The Art of Getting the Best Deal When You Thrift Shop

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Who doesn’t like saving money? Thrift and second-hand shopping is a great way to find gorgeous things for your home that don’t cost an arm and a leg. But not every pre-owned thing you find is a steal. How do you know when you’ve found a good deal? How do you know when it’s time to pass something up? And how the heck do you go about haggling a price? As a vintage buyer and seller (her Etsy shop is Houseworking), Jessica Cook knows how to spot a deal, and she’s graciously shared some of her secrets with us.

Where the best deals are:

When I’m thrifting, I mostly just hit the same shops over and over again. I have my favorite spots that I visit a couple times a week; the more you go, the more likely you are to scoop up the good stuff right when it hits the floor.

I always have much better luck at the small, independent thrift shops, versus the chain stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Chain thrift stores usually receive their merchandise from a warehouse, where items have been processed and sorted into different store locations for a number of reasons. With a small, independent thrift shop, the donations are coming in, being priced, and going right out onto the floor — this vastly increases your odds of consistently finding high-quality items.

I also frequent library book sales in other towns, which you can easily find on

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

How to spot a good deal:

I always try to imagine items in a different context. For example, if you see a table lamp with a fantastic ceramic base but a not-right shade, you can buy that lamp, ditch the shade, and get a simple drum shade at Target that will completely elevate the lamp. Likewise, artwork can be completely transformed with a new frame. Just be sure you’re actually going to complete the project — there’s no use in spending $5 on a great lamp if it’s going to sit in the attic without a shade for years. Oh, and on the subject of lamps: learn how to rewire them! You’ll never have to pass up a non-working lamp ever again.

A secret to successful price negotiation

Negotiation is totally okay at flea markets and antique shops, but is a huge no-no at thrift stores where the money is going to a non-profit or charity.

I think it’s always important to keep in mind that haggling isn’t mandatory in a flea market or shop setting.

Politeness is key when talking to a dealer about price — it’s okay to be bold and put out an offer or two, but be respectful and know when to walk away. The old “you catch more flies with honey” is absolutely applicable here!

Thank you, Jessica!

→ See more of Jessica and Ryan’s gorgeous home in their house tour.

→ More thrifting advice from Jessica: