Top 20 things to buy at a thrift store or consignment shop

Thrift stores and consignment shops can be great place to find exercise equipment – No. 8 on our Top 20 list.

Zuma Press/Newscom/File
A mother with her three sons scan the Helping Hands Ministry thrift store in Rockmart, Ga., in August. There are lots of things you can find at a thrift store or consignment shop.

I vastly prefer to buy items at secondhand and consignment shops if I can.

There, I said it. I love going to secondhand shops and consignment shops. My wife and I stop by such shops all the time in our area, particularly for a few specific items that we go through at an amazing rate. There are many, many non-consumable items that we prefer to buy secondhand because, frankly, buying new doesn’t add much to the product other than the “new,” and that’s something we don’t want to pay for.

Here are twenty things we usually look for used before we even consider buying new, along with some reasons for doing so.

Children’s clothes Do I really need to say more? Children can be very hard on clothes at times, plus they outgrow their clothes very quickly. The end result? We don’t want to invest much in individual items. Luckily, children with plenty of clothes will often wear specific items only a time or two, so you can often stumble upon used children’s clothes at very good prices. We are (very) regular customers at the excellent Duck Worth Wearing in Ames, Iowa, a store we recommend to any parents of younger children in central Iowa.

Holiday attire As with the children’s clothes, any items that are rarely worn are good candidates for purchase at consignment shops, and the figurative “Christmas sweater” is a great example of this. There are certain colors that we tend to only wear during the week or two before Christmas and I can usually find great clothing in those colors at consignment shops.

Maternity clothes Another example of clothes that are only worn for short periods are maternity clothes, something we’ve learned a lot about over the past five years. My wife has used Me N’ Mommy to Be in Ankeny, Iowa in the past, with good results.

Costumes I don’t directly mean full-fledged costumes, but instead elements for more creative costumes. Rather than going out there and buying a prefab “zombie” costume, for example, just head to the used clothes shop and pick up some worn items that you’re fine with ruining. We’re doing this very thing for our children’s Halloween costumes this year.

Silverware It’s often easy to come across complete (or nearly complete) silverware sets at secondhand shops. Take it home, clean it thoroughly, and you’ll find yourself with all of the dining utensils you need without much of a bill.

Plates Similar to silverware, dinner plates, saucers, and cups are often easily located at secondhand stores. The set I used in college and before my wedding came from such a secondhand store (we received a really nice set as a gift, so we started using those because we only had about five plates left from the old set).

Kitchenware Small appliances like hand mixers and blenders, plus common tools like spatulas, pots, pans, and rolling pins are often easily found at such shops, particularly items left over from an estate. If you hunt around, you can stock a kitchen quite well from secondhand stores and consignment shops.

Sports equipment The Play It Again Sports in Clive, IA is my first stop for most sports equipment. In fact, I plan to take my son there next spring to look for his first “real” baseball glove and first “real” bat for backyard use. In the past, I’ve found soccer balls and other such material there (and at similar stores).

Exercise equipment Such stores aren’t just a good source for sports equipment. Exercise and training equipment, like free weights and exercise bands and pedometers, can often be found at secondhand shops. Even bigger items, like treadmills and ellipticals, can easily be found secondhand if you search a bit (they’re equipment that people buy and sometimes never use).

Bicycles I’m including this separately from exercise equipment because, quite often, there are stores devoted solely to secondhand and refurbished bicycles, particularly in college towns where they buy abandoned or forgotten bicycles from the college, repair them, and sell them at very reasonable rates. BicycleSurplus in Ames, IA is a great example of this, but they themselves have quite a bit of competition.

Video games I’m almost exclusively a used video game buyer. I shop at both GameStop and Gamers, both of which buy and sell used video games with a strong return policy, and I’m in the trading club at each store, which gets me a 10% bonus on trade-ins and/or a 10% discount on purchases. Careful trading gets me new games to play for just a few bucks.

Books Used bookstores abound, providing a great place to pick up books at a very low price and also trade off your already-read books for new reading material. Aside from moments of weakness, the only books I acquire at this point are used ones.

Toys We often pick up toys for our children used, either at consignment shops or at yard sales and the like. A used toy is just as good as an old toy – a toy’s value comes in whether a child plays imaginatively with it. Just take such toys home and wash them carefully before using them (but that’s true of any item bought used).

Hand tools Everything from screwdrivers to hammers and drills can be found secondhand if you’re patient and shop around for it. My screwdriver set is a mismatched lot, with many of them coming straight from secondhand shops over the years.

Musical instruments Many music stores sell more used instruments than new ones. In fact, they often act as brokers in a way. Go in, tell them what you’re looking for, and wait for a while, and they’ll often come up with a great used version of what you want at a very nice price. I’m waiting for some electronic piano models right now.

Home decor The best home decor isn’t stuff bought at the Pottery Barn or at IKEA. It’s used stuff, stuff with character and a bit of wear which reflects your own tastes. The best places to find such things are secondhand shops and consignment stores, where all sorts of interesting things pop up.

Gardening supplies Hedge trimmers? Weed trimmers? Hoes? Rakes? All of these things pop up secondhand on a regular basis. Sometimes you’ll find a shovel that needs a bit of work, but when you can pick it up for a buck and it does the job, that’s good enough for me!

Furniture Almost all of the furnishings in my home up until about 2003 were secondhand – and we still have several items of secondhand furniture in our home. It holds up well, looks good, and does what we ask of it, so why spend a mint on a “perfect” bed for the guest bedroom?

Art supplies I wouldn’t have believed this myself, but I’m constantly running into brushes, paint sets, and other such items at secondhand shops, perfect for picking up for my children’s art projects. I picked up a 128 count box of crayons that looked as if it had been used once for a quarter a while back, for example. I’ve also found easels and oil-based paint sets, plus countless magazines and such that are perfect for collage work.

Cars So many people are out there going from lease to lease or trading in their new car every four years that there’s always a big pile of late model used cars on the market, often very well maintained and at a strong price. Don’t overlook them when you’re car shopping. (And, yes, a used car dealership is a secondhand store if I’ve ever seen one.)

For every item on this list, the same idea holds true: shop used first, and be a little patient. If you really can’t find anything that meets your needs by buying used, then consider new items. Sticking to that policy will save you a mint.

Add/view comments on this post.


The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link above.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.