Thrift Store Shopping Like a Pro – Preparation

by Sammy in 4 Comments — Updated January 3, 2024

thrift shopping like a pro - preparation

 Credit: Ktthread on Flickr

Thrift shopping like a professional requires investment of time before the thrifting game even begins, because as according to the famous mantra says about successful completion of a goal: “It’s 99 percent preparation for 1 percent performance.” 

So like any professional athlete knows, arriving on the “field of thrift” armed with the supplies you need helps to make successful shopping plays.

It’s this competitive attitude that differentiates the casual thrifter from the professional one. A hardcore thrifter’s 99 percent preparation involves both researching before they thrift and packing necessary supplies to have while thrifting.

Keep reading after the jump for part 2 in my series on “How to Thrift Like a Pro,” outlining 4 key tips on what to pack for optimal preparation to make game-winning thrift scores once you step foot in the store!

Prepping is just one piece of the 2-part warm up required to thrift like a professional. Part 1 is researching like a thrift pro so that you know where to thrift, how to get there and what to buy before even stepping foot in the store.

Thrift Store Shopping Like a Pro - Preparation 2What are your top tips for thrifting preparation? Do you pack a special something unique to you? Let me know what I missed by leaving a comment below the post, or by saying hello on Twitter or Facebook! 

Don’t forget to check out my 34 Tips on: How to Thrift Store Shop

xx, SD

Thrift Shopping Rations

Thrifting like a pro - goodie bag

DO IT BECAUSE: Packing a goodie bag of necessary rations and emergency supplies ensures you’ll have key items to help you do the best thrift job possible.

Hunger pains drain your energy which distracts focus from fashion find discovery. Pack tissues, hand sanitizer and stain remover just in case circumstances in which you need these supplies arise.

WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: Professional thrifters aren’t shopping over their lunch breaks like a casual thrifter would.

Rather, they’re designating at least an hour per store and probably hitting four or five stores in a day, leaving little time to stock up on fuel or find a clean bathroom to make a pit stop.

Like a marathon runner does on that 26.2 mile race day, the thrifting pro stays stocked to stay successful knowing that they’ll be spending an entire day thrifting.

MY SECRET: I pack the following items in a small cross body bag for my thrift shopping trips:

A Clif Bar for sustained energy | Trail mix for protein pick-me-up | Bottled water for hydration | A pack of tissues to substitute for absent toilet bathroom | Hand sanitizer for cleanliness | Spot remover for testing stains (I love Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover) | Lip balm to feel pretty | Sunglasses (mine are from BOUGHT) to shield my excitement after discovering a major score!

Sometimes I’ll even wear a fanny pack (I own one from Rickshaw Bags) to keep my arms free for grabbing a great find.

Thrift Shopping Budget

Thrifting like a pro - set cash limit

DO IT BECAUSE: You want to adopt the attitude of “cash & carry” when thrifting so that you avoid overspending.

Having cash in hand creates a physical budget that (pun intended) can’t be budged, which is a good skill for thrifters of every level to adopt.

WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: Every pro knows that plastic purchases are impulse buys, because it’s a whole lot easier to swipe a credit card than it is to count out cold, hard cash and witness its disappearance from your wallet.

A thrift pro sweats his purchases like a basketball player sweats his foul shouts. Every thing a pro buys is with deliberate intent, and using a cash-only-budget keeps this focus in mind while preventing plastic purchases that aren’t true thrift scores.

MY SECRET: After I research my day of thrifting, I decide how much money I want to spend at each store. I usually set a limit of $20, so if I plan to visit 3 stores then I will only bring $60 cash with me that day. I won’t even bring my credit card!

If I spend more than $20 at my first store, I know that I’ll have to spend less than $20 at one of the next two stores to keep within budget. It’s the price I pay to get the thrift value I want.

Thrift Shopping Playlist

Thrifting like a pro - bring itunes

DO IT BECAUSE: For the record, most thrift stores play a Lite FM station or if you’re at a smaller charity shop, nothing at all!

Rather than listen to Elton John and Celine Dion tunes (I mean, unless you really want to), set the ultimate thrift mix so you can jam in the aisles and get your heart pumping for adrenaline-inspired thrifting.

WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: A good playlist is going to warm up your thrift muscles and turn your thrift instincts on high. You want the right tunes to keep you motivated and determined to score.

Plus, music keeps you energized even when you’re coming up empty-handed in the thrift store. A great soundtrack sets the mood to pump up your thrift shopping potential!

MY SECRET: Like an athlete has a mix for a 60-minute workout, I make a thrift mix for a 60-minute thrifting spree.

The mix starts with a few happy, danceable tunes to get me warmed up and into the thrift groove. A few tracks in, the beat starts pumpin’ and I’m jamming to rappers Jay-Z and Nicky Manaj, shaking my ‘tush to favorite ’80s tunes by Prince and Madonna and rocking out to vintage Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix tracks.

My mix wraps up with 10 minutes of low-key songs by CSNY, The Band, Tom Petty and other jam rock favorites as I anxiously wait in line to pay for my thrift scores.

Thrift Shopping Bag

Thrifting like a pro - use your own bag

DO IT BECAUSE: You want to come prepared with your own shopping bag because if the store is busy or understocked with carts and baskets, you’ll be forced to shop empty-handed.

WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: BYOB (bringing-your-own-bag) is a tried-and-true trick that helps a thrifting pro to shop hands-free while keeping their goods close.

The aisles in a thrift store can be tight and many times shoppers will leave their carts at the end of an aisle as they move among the racks. Thrift pros know not to do this, as other shoppers will then rummage through their carts and possibly steal one of their thrift scores.

Using your own bag guarantees protection of a pro’s pickings so you won’t have to tell that sticky finger shopper to “Step away from my cart!”

MY SECRET: I bring a collapsible grocery bag like this one from Trader Joe’s to the store. The bag’s long straps secures the bag close to my body while allowing my hands to comb the racks with ease. I can stuff at least 10 finds into my bag before having to stop and evaluate.

Using my own thrift bag also doubles for other uses: I can use it as my absolute YES! bag and pack it with must-buy items to keep separated from the questionables in my cart.

Thrift Shopping Heels

Thrifting like a pro - bring heels

DO IT BECAUSE: Wearing a pair of heels shows how the piece will look once styled to completion. If what you’re thrifting is supposed to be worn with heels to begin with, then why would you try it on with anything but?

And unless you’ve got a great imagination, those dirty Reeboks you’ve got on aren’t doing much for your look!

WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: The thrift pro’s ultimate nightmare is this scenario: They arrive home and excitedly put on a thrift score, only to pair it with some pumps and a few other pieces from their closet. Then upon looking in the mirror, they learn that what they’ve invested in is in fact a thrift fail. 

Pros bring heels to shop with so that they’re 100 percent sure that thrift score is worth the investment. That confidence avoids the headache of having to return an item within a store’s normal 7-day window.

Visiting the store ASAP to grab store credit is a waste of time, since the goods in a store only rotate about once a week anyway. Plus, since a pro travels far to explore new thrift territory that store could be miles away. Talk about a thrift-ache!

MY SECRET:  I wear heels to see how when standing a few inches taller, the piece lays on my body. It inspires me to begin visualizing how to style the thrift find with pieces from my own wardrobe.

Heels also show whether I need to tailor the length (or, which often happens on my 5’9″ frame) chuck the piece altogether because it’s just too dang short!


34 Tips on: How to Thrift Store Shop
ADVICE: 10 Things Not to Buy at a Thrift Store
TIPS: 23 Tips for Buying Used Clothes
RISK: Avoiding Bed Bugs at the Thrift Store
OUTLET: The Best Deals at the Best NYC Goodwill Outlet
PLUS: The Complete Thrift Shopping Dictionary

4 thoughts on “Thrift Store Shopping Like a Pro – Preparation”

  1. Great article, Sammy :)

    I always have a measuring tape and my small notebook with measurements of family/clients – that’s helped me rule out, or rule in, so many purchases.

    • Cynthia, so true! I need to write a thrifting post for sellers, as that’s definitely something every seller or thrift-gifter needs to have on hand!! xoxo

  2. Great tips! I can’t tell you how many times i’ve come out of a thrift store and been starving! I don’t know why I never though to bring snacks, you’re a genius.

    I also like the $20.00 per store limit and the bring your own tunes. I’ve been tempted to leave a good thrift store because of the radio station they were playing.

    • haha! We are such music snobs, aren’t we Zorah! Seriously a good jam gets me in the groove and I thrift faster! Almost like running a race ;-)


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