Want to furnish your home on a budget? Start with the aisles of the thrift store. Here are some of my favorite thrift store shopping tips.

thrift store shopping tips

The other day I was visiting my friend and we were laughing and telling each other that we needed to bring stirrup pants back and that Saved By the Bell was the best show in the universe and should we start wearing scrunchies again.

And mid hair accessory conversation, I noticed her table.

It was chippy and distressed and had character and personality and joie de vivre.

I told her it was amazing and that all tables should get in line behind it and asked her where she got it.

how to shop at a thrift store with these thrift store shopping tips

She looked down and avoided my gaze.

As if she was sad.  As if she didn’t want to talk.  As if she was embarrassed to answer the question.

Then timidly, quietly, softly she said, “I got it at a thrift store.”

best thrift store shopping tips


That beautiful, wonderful, incredible, fifth-avenue looking table came from a thrift store?

And she was embarrassed?


I grinned and laughed and told her I already thought the table was amazing and standing ovation awesome, but when she told me it came from a thrift store….

…it made me love it so much more.

blue chairs found with best thrift store shopping tips

Here’s a little after of my latest thrift store chairs.

You can read their story here.

You can take my yard sale tour here.

And for everyone who’s ever been a little overwhelmed at the thought of shopping at yard sales or estate sales or thrift stores, here are some of my best shopping tips.

How to distress wood

1.  Be prepared

Pack a little shopping kit and keep it in your car.

Here’s what I have in mine:

  • measuring tape (in case you have to measure)
  • a list of measurements for things you are looking for
  • plastic bags (in case you need to wrap up delicate items in your car)
  • screwdriver (in case you need to take something apart)
  • hand sanitizer (no explanation needed)

Blue Chairs

2.  Don’t look at color

So many times the shape or size or texture of a piece is perfect, but the color throws me off.

As in look away and don’t look back.

I’ve had to train myself to look beyond the color to the actual piece I’m buying.

Color can be changed.

Incredible, carved legs or a planked top can not.

Blue and white pillow

3.  Think groupings

So many times you find a zillion of something that you never thought that you needed.

That zillion could look really amazing all grouped together on a wall.

One time I found all these old letterpress stamps for almost nothing.

One letterpress stamp?  Kind of lame.

A zillion of them stacked in a wooden container and hung on the wall?  Amazing.

Chair with pillow

4.  Grab a cart

I don’t know why.  I’m not saying this makes sense.

But I have so much better luck when I grab a cart at the entrance.

Maybe it opens up my mind a little?

Sometimes I just put things in the cart and drive them around and decide later if I want to buy them.

But I couldn’t do that if I didn’t have a cart.

outdoor dining table place setting

5.  Always ask

If the price looks a little high?

Ask if this is the best price they have.

Most of the time they are pricing things a little higher just in case you ask.

And the dollar that you save when they come down a little?

You’ll need it for the milk glass container at the next stop. 🙂

dining al fresco

And now?

What about you?

Do you have yard sale tips or thrift shopping tips or an amazing thrift store finds?

Amazing shoppers have to stick together. 🙂

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Wendy Wendy

    Love the tips! I always do the cart tip...that way no one else can snag my treasures while I'm deciding if I "really need to take this home...and if I really LOVE it! Have to admit that yard sales intimidate me a bit...but I'm working on that!

  2. Image for Christel Kirk Brubacher Christel Kirk Brubacher

    I always dress down a little for fleemarkets/thrift shopping. Especially my favorit worn out shoes love to get out once in a while! And they help me getting abetter price :-)

  3. Image for Rose Rose

    I have a great estate sale story - My husband & I went down the street - I'm talking 1/2 mile down the street, and looked at the thing they had displayed for the estate sale - There was a drop leaf table with lots of goodies on it. The table is what I fell in love with. So I asked ~ is this for sale, she said yes ~ I was so happy. Always wanted a drop leaf table. Pete (my guy) said OK - went back to the house brought with him saran wrap, bungee cords & a dolly I'm thinking what is he doing with that - very smart guy - he put the drop leaf table on the dolly wrapped it with saran wrap, then put the bungee cords around it, and proceeded to walk it up the street. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen, but its painted Annie Sloan "Old White" and looks beautiful in our bedroom. Thanks for listening to my long story, but I know you would appreciate it. https://muchloverose.wordpress.com/2015/11/21/our-new-master-bedroom/ It's the table next to the bed. Have a wonderful day Rose

  4. Image for Christopher Christopher

    I am just the opposite with a cart. If I don't grab one, then I end up with an armload of stuff and have to go back and get one. I always have to be different! lol

  5. Image for Libby Libby

    After you walk down a store aisle, or through a room at an estate sale, go the other direction on your second time through - I always see different things than I saw on my first pass!

  6. Image for Debra Debra

    What perfect timing! I'm heading past a local thrift store this morning that I've always wanted to check out but never have. You've given me the push I needed. (BTW, I've always got a tape measure in my handbag and another in my glove box.)

  7. Image for Rowena Philbeck Rowena Philbeck

    Great tips. I love thrift store shopping. I do usually make one trip around to check things out then I get serious!! I usually just go with nothing in mind but always find something to bring home. I go to garage sales and get my best finds lately. Tables, unique bookshelf..all for like 5.00 to 10.00 each. Then begin to milk paint them. Love doing that!! I think your idea of screw driver, tape is a great idea. I have a real thing lately for little tables too. Thanks again!!

  8. Image for Susan Susan

    My daughters and I were at an outdoor shopping site and saw a big galvanized basket on a gorgeous iron stand--to the tune of over 100.00. I kept on looking as we thought it neat for drinks at family parties, etc. Kept looking, and found an old iron portable t.v. stand that had arms that extended out, somewhat like my folks had when I was young. Went over, got the galvanized basket to see if it would fit, as I had one at home in my shed. This stand was a mere 15.00 and basket fit perfectly. Put the basket back, bought the stand, have used it for two parties with another one in the planning. Daughters thought I might be a little wacky, until this drink container(by the way, on wheels) has become our first go-to when we plan a party. It is getting powder coated this winter in a pretty barn red color, and it will be good to go for a long time.

  9. Image for Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces

    Love how the chairs turned out! I always grab a cart, too...think positive. One of my hints...always check the area with the ratty wreaths and fake plants...I have found some wonderful vintage planters and vases hiding there. Also many places offer a coupon when you donate, so I drop a bag off before I shop.

  10. Image for Julia Julia

    First I love your chairs! Second I laughed out loud when I read your hand sanitizer tip - totally have done this! Finding treasures at thrift sales is very fun!

  11. Image for Nancy @ slightly Coastal Nancy @ slightly Coastal

    I think I need to start bringing a cart. Be a friend of the thrift store. Most of our thrift stores are run by volunteers. I get to know them so I can ask about their grandkids when I pop in. I don't really buy clothing or shoes in the thrift but if I spot something I know is a high end designer and they just didn't know it, like when I spotted a pair of brand new Jack Rogers they had marked for $6, I let them know. I always tell them what I'm searching for and sometimes they even let me go in the back room. :) That's a good day. Nancy

  12. Image for Brit Brit

    This post brings such a smile to my face! As a young wife, setting up a home has been a test of financial endurance. Thanks to blogs like this, I have learned to strip and stain/paint the things I find at thrift stores, craigslist, and facebook groups. My china, silver, and crystal are all either thrift finds or passed down through the family. And you know what? I love it all the more for the stories. The china that came with a military family from Japan? It suits me perfectly and helped out a couple in a hard patch. All my thrifted silver? No one has ever asked how I came to own it. The thrifted couch? Slipcover works miracles. Thanks to you, and other bloggers, I learned how to wade through the random stuff and find some true treasures.

  13. Image for Julie Julie

    I love your comment "grab a cart" and the best "sometimes I just put things in the cart and drive them around and decide later if I want to buy them". That's me!!! Drives my hubby crazy.......when he is with me! Especially at Goodwill....so many possibilities. I always put anything of interest in my cart and before check-out I pull the cart aside and ponder each item. Almost all of the time, something or things, go back. That way, I also have time to think about what I want to do with an item. Gary just stands aside, shakes his head and laughs. Mind you, he doesn't accompany me too often on my thrift store trips. ;) Absolutely love the chairs. I am in the process of trying to decide what color and fabric I want for a set of OLD metal folding chairs. They are perfectly good, but definitely in need of some TLC. So, Julie to the rescue! LOL Love your Blog!!!!

  14. Image for Donnamae Donnamae

    Great tips! Mine...if you see some thing you must have, then grab it....chances are if you go back for it, it won't be there...because if it was that good....some one else will spot it too! ;)

  15. Image for Teddee Grace Teddee Grace

    Why in the world would she be concerned that she found something delightful at a thrift store? Aren't we all thrift store shoppers? Almost everything I own came from a thrift store and my apartment is really romantic and cute and....me! Your driving-around-with-things-in-your-cart tip is the best and one I learned from my brother. It's a budget saver! Very often after you've "owned" something for the time you've been in the store you decide that was enough "ownership" and you don't really need it!

  16. Image for Sue Sue

    To date, my greatest thrift store AKA charity shop find has to be the solid dark wood, double fronted lead light corner unit that was delivered just this morning. £10 ($13) TEN QUID!!! Totes Amaze-balls! Sx

  17. Image for Courtney Willis Courtney Willis

    I love 2nd hand shopping! It's like a treasure hunt and I'm the pirate! I keep a running list of things I am on the lookout for on my phone. When I'm in the kitchen and need a dish, looking through a magazine for inspiration, or on Pinterest...it helps me see the possibilities and is that much sweeter when I find it!

  18. Image for Courtney @ Foxwood Forest Courtney @ Foxwood Forest

    Don't look at color...so TRUE! You can change the color of basically anything. It's sometimes hard to ignore the color of things because obviously it's such a strong visual.

  19. Image for Barbara Barbara

    My most cherished furnishings all have one thing in common......the story they tell. Their adoption stories vary from being gifted to me as my fancy friend changed out her décor; down to a loney table sitting next to a dumpster. We took them in and found fit right in with all the other items like they were just meant to be a part of it all. I think of the best pieces of advice I can pass on is look often, stop the car even when you only have 5 minutes to spare and if it tugs on heart strings.....get it! I will also say.......never let comments from your hubby like "where are you going to put it?" deter you in anyway!!! You don't need to know where you are going to put it. That can be figured out later! Sometimes a little rearranging will inspire you and viola....your new found treasure is taking it's rightful place in a special spot you never imagined when those dreadful words came out of your beloved. Some questions don't need to be answered immediately I might add. Timing is everything. Another piece of advice came from a very treasured friend. On warm Texas morning she and I drove up and down the narrow streets of the old part of town. With our diet cokes in the cup holders we scanned the yards and drive ways for indicators that it was a yard sale. When we are together we never stop talking and my heart is always full of joy and excitement. We stopped at one home and then another taking it all in. We found only a few tiny things that morning. I loved the time I spent with her as it doesn't matter what we are doing when we are together we always laugh, solve the world's problems and tell each other how much we love each others amazing children. But I could not help but feel a little disappointed that day on our success on our yard sale shopping trip. The encourager that she was, whose sweet tea glass is ALWAYS half full, reminded me of something I had forgotten. It is not what you come home with that is the most important thing; the most important thing is that you went, you saw and you stopped by. Sometimes it is not what you actually bring home that matters but that you took it all in. Love and Miss you Kari! My cup holders are empty and waiting for your tumbler filled with Diet Coke........old town is calling and I know there is an estate sale you won't want to miss. xoxo

  20. Image for P. Jean P. Jean

    If you have a specialty collectible, always ask if they have it. I collect vintage sewing buttons, but many feel "grandma 's toy, that mom loved" needs to wait to be thrown out when the kids sort the estate. I have had folks walk inside to the basement for the box, or tin that holds the old buttons. I promise to "give them a good home, or give them to children who are starting collections. Getting to sales early, helps. This goes for knives, postcards, stamps, cameras and others that we gray-haired are patiently sorting, using, displaying, collecting etc. Another thing that I ALWAYS take to church, house, neighborhood sales is some kind of sturdy bag(s). Our supermarkets have colorful ones. I am a two- handed shopper who will not be handicapped by hanging onto stuff when it can be safely carried with me; preferably with long handles over my shoulder. Can't beat having an understanding friend who will hold onto your bags as you fill them. Family is a great support, especially at church sales near the end when you pay two dollars for whatever you can stuff into a bag to clear out and beat the charity truck.

  21. Image for Susan Susan

    Your friend should've been proud of her thrift store table score...I would've been! We had a fire three years ago and lost everything...even our home...so we've been refurnishing in the most affordable ways possible through yard sales, flea markets, estate sales, and auctions...I am proud of the many amazing buys we have made! My tips for yard sale shopping is to go as early as possible because dealers get out early and have a habit of picking yard sales clean of all of the good stuff before you even get there. You might also want to check a few sales out late in the day as a lot of people will sell pieces for a song just so they don't have to pack them up again. Dress casually...if you are wearing your Sunday best, then you are going to look like you can afford more than you are offering, even if you can't. Bring small bills because you don't want to get the seller down to $5 from $10, only to hand him/her a $50 bill...not only is that kinda tacky, it's not like people holding yard sales have a huge supply of change on hand, either. If there is something you really love and you want to negotiate its price, let the seller know you are very interested in the piece...feigning disinterest to try to drive the price down doesn't work because who wants to spend time negotiating with a stranger who isn't really serious about buying? And I think my most important tip is to ensure the piece you are buying is something you truly need/want and will fit in with your decor etc. Don't buy something just because the price seems right...even if you got a sweet deal on it, it's not worth much to you if it doesn't suit your home, right? Thank you for your amazing tips, which I will be incorporating into my yard sale shopping experience, KariAnne! I also see some great tips in the comments which I'll be using, so thank you for opening this discussion which has been uberly helpful to me! Happy shopping everyone! :)

  22. Image for Cindy diy beautify Cindy diy beautify

    Great tips KariAnne, and those chairs and that outdoor space you created? Absolutely swoon worthy! Now if you can just share some tips for organizing and storing all the thrift store stuff we accumulate....lol! We are moving next week and I've been shocked at the amount of goodies I've collected in the 3-1/2 years we've lived in TN...took a bunch of stuff to Goodwill...it's the big one just off Exit 7 in Hendersonville...in case you were wondering ;) p.s. I kept all my milk glass!

  23. Image for Jolyn Jolyn

    I have two tips I use: take small bills and find a really great shopping bag to take with you to places that do not have carts.

  24. Image for Doreen Doreen

    Thank you for all of the amazing tips. I'm loading my car with your suggestions right now. I'm sure I will be thinking of you the next time I just happen to find a barn sale I just can't resist!

  25. Image for Rebecca Turner Rebecca Turner

    I enjoyed your tip list. I've taken to carrying a tape measure around in my purse, but sometimes I can't find it when I want it, (because my purse is like a deep pit!) so I should probably put one in the car, as well! Personally, I find that I can get around much easier and quicker WITHOUT a basket, but if I find something that is too big to carry, (or too many glittering things) I rush right back to get one. I smiled though when I read your line about driving the stuff around and deciding later, because my mom does the very same thing. A few years ago, I was setting up an apartment for my father-in-law and his wife, who were moving back to the states from another country, and I went to every thrift store in town that I could think of to furnish their apartment. I found so many wonderful things that I got hooked, and the place turned out great! What I learned from that thrifting experience is that one almost always finds at least ONE treasure on each foray. Just last week, my mother and I decided to go "junkin" as we call it, and I scored four, vintage bamboo Chippendale chairs in very good condition! I'm still on a high over my find!!!

  26. Image for Marisa Franca @ All Our Way Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    I can tell you're a pro!! You've got the details down to a science. And I'm a little red-faced, I wear scruchies! How else am I going to keep the hair out of my face so I can see what I'm cooking? If I were going to an estate sale I'd want you with me!! Great tips - you are THE rock star of sales. xoxo

  27. Image for Carlotta Carlotta

    My husband & I go to estate sales pretty regularly. When we first started going, I was overwhelmed & wanted to buy several things because they were so cheap, but, I learned to ONLY get something that I really felt I could use or someone I knew could use. Sometimes the deals are just SO good, but, I don't want to become a hoarder.

  28. Image for Barbara Ann Barbara Ann

    If I was your friend I'd be so proud of where I got it and people like it. It shows good taste. Your tips are all mine when I go shopping. My mother thought me to think "just in case I find something" when out. Like if you are looking for a lamp for a room, you never know where you'll find it. So take measurements and always carry a purse size measuring tape. I know her and my aunts would give them to each other when they found them. This was 40 years ago, they were men's tools not found for women's purse. But Tip #4 I always try not to grab a cart if I'm "just looking". It's my way to control my spontaneous purchases. So far it hasn't worked because employees see my arms filled and get me a cart.

  29. Image for Chris Chris

    For years I have carried a fabric (now plastic) tape measure from the fabric store because it weighs hardly anything and it's easy to fit in a purse or pocket. I use it everywhere, at yard sales, at hardware stores, at lots of stores, endlessly on my car trunk and back seat to see if I can get something home or not. It's a most valuable tool to carry all the time. It may stretch a little bit over time but it's still close enough to give me the measurements I need. I also keep a list of measurements with me for things I need to fit into a certain area. But most of all I have learned that if my heart suddenly leaps out and starts pounding, I should just get the item and figure out later what I'll do with it. Because if I don't, I get home and realize it would have been perfect for a certain spot, and it will stay with me for a long time as missed opportunities. Sometimes the heart knows ahead of the mind.

  30. Image for Brenda Brenda

    My story actually took place at an antique mall. There was an absolutely hideous liberty bell, eagle and shield, cheap velour covered channel back chair. It was marked at $60.00. When I paused to look at it the lady offered it to me for $20.00. I jumped at it! The best part was we were in an old mustang convertible. We just put the top down and stuck the chair in upside down. We looked like we had a weird colonial spider sticking up in the back seat! You will be glad to know it has a lovely new fabric! Have a great day!

  31. Image for Korin Korin

    I'm glad to know I'm on point with my yard sale/thrift store shopping. Everything you mentioned sounded very familiar. There isn't one piece of furniture in my house that was bought new! You've inspired another run on saturday morning. ;) Cheers!

  32. Image for Kathy Kathy

    Great tips! 95% of everything in my house comes from estate sales, garage sales, and my favorite thrift stores! Here is a little tip, i bring a pad of sticky notes with me that says sold. If i see something i can't carry i put a sold sticker on it. If i don't do that someone else will be bringing it home with them. Happy thrifting. Kathy

  33. Image for Marian@ Gathering Branches Marian@ Gathering Branches

    So I followed all these links today...well the links to your posts anyway (sorry Birch Lane and other bloggers) and I have to say, I REALLY love the stripes you painted on the walls in your house. It looks SO cool. And I love the story of the chairs and your sweet man. And i love that your focus in life is to help other people have a cute home and good time. And I can't wait to read your book. And go out to lunch. Sometime we really NEED to go out to lunch. There are so many adventures I need to tell you about, like I just finished designing and decorating my sister's house in Portland OR. But I"ll post about that later. Right now, I'll just be happy for you and your thrift shopping tips. Have a jolly day sweet friend, The Other Marian

  34. Image for Mindy Whipple Mindy Whipple

    I make a quick trip down my favorite aisles and do a level one scan. If something jumps out I grab it (hopefully I have that cart you recommend) and can inspect it closer later. After that I do a level two trip through where I can inspect the merchandise I may have missed or didn't stand out the first time. I have also found that being short can come in handy because some of the best things end up being on the bottom shelves : )

  35. Image for JanL JanL

    one more hint: if the item contains movable parts, don't allow your 8-year-old (very busy) grandson to touch it when it is in the cart.... because, invariably it will get broken, and then you have ethical decisions to make. Just yesterday he took apart the 'perfect' find. I did buy it, but it lost some of the enthusiastic find feeling. Although I will say, he loves garage & yard sales, Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, and most thrift stores. He will search and then question: "Will I use this?". He is a great shopping buddy!

  36. Image for Kate Kate

    All too many times have I been at a thrift store and walked past something because of the color. I've tried to really open my eyes now. It's worked! Great tips! Kate | TheOrganizedDream.com

  37. Image for Sherrie Sherrie

    I love the material on the pillows. Can you tell me where you bought the material? Absolutely love everything in this posting. Beautiful just beautiful!!!!!

    1. Image for KariAnne KariAnne

      Hi Sherrie! It is a pattern by Waverly. You can find it here: https://www.fabric.com/buy/0406818/waverly-coral-curl-surf I love it!!! karianne

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