5 Cool Thrift Store Finds -- What to Look For and What's a Good Deal

By: Sara Elliott

Shop early and often.
Shop early and often.

It's a fine Saturday morning, and untold bargains are out there waiting for you. You're wearing a pair of comfortable shoes, have some discretionary cash in your pocket -- and there's plenty of room in your car's trunk to transport your booty. Life, as they say, is very good.

If you're a thrift store diva, a garage sale maven or a budding antique tracker, the thrill of the hunt beats hanging around the house washing windows any day. Let's take a look at five thrift store finds that should be on your wish list.


4: Depression Glass

Quality wood pieces are among the most sought-after and satisfying thrift store finds. The competition is fierce, though. It isn't uncommon for the pros to buy items right off the dock before a thrift store even opens for business. Don't be discouraged, though. There are still plenty of collectible, vintage and antique furniture finds out there. Here's how to find them:

  • Shop early. Visit resellers as soon as they open, and make a habit of visiting often. That way, you'll know the types of goods they typically deal in. You'll also develop a rapport with the staff and get the scoop on juicy details, like when big deliveries are expected.
  • Learn everything you can. A wood furniture education will take a little effort, but the more you know, the better equipped you'll be to spot a real bargain when you see one. Wood furniture made over a century ago is considered antique. If a piece was produced before 1830, it's likely handmade, too. These early specimens are made of solid hardwood and not veneers. Whether you're on the lookout for an antique or just want a sturdy worktable for the basement, always inspect wood pieces for insect activity, water damage and dry rot before you reach for your wallet.
  • Don't hesitate. Take detailed notes about your décor, including useful measurements. Collect fabric swatches, carpet samples and anything else you think may help you make an informed buying decision. You'll always be prepared for the next great find.


3: Vintage Textiles

You can always head to the fabric store to buy material for that decorative pillow, but where's the fun in that? Thrift stores are full of all kinds of fabric and accessories -- at great bargains. If you're into sewing, zippers, lace, buttons, ruffles and other expensive baubles are available on old garments for a fraction of what it would cost to buy them new. Even better, donated bridesmaid dresses, wedding dresses, prom dresses and winter gear are a fabric bonanza of quality wools, silks, heavy cottons and velvets that you can upcycle into home décor and garment projects.

As with most thrift store fare, inspect items carefully for stains (even in linings) and insect activity. If you're planning on wearing a recycled garment as is, check to make sure the snaps, zippers and buckles actually work. Verify that all of the buttons are accounted for, too. Don't rely on the size tag as a determiner of fit, either. Sizes, particularly in women's clothing, have changed over the years. Try on the garment (over your clothes, if necessary) to check for fit.


2: Jewelry Booty

You never know what treasures you can find.
You never know what treasures you can find.

You probably already know that a real diamond cuts glass, but were you aware that real pearls have a slightly rough feel when rubbed along your tongue or the inside of your wrist? You may not think that gold or precious gems would make it to the bargain bowl of your friendly neighborhood thrift store, but stranger things have happened. Is it a long shot? Sure, but the idea of unexpected treasure is so beguiling that it may be worth a look just for fun. You don't have to be on the lookout for a once-in-a-lifetime find to enjoy perusing the thrift store jewelry counter. Costume jewelry that's so old it's back in style can be found -- you may be able to buy a bag of the stuff for a dollar. If you're into jewelry making, consider it an inexpensive source for interesting supplies.


1: The Kitschy and Unexpected

If you're a crafter with a bent for the quirky and curious, thrift stores offer an amazing opportunity to indulge yourself. A pile of tarnished silverware can be repurposed into wind chimes with the help of a drill and a few wires. A cracked ceramic pot can become a planter. A collection of mismatched wooden spoons can be reborn as a kitchen collage. You never know what you'll find on a thrift store shelf to fire your imagination. When you're contemplating your purchases:

  • Don't have too many projects in process at once. Otherwise, your garage could start looking like a thrift shop, or worse -- the city dump.
  • You'll make fewer expensive mistakes if you specialize in a few key areas, like woodworking or textiles. That way, you'll accumulate the expert tools and knowledge you need over time. Your projects will go easier that way and turn out better, too.
  • Keep a wish list of items you're looking for. If you collect thimbles (garden gnomes, candleholders or picture frames), keep a list of what you have and what you need. Check your list every time you shop so you don't miss out on anything -- or duplicate your efforts.
  • Negotiate price. Don't be shy about asking for a lower price. Depending on the shop, prices may be pretty flexible. You won't know until you ask.
  • Take cash with you. Thrift stores and other second-hand merchandise outlets can be easier to shop when you're using cash in small denominations. It'll make for a smoother, safer and faster transaction.
  • Ask about returns. Some thrift shops have a limited return policy. The timeframe is usually around 48 to 72 hours, but that's better than nothing. It'll give you a little insurance in case you get that vase home and discover it has a nasty crack on the bottom.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Online Encyclopedia Britannica. "Antique." (5/25/11).http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/28543/antique
  • A La Modern. "10 Things You May Be Missing At The Thrift." 1/11/11. (5/25/11).http://alamodern.com/10-things-you-may-be-missing-at-the-thrift-1228/
  • Allen, Deborah M. "Down from the Attic, Up from the Cellar - Discovering the Colors of Depression Glass." Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine. (5/25/11).http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/dpglass.htm
  • Antiques.com. "Understanding Antiques Terminology." (5/25/11).http://www.antiques.com.au/articles/understanding-antiques-terminology/
  • Build a Home. "What's the Difference Between Antique and Vintage?" (5/25/11).http://www.buildahomeblog.com/2010/03/what-is-the-difference-between-antique-and-vintage/
  • Coffey, Sarah. "10 Common Thrift Store Finds." (5/26/11).http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/chicago/10-common-thrift-store-finds-and-how-to-use-them-for-diy-projects-108240
  • Coffey, Sarah. "10 Common Thrift Store Finds." Apartment Therapy.2/8/10. (5/25/11).http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/chicago/10-common-thrift-store-finds-and-how-to-use-them-for-diy-projects-108240
  • Consumer Reports. "How to Bargain at Flea Markets." 5/26/08. (5/25/11).http://news.consumerreports.org/money/2008/05/flea-market-tip.html
  • Dover Jewelry. "The Difference Between Antique and Vintage Jewelry." (5/25/11).http://www.doverjewelry.com/antique-vintage-difference
  • Federal Trade Commission. "Antiques: How to Shop Wisely." 4/08. (5/25/11).http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt039.shtm
  • Loomis, Frank Farmer. "Secrets to Affordable Antiques." Krause Publications. 2004.
  • PBS - Antiques Roadshow. "Glossary." (5/25/11).http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/glossary/index.html
  • Suzie-Max. "Depression Glass Companies." (5/26/11).http://www.suziemax.com/Depression-Glass-Companies.html