secrets, and now I might have some fierce competition. But I always love passing on what I’ve learned. And who knows…maybe in another year, I’ll have learned twice as much. That I will, of course, share with you all over again.