Insider’s Guide To Best Thrift Store Bargains

saving thrift store bargains


Would you like your name to be on the thrift store bargain hunters’ wall of fame?  Whether you’re on a tight budget, or simply bargain conscious, it pays to know the ins and outs of resale discounts.

Because so many people have asked about the following information, I’ve included them in bargain hunting tips.

Learn the Price Tag Language

Colors and Dates

Without scan-able SKU numbers, it can be a nightmare figuring out how long an item has been on the sales floor, and when it’s time to mark it down or get rid of it

Some stores will write a date on a tag.  This typically is the date the item was donated, or first put out for sale.

Other stores use different colors to signify when they came in.  Sometimes it’s the tag color, colored dot, or colored ink.

The number of colors depends upon how often the merchandise is marked down before being removed.  If there are three rotated colors, then merchandise is marked down three times before being pulled from the floor, etc.

If the store doesn’t post the color code, just ask.  The code shouldn’t be a deep, dark secret.  This is useful to know how long something has been sitting there, and when to expect the price will go down.

Price Reduction Tags

You may have seen tags that show you the starting price of an item, and how much it will be lowered if unsold after a week, then the next week, etc. Sometimes the date of the reduction is written in.  If you really want that jacket or table, it’s like playing chicken.  Will you buy it now, or gamble on it still being there when the price drops?

Holiday Sales

For independent stores particularly, there may not be a pre-determined time frame for holiday sales.  Often it’s when someone notices other stores have started holiday sales.  Don’t assume resale stores will be on the same schedule as retailers.  If you’re on the hunt for holiday sales, it’s best to call ahead or check out their website.


When stores have different categories on sale each day or each week, and they aren’t repeated month to month, they will frequently post them in the store each day.  But sometimes we want to know what the daily sale is to know if we want to be in the store.

Stores that have thought it through will have a calendar available, and when they post it on a website, it’s the most convenient.  Otherwise, you’re on your own for figuring out the sale du jour.  It wouldn’t hurt to request calendars in the future.

When to Get the Best Thrift Store Bargains

Senior Days

National chains and local stores have found it profitable to have designated Senior Days, typically the same day each week.  If you aren’t sure you qualify, be aware that the age requirement may vary greatly.  My favorite salespeople are the ones who never ask how old you are, but ask instead how young you are.  My kind of public relations.


Bad Weather Sales

If you’re serious about bargain hunting and the weather is challenging, look online or call around to find stores that are having sales.  If you can brave the elements, you may hit the mother lode. Not only won’t you have to fight crowds, the merchandise won’t be picked-over, and some stores will even have an impromptu double discount just to make some sales.

Crazy Sales

Because it can be challenging to come up with new gimmicks and sales all the time to attract customers, establishments can get creative.  Wear something blue and get 20% off.  Show us a comb and pick your discount from the goldfish bowl.

Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the gimmick; it isn’t a trick.  Once after receiving a donation of more t-shirts than we could sell in a lifetime, I was standing at the front door offering anyone who came in a free t-shirt.  You’d be surprised how many people refused to believe it was actually free with no strings attached!

Discount Cards

Repeat customers are the backbone of business, and stores like to offer incentives to get you back in the door.  Call them punch cards, stamp cards, preferred customer cards…they’re all the same.  You can get discounts after spending so much money or making so many purchases.

You can really save big bucks and get the best thrift store bargains using these cards, but they have one drawback.  They don’t work if you don’t have them with you!  How many times I’ve spent at the checkout waiting while someone searches through all the cards and bits of paper in their wallet or purse, and just can’t find the darn thing!

Die-hard shoppers will either carry their discount cards in a specific compartment or only bring the cards for the stores they plan to visit that day.


Local resale stores usually don’t have big advertising budgets, and coupons can be a relatively cheap way of attracting new and returning customers.  Sometimes they will be coupon ads taken out yearly, sometimes a one-time ad, insert, or flyer. Be sure to check GROUPON, too.  The trick is finding where the coupons are for the stores you want.

Don’t be afraid to ask a staff member.  If you see another customer with a coupon, ask them, too. Most people in the bargain world are happy to share tips and helpful hints.

Be Aware         Resale stores can have a love – hate relationship with these bits of paper.  Coupons can bring in new customers, but some people take advantage of them, like using one, coming back in ten minutes and using another.

I’ve had customers come in with a 50% off coupon, and believe they can use it to purchase an item already marked 50% off, and get the item for free!  Don’t try to cheat the system, especially at thrift stores where they are raising money for charity. Trust me, it won’t work anyway.

Email Sign-Ups

Gone are the days when a business can put an ad in the local paper and know everyone will find it.  Imagine your store is having a 75% off sale.  You can’t call all those cells or knock on all those doors to tell them your best thrift store bargains!

Email messages are the life-line of communicating with customers, and I’ve yet to hear of any thrift store that sold those addresses to spammers.  If you don’t leave your email address, it could cost you serious savings.  You can also opt out of receiving their emails any time you choose.

The good news is, stores want your business, and will offer all kinds of incentives.  If you don’t know all of them, ask.  Look at their website.  Ask other customers.  The more you know, the more you will save.


When Technology Is Lacking

I know of thrift stores that operate on such a small budget they can’t afford a computer, and spending money on advertising is out of the question.  If it’s worth a second visit, don’t leave without asking what and when their sales are and be sure to get their phone number.

Share your best thrift store bargains with the rest of us!  We want to hear them!  And be sure to leave your email address to get the latest Insider updates.