Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Travel & Lifestyle

How to Shop Second-Hand: A Comprehensive Guide

March 21, 2019

Whether you’re someone who’s already intrigued by the concept of second-hand shopping but just don’t know where to begin, or if you’re someone who’s not yet sold on the concept of second-hand shopping, you’ve come to the right place! In this comprehensive guide to second-hand shopping, I’m going to cover everything from the why and the venues to my personal experiences and my favorite tips, so that by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be ready to switch over to this modern-day form of treasure hunting!

The Why

With all the rampant consumerism taking over everyone’s lives and all the environmental waste that companies and individuals are contributing to, it’s time to return to simpler times when people put more thought into their purchases, not only for the benefit of our planet, but for our own mental and financial health.

Unfortunately, buying second-hand is something that most people don’t even consider before they go out to buy things due to all the stereotypes that come attached to the concept of second-hand shopping. For example, I’ve come across many individuals that equate second-hand shopping with poverty or being a cheap individual, and while a lot of people facing hardship do shop second-hand, these assertions only serve to stigmatize a practice that has benefits for individuals from all walks of life.

Furthermore, this line of thinking is nothing more than a result of years of marketing efforts – we are conditioned to purchase as many things as possible on a daily basis through advertising efforts that companies pour billions of dollars into every year. Companies don’t want us to buy second-hand because it cuts into their profits. Buying second-hand is a great way to save money and become a bit more conscious about our consumption, both of which are things that benefit each and every one of us!

I’ve personally been shopping second-hand for everything from clothes to electronics and furniture for many years now and it’s been a wonderful experience resulting in a lot of prized possessions, savings, and the knowledge that I’m doing something to move towards a more simple & sustainable lifestyle.

Also, I know how hard it can be to deal with criticism from the people around you for the way you choose to live your life and if that’s something that’s stopping you from adopting this fun and amazing mode of shopping, just remember, if you do anything different than the norm, criticism is to be expected, but whether or not you let other people’s criticisms dictate the way you choose to live your life, is 100% your choice!

Thrift Stores aka Thrifting

Now that we’ve covered the why, I want to start delving into the practical and juicy tips! First off, we’re going to start off with shopping at thrift stores aka thrifting.

Thrift stores are excellent venues for shopping for many reasons, with the main one being that they usually carry ALL sorts of things from clothing to furniture to sporting goods, odd trinkets and often even beautiful vintage items. Also, in bigger cities, so many donations come into these stores, that sometimes they can barely keep up with it, resulting in choices galore! Also, some thrift stores offer reward programs and have discount days which can result in you saving even more money. So, what kinds of things are thrift stores the best for?

The first category of items that thrift stores are absolutely amazing for are clothes. On my last major thrifting trip, I found a brand new designer business casual top with the tags still attached and originally worth $385 for…wait for it…$2.99. You’ll be surprised at how often people donate brand-new unworn clothes or clothing that is used but still in perfectly good condition.

You can find amazing styles, expensive coats and jackets, dresses in all sorts of sizes, styles, and shapes, workout clothes and more for a fraction of the original price. I almost exclusively shop for clothes at thrift stores. This is an especially good tip for parents that are trying to save money on children’s clothing – since little kids grow out of clothes super fast, it’s a good idea to buy them second-hand rather than purchasing brand new clothes every couple of months.

Another great category for thrifting is kitchen essentials like pots, pans, glass containers, and appliances. These items are usually very expensive new and you can save a lot of money by purchasing them second-hand.

A few other miscellaneous categories include home decor, books, toys, and board games. I have found the most incredibly beautiful books from used bookstores and nothing quite compares to the excitement of discovering a hidden treasure in a dusty corner of a book store!

The biggest tip for getting the most out of thrift stores is to go to the most upscale cities near you. The thrift stores in these cities tend to have more expensive items priced at extremely cheap prices! Tip number two is to plan bigger shopping days around your local thrift stores’ discount days. Some thrift stores have rotating categories every weekday so plan to go on the day when the category you plan on buying in is on sale.

Lastly, once in a while you’ll come across an item you really want but it might be slightly broken or ripped or have some other defect that you can easily fix, but the item is priced higher than you’re willing to pay for an item you’ll have to put work into – in these instances, ask the cashier if they’d be willing to further discount the item given the defect. It’s always worth a shot because sometimes they are willing to discount the item!

Update: As the popularity of thrifting has increased over the past few years, a lot of thrift stores have raised their prices (Goodwill, I’m looking at you) and sometimes they price things higher than the brand-new price even so be careful and double-check to make sure you’re getting the best price.

Let’s move on to some other popular venues!

Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, & Other Apps

Craigslist is probably the most well known online venue for buying specific second-hand things from people near you. But, you may not know that there are tons of competing apps to choose from these days! In my area, these apps are Facebook Marketplace & Offerup which are very similar to Craigslist with the added benefit of having ratings and/or verifications for sellers. I like to use all 3 together both for buying and selling so I have lots of options. Facebook Marketplace can especially be an absolute goldmine if you keep your eyes out for good deals! Which venue is popular in your area will differ from place to place.

Next, when it comes to second-hand shopping, every venue has its own specialty such as clothing for thrift stores. In my experience, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are the number one place to buy electronics (and furniture, but more on that later). I’m always amazed that people are always so willing to drop hundreds and thousands of dollars on brand new electronics like phones, tablets, laptops, and gaming systems when they can get the same thing at often half the price! I’ve almost exclusively shopped on Craigslist and other apps for electronics for the past 8 years now.

My beloved MacBook that I’m typing this up on right now – Craigslist. Every single phone (excluding my current one) that I’ve owned since I was 17 – Craigslist. And, the only reason my current phone wasn’t bought second hand is because it’s not that popular of a brand in the United States and not a single person anywhere near me was selling it. My last tablet – Craigslist, bought brand new and sealed at less than half the price of the original. My first TV ever (a 40 inch led smart TV) – bought at half the price brand new and sealed. My ex-Kindle Paperwhite (I’ve since moved on to greener pastures when it comes to ereaders) – Craigslist, bought at quite a discount brand new and sealed. I could go on and on.

You may not always get lucky and find super cheap brand-new items like I have a couple times, but even worst case scenario, you’ll either save on the tax and get at least a small discount versus buying new.

When buying electronic items, make sure to carefully assess the condition by looking for any dents, scratches and defects. Make sure to look up the serial number and IMEI (for phones) to ensure the item is not stolen. Always power on the device and tinker around with it for a while before finalizing the sale. And do not, I repeat – do not, get distracted by a gorgeous guy selling you a broken iphone that doesn’t power on while the guy earnestly claims that he swears it does, he just forgot the charger! Which reminds me, test out the charger or any other accessories to make sure they all work. Ideally, try to meet up the person at the store from which they purchased the item. For example, if you’re buying an iPhone or Macbook, meet up with them at an Apple store so you can have the item verified by an employee.

The next category of items that I recommend buying from Craigslist is furniture. Furniture is one of those items that sells for a whole lot of money, but loses value almost immediately after you buy it similar to cars (which I also advocate buying second-hand with a few caveats). Due to this, it’s almost always a good idea to buy furniture second-hand if possible as not only do you save a lot of money, but more often than not, you can sell the furniture when you move at the same price, recouping all the money you spent.

With furniture, even if you’re allergic to things like certain pets, you don’t have to worry because people will usually mention if the furniture is from a pet/smoke-free home. Furthermore, you usually go look at the furniture at the person’s house so you can ascertain that the furniture comes from a clean home. But please be careful with furniture because not doing your due diligence in the furniture department can lead to bedbugs or worse which is definitely not something you want to deal with.

Garage Sales & Estate Sales

The last two venues I want to delve into are garage sales and estate sales which are amazing sources for all sorts of things! Garage sales are usually held by individual households when they have extra stuff they no longer need or brand new items they purchased but ended up not using. These are usually held out of people’s garages and driveways. Estate sales occur when a deceased person’s estate is being liquidated or they’re held by someone who needs to dispose of all their possessions for a big move. For these, you usually go into the house and can buy anything in the house with a price tag on it.

With garage and estate sales, you have to do some extra planning as they’re much better for items that you’re not in a hurry to purchase. For example, let’s say you have a couple of kitchen appliances on your wish-list such as an air fryer and a toaster oven. If you set aside a weekend or two to hunt down these two items, you’re extremely likely to find them and get them at a ridiculously low price, but it takes patience and planning!

Let’s start off with the days. Most garage and estate sales are held on the weekends, both on Saturday and Sunday, however, if you want to snag the good stuff, definitely go early in the morning on Saturdays as things sell fast and by Sunday, most people have already sold their good items.

How do you find garage and estate sales? The usual way to locate these sales is to drive around some neighborhoods and be on the lookout for sale signs at intersections of main roads and inner streets of residential blocks. One you find some signs, all you have to do is follow the arrows to get to the house. You can also just drive around neighborhoods in general and just look for homes with their driveways set up with their stuff.

Also, households often join forces and hold massive neighborhood garage sales and sometimes they even make flyers which they pass around the entire neighborhood so be on the lookout for these in your own neighborhood. You can also check the community section of your local Craigslist to scout for upcoming garage sales.

Similarly to thrift stores, you can sometimes find great deals in more expensive neighborhoods so definitely visit all sorts of different neighborhoods in your area to find the best deals. Also, some people may turn their garage sales into a side business so be sure to take down contact info if you come across someone with great stuff! When my boyfriend first introduced me to Yugioh, I found a person a couple cities away who was a collector that bought out storage units at auctions and then sold his finds at his garage sales every weekend. I made sure to take down his number and visited his sales often!


Before ending this post, I want to take some time to touch on safety! Safety is SO important to take into consideration especially when you’re meeting strangers off of a website. So, here are a couple basic guidelines to ensure you never put yourself in an unsafe position:

  • Never give out your real phone number. With apps like TextNow and Google Voice, there’s no reason to give out your real phone number to strangers. Set up a local phone number for free through one of these services and give that out instead.
  • The same advice applies for your email address. Have a separate email address that you use for these sorts of things.
  • Don’t give out your real name. You can use a nickname or a fake name instead.
  • Never meet anyone at your home or their home. The only exception to this is furniture which I’ll talk more about at the end of this section.
  • Always meet up in a public location such as Starbucks where it’s well lit and there are lots of people around you.
  • Always meet up with the other person before it turns dark – the earlier in the day, the better.
  • If someone sounds scammy or strange or off to you in some way or you have a bad feeling in your gut, listen to your intuition and don’t meet up with them. You’ll find another buyer/seller.
  • Try to take another person with you like a friend or family member if you’re not sure about meeting up with someone alone.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Make sure your phone is charged.

I also want to touch on furniture. Usually, in the case of furniture items, you usually have to go to someone else’s house. In this case, firstly look up the house and make sure it’s in a safe neighborhood. Secondly, try to take someone else with you as there is safety in numbers.

As long as you follow your basic common sense safety protocol, there is nothing to be worried about! I’ve bought and sold hundreds of things and met up with strangers without a single hitch by following the above guidelines.

Last Comments

Before wrapping this up, I want to mention a few other things that I didn’t cover earlier.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge that shopping second-hand can be much harder if you live in a more rural area and the selection of items might not be as good if you live outside of a major city. In that case, I recommend searching online first and using websites such as Thredup, Depop, and Ebay. You can also rely more on garage and estate sales as those might have better options.

Secondly, I want to mention that there are tons of other venues out there such as Nextdoor, Mercari, etc. so always research your area to figure out which venues are the most popular in your area or online and work the best for you.

To me, shopping second-hand is almost like a treasure-hunt – no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll most likely end up finding something even better and if that isn’t exciting enough, you can literally save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year by simply shopping second-hand!

You Might Also Like...

No Comments

    Leave a Reply