Guide to Thrifty Second Hand Shopping, Part 1

Alternate title to the post: How to shop second hand (like a BOSS.) Too much,right?

This will be a series of posts on tips to get the best second hand shopping experience. Part 1 deals with where to get the goods.

It always amazes me when people compliment me on something I recently acquired at a yard sale or a thrift shop and they’re shocked. I mean ,jaw-dropping,mouth-gaping, shocked that I found something awesome second hand. “I never find anything good at yard sales”, a woman recently told me. Well, what do you mean by good? Turns out , she is looking for name-brand kids clothes but seems to end up some old guy’s tool sale.

There is something to be said for that location,location,location thing.Here’s some hints on where to shop second hand and get the good stuff you’re looking for:

Familiarize Yourself with the Thrift Shop Scene

  • Let Your Fingers Do The Walking If you’re just not sure where to find a thrift shop nearest you,you can do it old school and check out the  local yellow page directory in the phonebook. Any thrift shops listed would be used Clothing -Used BUT there are some real gems out there not listed in the phone book.
  • The Good Ol’ Community Rag If your community has a  free “Pennysaver” or “Thrifty Shopper” paper, that’s a great place to find ads and blurbs about local thrift shops. You can usually find these papers in  grocery stores foyers or checkouts or the post office lobby. Any community newspaper should also have ads.
  • Online Directories You can also enter your zipcode at The National Thrift Store Directory or use the Thrift Buddy app but like the yellow pages, there may be some gems missing (I know there are from my area)
  • Ask a Church Lady In my area, there are 3 shops not listed in any directory anywhere, all operated by churches. Two of those are only open during warm weather months – one is in a barn and the other in an old one-room schoolhouse and neither organization has the budget to heat & maintain them in the winter. So, if you’re really looking to leave no pile of old sweaters unturned, it’s worth a shot to call area churches to ask about their second hand agenda.

Once you know where the thrift shops are…go check them out!  You might be surprised to see how each shop will have it’s own very distinctive vibe. Some may feel like a boutique (and prices will reflect that,usually), while others will feel like a sad,lonely place full of abandoned junk. Most are somewhere in between.Some will be specialized, like maybe selling only childrens clothing.

Remember those church shops I mentioned? Those are great places to find cool, vintage goods.

When you find some shops you like and think you’ll want to make return visits to,find this stuff out:

  • Does the shop have any regular specials or deals? Some shops have one day a week where a certain colored tag or maybe even everything is half-priced. Some have “Bag Days”, where you can go fill up a bag for a set price.
  • Are there certain days new merchandise gets put out? Some shops are run only by volunteers who  price and restock on certain days. Sometimes it pays to know when the “new” stuff hits the floor so you can have first pick.
  • If they’re non-profit, how do they spend their money? This actually may not be important to some people but if  you’re someone who boycotts Big Box Stores because they don’t support gay rights or they employ children, you might like to know. For instance, if Westboro Baptist funded their funeral protest trips with a thrift shop, I’d like to know! Just saying.

Garage Sale Ahead – Follow the Arrow Signs

I’m personally not what you would call a discriminating yard sale shopper. If I had a car, I’d need one of those dumb bumper stickers that says,”CAUTION: This Vehicle Stops At All Yard Sales”. You may want to be a bit more selective in your garage sale gallivanting.

  • Finding the Sales The obvious place to look for upcoming sales would be the classified section  in the newspaper but Craigslist is becoming more popular to advertise sales. The free listing may have something to do with that. Also make it a habit to check out community bulletin boards and random flyers on telephone poles.  The number one bit of advice given to people having yard sales is to advertise in the paper but most people don’t and just rely on traffic & local flyers to reach their clientele.  Ads that mention certain items or general categories of goods by name can really help you narrow down the sales you go to. Just be prepared to be disappointed. If the ad mentioned Fiesta Ware…then everyone else who loves fiesta ware is going to be all over that sale ,too.If an ad says, “dishes”, and you’re looking for fiesta ware, it might pay to check it out. The seller may not have any idea what they have or it’s value and just think of it as “dishes”, whereas you think “Jackpot!”.
  • Chart your Course It helps to have a good map of the area. Ask your library or local Chamber of Commerce for detailed street maps of your area.  For all day sale sprees, you might find it helpful to use Google Maps to get on the right track. If you go to Google Maps, you can click on “My Maps”>Create New Map. Enter the addresses of each sale you plan on going to and save. You can print out and take w/ you or use the mobile feature (I think ).
  • Think of Your Town As A Giant Shopping Plaza No doubt, you’re well aware of what’s considered The Rich Part of Town and The Old People’s Neighborhood and so forth. Think of Snob Hill as your high end shops and Shady Acres Retirement Home as your vintage boutique. This isn’t always a sure bet for choosing your goods but one mom I know used to save shopping bags from Abercrombie, Hollister and other stores her teens liked to shop at, then go to yard sales in affluent areas of town and pass off her gently used purchases as ,”Oh, look what I bought you today when I was out shopping!”.  If you’re looking for a certain kind of goods, think about what sort of things might stereotypically be found in the neighborhood you’re shopping in. ….BUT….
  • Don’t Judge a Sale by It’s House Don’t write off sales as a bust just from curb-side appearance. One of the best sales I ever went to was in a trailer park. I also will never forget the sale I went to that made me fall in love with lustreware. It was a huge, brick mansion and I expected to leave empty handed, never able to afford anything there. Instead ,I walked away with a stack of lustreware plates for $1, a mirror topped drum table from the 1940s and an armful of vintage linens and other goodies. All for less than $10. All sorts of people live in all sorts of houses  and they all have stuff they need to get rid of sometimes.


  • Curbside – Sometimes it’s totally worth the real and/or perceived ,”Oh my god, she’s rummaging through garbage!” snickers and looks. Things I’ve found in curbside free piles? Life magazines from the 40s and 50s, bone china and porcelain, perfectly good house plants, toys, fabric, thread,vinyl records and CDs, books,furniture,office supplies….and on and on. Tip: The best days for free piles is Saturday evenings after yard sales have ended and Sundays.
  • Craigslist- Yeah, we all know about the free stuff some people want to give up on craigslist but there ARE also real,honest-to-goodness things given away there. You’ll find the free section under the For Sale heading. Some sampling of what’s being offered right now for free on my local CL: a dishwasher,an unfinished dollhouse,a fish tank,changing table,a chainsaw,cats,futon mattresses and a dining room table. Not bad,eh? If you hate the idea of going to a stranger’s house to pick up something, ask if you can meet at a central location or have the friend who most resembles a bodyguard go with you.
  • Freecycle Same deal as Craigslist. Go to to find the group nearest you.

Tips to Share?

Feel free to leave them in the comments or link to your own blog!

2 thoughts on “Guide to Thrifty Second Hand Shopping, Part 1

  1. My best find in the last couple of years was a pair of Converses, like new, for .50 at one of those church shops that don’t heat….:-)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s