Thrift Shopping: From Small Finds to Hidden Treasures

Thrift shopping: from small finds to hidden treasure

Need to do some shopping but hate to pay full price?

Welcome to thrift-store shopping - where you can enjoy the thrill of deep discounts...all year long. (Without having to wait for the out of season sale).

Many items today are safe for resale because they outlast more than one owner.

As an added bonus, when we recycle and reuse old items, we help save the environment because we keep them out of the landfill.

In some provinces, like Ontario, even sales tax is excluded from thrift store purchases. Many thrift stores are actually operated by nonprofit organizations that receive donated items and resell them for money to fund their operations.

With non-profit thrift stores, everyone wins: we stay on budget; support a good cause; and care for our environment. One caveat?

Carefully inspect the items you plan to purchase for defects before you buy them.

Two Of My Favourite Finds

This may be a surprise - you can find brand new items in thrift stores.

A few years ago, I purchased a huge aluminum manual dough mixer complete with the attachments and instructions for only $5 - that helped me dodge spending over $200 on an electric mixer:


Then there’s the Whirley Pop stovetop manual popcorn popper? I paid $5.99 for that - it sells for over $40 online.

Both the mixer and the popper were new when I bought them.

Types Of Thrift Stores

Once you scout out the thrift stores in your neighborhood, you’ll notice the different types of operations.

You have your big chains like Value Village, religious and charity stores, and independently-owned shops.

Large chain stores, such as Value Village, Talize and Goodwill are typically for profit but partner with community nonprofit groups to supply some amount of funding to their organizations. With Value Village for example, the nonprofit group receives a bulk rate on goods they supply to Value Village through their community donations.

Other large chains, like Salvation Army, take in donations from the community, and all profit outside of business expenses goes back into charity funding. If you’d like to see your purchases make a difference in the community, Salvation Army stores are a great place to shop.

Church operated stores typically depend on community donations for stock - as evidenced by their pricing. Because of limited storage space, they want to keep their merchandise moving. Don’t want to miss out on the best deals? Visit often and keep an eye out for signage advertising sales near the front of these stores.

Independently-owned stores often purchase their inventory through bulk clothing suppliers if they don’t accept community donations, and may be unable to mark prices down that much. These stores will also advertise sales using storefront signage, and possibly through your local newspaper. They also take advantage of free advertising through social media and online classified sites - so you may want to keep up with them through Facebook and Kijiji as well.

Beyond Great Thrift Prices

Opportunities for deals can vary by the type of thrift store. Let’s go through each one…

Deals @ Large Chain Stores

Large chain stores tend to have loyalty cards and websites with coupons for their customers.

Value Village has a loyalty card where you register with your name and email address online. They then email you a confirmation letter, which you take to your local store to obtain your loyalty card. Value Village will send you email alerts for insider sales for loyalty card holders, and sometimes will open their stores early for cardholders on the day of a big 50% off sale or even occasionally run member-only sales.

Talize has daily specials in store, as well as their own customer loyalty card. With the Talize card, you collect 20 points for every dollar you spend. These points can then be redeemed anytime in store at a rate of 1000 points per dollar of savings.

Salvation Army makes coupons available to their customers via their website, changing them monthly. When you submit your email, they will also send you alerts for their special sale days as well. Not only that, but some stores offer a loyalty card that they will stamp each purchase. When the card is full, you receive a percentage off the next purchase.

Smaller Salvation Army stores may not participate in either the loyalty card or coupon program. But these stores may still hold great sales days. One of my favorite small town stores used to hold bag sales, where you could fill an indoor white garbage bag full of clothes for $5, or a larger black bag for $10. It was an incredible opportunity for me at the time to stock up on larger sizes of clothes for my children. They were toddlers at the time, and we all know the growth rate of a toddler!

Salvation Army is my favorite large chain store, simply because of the percentage of the incoming funds that actually goes towards charity work. They rate higher than all the others, because they are not just partnered with the charity, they are the charity. Their administration costs are low, the tax breaks their businesses receive go back into the community funding pot, plus they employ locally in their thrift stores. A dollar can never be wrongly spent with them.

My mother still tells me a story from her childhood, when the family suffered a devastating house fire. It happened during a winter’s night in rural Nova Scotia, and her parents and 16 siblings escaped with only the clothes on their backs. The Salvation Army were on the scene even before the Red Cross, and gave them everything they needed to recover. She always tears up when mentioning their kindness, and neither of us ever pass one of their Christmas kettles without donating.

Deals @ Church Operated Stores

I believe the same good can be spoken of the smaller church operated thrift shops you may see around your neighborhoods, or the occasional church basement sale or bazaar. The shops may also hold sale days, some others I have seen have had bag sales as well. The prices are usually very low, and there is a wide variety of items due to the nature of the donations.

These types of church store sales are a perfect opportunity for people to save on household items, clothing and even the odd vintage or antique item. Since they are also non-profit, normally everything outside of operating costs benefits the local community through the church.

Deals @ Individually Owned Stores

There are shops owned by individuals as well. Some source their goods through donations, others buy clothing in bulk from companies that pay charities for bulk donations. These stores are often owned by residents in the community, and purchasing from them will help the local economy. Supporting these stores can help to create jobs in the area, and they often have the same great sales that church operated stores have. The key is to watch the storefront for signage, check the local classified ads and ask! Just by talking with the owners, you can get a heads up on some great sales.

4 Tips When Shopping Thrift

There are some things you can do while thrift shopping to ensure you always get great bang for your buck:

  1. Always try it on before you buy. This can be daunting, because thrift stores can be busy and there may be a bit of a wait for a change room. Assemble a good sized pile of clothing to try on, to save making multiple trips. No matter how little you paid - if it doesn’t fit you properly, you haven’t saved anything.
  2. Check the mirror closely for defects. Minor tears or unraveled stitching may be easily repaired. It pays to be thorough upfront so a purchase doesn’t result in wasted money.
  3. Is this a need or a want? Chances are high that you may not need another kitchen gadget if you have a collection of unused kitchenware. When prices are this low, it’s easy to get carried away - so it helps to when we stay focused.
  4. Some things are not meant to be purchased thrift. For safety reasons, used baby items like cribs and car seats should always be purchased new. Helmets - from a child's bicycle helmet to an adult motorcycle helmet - should be purchased new as well. Helmets are rated to be safe for one crash or hit, and you never know what a used helmet has been through before it came to be in the thrift store. When it comes to safety items, please use an extra degree of caution.

I’d love to hear of some of your great finds while thrift store shopping - leave a comment below.

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Becky's picture

Danier Leather is currently going out of business and has supposedly great deals. I visited one of their stores and saw rather high prices. Fortunately, I had already bought a long leather jacket in mint condition from the Salvation Army, a month back. Because the SA gives out a coupon (spend 25 dollars and get 10 dollars off) when someone donates items, I got the jacket for 20 dollars, instead of 30. Normally, that coat could've cost me about 300-400 dollars regular price.

April 19, 2016 @ 12:44 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

One thing you have to be careful of with going out of business sales, is that stores often sell their entire inventory to companies that specialize in liquidizing and closing stores. Prices can actually go up when this happens. They have a set model for pricing that they follow.

They start with flashy huge store closing signs with pretty minimal percentage discounts and then ramp up the discounts as the final closing date gets closer and closer. That way they are able to generate a buzz, maximize profits, and still clear most of the inventory before the store closes. The store itself still makes probably about as much as they would have otherwise because they just aren't as good at doing a going out of business sale as these pros are.

Your leather jacket sounds like a great find at the Salvation Army!

April 19, 2016 @ 1:20 pm
Becky's picture

I actually forgot about how these stores hire companies to sell their items. It was certainly working well for Danier leather. One of the sales associates told me that they had already sold a lot of their inventory: people were buying fast and furiously. Well not everyone . . . I certainly wasn't.

April 19, 2016 @ 6:58 pm
Christine's picture

We have a small Salvation Army Thrift store here in our small town. We get t-shirts there all the time and my boys get jeans there. They have tag sales where a certain colour tag is 25% off that day. I actually make money off them as a fellow that used to work with hubby buys jeans there for work and he is rather short, especially in the leg dept. so he buys a couple of pair at a time, brings them to me and I shorten things for him. Five dollars a pair for me to shorten the pants and he is happy as a clam!!
Our younger son worked there for a while and we know everyone there. We shop there and donate there as well.
There is also a second hand place next to the Thrift store, I'm not a fan of the place. The woman that runs it burns I sense there all the time and it stinks in there.....she rubs me the wrong way too for some reason. I tend to get a head ache just walking in so I don't go in.

April 19, 2016 @ 10:34 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yes, I think you need to evaluate each thrift store individually and decide which ones give you both good value and a good experience. Thanks for sharing your story.

April 20, 2016 @ 3:20 pm
Irene's picture

Don't just look at the clothes. I have found expensive rings, earrings and necklaces at Value Village. I saw a silver ring set with real gemstones and white sapphires for sale for $12. I passed it over because I had one like it already that I had brought on sale downtown for $90 about ten years earlier. I did buy an expensive necklace instead for the same amount as well as an opal ring.that I gave my daughter for a present.

April 23, 2016 @ 3:41 pm
Maria Weyman
Maria Weyman's picture

That's a great tip Irene - never thought about finding jewelry at a thrift store before. I'd imagine you'll need a trained eye to do this...But it sounds like it's worth a look. 

April 24, 2016 @ 9:08 pm

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