Furnishing Your First Apartment: The Dos and Don’ts of Thrift Store and Yard Sale Shopping

Audra yard saleI don’t know about you, but I love a good bargain and so do my fellow first apartment bloggers who have shared many tricks for furnishing with minimal budgets.  However, bargain shopping can have some very serious drawbacks if you aren’t sure what to look for or you aren’t prepared for what could go wrong. So before you hit up your local thrift store or the yard sale you saw on your way home from work, familiarize yourself with this handy list of dos and don’ts for thrift store and yard sale shopping.

The Don’ts

Don’t buy it just because it’s a bargain. Like I said, I love a good bargain, but there is a line between buying something you will really enjoy, use, and appreciate and buying something that you tell yourself you’ll upcycle when you have time. Chances are, it will sit in the closet or some lonesome corner of your apartment for ages. So ask yourself before making the purchase (no matter how cheap it may be), “Will I honestly use this?” Trust me, I’ve bought plenty of useless things during my many bargain shopping adventures.

Don’t take risks with items that could be contaminated. Sure, a pretty quilt or some eclectic throw pillows might look nice, but items like these carry a big risk when buying secondhand. If an item could host bugs, especially the awful, awful pests known as bedbugs, or bacteria, then best to leave it behind. The cute find is definitely not worth the risk.

Don’t buy broken things (if they can’t be repaired cheaply). Time and time again I’ve seen people at yard sales and thrift stores buying broken electronics or furniture items and I always shake my head in confusion. It’s not a bargain if the cost to fix it takes more money than the cost of buying it new. So before you buy an item that needs a little TLC, consider the time, money, skills, and tools that are needed to complete the project. However, that doesn’t mean that a picture frame with a torn photo inside can’t make a perfect mirror. My advice is to just be realistic when it comes to broken items.

Don’t take a list. When you are grocery shopping, lists are awesome because they help contain what you end up purchasing, but with thrifty shopping, they just don’t work. The point of thrift store or yard sale shopping is to discover great finds. When you bargain shop with a list, you limit your scope and heighten your chances of missing something potentially really useful because you weren’t looking for it that day. In this case, leave the list at home.

The Dos

Do take cash only. In the age of debit and credit cards, it is likely that you don’t often have cash in hand. However, when planning to do some thrift store or yard sale shopping, always take cash. Since the goal is to err on the side of cheap shopping, set a budget and only carry that much cash to the sale. Plus, carrying cash cuts out the issue or having to run to the ATM when the store or individual only accepts cash. When you are making that ATM run, you could be losing out on many great buys.

Do negotiate. Although many thrift stores don’t allow for negotiation, most yard sales do. When you find an item you really like that’s just too expensive, offer a lower price. If the seller accepts your offer, you saved money and snagged the item. If they refuse to budge, then it’s a good sign that it isn’t the bargain for you. Chances are, if you offer a reasonable price and are buying multiple items, the seller will take you up on it. Remember, their goal is to make money and get rid of it anyway.

Note: Be careful not to insult the seller. Being polite and courteous will get you much further.

Do have an open mind.  When you are bargain shopping, you will run into many things; some really interesting and unique, some grotesque and horrid. However, it is important to have an open mind about the items you encounter. Just because that chair is a completely hideous shade of green doesn’t mean it can’t make a great addition to your apartment with a fresh coat of paint. So always consider ways to repurpose the items you see. Sometimes the ugliest buys are  diamonds in the rough.

Do check for discounts.  Often thrift stores will have a particular discount day or a time or the year when the cut prices on items throughout the store, so ask. Chances are, this won’t be the last time you are in the store looking for a good buy. With yard sales, if they weren’t willing to negotiate on an item earlier, drop back by later. Toward the end of the day, they are more likely to reduce prices because they want the items gone, if they aren’t already.

Now that you are well-informed about the dos and don’ts of shopping for used, bargain items, get to shopping. Oh, and I like hearing good bargain stories and tips, so share your best finds and tips below!

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Author My First Apartment

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Audra is a recent college graduate and an aspiring writer based in her home state of Georgia. She’s a lover of the sweetest Southern tea, warm weather, and decorating with lots of color, DIY projects, and shabby chic pieces. Her apartment living journey is still young, so she’s busy navigating the ups and downs and learning along the way. For more from Audra, follow her on Pinterest or check out her website shepenspretty.com.

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar Allbert

    These are some important considerations for having a successful yard sale shopping. I am also attending a yard sale in next week.

  2. Admin Admin

    Dishes for a grad student’s first apartment, a service for 8, including oven and serving dishes, for $10 at a yard sale!