Smart SpendingSmart Spending

5 best thrift store deals

You can save 75% -- or even more -- when you buy these gently used items.

By Karen Datko Mar 18, 2013 10:45AM

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


Wise Bread logoIf 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?


More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:

Mar 19, 2013 10:02AM

I get my books... including eBooks at the library


I've found a lot of nice clothing at thrift stores, but the past few years their prices have gone up dramatically.


Great place for costumes. I pick up clothes for party themes, etc. Recently found a velvet bridesmaid dress and peasant blouse to make a costume for the Renaissance fair for under $10.


Recently I found 2 very stylish leather purses in excellent condition for less than $5 each.


If you're looking for fabric, their curtains, bedding and sheets are usually pretty cheap - certainly cheaper than what you'd pay by the yard at a fabric store.


Jul 17, 2013 9:50PM
My husband must wear dark suits for work. We were in the Suncoast Hospice thrift shop in Tarpon Springs, FL a few years ago and found 5 good quality dark suits in his size for $10 each . We bought them all. They didn't even need to be altered! So, 5 suits in great condition for a total of $50 was my best thrift shop find to date! ( BTW -he is still wearing them.)
Mar 18, 2013 6:55PM
Th chain thrift stores such as Goodwill or Value Village take the good stuff and put it on Ebay, so there are seldom good deals to be found.  For instance if you find a nice item that is new with the tags still on it, it is priced at 50% of the new retail price from the retail tag.  Now that item in the retail store would have gone through markdowns and sold for first 30% off, then 50% off, and then possibly 60% off,  why would you pay 50% of the original retail price 3 or 4 years later?  You can't return it for cash or credit.  That is not a good value.  Don't pay more than 30% of the original price if it can't be returned.  Be careful to look for flaws as these items might have come from an outlet and sometimes are imperfect.  Yes, look for deals, but the charity shops are the best, and try to find the days when the merchandise is tagged and put out or the days when the merchandise is marked down.
Mar 18, 2013 5:23PM

I don't agree that thrift stores are the best place to buy clothes. The clothes are used, and somewhat pricey for what you'll get. Better to shop the clearance racks at big box retailers. I recently scored name brand khakis from a big box for $9.99, thrift store price is usually $7.99 at least, and used to boot. Jeans are not always a good buy either. I bought several pair of brand new brand name jeans at a big box and actually paid less for each pair than at the thrift store. Furniture and most other housewares can be a good buy, but again, sometimes the big box even beats thrift shop there. Pays to shop and remember what each store is asking before you just buy.

Mar 19, 2013 9:21AM

Usually the only time I buy clothes from thrift stores is when they still have the new tag on it.  I have gotten a few pairs of designer jeans that way.  I also buy popular brands of clothing or shoes that I can re-sell on Ebay, and then make a pretty decent profit.  Also, used designer handbags.  I once bought a Coach for $8.00 and sold it online for $52.00.  I know that doesn't sound like much, but it all adds up.

Mar 18, 2013 5:18PM
I joined BOOKMOOCH.COM Now I trade my old books for unread book I want to read.Been a member for 5 years and LOVE IT
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.