10 Goodwill Shopping Secrets Employees Won’t Tell You

Thrift-store shopping can be a real rush—finding a diamond in the rough, getting a great price. Follow these Goodwill shopping secrets to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the volume of selection.

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Teenager shopping at a flea market
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Donations Arrive Daily, and Inventory Moves Fast

Goodwill stores operate on an endless cycle: people bringing donations, employees putting them on the floor and customers swooping in. The inventory changes just about every day. If you ever strike out, then try visiting another day. Simple but effective, it’s just the first of our Goodwill shopping secrets.

Check out our top flea market finds, too.

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Don’t Forget to Shop Online!

Employees say that some of the higher-value items that get donated to stores don’t end up on the shelves—they’re listed online. Goodwill’s online shop offers a variety of housewares, electronics, clothes, toys and more, sometimes sold by auction.

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A worker is using a furniture repair marker to color fix a scratched cherry table surface. Three repair sticks rest to the left.
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Know What’s Easy to Fix…

Look for valuable items at Goodwill. An ugly frame around a great piece of art is easy to remove (or vice versa!). A table with a chip is simple to correct with a furniture pen. A missing knob from a cast-iron pot is often replaceable. Picking up items with minor defects can save tons of money.

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Vintage toned portrait of a young beautiful brunette woman in London second hand marketplace. She is wearing casual Autumn clothes, an olive green parka jacket, browsing through the stuff in the market.
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…And What’s Not

Scratched nonstick cookware is actually dangerous. Cracked wooden bowls or utensils can harbor bacteria. Wobbly chair legs might always annoy you. Smells are difficult to banish. Slow down and take time to assess your items for flaws that will keep them from being useful.

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Donations Are Big on Weekends

When do most people have time to swing by Goodwill with bags full of stuff? The weekend, of course! Time your shop for Monday or Tuesday to see the spike in inventory. Arriving early in the morning generally lets you beat the rush.

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pile of household things, various dishes and decorative objects at boot sale for second hand, recycling or over-consumption society at outdoor welfare
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Look for Special Occasion Items

One of the best secrets about Goodwill? The cache of quality, special items. Think nice glasses, vases, plates and table settings. Cool retro items, like patterned Pyrex dishes, often go for a song. Don’t forget to check for holiday items, too, from ornaments to tableware, which go for a fraction of the price of new.

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various kitchen utensils on wooden table
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Single-Use Appliances and Tools Are Big

Lots of people get certain single-use appliances and tools and wind up never using them. Think waffle irons, electric skillets, avocado slicers, lemon squeezers and juicers. If you’re in the market, check a couple local Goodwill stores first.

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Variety of assortments in store of antique furniture
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You Can’t Always Pick It up Later

Buying something large, like furniture or electronics? If you can’t carry them out right away, be sure to ask how long the store can hold them for you. In some cases, the store has a limited window, after which they may sell the item to someone else.

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Look for Quality

Cast-iron skillets are famously better the longer they’re used, even if they’re rusty. (Here’s how to fix that.) Look for heavy-bottomed pots and pans; fitted lids are a bonus! Name brands are a good sign for most products, from electronics to cookware. For clothing, check the tag for natural materials.

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A senior African-American woman in her 60s working in a clothing store. She is standing in the menswear department at a rack of clothing, holding a clipboard.
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Check for Discounts

Many Goodwill locations offer discounts for military members, students and seniors. They also offer coupons and email discounts. Check your local Goodwill for details.

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Woman holding Clothes with Donate Box In her room, Donation Concept.
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Donations May Be Seasonal

People tend to clean out their houses during certain times of year. Summer, when yard sales are popular, is generally a good time. Busy periods, like holidays or back-to-school time, often see slow-downs in donations.

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes, cooks and travels from her home base of Chicago. After going gluten-free over a decade ago, Kelsey turned to home cooking and baking as a way to recreate her favorite foods. Her specialties include gluten-free sourdough bread, pizza and pastry. When not wrangling her toddler, she enjoys reading, watching old movies and writing. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, was published by William Morrow in 2019, and her second is forthcoming.