Thrift Store Shopping Suggestions

Thrift stores, garage sales, and swap meets can be wildly addictive. I've found, however, that strategic planning can help maximize the likelihood of success. While the following suggestions are geared more towards the non-clothes segment of ultra-discount shopping, such tips apply for many situations.

1. Use a calendar, or get a routine going. Days off are an obvious bet, but some of the for profit stores (at least in the NY/NJ/CT metro area) stay open until 9pm or so. For-profit stores work best under the scheduling system, since non-for-profit stores tend to keep uniform pricing. Be especially attentive to periodic clearances and what I call the "day of the week" rhythm. One chain store near me has $1 day Monday, furniture clearance Thursday, etc. Clothes less frequently enter the day of the week system since clothes seem to be at the heart of most ultra-discount retailers.

2. Being extra nice to employees or volunteers at stores can gain you access to the pricing rotation. Sometimes workers even carry placards which interpret color, numerical, or cryptic codes which correspond to pricing. Once a basic knowledge of the pricing system is gained, it's easy to feel the pricing pulse of a store and develop intuition as to what's a good deal and what's not. Also, intuitively understanding the codes marked on items that are unmarked with a numbered price tag (in currency) reduces shopping time in the store. This technique is great if you want to get a jump start on a sale by arriving early.

3. Don't be afraid to haggle. While the Salvation Army and for-profit stores may not go for this, small shops (especially second-hand bookshops) may allow this. Get to know the owner/manager of a shop, and perhaps you may get good deals on less frequently circulated items.

4. Finally, bring a friend or work with a friend. Though I've had limited success in getting others to help me, sometimes coordinated shopping works. For chain stores that provide periodic sales, especially three day clearances, use distributed scheduling. That is, take a day each, or go to different stores on different days. Sometimes it's good to share items missing in personal collections, etc. Yet as friendships go, ugly fights may brew over who gets the lime green Panasonic radio first.