How to Shop for Furniture at Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are for more than just clothing, and they are great places to find used furniture for cheap. The first thing that you have to do is look at thrift stores in a new light. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead going into a thrift store, but they are often nice, clean stores where you can find great, gently used items at great prices. If you are looking for ways to cut costs in your household, you should take the time to check out some of the thrift stores in your area.

Using thrift stores to find used furniture is a great idea for college students (living in apartments and rental houses) and young professionals/couples who want furniture but who do not want to spend a lot of money.

What follows is some advice on how to find great deals, how to prepare for a furniture shopping trip, and what to bring with you.

  1. Pull Out the Phonebook – You want to call around and get locations and hours for your local thrift stores. Some thrift stores have odd hours because they are small businesses. You also want to make sure they sell furniture too! Some thrift stores only focus on smaller items like clothing.

Also don’t let the word “antique” scare you, and some thrift stores are called antique stores or antique malls when in reality, very few things that they sell qualify as antiques. (To be an antique, an item has to be at least 100 years old).

  1. Make a Plan – You should decide which stores you will visit in which order, ranking the most important first in case you get tired. Also, decide what you need before you leave the house. For example, you need a bed frame, and you would like some bedside tables. While you are there, you also want to look at prices on coffee tables. A plan will help keep you from getting distracted and spending too much time looking at kitchen tables, for example.
  1. Set a Budget – Set a budget before you leave and bring cash. Some small thrift stores don’t accept credit cards and a budget will help keep you from overspending or buying things that you do not necessarily need that day.

Tip: Leaving your cards at home, or at least in the car, will help you stick to your budget because you can only use the cash that you have on hand.

  1. Bring a Truck or a Van – If you don’t have one, see if you can borrow one from a friend. In most cases, you will need to be able to get your purchase home because most thrift stores don’t deliver though some of the larger ones (Goodwill, etc) might.
  1. Be Observant – When you are looking at furniture, you want to look closely. You should look for loose legs, missing pieces, dents, scratches etc. Look for things that you cannot repair.
  1. Be Ready to Do a Little Work – A good coat of paint can fix just about anything. You should remember to be opened minded, and you should be ready to do a little touching up on the furniture that you bring home.
  1. Be Prepared to Bargain – In some stores, haggling will get you nowhere, but in established flea markets and smaller stores, it is always worth trying to get a lower price.
  1. Bring a Tape Measure – Why? Because there is nothing worse than not having enough room for the lovely new dining table or those traditional sofas you just bought.
  1. Come Early, Come Often – The stock at thrift stores and flea markets changes all the time. You want to try to get to know people (store owners, vendors, cashiers) and talk to them. They can often tell you when there is or will be new stock, good deals, etc. It is important to get to flea markets early before the crowds, and you will want to check thrift stores often for new items.

Have you ever bought furniture at a thrift store or antique mall? If so, what was your favorite find? What strategies do you use to find good deals at thrift stores?

This post was written by YFS.


How to Shop for Furniture at Thrift Stores — 17 Comments

  1. It’s also important to look at items with a bit of creativity. Color, surface damage, knobs, etc. can all be fixed easily and cheaply. My #1 rule is that it has to have “good bones.” If a piece is in working order, structurally sound, or can be re-imagined/re-purposed, I buy it regardless of how “ugly” it may be. Often, cosmetic deficiencies lead to the greatest bargains so make sure to give the ugly ducklings in the store some love! 🙂

  2. This has always seemed like an underutilized market to me. There are so many times people need to get rid of something simply because it “no longer works” that I would think there are some great finds. In fact, I’ve read about them over and over. I guess having a good plan and knowing which places to go and when to go there make a big difference.

  3. When we needed to furnish a room, fast, for an unexpected guest, we headed for a thrift store in our area. We came home with a dresser, book shelf and a small table for writing, etc. The pieces needed a little cleaning and the drawers of the dresser needed a little TLC so that they rolled in and out smoothly but other than that, they were in great condition. The best part, we came with all three pieces for under $20. Wow! Since the pieces weren’t matched, we finished the room with various colored comforters, pillows, etc. It was beautifully eclectic. 🙂 Thanks for all your wonderful tips. One I would add is to go with a very open mind … typically if you’re looking for a certain item, you won’t find it but if you go with a wide range of possibilities, you’ll probably come home happy!

    BTW … thanks for linking up at our Meet & Greet! 🙂

  4. I was at Goodwill recently and was amazed at the very nice desk chair priced at $45. It was solid hardwood with a beautiful light teal blue leather upholstered onto the seat and back. Just gorgeous. Unfortunately we were far from home without our van to carry it. My mom had wanted to cruise the Goodwill, so I went with her. She found a classy red silk Asian tunic with beautiful detailing. She plans to wear it at a charity fashion gala coming up soon. What a find! I hadn’t been there for a while & was amazed at all the real suede jackets in perfect condition for $4. It’s a real treasure hunt there.

  5. I bought my dining room table at Goodwill! It was brand new, in the box (assembly required) from Target. But it was 75% off. A table and two chairs (we weren’t a family yet) for $50. Brand spanking new.

  6. There’s also that you can check out. Make sure not to get any fabric type of items such as beds or sofas, as they could have bed bugs. There’s been a huge problem with bed bugs in our city because of this.

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