6 ways to score big savings at the thrift store

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You might think of thrift stores as places where unwanted junk goes to die. Savvy shoppers know this isn’t the whole truth. Sure, thrift stores collect junk, but they often have high-quality items, too.

If you shop for the right items at the right time, you can use thrift stores to save money on nearly anything your family needs. You can find hardly used furniture (if you don't build your own), brand-name clothing and electronics at thrift stores for pennies on the dollar if you take the time to look.

If you’re angling to save money, it helps to have a strategy. You can save more over the long haul with these tips.

1. Look for high-quality clothing out of season

You can save money by shopping for most of your clothing at a thrift store. (It's a great place to complete your "extra" outfit.) However, when you shop makes a difference.

In-season clothing is often picked over and marked up while off-season thrift store clothing is offered at bargain prices. If you shop for warm-weather clothing during winter and cold-weather clothes when it’s nice outside, you’re bound to find nice threads for a price you’ll like.

Another way to use the thrift store to your advantage is by buying high-quality brands. Well-made clothing lasts longer. This means more savings over time.

2. Ask for a better deal

You can often negotiate for a lower price at your local thrift store. This is especially true when buying bigger-ticket items like electronics, housewares or furniture, especially if they’ve been in stock for a while. At some point the manager may want the space more than the money, in which case you could get away with a lower offer than you realize.

Always ask for a discount, especially if you’re spending a lot. If they say no, you can decide to buy the item anyway or walk away.

3. Sign up for your favorite store’s mailing list

If your favorite thrift store has a mailing list, sign up. Doing so can alert you to sales and deals you wouldn’t know about otherwise. Some thrift stores list new big-ticket items like furniture or art in their newsletters.

4. Make friends with the staff

Thrift store inventory is unpredictable. This creates an opportunity for people in the know to get the best deals before anyone else.

But, how can you find out about new stuff? By making friends with the staff. Whether you’re looking for a coffee table, an armoire or the perfect little black dress, having a friend on the staff is the best way to find out first if what you’re looking for comes in.

5. Use your smartphone

Maybe you’re someone who looks for antiques and other valuables when you shop thrift stores. When you find an item you think is valuable, use your smartphone to find out without a doubt. You can check prices on eBay, for example, to see what a specific item is listed for and if it has had any bids. You can also search for the item with a search engine like google to see if you can find it for sale and, if so, for how much.

6. Wait for sales

Every good thrift store has a sale once in a while. Some thrift stores offer “fill a bag” sales in which you can fill an entire bag with items for a flat price of $5 or $10. Others offer discounts of up to 50% off, particularly on items that are out of season or getting there.

Buying second-hand is always cheaper than buying new, but thrift shopping during a sale can take your savings to a different level.

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