How to Thrift Like a Pro

Have you ever heard of Mr. Goodwill Hunting? I got to hear him speak at the Haven Conference and he’s famous for his thrifty fashion sense. He’s been featured on The Nate Berkus Show numerous times, and his sense of style is out of this world!

Now I can’t share all of his fabulous Thrifting tips that he shared with us (I was too busy staring at his shoes instead of writing detailed notes), but I can give you a few… plus some of my own!

Keep a list on hand of what you need. Don’t just go shopping to shop; go with a detailed list of wants vs. needs. Having a pre-plan will help you navigate the store better and keep you on your budget.

Know what you’re about to buy. Bring your iPhone or smart phone with you so you can research on the spot. Look up the brand name on the internet so you can make sure you’re getting the best possible price of retail compared to resale.


There are a lot of thrift store and resale options besides Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Remember that the larger stores can be overpriced, too. Research your area and find the smaller resale stores that should have competitive pricing. Also shop your local Craigslist and yard sales for goodies

Last week I was shopping at Goodwill and found a lovely dresser with ornate detailing for sale. Price tag? $275! Um… keep in mind that some items are over priced and you should just walk away. If thrifters pay that top dollar, prices will raise across the board.

Remember that not everything is always as it seems. You might find an amazing ornate mirror but it’s just not the right color. Paint it! Or use a really modern dresser for a TV console instead! Think outside the box.


If you’re friendly with the sales associates, they might tell you about some extra items they have in the back warehouse that hasn’t been put on the store floor yet. Also, a friendly sales associate might give you some insider tips, like when furniture is going to be marked 50% off.

Make sure if you’re buying a huge hutch for your dining room you can get it home. If you don’t have a truck or an SUV, make sure you have a friend or family member that can help. You also might want to ask the thrift store if they have any delivery service (although the charge may not be worth it).

Sometimes you can haggle with the thrift store employees for a discount. If you’ve been to the same shop for over a week and keep seeing that dining room table, ask for a discount! Remember that these stores always have new stock coming in and they need to get rid of what’s on the floor. But… you might have a harder time getting some big bucks off your purchase if you’re carrying your Coach purse and wearing your Prada shoes. Dress like you need the discount.


Thrift stores are changing out their stock. Just because you see a coffee table for sale doesn’t mean it’s the perfect coffee table for your home. Make sure you shop each store often to find exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t settle!

Have you ever found a beautiful chair at Goodwill that you just had to purchase, finally got it home and it didn’t fit your space? Yeah, happens to the best of us. One of the most important rules is measure before you buy! Go shopping with exact measurements of your space in hand, and then bring a tape measure with you so there’s no second guessing yourself.

So, have you gotten any cool new items recently while thrifting?
What’s your favorite store to shop?

how to thrift like a pro


  1. says

    “Dress like you need the discount.” – Love that thought! :) Hard to do sometimes when you are out shopping/doing other things too (and yes, I have a coach purse that I sometimes leave in the car – lol!)

    Was fun sitting by you and laughing in this session – he was so funny! Don’t think I expected him to be so funny!

    • Bryant says

      Just remember if you are leaving your bags in the car to put them in the trunk. Smash and grabs are common in thrift store parking lots. “it wont happen to me!” think again, thieves are non-discriminatory, especially if you just left your COACH purse out on the passenger seat.
      I’m just a concerned citizen. I drive a Jeep Wrangler that is commonly a target of attempted theft. I have learned the hard way a few times, and been really lucky several more. I see people making thoughtless mistakes every day and I am just here with a friendly reminder of how you can protect yourself and your car.

  2. says

    I have always wanted one of those old metal desks with the chair attached to it. I have looked and looked. Then I stopped looking. Last summer while dropping items off at the Salvation Army my husband went in and at the window holds up one of those desks. I started clapping and jumping up and down like a 4 year old on his birthday! And here is the best part! It was only $2.95.

    I took that beauty home and spray painted it blue. My son loves it! I do too.

  3. says


    Thank you for taking notes and sharing them with us. Good tip on the measuring. Bringing along a notebook with color swatches or having photos in your phone is also a big help. Sometimes the color in a fabric looks like it might match and then once home it doesn’t. Grrrr!

    P.S., You have a really nice website. :-)

  4. says

    I also never thought about what I was wearing while in a thrift store, but it completely makes sense! I’m very new to the whole thrifting scene, so these tips are very handy for a newbie like me :)
    I saw Mr. Goodwill Hunting on Nate Berkus once and let me say…what he can do with thrifted items is amazing! Definitely an inspiration!

  5. says

    These are some awesome tips! I’ve been looking for nightstands and have had awful luck :( I’m definitely going to try some of these tips next time I am out and about!

  6. says

    Love this post! I love thrifting, garage sales and craigslist and I definitely think one of the best things to do is be able to say “NO”! It may be a great deal, but not right for your space, just like you said. It’s also so important to keep an open mind like you said, paint the mirror, re-purpose the side table or whatever. There are definitely buried treasures out there!

  7. says

    I love it. I thought your were joking at first…Mr. Goodwill hunting. Love him. Great tips. I failed at number one. I never have a plan. That probably explains all this stuff in my house! I have number 8 down….without even trying! lol. These are really good reminders. I’ll have to go today and test them out. ;) I am happy to be a new follower. Found you on Homework’s linky party.

  8. olivia says

    I found an awesome Lulu lemon gym bag for 6$ I lookked it up on my phone while shopping regular $45 and it stll had the tag! Def worth having a smartphone

  9. says

    Don’t forget if you buy upholstered furniture that you could also be bringing home bedbugs or fleas. And beside the Thrift Stores and Yard Sales, Estate Sales are a way to go.

  10. Marianne Lynch says

    Don’t forget about local ReStores that benefit Habitat for Humanity. They have furniture, cabinets, housewares and building supplies. Since there are 800 around the country, they are a DIY must shop experience! You can find an awesome item and help someone get or repair a home.

  11. Debra says

    Great tips. I do them all. Also, I keep hand sanitizer with me & I use re-usable grocery bags instead of a purse with a couple extra inside to carry my treasures home in. The stores, especially small ones, appreciate me bringing my own bags. I don’t like to carry more than I need. A few of my finds: Isabella Fiore purse in “new” condition for $7.99 & a 10×12 Karastan rug for $12.98. I believe everything has at least one more rebirth left in it. I love to look past the paint & imagine what it can become. Happy Thrifting. It’s my addiction. I need a weekly fix!!! :-)

  12. Sue says


    These are great tips and one time a customer at Feed My People asked if I worked there…did a really good job of dressing down that time!

  13. Kristi says

    Thank you so much for these words of wisdom. I love getting a great deal just like everyone else, but really needed this advice.

  14. Camille Armstrong says

    I also love thrifting so much and always finding such good bargains that I am working on an online thrift store. Any suggestions on what people would like to see online ? I really enjoy reading your posts and always visit often.

    • says

      Online thrift store, great idea if you can keep shipping costs down! Home decor items are always big, as well as furniture, kitchen goods, and seasonal items. Clothing items might be hard since you can’t try on clothes virtually ;) Good luck with your business venture!

  15. Donna says

    I carry a tape measure, screwdriver set and rope in my car for thrifting. Tape to make sure of size, screwdrivers to take apart something to fit in the car, and rope in case it doesn’t quite fit and I have to rope it in the back or tie something to the roof rack.

  16. Barbara Marrin says

    There is a business in our area that specializes in reupholstery. He and his son are a small business but they both own large truck/v an for moving furniture. I found a lovely queen anne recliner at a local second hand store, paid for it and they came and picked it up for me and I met them at their shop to pick our the new upholstery fabricI wanted it recovered in. They don’t charge for the pickup because they’d have to do that anyway. This is the best I could work our and they’ve done a fantastic job on a couch and another chair I’ve purchased in the past. This might be another option for your readers if they don’t/can’t reupholster DIY. Your tips are great! The best one is ‘be sure to measure’ to make sure it will fit, especially if its a major furniture purchase.

  17. says

    Keep in mind that you get what you pay for! The $275 dresser is probably an antique with wooden runners, dovetails, and dust shelves. A similar looking dresser for $25 is likely to be a poorly constructed, pressboard 80’s reproduction! Your best purchase is not always the cheapest one, especially when it comes to hardworking items like dressers and bookcases. Don’t skimp there or you will be shopping again in a year or so!

  18. Wendy Dey says

    I always wear a dress with slip on tight cotton shorts underneath for quick try ons in the summer and leggings and a tank under a button up shirt in the winter…saves having to wait on a dressing room – just head to the mirror and try on what you want…saves time and money! also wear flip flops or slip on shoes…in case I find a chic pair of shoes!!!!!

  19. AllyandTroyFL says

    I learned quickly that some items really are junk, that’s why they ended up at the thrift store. You have to sift through a lot of junk to find the treasure. A whole lot! To see it, you need to know what treasure really is. Some items were made to last. Some things were made cheaply and expect to be replaced. I look for quality brand names and quality materials. Real wood furniture can be repaired and refinished. Particle board is hard to rework. Cotton clothes can be redesigned into something else, where polyester has a limited life span. I have, in my moment of glory, found brand new clothes with JC Penny’s tags at the thrift. I bought them and exchanged them at JC Penney’s for my size. I found a great dog crate and steel bowls, that I bought, and then adopted a dog from the pound to go with it. I bought a set of expensive headphones that were defective, because I could exchange them under warrantee with the manufacturer. My kitchen pantry is outfitted with 50 matching half gallon glass jars to hold my dry goods, since no one else wanted to wash grandma’s old canning jars from the 50’s. They just needed scrubbing and new lids. Retail price for fifty of those $80, thrift price $5. New lids at Walmart $12.

  20. says

    I like the tip about dressing down – that’s great! I do sometimes like to go thrift shopping just for fun and not necessarily with a list in mind. If I’m going just for fun, I try to set a pretty small budget, say $20 – it makes me much pickier about what I might buy because once that $20 is gone, I’m done shopping for fun. I also like to go sometimes just to get a feel for the thrift store and an idea of their prices (more of a window shopping trip than a buying trip). My favorite store to pop in to is a Antique/Flea Market shop right by my husband’s work. Since it’s so close to his work, I can just pop in and see if any of the vendors have marked items on sale. I found a red cast iron cookbook holder in there for $15 and then marked down to $13 (they sell for $40 normally) – a fabulous deal that I snatched up and it was on my birthday! :) Thanks for the tips!

  21. Lea says

    I found a Pendleton blanket at a thrift store a few years ago. It was $2.98! I asked at the register to make sure & the girl said, “Lady, All the blankets are $2.98. Is there a problem?” I said, “No Ma’am.” :)

  22. Dee Lafrenz says

    Sometimes you may see something that will work for now even though it is not exactly what you want. I wanted end tables for my living room, and night stands for the bedroom. I found a pair, but they were outrageous, then one day my work was giving away perfectly good night stands and tables. I took two. I use one in the bedroom, and one in the living room. There was not room for both in either room. But they have a drawer to keep junk out of sight, and they have a shelf to store extra books and magazines. They cost me nothing!

  23. Kay says

    We have a local Goodwill outlet. It’s the best in price but merchandise moves quickly and the shopping is competitive and at times fierce. I cannot say enough about dressing the part, it changes the dynamic dramatically between staff and even other shoppers. Also go hands free to allow shopping without being tied to dragging your purse around. Stick your phone, money, and keys in your pocket and shop without worries.

  24. Rob says

    You can always negotiate. Ask for a discount, make an offer. You have nothing to loose by asking. Be prepared to walk if the item is too much. At yard sales determine if they are trying to get full EBay price.. Many people are now pricing by what they see online. Remind them that online prices vary greatly depending on buyers. Group several items and make an offer for the lot. Always ask for their ” least you will take for this” price. You may be surprised. And always check the free box. I still use my electric pressure cooker I got at a garage sale free box. It was new and missing the weight which I got at another sale for a quarter. Watch for items people want rid of. Last week, I bought a wood stove that was $1195 new for $35 because they wanted it gone. I had to replace the damper. Cost $12.00. Make a list of things you need or want and shop for them. Have a price you know it is worth and what you will pay. Figure at least half new price for anything used or less. If there are non-working parts or missing parts parts you can replace, bring that to the attention of the seller and offer much less. You can always raise your offer if the item is worth it. Hope these things I have learned over the years help you. Remember to have fun thrifting!

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