8/15/2022 | By Donna Brody

Writer and secondhand shopper Donna Brody offers thrift store shopping tips for seniors based on her experience at flea markets, consignment stores, and other resale shops. Whether you are tightening your budget or looking for fun new finds for your wardrobe or home, let used goods fill your needs.

You might never become one of those lucky buyers who stumble upon million-dollar paintings or rare artifacts at a local thrift store, but secondhand shopping can help refresh your wardrobe or home at a reasonable cost.

For many people of all ages, shopping at thrift stores, flea markets, consignment shops, and antique dealers offers a plethora of everyday treasures along with the thrill of a hunt. Just like finding a two-for-one shoe sale or a fantastic clearance-rack bargain at a favorite department store, secondhand stores and flea markets can provide the satisfaction of scoring a bargain. Thrift store shopping can also yield items you didn’t know you needed.

Shopping for resale items not only saves money, repurposing items that would otherwise end up in a landfill can help save the planet.

General tips for thrift store shopping

I offer the following tips for thrift store shopping based on my own experiences over the years.

thrift store agioowe. Photo by Ian Allenden, Dreamstime. Secondhand shopper Donna Brody offers thrift store shopping tips for seniors based on her experience at flea markets and other resale shops.
  • Watch for discount days for seniors, military and former military, first responders, etc. to save even more. Sale days are usually posted on the door.
  • Make a list of what you’re looking so you’re not tempted to buy things you don’t need. If you don’t find the item at the first store you visit, head to the next one.
  • Measure your spaces at home before hitting the thrift shop. Bring a tape measure with you to make sure a potential purchase will fit.
  • Verify if an item will fit in your vehicle before purchase if the store does not offer delivery.
  • Test electrical items in the store to be sure they work properly.
  • Familiarize yourself with designers and furniture makers so you can judge merchandise quality more easily.
  • Plan ahead for the next season in case you find off-season items.
  • Take some of your own unused items to the store: make room for your new items at home and help someone else find their thrift store treasure.

Tips on thrift store shopping for clothing, furniture, and kids’ goods


Most secondhand and consignment stores are clean and well organized. However, that doesn’t mean shoppers start using items immediately after purchase. Even if you score a piece of clothing still sporting its original department store tag, like our mothers used to say, “You don’t know where that thing has been.”

So, one of the most important tips when buying clothing in any store is to wash the garment and dry on the hottest dryer setting before wearing. Of course, always check the labels for cleaning recommendations, such as dry clean only, and keep in mind that high-heat drying could also lead to shrinkage and fading.

However, that’s one of the bonuses of paying a fraction of the cost for resale items – you’re less likely to lose your shirt, so to speak.

Try to determine if an item will fit without trying it on, since you can’t be sure how clean it is.

Avoid buying undergarments and bathing suits. As explains, “Some items are difficult to clean and could potentially carry harmful germs.” The same goes for hats (danger of head lice) and shoes (danger of fungus).

Furniture and other household goods

thrift store finds from the author. Secondhand shopper Donna Brody offers thrift store shopping tips for seniors based on her experience at flea markets and other resale shops.

Resale shoppers might really score a win with furniture purchases.

However, avoid upholstered furniture. Country Living Magazine explains, even some furniture “made between 1984 and 2010 contains harmful fire-retardant chemicals in its fabric.” Old throw pillows with zip off covers that can be washed still could contain bed bugs. Although lice die after 48 hours without a host, bed bugs can live for months and require pesticides or time in a high-heat dryer to kill.

Wood furniture offers an abundance of decorating options. Vintage pieces of furniture that have a wood finish – like small tables, sideboards, and cabinets – even if scratched and chipped, could be just what a do-it-yourself decorator is looking for to accent the corner of a room or long hallway. Wood furniture can usually be safely sanded and repainted or stained to fit your decorating needs.

Be aware that very old painted pieces might contain lead, so they should be tested and precautions taken before starting any kind of refinishing and repainting.

Older kitchen items are better suited for decorating than using. Vintage cookware, bakeware, and kitchen gadgets are all the rage in farmhouse-style decorated kitchens. Thrift stores are a great place to find apothecary jars, vintage canisters and signs, eggbeaters, muffin tins, etc. Some old kitchen items should only be used for decoration and not cooking as they may contain rust or lead or other dangerous metals. Newer glass and ceramic items that can go through several cycles in the dishwasher should be fine to use. The same goes for linens like table runners, placemats, and cloth napkins that can be washed and dried.

What about lamps, small appliances, and electronics? Although some experts warn against purchasing these types of items at resale stores, it might be a worthwhile gamble if attracted to the piece. Always plug in the lamp or appliance at the store to make sure it works correctly. Likewise, check for frayed cords or wobbly switches. If in doubt, don’t buy it. Keep in mind that thrift stores are also a good place to replace that broken coffeemaker pot, missing silverware pieces, or the Corning Ware casserole you dropped last Thanksgiving. Taking a chance on a used TV or computer is up to the potential buyer since these items have no warranty and there is no guarantee how long they will keep working.

For the kids

Seniors with grandchildren might find some bargains on booster seats, toys, and other kid-friendly items to keep on hand for when the grandchildren visit.

Some kid items should not be purchased secondhand.

Car seats have expiration dates, and strollers, cribs, and bikes could be unsafe. Older models might not meet contemporary safety standards based on updated knowledge of potential dangers. notes, “The faults on cribs, strollers, and car seats aren’t always visible.”

Likewise, avoid all stuffed toys. Instead, stick with all-plastic secondhand toys that can be easily disinfected with Lysol or other strong cleaners.

In the end, thrift store shopping can be a fun and money-saving undertaking whether you are looking for specific home décor pieces or clothing items or just for a fun way to pass some time.

Personal tips on thrift store shopping

Best resale bargains I’ve found:

Picture frames, lamps, placemats, tablecloths, napkins, vases, jars, coffee table, bedside tables, dresser, trunk, framed prints and paintings, small coffee maker, brand new frying and cake pans, glassware, decorative vintage coffee pots, toys, designer purses, clothing, paperback books, outdoor flags.

Things I avoid at resale:

Shoes, intimate apparel, bed linens, pillows, towels, luggage, upholstered furniture, most electronics and clocks, stained or chipped cookware, battery-operated toys, stuffed toys, and puzzles and games that might be missing pieces.

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.

Donna Brody headshot