For many people, when they think of thrift stores, they think of old musty clothes that are out of style. If that is what you picture, it has been too long since you have visited today's thrift shops! There are basically two types of thrift stores, the ones where items are donated, like the Goodwill or Salvation Army, and the ones where items are sold on consignment.
Let's start with the Goodwill/Salvation Army type! The quality of these types of places varies from area to area and some neighborhoods that have multiple stores can have good stores and horrible stores just blocks from each other. You need to survey your own neighborhood or the next one over and see if there is a difference in the layout, or cleanliness, or supply of good items. Prices for the same items can be really different from Goodwill to Goodwill as well. Find one you are comfortable with, or several that you can make the rounds to!
One Pro is that the items you donate are tax deductible. Get a receipt and write it off on your taxes. The best way to shop at one of these charity type stores is to give yourself plenty of time. Check out the websites or call the store you intend to visit. Usually three or four times a year they may have a special day where the entire store is half-off. Otherwise the sales are by tag color, and that changes every week.
Another Pro is that you can get some very high end items on the cheap. They often have real leather belts, purses and shoes in the .99 cent and up range. I've seen Prada, Kate Spade and Coach items at our Goodwill. Sometimes they know what it is and mark it up, other times its on the regular rack. The object is NOT to get your whole wardrobe from Goodwill, or the whole wardrobe for you family. Your goal should be to use these stores to build upon what you already have with accessories or key pieces that are more expensive in regular stores. You can also use stores like this to buy basics and save money for the specialty items you have your eye on. Mix in the Goodwill leather jacket with clothes from Kohl's or buy your khaki's there and buy the jackets and tops other places.
They are also great places to get children's items and household items like furniture. They often have snowsuits for young kids in like-new condition. They buy new goods from stores like target and sell them for 30-50% of the original price. So you can find rugs, lamps, electronics that are brand new still in the box. You don't get the target warranty, but you save tons of money.
I'll be honest, there are cons. Sometimes the stores are messy and disorganized, making it harder to find the size or style you want. You have to be patient and just assume you will have to look through the entire rack or all of the racks instead of just a few in your section like at regular stores. There will also be times when they have nothing you want. Their stock depends on donations, so they can't reorder snowsuits if they run out. So to maximize your chances of finding the good stuff, you may need to go more often, go early, and/or go regularly. You may also do better if you go with an open mind about what you will find rather than being determined to find the perfect blue purse.
Another con is often the location of these stores. They are often in older areas of the cities, or in more rundown buildings. In the area I grew up in, they are in the same buildings they were in 40 years ago. The areas are not always safe, and their mission is to provide lower priced items, not a beautiful place to shop like the malls do. Some stores are in beautiful new buildings or in high rent areas where this is not and issue, but just be aware that not all stores are created equal. To get around this, choose your store wisely, and take a friend with you, its more fun that way anyway!
ON TO THE CONSIGNMENT STORES! These are usually independent stores, much smaller than a Goodwill or Salvation Army. Some will carry just children's clothing, while others will specialize in women's or clothes for the whole family. There are some that carry decorative items or household items, but in my area they are mostly limited to clothing. So that is what I know and what I will concentrate on.
You can make some extra money! The consignment stores will accept your gently used items and sell them for you. They take a cut and you get a cut. The one I go to sends me a check every three months if I haven't used it in store credit. (which I usually do!) You can clear out the clutter and earn some pocket change or use it to buy the next size up for your kids or swap it for stuff you really need. It's a great deal and they do all the work, all I do is drop off a bag of clothes every so often!
Another pro is that the quality of the items is a step above the donation type stores. Simply because the other stores put out everything they get, and this type only accepts what it thinks will sell. They tend to be better organized, and set up more like a boutique. They will usually have an owner and salespeople so you can get to know them and/or get personalized help when you need it.
Like the other type of store, you are limited in the selection of available items. You can't just go buy what you want or need if they don't have it. Since their intake of items is even less than the larger charity stores, there may be a longer delay before they get in any new items.
Stores like these often have more limited hours than those at the mall. They may not be open on the weekends or they may only be open a few days a week, it all depends on the owner of that particular store.
Again, depending on how the store is run, it could be a great store or a very bad one. There are cases of stores closing without notice leaving customers in the lurch who left items with them. An owner or salesperson who is dishonest could short you on the money you made for example. There are stores that are not kept clean or where the clothing smells of smoke, but those stores won't be in business long. You just need to check out the ones in your area and choose the one that best fits what you have to sell and what you want to buy.
All in all, both types of stores provide additional options for us to meet the needs of our families without spending top dollar. You can earn some extra money or donate your unwanted items to charity, either way you clear out some clutter. You can find the pieces to build a unique wardrobe of high quality items for pennies on the dollar. There are no guarantees that you will find everything you need at these stores, but if you are willing to have an open mind, you might be delighted by what you discover!
Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on May 14, 2013:
Choose your neighbourhoods carefully. The wealthier the area the more likely you are to find high ticket items.
ladyjane1 from Texas on January 29, 2010:
Good advice thanx.
Betty Reid from Texas on November 20, 2009:
Good point about the household items. I always forget about that.