What To Buy (and Not Buy) at Thrift Stores

We all love to save a buck, and thrift stores can be real treasure troves if you know what to look for. But they are also full of used items you shouldn’t bother spending even two cents on. Here are some ideas regarding what to buy—and not buy—at your favorite local Goodwill.


  • Wool sweaters. Unless they’re pilly or worn thin, sweaters usually have a lot of life left in them. Buying them used can save you a bundle. Wash them in Woolite and dry them with Dryel before you wear them.
  • Coffee mugs. Mugs are a dime a dozen, almost literally, so don’t bother paying top dollar for new ones. Plus, the castoffs you’ll find at thrift stores will probably have charmingly offbeat sayings or designs on them to make you smile in the morning.
  • Brands you trust. If you’re buying used, you know that the clothes you’re looking at have had to stand up to a little beating already. The only way to know they’ll stand up to more is if they are of quality construction. Look for well-made brands like L.L. Bean, J. Crew, and Banana Republic.
  • Baby clothes. Babies grow out of clothes way before they wear them out, so most of the thrift store finds for little ones are practically new. This can be a great way to liven up your infant’s wardrobe without spending a mint on designer fashions.
  • Maternity clothes. Like babies, pregnant woman stop having a need for their clothes well before they wear them thin, so the quality of used maternity gear is usually good. Buying this stuff new can get very expensive; a thrift store is the perfect alternative.

Don’t Buy

  • Metal kitchen utensils. Kitchen items found at thrift stores are usually of unknown provenance and may well have already been used within an inch of their lives. Metal bakeware may show spots of rust as soon as you get it home, and metal silverware may not be stainless, ready to leach who-knows-what onto your tongue.
  • Raingear. Waterproofing is easily compromised, especially on newfangled gear that depends on coatings of various kinds instead of old-fashioned rubber linings. But even linings can easily crack and develop leaks along the seams if they garments are worn heavily. Used rubber boots are also susceptible to leakage. Ultimately, it’s better to buy this stuff new.
  • Complicated toys. Used toys that have a lot of moving parts or many small pieces are almost guaranteed to be ready to break or already missing a few elements when you buy them. The last thing you want is to buy Junior a new dump truck only to have the truck bed detach because the plastic hinge has been stressed from overuse. Simple, sturdy, well-constructed toys, especially those used by low-impact kids like babies, are better bets.
  • Clothes from cheap brands. Certain brands aren’t meant for the long haul, so by the time they reach their second (or third) owner, they’re on their last legs. Unless you want holes developing and seams unraveling as soon as you get the goods home, avoid clothes from places like H&M, Old Navy, and Target.

What are you favorite thrift store finds? Are there certain items you always look for or avoid?

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