Hidden gems that you should always buy at a thrift store

Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Thrifting can be a thankless task if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Often, you’ll spend hours perusing the shelves without any idea of what constitutes a real bargain – only to then fill your boots with junk that you don’t need. Learning what to keep an eye out for, then, can turn your thrift store visits into genuinely fruitful shopping trips. And, if you’re savvy enough, there are even some potential moneymaking opportunities.

Image: Hiart

40. Wooden furniture

When you think about it, buying second-hand wooden furniture just makes sense. If you buy new, after all, there’s no proof that it’s going to stand the test of time. But a vintage piece you find in a thrift store for a bargain price? Well, it’s lasted this long hasn’t it? If you’re unsure, though, check for dovetailing – a joinery style that indicates a handmade item.

Image: Elizabeth Livermore/Getty Images

39. Baby clothes

Babies grow so fast that it can be a financial nightmare trying to keep them clothed. Fortunately, though, there is an alternative. Yes, thrift stores can be an absolute gold mine for baby clothes at a fraction of the price. And even when the kids get a bit older, stick to the same source for everyday clothes, as these will also likely wear out quickly.

Image: dianaforsberg92

38. Maternity clothes

Staying stylish while pregnant can be a frustrating expense at a time you’re typically looking to tighten the purse strings. After all, maternity clothes are costly, especially for something you’re only going to wear for a few months. Thrift stores, then, can be invaluable to expectant mothers. It might take a while to find something in decent condition, but when you do, snap it up.

Image: Free-Photos

37. Vinyl albums


It’s no secret that vinyl has made a huge comeback in recent years. And whether you’ve hopped on the bandwagon or not, it could be worth keeping an eye out for albums in thrift stores. Indeed, even if you don’t find something for yourself, you might pick up something that you can flip for a tidy profit. Just do your research first so that you know what to look for.

Image: Westend61/Getty Images

36. Wooden hangers

Even if you don’t spend every waking moment wondering about the best type of hanger, it’s pretty obviously wooden. After all, they’re far sturdier than their plastic counterparts. But they don’t have to be more expensive; just check out your local thrift store. In fact, because wooden hangers take up more space on the racks, the store might be happy to let them go.

Image: Kirk Kimble/Getty Images

35. Bicycles


Buying a bike at a thrift store is a bit riskier than, say, a shirt. After all, unless you’re particularly mechanically-minded, you may not be able to spot any obvious defects with it. If you know someone who has the necessary knowledge, though, then you could always bring them with you to check it out. The good news is that whatever the outcome, it’s at least going to be cheap.

Image: Jessica Klaus

34. Halloween costumes

We’ve all been there: it’s October 30, and you’ve suddenly remembered that you need a Halloween costume for tomorrow night. Well, don’t panic; just head on down to your local thrift store. Yes, you’ll undoubtedly find something suitable among the weird and wonderful clothes on sale. You might just have to use your imagination a little bit.

Image: J.C. Fields

33. Tools with lifetime warranties


This is a particularly ingenious tip for the handier folks out there. If you’re in need of new tools, try looking in a thrift store for those that have a lifetime guarantee. Certain brands, such as Craftsman or Cutco, offer no-fuss, no-cost replacements. So, even if the one you buy fails, you’ll be able to replace it without any extra spend.

Image: angelsover

32. Branded clothes

The clothes racks of thrift stores are, arguably, sometimes full of cheaply-made items that won’t last very long. Nevertheless, you can occasionally find a hidden gem among them. A good tip is to keep an eye out for branded clothing, either from high-end department stores or designer labels. Such items will likely last far longer, while still being relatively inexpensive.

Image: Efraimstochter

31. Novelty kitchen appliances


How many times have you used that waffle iron gathering dust in your kitchen? Probably only enough to count on one hand. In future, then, head to thrift stores for your novelty kitchen appliances. No longer will you have to waste money on a brand new breadmaker that you’re only going to use twice. And if the worst comes to the worst, you can always donate the appliance again afterwards.

Image: Andrew_Howe/Getty Images

30. Signed books

If you’re looking to make a quick buck, make a beeline for the thrift store bookshelves. Focus on books from popular authors and check the first couple of pages. If there’s a signature from the author, you might just have hit a relatively modest jackpot. You’re probably not going to find a signed, first-edition Harry Potter book, of course, but you never know.

Image: AquaOwl

29. Pyrex


There’s a surprisingly huge market out there for vintage Pyrex. Maybe it’s because they’re more colorful than present-day Pyrex, or simply that they’re made of sturdier material. Either way, if you happen to stumble upon any at a thrift store, just buy them. Even if you don’t want the items for yourself, there’s a chance you’ll be able to flip them to a collector somewhere.

Image: PoppyB/Getty Images

28. Jadeite

If Jadeite’s hue looks wonderfully unique, there’s a reason. You see, it was actually introduced to bring more color into people’s lives at a time when they desperately needed it: during the Great Depression in the 1930s. But it’s more than an aesthetic piece; true Jadeite is also incredibly durable. So, if you see some in a thrift store, don’t pass it up.

Image: Will Richards

27. Bakelite


Hidden gems don’t get much better than Bakelite. You see, some examples of the original thermosetting plastic – that is, a plastic that will never melt or warp – can fetch over $3,000. You’ll find the brightly colored material on jewelry and kitchen implements. And if you want to test an item’s authenticity, just dab it with a cotton swab dipped in cleanser Formula 409. If the swab turns yellow, the piece is the real deal.

Image: Dave

26. McCoy stoneware

There are plenty of brand names that can fetch big money with collectors of vintage kitchenware, and McCoy is among them. The company may have shuttered in 1990, but its stoneware is still highly collectible. Indeed, some of its cookie jars have sold at auction for thousands of dollars. Just do your research before buying or you might end up with a fake.

Image: Pete unseth

25. Milk glass


Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, milk glass was all the rage across America. Nowadays, it’s a collectible item that celebrates the history of the U.S. After all, many examples of milk glass are decorated with prominent political figures, including past presidents. And if you’re fortunate enough to stumble across some in a thrift store, you’ll have found a true gem.

Image: Steven Labinski

24. Fiestaware

Unlike certain brands of vintage kitchenware, Fiestaware – which was originally produced in 1936 – is still around nowadays. However, there are some colors, such as medium green or original yellow, that aren’t as common anymore. If you know what you’re looking for, though, you might be able to make an awesome thrift-store find.

Image: Housing Works Thrift Shops

23. Molds and cookie cutters


You can find molds and cookie cutters in pretty much any supermarket, but it’s not modern-day examples that we’re interested in. No, it’s the older, more intricate designs that you’ll want to keep an eye out for in thrift stores. Aluminum, tin and copper are all good materials to grab, with copper having been a particular favorite of wealthier people around the turn of the 20th century.

Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images

22. Board games

With some thrift-store finds, you really need to know exactly what you’re looking for. And that’s especially true with board games. After all, even a game’s release year can be the difference between hundreds of dollars of value. The 1978 version of Dune, for instance, will fetch around $200, but the 1984 edition will only sell for $50. Do your research properly, though, and it can pay off handsomely.

Image: Wonderlane

21. Picture frames


When you’re browsing thrift-store artwork, it’s worth paying attention to what’s surrounding it too. Even if you don’t like the painting or photo enclosed within, you might love the frame. And once you’ve bought it, you can always swap in your own pictures. It isn’t just art that you should be looking out for, either; some mirrors also have beautiful frames.

Image: rob9040

20. Exercise equipment

If you don’t have a gym nearby, cost can be a real barrier to getting fit. Unless, that is, you check out thrift stores. That’s right, thrift stores can often be a gold mine for all sorts of exercise equipment – probably donated by people who have predictably given up on their new year’s resolutions. And the best part? When you inevitably do the same, you won’t have wasted tons of cash.

Image: Gellinger

19. Books


Not every thrift-store find is a money-spinner. But sometimes, it’s great just to pick something up that’s useful for you, without breaking the bank to do so. Books fill that slot nicely, as you can often find something new to read for a matter of pennies. So with such a low-entry cost, there’s nothing stopping you broadening your literary horizons.

Image: Steven Depolo

18. Craft supplies

Craft supplies aren’t the most expensive thing you’ll ever have to buy, but the costs can stack up fast if you need a bunch of different items. Thrift stores can be a gold mine for crafty folks, then. You see, your fellow hobbyists are often no strangers to donating their unwanted supplies.

Image: Hans

17. Baskets


Need a basket? Check out your local thrift stores. It won’t be new, sure, but chances are that it’ll still be in good condition if it’s being sold. And for whatever reason, you can usually find a great selection on offer. So, with plenty of different shapes and sizes to choose from, you’re bound to find one that fits the bill.

Image: PxHere

16. College textbooks

Anyone who’s been to college knows how expensive textbooks can get. But for whatever reason, many students apparently just donate them to thrift stores once they’re done with them. And those same thrift stores then sell them off for a couple of bucks each. So, if you know what you’re looking for, you can make literally hundreds of dollars off these books by reselling them on Amazon.

Image: PxHere

15. Sports video games


Although old sports video games typically sell for pennies as soon as the newest version is released, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Mainly, you’re looking for games that launched around the end of a console’s life cycle. The last game released on the original Xbox, for instance, was Madden 2009 – which can fetch up to $40.

Image: Alan C.

14. North Face jackets

The clothes racks of thrift stores are always worth perusing, but particularly if you spot a North Face jacket. Nowadays, these coats aren’t the sole preserve of mountaineers. In fact, they’re basically a fashion statement. And that means buying such a garment can get pretty expensive – unless you find one at a thrift store, that is.

Image: Joseph Brent

13. Vintage clothing


Thrifting for vintage clothing can sometimes feel like a bit of a minefield. Without the proper know-how, there’s often little way to tell whether something is genuinely vintage. Fortunately, though, there are a few signs to look out for, and these are mainly on the labels. For example, if it’s made in the U.S.A., carrying an old brand logo or emblazoned with a “union” tag, then chances are good that it’s vintage, and you should buy it.

Image: PxHere

12. Lamps

Okay, so the old lamps that you find in thrift stores might not look like much. But as long as they’re still functional, they can be real gems; all they need is a little love. Indeed, painting an antique base and adding a new shade can really revitalize a dusty old lamp. And you’ll only have spent a fraction of the cost of buying new.

Image: kmf164

11. Coffee mugs


Do you pass straight over the coffee mugs when thrifting? Well, you shouldn’t; there could be a real prize among the stacks of slightly chipped, dusty drinks containers. You see, several coffee mugs are collectible, particularly those branded with logos. Mugs to watch out for are those branded by Starbucks, Mary Kay, Fire King, or else for sports teams such as the Cowboys, Yankees and Packers.

Image: Ryposte

10. Gardening supplies

There are some things that won’t stand the test of time, but gardening supplies aren’t among them. After all, tools and plant pots are built to withstand outdoor usage, so chances are good that you’ll be able to find them in working order at the thrift store. Just make sure that there are no obvious defects, such as cracks in handles or pots.

Image: Tysto

9. Electronics


Thrift stores can be a good source for old electronics, including radios, alarm clocks and even old games consoles. Just make sure to test anything you buy beforehand, particularly if the store has a no-returns policy. After all, you wouldn’t want to walk away with something defective – even if it is a bargain.

Image: John-Mark Smith

8. Maps and atlases

With the advent of digital maps, their physical counterparts have mostly been left by the wayside. That’s good news for bargain hunters, though, as you can pick them up from thrift stores on the cheap. And it’s always a good idea to have a backup in case your tech fails or if you head somewhere without a data connection.

Image: ka?stn Disk / Cat

7. Emergency equipment


Although it’s always a good idea to be prepared for any eventuality, doing so can get pretty expensive. Unless, that is, you hit up your local thrift store. Here you’ll find battery-operated radios, flashlights and even tents. And as long as everything’s in working order, snap it up. After all, the apocalypse doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Image: MikesPhotos

6. T-shirts

Tees aren’t exactly the most expensive item of clothing you’ll ever purchase, even brand new. But saving money isn’t the only reason to buy your t-shirts from thrift stores. Vintage clothing may fit better, for instance, as sizes can change over time. And if you want to stand out from the crowd, thrift stores are the place to go for unique tees.

Image: sardenacarlo

5. Silver


We’re not talking stainless steel here, but the genuine article. Yes, real silver can occasionally find its way onto the shelves of thrift stores because telling the difference isn’t always easy. If you learn how to spot it, though, you can find some genuine treasures among the silverware section.

Image: Kevin Bidwell

4. Vintage jewelry

Thrift-store jewelry doesn’t necessarily equal cheap, except where it counts. Indeed, you might not pay much for it, but it can still hold tremendous value. For instance, a unique piece imbued with character can make a great gift, especially compared to something that’s mass-produced. And years from now, it’ll have plenty of sentimental value too.

Image: Libazsourcing

3. Cotton blankets


It’s true that you’ll save money by buying your cotton blankets at thrift stores. But really, that’s secondary to the fact that 100 percent cotton blankets get softer and comfier as time passes. Picking up a secondhand one is a great shortcut to softness, then, and often for a bargain price.

Image: FiveRings

2. Cast iron cookware

The beauty of heavy-duty cookware, such as cast iron, is that it’s purpose-built to last. So even if a pan looks like it’s past its prime, chances are it can be restored with enough attention. A burnt pot, for instance, simply needs boiling water mixed with Oxyclean to bring it back to its former self.

Image: PxHere

1. Wooden chopping boards


Tired of your modern wooden chopping boards not standing up to heavy use? Try hunting down a vintage one in a thrift store. Older boards are often much better quality and can easily be restored with mineral oil. You won’t have to worry about what it was used for before you bought it, then.