This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.

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If you're an avid thrift shopper like me, you know that every secondhand store has its own unique personality. Some stores are great for furniture, others for clothing; some seem to have the market cornered on books, and a few just seem to have older and more unique items than all the rest.

Image: Couple and cash (© Big Cheese Photo-Jupiterimages)
Regardless of the personality of your favorite store, there are five standard items that you should always be on the lookout for in every thrift store. Here's my not-so-scientific list of the top five items that offer the highest savings when compared with retail.

1. Shoes

If you can get over the mental roadblock of buying used shoes, it'll do wonders for your budget. With decent-quality leather shoes ranging anywhere from $65 to $85 retail, scoring a gently used pair for $6 means you're saving at least 90%. Focus on condition and pay special attention to soles and heels; avoid wear patterns that might affect your stride. Give leather some TLC with mink oil or shoe polish.

2. Belts

When did a buckled strip of leather with some holes at one end become worth $32? I'm pretty picky and my wardrobe reflects it, but I haven't paid more than $4 for a belt in years. Sure, sometimes you walk away empty-handed. But if you're willing to look and wait for just the right item, you can find great deals on all kinds of leather accessories like belts, wallets, and purses too.

3. Jeans

When I was a teenager, I saved for three months to buy a new pair of Guess jeans. I still remember the price back then ($40). Even in all their acid-washed glory, that seemed like an outrageous sum. Today, that's a bargain price for an off-brand. Thrift stores are great places to take advantage of the growth spurts and fickle tastes of kids and pick up good-quality jeans for about $7. Deals on adult denim are easy to find too. It just takes a little patience, a few trips to the dressing room, and maybe a quick alteration.

4. Furniture

After you've been thrifting for a few years, strolling through most retail settings is like visiting a foreign land: You can appreciate the beauty, but you don't understand what's being said. Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than in furniture stores. Spending $219 for a nightstand or $389 for an accent chair? What language are they speaking?

Last month I made a quick stop at a local charity's thrift center and found a club chair and matching ottoman for $80. It was so new it still smelled like the furniture store that had donated it. All it needed was one small repair to the roping detail along the top edge of the ottoman. It took all of 10 minutes to make it look showroom perfect.

Check your local thrift store for lamps, nightstands, coffee tables, and bed frames. They can usually be found in perfect or near-perfect condition. Items in rougher shape can become weekend projects and get a second life with a bit of sanding and varnish or paint. Often the sheer quality of older items makes them worthy candidates for a salvage project. Look for quality markers like solid wood construction and dovetail joints.

5. Books

Even if you have an e-reader, sometimes it's nice to hold a book in your hands. And thrift stores are treasure-troves of good used books. Retail prices for paperbacks range from $12.99 to $14; at most thrift shops, they're 89 cents to $2.99. That's a minimum savings of about 75%. Thrift stores in college towns and larger cities seem to have the quickest turnover in books and the best selection. Grab some coffee and stroll through their stacks.

Successful thrifting is all about being persistent, knowing what you need today and might need tomorrow, and seizing a good a deal when you find it. If you know the right categories to mine, thrift shopping can be a way to save some serious cash by avoiding retail prices on as much as you can whenever you can.

Do you focus on certain categories when you thrift shop? What's the best deal you've ever scored secondhand?

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