Shopping in a thrift store is like going on a treasure hunt.
Follow the rules and thrift store shopping can be very rewarding! It's a different shopping scene than what you'll find in a department store. Thrift stores operate basically like all stores, but since each piece of merchandise is unique, you must be faster, more consistent, and more decisive to make the most of your shopping time.
Thrift store shopping is like a game where you need to be light on your feet. Here are the rules:
Merchandise changes, sometimes daily, at most thrift stores, so if you can't find what you need today, it may very well be there tomorrow! A weekly shopping trip is reasonable and will yield many finds and bargains. Train yourself to not buy unless it's really what you want or need, though, or a weekly shopping trip could turn into a weekly binge.
Shop for quality.
Vintage linens, original recordings, collector's items, depression glass, brand name quality clothing... they're all to be found in thrift stores. Know what you're looking at; pay attention to labels and know the signature details of famous designers if that's what you're shopping for.
Take your time
Don't go shopping at a thrift store when you're rushed or not in the mood to pay attention to details. You may have to go through a 20-foot rack, one item at a time before you find that perfect piece - take the challenge and take the time to dig out that treasure.
Pay attention to the size and fit in clothing
Go with a list of sizes, but be aware: Clothing can stretch or shrink and may not be the original size; also, some clothing will be without tags and will have been assigned a size by estimation. Try it on if you can. Although a practiced second-hand shopper will soon be able to "eyeball" a garment and tell if it will fit or not, regardless of size tags, unless you're sure you can do that, try on clothing before you buy.
Most thrift stores do have a return policy, but why put them and yourself to the trouble of returning items because they don't fit once you get them home? The exception is that if you're buying for someone else and they simply cannot get to the store to try them on.
Merchandise is sold "as is"
While most thrift stores sort and discard worn or damaged clothing, it's still up to you to be sure it's in acceptable condition. Check zippers, seams, and buttonholes for damage. If you really like an item but it's damaged, decide if you can repair it. Don't take it to the clerk and expect more of a discount - clerks in thrift stores don't usually have the authority to change prices. Take it or leave it, the choice is yours.
Ask to try out appliances, games, etc., before buying them. Take into consideration the age of an appliance and pay attention to how well it functions and how important that particular function is to you.
For instance, a hot plate that works great but takes 15 minutes to heat may not be worth your while because of the extra electricity it will use in heating up. However, if it heats quickly, but the temperature control doesn't work (it simply gets HOT and that's it), it's your choice as to whether it would be appropriate for your purposes. If all you're going to do is boil water and heat soup, sensitive temperature control isn't necessary.
Shopping for gifts
Shopping for gifts in a thrift store is fun! Finding the perfect gift is actually easier than when you shop at a department store with their narrowly defined fashions and fads. The variety in a thrift store makes it possible to find the perfect gift for almost everyone.
Things like ceramics, dishes, jewelry, and collectibles don't look worn (unless they're damaged) and can be a lot more appropriate than you can find otherwise. You'll sometimes run across clothing with new tags still attached. You can find clothing that is of better quality than what is commonly available. You will find vintage linens, depression glass, classic art, original recordings, and so on for much less than an antique store or collector's sale.
Go often, take your time, enjoy the hunt, and enjoy the thrill of finding exactly what you really want at a price that makes sense.
Source From: Pat Veretto, Your Guide to Frugal Living.