How To Shop At Thrift Stores Like A Pro

Oh thrift stores, I love you so.

I get two and a half hours of free time 4 mornings a week while my twins are at preschool. So far this year, most of that time has been spent in thrift stores, AKA, my happy place. Once I became a mom, I started shopping at every kids consignment store that I could find. From there, I began checking out the local thrift stores and I was hooked. I swear there must be people who buy new things and then donate them immediately. So many products either look new or still have the tags on.

At this point, I rarely buy clothes for my three boys in stores other than thrift stores. Young kids are so hard on clothes, there’s no need to spend much money on them. They still look like adorable models from time to time!

In light of the approaching holiday season, I’ve recently started collecting stocking stuffers, birthday and Christmas gifts. The following is a full list of items that I look for or see in thrift stores on a regular basis. Not only is thrift shopping fun, but you can really snag a variety of wonderful items for a fraction of the cost!


Kids Clothing

  • Clothes, shoes, and winter gear for the boys! Why do they grow so dang fast?!  If I see a good pair of snow boots, soccer cleats, a winter coat, or a ski bib, I grab those even if they’re a size or two big. Sooner or later we are definitely going to need them.

Pro Tip: Seasonal items disappear quickly, so buy them while the gettins’ good! The best time is usually right when the season is changing.  Don’t wait for the first snow or you’ll end up at Target paying full price.


  • Board games, puzzles!  Some of the games look rough around the edges, but I have found Melissa and Doug puzzles and many games still in shrink wrap for around $2.  Those types of  items are perfect to grab for birthday presents for friends or for your own kids’ birthdays, Christmas gifts, or rainy day surprises. Even if they have been used, many of them are still in gift giving shape.  Just be sure to open them up to verify that all of the pieces are there.
  • Kids books! My oldest just turned 8 and thank goodness he loves to read. I now check the chapter books for him every time I go to the thrift store. I found a favorite hardback book last week for less than $2 and wrapped it up for his birthday. The book was in perfect condition.
  • Craft Supplies! Markers, crayons, paper, coloring books, straws, popsicle sticks, craft kits, paint, beads… you name it!  A fun gift of craft supplies can easily be built here.
  • Toys! Some thrift stores will group small items, bag them and sell them together for one price.  This is a good way to grab a group of My Little Ponies, Transformers, Hot Wheels, or baby toys. One of my favorite finds has been doll house furniture and a wooden doll house/book shelf that I “flipped” for two of my favorite little girls for their birthday. I also bought a train table for $14.00.

Pro Tip: The regular toy sections can be hit or miss at thrift stores. Consignment stores are usually a better option for toys and safe baby gear.

How To Thrift Shop Like A Pro


  • Books, books, books! There are so many books to be found, including a mother load of parenting books. Grab a couple of your favorites for the new mom in your life. Check thrift stores first for fiction books too.
  • Workout clothes for myself and my husband! My best advise and it applies for any thrifted clothes, give them a sniff before you buy. Workout and sports gear can get funky and the smell won’t wash out folks. I’ve tried bleach and everything else in the past. Oh, and for the love of bicycle shorts, do NOT buy undergarments at a thrift store. We have to draw the line somewhere, so please no sniffing at Goodwill! 😉
  • Winter gear, t-shirts and jeans! I have a London Fog coat that I found for $15 and several of my friends check on a regular basis for name brand jeans.
  • Pro sports jerseys and shirts! There is typically a good selection of pro sports clothing for the whole family, in fact I just wrapped a Seahawks sweatshirt as another birthday present for my son!


  • Small furniture items! Always check here first for things like side tables, book shelves, and stools.  Lamps are a pretty regular item as well. With the exception of the bed, I just furnished our entire guest room with thrift store findings.
  • Curtains! I’ve seen many beautiful curtains in thrift stores. The good news is that they seem to be donated in sets of two panels. Check out these Star Wars curtains for just $4.99!
How To Shop At Thrift Stores Like A Pro
  • Kitchen gear! Stores typically carry metal utensils, cookie sheets, ceramic baking dishes, glassware, mason jars, and holiday serving dishes. I’ve bought funnels, small metal pots, spoons, whisks, and ice cream scoops for the kids to play with in the dirt and water over the summer.
  • Organization! Folks, buy your baskets at thrift shops! My husband hates baskets, but he loves me so I still buy baskets. This is also where I buy plastic hangers and containers.
  • Picture frames! I see like-new frames all the time. We all know grandparents just want photos of their amazing offspring for Christmas. Have them printed from your phone at a pharmacy and throw them in thrifted frames for Christmas presents.

Occasionally, you’ll come across something fun like this ceramic popcorn bowl that I found for $3.99. My friend Julie suggested filling it with snacks and movie tickets to donate to the school for their yearly auction night.  I love that idea!

For the Pets

  • Pet food storage containers! I bought containers on casters for dog and cat food. The one I found most recently was $3.99 in excellent condition.
  • Crates and carriers! Our dog could escape from her metal crate so I found a large plastic one for $19.99 at the thrift store after pricing them earlier in the week at a pet store chain for $99. I see these large and small on a regular basis.
  • Food bowls!
  • Used tennis balls!

For Entertaining

  • Glassware, serving dishes and trays for days! There are whole sets of dishes or plenty to mix and match. Check for a separate seasonal section.
  • Tablecloths!

The key to successful thrift shopping is to go often and be patient. Items come and go quickly. Some stores even have rewards programs, punch cards and regular sales.  Get on their email list to catch those sales.

Don’t forget to give back!

When the kids have once again outgrown everything, donate it to someone else in need or to the same store you bought it. Once they get bored with certain games, puzzles, books and toys, donate those too. It all comes full circle! When my oldest was a toddler, we used to have a turtle night light that projected stars onto the ceiling. It finally died. I found one this week identical to the one we had. It powered on in the store, but not super bright.  I bought it for around $2.99, changed the batteries and voila! Now the little boys want the door shut at bedtime – winning!

Now go get that cup of coffee, mama – you earned it!

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4 thoughts on “How To Shop At Thrift Stores Like A Pro”

  1. Mom

    Thank you so much for this terrific post! Thrift shopping is wonderful in so many ways, and you’ve listed some great tips for those who are less experienced. Plus, each item is recycled and not cluttering up our environment with unwanted things. I’m especially happy that the two church-sponsored thrift shops that I support have each generated $100,000 a year. The proceeds, after expenses, goes to a number of local and international aide groups such as as an inner city health center and school. Everybody wins when we thrift shop!

    1. Renee Hamrick

      Thank you! Wow, those churches are making a huge difference!

  2. I am all over thrift stores! All of our games are from thrifting! Who wants to pay $20 for a crappy game when the 1990s versions are way better quality. While I havent had much luck lately, I go there for all my jeans, since I plan to get skinnier and do not want to invest in new ones … but the skinner never happens! Thanks for re-inspring me to get out there!

  3. Colleen Lanin

    My daughter prefers thrift stores and hallelujah! It’s so much better for the environment & the pocketbook.

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