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10 Tips for Smart Shopping at Yard Sales and Thrift Stores

Timing can be key for deals

"Buy low, sell high," is gospel when it comes to investing in the stock market. But when I'm in the market for almost everything else, I say, "Buy used, not abused."

See also: Make planning yard sales a family affair.

I'm a huge fan of shopping at both yard sales and thrift stores for everything from clothing and furniture to housewares, appliances, and office equipment, These are the cheapskate shopping venues where I find gently used items that routinely save me 50 percent or more compared to the same items purchased new.

At yard sales, you never know what you'll find, which can be a blessing and a curse. If you like to browse and search for one-of-a-kind treasures at bargain prices, shopping at yard sales should turn you on and save you money.

But if you're in the market for a specific item—say a pair of shoes in your size—you could burn up tanks of gas and time scouring yard sales and still not find what you want. For some purchases, thrift stores may be the better option.

Like regular department stores, most thrift stores carry a range of used items, including clothing, housewares, and furniture. There are more than 5,000 thrift or secondhand stores in the United States. Most of them are operated by charitable organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other nonprofits. The following online directories can help you find thrift stores nearby:

Don't be shy about shopping at thrift stores. They're not just for economically disadvantaged customers. In fact, nonprofit thrift stores need all the customers they can get, since their goal is to liquidate donated merchandise as quickly as possible in order to get the funds they need to carry out their mission-based work. You'd actually support the charity by shopping in the store.

Here are my top-10 tips for finding the true bargains at yard sales and thrift stores:

  • Location, location, location. Yard sales and thrift stores in upscale neighborhoods often have higher quality, brand-name merchandise.
  • At yard sales, if you snooze, you lose. Show up for yard sales as soon as they open for business—maybe even a bit earlier.Otherwise, you might miss out on some bargains.
  • Shop early in the week at thrift stores for the best selection. Many people drop off donated merchandise over the weekend, and it's put out for sale at the start of the workweek.
  • Haggling is in. Don't be afraid to ask for lower prices on items at yard sales or thrift stores; many times, prices are negotiable.
  • Leave your number. If you see an item at a yard sale and the owner says he or she isn't willing to meet your price, leave your name and phone number. This way, the owner can contact you when the sale is over. Often times, if items haven't sold, the owner may reconsider your offer.
  • Try before you buy. Yard sales and thrift stores rarely allow you to return merchandise after you've purchased it, so try on the clothing, test the appliances, measure the furniture, and inspect all merchandise carefully before you buy.
  • Deals on office supplies. Thrift stores are often a great place to find quality, used office equipment and computers, since many businesses are image conscious and donate equipment as soon as it becomes the least bit dated.
  • Try consignment as an option. Consignment or resale shops are stores where individuals sell their used items and split the proceeds with the shop owners. The quality and condition of merchandise at consignment shops is usually superior to that at thrift stores, since consignment shops tend to be selective in what they accept for resale.
  • Big bargains at church and charity sales. Yard sales sponsored by churches and other charities often have better prices than privately operated yard sales, since these are intended to be fundraisers, and the goal is to sell everything.
  • Look out for sales and promotions. Many thrift stores have a sale day every week, so be sure to ask. For example, at a local thrift store that I patronize, every Wednesday all clothing is half price. What a deal!

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.