Thrifting Tips for the Best Bargains (From a Pro Thrifter)

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While thrifting is already a bargain, there are additional tactics you can employ to get even better deals and to avoid, for example, paying hundreds for a pair of preloved designer jeans.

I’ve been thrifting since I was a teenager and have been to hundreds of shops in numerous countries, which has allowed me to pick up on some common themes and trends as well as learn a few tricks.

With the help of the simple methods I’ve outlined below, I’ve been able to score killer deals on the regular and now you can too. Happy thrifting!

1. Be willing to travel to less populated areas

I’ve found that in smaller towns or in the outskirts of bigger cities you’ll often get the best deals. This might mean that you have to travel a bit further, but the prices can often make it worth the extra trouble.

Not only are the overall prices usually lower in these areas but I’ve also found that the staff working in these shops are less likely to be familiar with designer brand names.

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As a result, I’ve scored some major deals at these in-the-middle-of-nowhere shops such as Max Mara sunglasses for 2.50 CHF and Armani sunglasses for 1.50 CHF (shown above), Prada and Escada jeans for 10 CHF each (pictured below), and Dsquared jeans for 12 CHF (the CHF is roughly equivalent to $).

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2. Be willing to dig through the sale bins for secret treasures

Some shops I visit have tables or bins full of clothes where everything is 1 CHF (~$1) a piece. While it takes added time and energy to dig through these mounds of clothes, I’ve found many, many designer and quality pieces including a Burberry skirt, Christian Dior men’s shirt (pictured below), vintage dresses (I’ve styled one example below), and a Paul and Joe Sister dress all for 1 CHF each.

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So if you have the time and stamina, you can stumble upon some great deals in these bins of clothes.

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3. Keep detailed notes about the places you’ve visited

This is probably my favorite tip, as it’s been paramount to my shopping success and it’s a secret I don’t think many thrifters are using!

As I travel all over Switzerland and to other countries to go second-hand shopping, it’s difficult to remember exactly where I scored my best deals or which shops had outrageously high prices.

I found a genius way to keep track of this with a little help from Google Maps.

Google Maps allows you to save locations within your own private lists. (See this tutorial from Google on how to make your own list of places.)

What I do is create a separate list of all the second-hand shops in each of the locations where I’ve been thrifting (Switzerland, Malta, Munich, Paris, etc.) or am planning to go vintage or second-hand shopping.

After I’ve visited one of my saved locations (or stumbled upon one that wasn’t yet on my map) I’ll add a note to that shop.

I like to enter a description that will help me remember the spot by describing the layout or the location of the store as well as mention what pieces I bought or tried on, and what the prices were like.

If it was a shop where everything was overpriced, I’ll make a note that there’s no need to return to that store.

If it was a really great location, then I might add a certain keyword such as “best” or “favorite” that I can then search for (using command/control f) to easily pull up these shops again.

Storing your notes in Google Maps is a great trick because it means you always have them saved in the cloud and can access them from your phone or computer (or even share them with friends).

I would never be able to keep all my best spots straight (my list for Switzerland currently has close to 500 shops!) without these notes. (Here I discuss my favorites across Switzerland, the best shops to find bargains in Antwerp, and where to score some hidden gems in Brussels.)

And if it weren’t for my detailed notes, I never would have remembered which shop I found this men’s Givenchy button-up shirt for 2 CHF (pictured below).

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4. Scour the men’s & kid’s sections

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With oversized clothing trending right now, it’s given me even more of an incentive to shop in the men’s section. This is one area of the store that is often much less frequented so you can pick up some bargains.

I’ve found some great pieces in the men’s department including Armani, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, and Lacoste shirts for 5 CHF or less each (a few are featured above).

Similarly, the kid’s section is often overlooked as well. I love to look for boy’s Ralph Lauren button-up shirts, vintage track jackets, and blazers and when these pieces are in the kid’s section, they are almost always cheaper than ones in the other sections.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount

When I find something I particularly like but it has a small stain (that I think I can easily remove), the item is missing a button/needs some other minor repair, or has a small hole in it, I simply ask whether they will give me a discount.

Not always, but often they’ll reduce the price. For example, I got 50% off this vintage lilac blouse (styled below) that has a small hole on the sleeve only because I was willing to ask for a reduction.

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In another small shop I found four pairs of sunglasses that I wanted to buy and when I asked how much they were the woman responded back almost as a question “3 CHF?”. Based on how she answered and because I was buying multiple pairs I felt okay asking if she would take 10 CHF for all four and she said yes.

The worst that can happen is they say no, so there’s really no harm in asking.

The only caveat here is to only ask for a discount if you plan on buying the item. Otherwise, you run the risk of upsetting the staff and wasting their time.

6. Sign up for frequent-shopper cards

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Many shops have a discount program you can sign up for or offer a frequent-shopper reward card. These are almost always free to join and you can earn discount coupons and/or cash vouchers that are good for future purchases.

These are easy to sign up for and can potentially save you $100s over the life of the program so take advantage of these savings by joining any and all that you see.

7. Shop on sales days

Some shops have student discount days, 1/2 off days, or special sales days. Also, around the holidays and during summer, shops will often have bigger types of sales where everything is reduced.

I know of one shop that has 26% off everything on the 26th of each month and another shop where everything is half price on the first Wednesday of every month.

Once you figure out when these special discount days are be sure to make note of them in your Google Maps list (see tip #3).

8. Shop where rich people live

Try to shop in towns and cities where the general population is more affluent. In these areas, the donations are typically of higher quality and are more often from designer brands.

An example of something I found in such an area is this virtually brand new Ralph Lauren blouse (pictured below) that I paid 8 CHF for in a small city outside of Zürich on the lake. And this particular shirt is still available for purchase new for $100.

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This tip might go hand-in-hand with my first tactic as these areas can often be in suburban areas or in lesser-known towns or villages.

9. Shop often

The more often you shop, the more likely you are to come across some deals. You’re also exposed to what typical prices are, which will make it easier for you to notice when something is a bargain.

Some shops also regularly rotate their stock, which can mean you find something you were eyeing the last time you were there to now be on sale.

If you like to shop in smaller stores, frequent visits can help you build a good rapport with the owners, which might translate into future discounts.

Final Thoughts

If you have other thrifty tricks I’d love to know about them, so leave them in the comments.

And if you’re looking for some great European cities to go thrifting in, check out my thrifting guides for Switzerland, Zürich, Antwerp, and Brussels.

As always, happy thrifting.

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Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave a kind comment! 💛


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Michelle Rothenburger

Michelle Rothenburger is a vegan fashion blogger whose work has been featured in such publications as Marie Claire, InStyle, Woman & Home, and Vilda. Find out more by reading Michelle’s full story (from bullied to fashion influencer) and feel free to send her a personal message.


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