Thrift Like a Boss

Thrifting Guide
Hooray! The weekend is upon us – as well as spring! – making this the official start (by my calculations) of thrifting season. As I type this, picnic tables are being set up and dusted off for displaying treasures of all varieties, while signs of neon pink and orange are being pinned to telephone poles and hammered into thawing front lawns, respectively. The time has arrived, my friends!

What better way to get started this season than on the right foot? I’ve been combing garage sales, attending estate auctions, and antiquing for years and have picked up so many wonderful tips on the way that I thought I’d share them here so that you, too, can thrift like a boss. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned vet like myself, the above tips offer a fool-proof formula for having a successful thrift, or at least a really fun, well-planned day. In order to make a thrift worthwhile and finding the diamonds in the rough – and oh, can the roughs be rough! – follow along with the tips that best apply to you, what you’re looking for, and where you’re headed. You can even print the guide by clicking here for easy access.

Before we begin, I’ll clarify for the specific among us (forgive me, as I’m technically an academic and we love a disclaimer or elucidation of terms), that for the sake of this post and infographic, I’m going to use “thrifting” as a catch-all for picking of any variety, including yard & garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales, and the occasional stockpile uncovered in the homes of old relatives. Sound good? Great. Let’s get started!

1. Pick the right day: There’s no harm in calling ahead to thrift stores to find out when they put out their new merchandise each week and planning to visit on those days. Also, consider keeping an eye on their calendar for sales around holidays, which frequently offer upwards of 50% off specific categories. On the yard sale circuit, consider how the first day of the sale will make you privy to first dibs, but the last day means it’s far more likely sellers will be eager to negotiate and get stuff out the door. For estate sales, be sure to arrive early. Often, numbers are given out in order of those arriving a half hour prior to the start of the sale. When go-time comes, managers of the sale will often only let in a certain number of folks at a time. The closer you are to the front of the line, the more likely it is you’ll spot gold first!

2. Make a plan: If you’re trying to hit multiple sales in one day, plan accordingly. Whose sale has the most potential or has a photo online of an item you just have to have? Where do you want to go toward the end of the day when you can haggle with more ease? Where will you have lunch (clearly, the most important question)? Map your route, or have the addresses ready for you GPS, so that you’re not scrambling for information as you go from one place to the next.

3. Keep a list: I keep a tiny notebook in my purse at all times where I make notes to myself about things I need to remember or have to attend to, but I also have a few pages designated to key items I’m always on the look out for when thrifting. A vintage cart, for example, that I can turn into a small living room bar; a make-up vanity; additions for my growing teapot collection, etc. It serves as a refresher for triggering my memory if I glance at it quickly before heading off for a thrift and also acts as a journal of what I’ve actually managed to find, i.e. I keep a running tally of teapots I’ve scored so that I know where the line is between collector and hoarder. Pro-tips!

4. Dress for the pick: This might sound silly, but I was a Girl Scout for more years than I’d like to admit, so I’m big on always being prepared. There’s a disappointment in planning for a day of thrifting only to get overheated by a boiling, packed estate sale in summer or frozen out in a cold barn or basement when looking for finds in winter. It can disrupt the whole day or at least make you crabby, wanting to abandon shopping and head to lunch early. Dressing in layers helps solve this problem and also aids those in search for clothing items to strip down to an undershirt and try something on, as opposed to standing in long lines at the dressing rooms.

5. Consider supplies: Having the tools you might need on hand makes all the difference between guessing or passing something up because you’re unsure. Being able to measure a piece of furniture, or weighing your bedroom wall color against an antique quilt are invaluable pieces of information in helping you make smart decisions about what to buy and what to avoid. Part of thrifting like a boss is not wasting time and money on items that aren’t quite right or that won’t fit – either your body or your living situation! – so bring along some help in the way of measuring tapes, paint swatches, or even just dimensions, scribbled on a piece of paper.

6. Cover your ba$e$: Oy! To finally get to the front of the line with the treasure that ends all treasures, only to find out you don’t have the right kind of payment on you to seal the deal. Crushing! Having to drive all over town in a panicked search for an ATM is hardly anyone’s idea of a fun, thrifting day. Hit the bank or the ATM beforehand, and bring your checks and/or cards for good measure.

7. Bring good company: Unless you prefer to fly solo, of which there’s absolutely no shame, thrift with a pal. Bringing a beloved companion will help spot things you may have missed, encourage you to be confident in asking for a lower price, and will throw elbows if necessary.

8. Case the joint: This is true especially of thrift stores where there isn’t as much immediate competition. Taking a quick survey of what’s available in your desired departments allows you to know what’s up for grabs and ensures that you won’t miss that amazing pair of vintage shoes while you’re ushering in the hour mark hunting for pyrex in the home goods aisles.

9. Grab & go: As you make your way through a sale, pick up whatever appeals to you. You can make final decisions when you’re ready to tally up and head out, but you can’t always get back what you put down. If your hands get full, ask a clerk or the seller if you can stash unwieldy or delicate items up by them until you’re ready to check out. No one will ever say “no.”

10. Use your hands: Touch is such an underrated sense and one to really utilize to your advantage when picking. Especially when it comes to fabric, touch all the things! You never know what will feel really dreamy or inspire a piece of clothing’s use for another purpose, for example, just based on its feel. Also, be sure to move things around, dig through boxes. Get dirty and get up in there! I can’t tell you how many awesome things – linens, especially – I have found in boxes under tables, or an adorable plate stuck in a stack of horror shows. Plus, the hunt is half the fun! …And you can always pack anti-bacterial gel and wet wipes in your tool kit.

11. Be realistic: One time, I bought a huge box of vintage advertisements and a stockpile of old aprons convinced I was going to make my own side job selling these items on Etsy. It’s a great idea in theory, but I still have 200 immaculate vintage ads in my closet and a box of aprons laden with moth balls up in my mom’s attic. Being realistic about what you can accomplish and have the time and energy for will prevent you from making rookie mistakes like mine that waste your money and take up space for better things. If you’re unsure you have the time to strip and refinish that old coffee table, pass on it. That being said, don’t let basic skills like sanding and painting, stand in the way of purchasing something that needs some TLC. That’s what YouTube is for. Just try to be the best judge of what you’re able to take on and invest in.

12. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I’m all for haggling, or asking for a lower price on an item, but when doing so, be respectful. I say this after witnessing far too many episodes at estate sales where sellers are moved to tears or anger at someone haggling too hard or suggesting their loved one’s things are, literally, worthless. Administer some caution and care here, especially. There’s never harm in asking if a seller can go lower on a price, so long as it’s within reason. Also, I’ve found being a bit verbose about a particular item – how you’ve been looking for it forever, how it’s the perfect shade of green, how your grandmother had one just like it – does more good than harm. If a buyer feels a connection to you because of your connection to the item, they may just let you have it for that number you suggested! Remember, at the end of the day, at least half of the reason they’re having a sale in the first place is to get rid of stuff, so if your backbone feels a little soft, remember you’re providing them a service as much as they’re providing one for you.

I’m sure there are plenty more fantastic tips out there that I haven’t touched on or even thought of. What are your strategies when you go thrifting? What are your best finds and your biggest flops? Do tell!