Tips & Tricks to Shopping Thrift

By Barb Tobias
NABBW’s Thrifting Expert

Ahhh, the “thrifting season” is in full swing!

What a glorious time of year for the ardent thrift shopper. Now is the time for those serious about treasure hunting to pull up their bootstraps, hone their tracking skills and beseech the garage sale fairies for a bit-o-luck.

It took me quite a few years, and many mistakes, to become an astute thrifter; spotting the treasures beneath the tarnish and figuring out how to bargain with a gentle hand.

When I started hitting garage sales, some thirty odd years ago, it took me awhile to get used to the fact that items didn’t come in a variety of colors or sizes. I learned to be patient, pacing myself and educating myself on the art of selection … which items to snatch up and which to pass by.

Thrifting is different from retail shopping; not better or worse, just different. Goods aren’t always packaged nicely … which is not only a good thing … but, a green thing. Retail shopping … I got! I would simply survey new merchandise, make my selections, try them on in a well lit, comfortable dressing room, hand them to the nice sales lady, pay the sticker price and leave . . . with new, tissue wrapped treasures. Neat. Easy. Familiar. And . . . costly.

Today I’m all about buying almost everything through a thrift venue, saving money and recycling. So, here are my best thrift shopping tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years. Stroll with me, and my self-appointed thriftiness, as we explore a newly frugal nation. I’m anxious to share the tricks of selling, the art of bargaining and the thrill of buying other people’s junk.

Once a born-again thrifter has acclimated to shopping at discount stores and thrift venues, she is less likely to revert back to her earlier behaviors; impulse buying, paying full retail price and excessive consumerism.
                                                                                                             ~ Barb Tobias, America’s “Thrift Talk” Diva

  • Learn to make quick purchasing decisions. Most thrift venues only carry one of each item, so beware, there is a shopper right behind you … vying for the same item! Pick up or place your possible purchases (your “maybes”) into a shopping cart or carry them around until you’ve decided for or against them. Remember, when thrifting, possession is nine-tenths of the law.
  • Only purchase items that you LOVE. When I was a newbie thrifter, I was like a kid in a candy store, snapping up amazing finds left and right. It took be a while, and a garage full of rejects, to figure out that a bargain is only a bargain if you truly love, need or use it!
  • Avoid buying items just because they are cheap. It is so tempting to purchase marginal items because the price tag blows you away. I’ve been there … too many times. What I learned is that cheap items that you don’t use, love or need … are expensive!
  • Learn to shop when you don’t NEED anything. Develop a “treasure hunting” attitude. Just try it … step out and see what comes up.
  • Shop out of season. The best finds are often uncovered because others aren’t hunting for them. I realize that it is hard trying on a fabulous winter coat when it’s sweltering, however, it might just be the perfect article to pull out of your closet next December. Also, keep an eye out for hostess gifts, birthday presents and thoughtful little trinkets for spouses and friends.
  • Develop a “shabby chic” attitude. Forget the little imperfections when shopping for furnishings or décor. Become skilled at appreciating things that are a little flawed. Learn to enjoy the “character” inherent in furnishings that have been profusely loved.
  • Become adroit at repairing, painting and refurbishing the slightly damaged or marred.
  • Cruise creatively. Look for items that have potential. Visualize prospective items in a different color or paired with other coordinating décor.
  • Become a repurposing activist. Use items in unique ways. Perhaps think of that hutch you are considering in a bedroom or bathroom. Or, an ottoman as a coffee table, a vase as a utensil holder or an antique crock to hold wood at the fireplace.
  • Shop vigorously. Get out early while others are catching another cup of coffee. Garage sales offer the best items right when they open. Or patiently wait for the last day of your local estate sales. These thrifty venues are typically run by professionals and are readily willing to bargain the last hours of the sale. Sure most of the good stuff is gone, but I have snagged some amazing deals when the faint of heart have gone home and the professionals are ready to deeply discount their remaining wares.
  • Shop thrift on “SALE” days. What is better, and smarter, than shopping for thrift … on sale? Thrift stores, antique malls, and consignment shops usually run specials. Look for 50% off days, senior days or special offers.
  • Learn how, where and when to bargain. When I shop at garage sales, I bargain from the time the doors open. Most homeowners are anxious to get rid of their excess stuff and are willing to bargain in order to move it. Estate sales are run by professionals who have a set schedule of reductions and typically won’t deviate from that pace. However, the last day of the sale is when most agents are ready to bargain!

With the downward spiral of the economy, families are more prudent than ever. People who would never have considered secondhand resources are turning toward the various thrift outlets to furnish their homes and clothe their families. Tag sales, estate sales, thrift stores, antique malls and consignment shops are all reporting huge increases in traffic.

At the same time, bargain hunters are turning to the Internet in droves. Whether scrolling through Craigslist, www.Craigslist.com, poring over the plentiful garage sale listings at www.gsalr.com or scouring the many locations for local thrift shops, www.ThriftShopper.com, frugal shoppers are realizing the feast offered by these user-friendly online resources.

New bargain venues are popping up weekly as the thrift craze continues to capture the nation’s attention. Today secondhand trappings are becoming quite … chic.

Barb Tobias is a professional speaker and inspiring coach who renovates lives, homes and wardrobes by sticking her curious little nose into other people’s “thrifty business.” After a lifetime of transforming trash into treasure, this savvy mistress of thrift shares her secrets to finding deals, repurposing before tossing, reconstructing the tattered and renewing things others view as passé in her recent release…Tossed & Found; Where Frugal is Chic. Her “tell all” book is not simply a journey of personal transformation, but teaches a newly frugal nation how to purchase, purge and profit from thrift.