Looking for an even bigger bargain than your local Goodwill? If you’ve got the bargain hunter-gathering instinct, and have some time to spare, track down a Goodwill Outlet for bargains by the (literal) bin-load!
Goodwill Outlets are not for the faint of heart. Clothing, books, and other items that haven’t sold in a certain timeframe at your local Goodwill are pulled from the shelves and poured into bins at the outlet, and sold either by the pound (for example, $2.49/lb for clothing at the Goodwill Marketplace in Santa Ana, but only $0.79/lb in St. Louis) or for a very low per-item fee (the DC Goodwill Fashionista reports most pieces are $1.75 at the Boston outlet). Some outlets also feature electronics, homegoods, and furniture. Major finds for me have been a 1-year-old’s Halloween costume for $0.75, a Gymboree sweater for $0.40, and a Hawaiian-print bed sheet that I turned into curtains for $1.29.
Finding gold amidst the dross requires some “diving in,” but with a little preparation you can come out with some bargain treasures!
Here are 10 tips for finding bargains at a Goodwill Outlet:
1. Dress comfortably. Remember, the clothing and items will not be displayed on shelves for you to wander by. It will be, literally, dumped in bins for you to sort through, likely while pushing past other bargain-hunters. You may be standing in one spot sorting, so comfortable shoes are a must. I’ve never found unsanitary conditions, but some shoppers prefer to bring a pair of latex or rubber gloves to dig through the bins.
2. Grab a cart, or better yet, bring a bag. Having free hands to dig is essential, so make sure you have something to throw your finds in. The blue Ikea bags work perfectly.
3. Come with an open mind and a sense of bargain adventure. If you’re looking for a specific item of clothing, stick to a regular Goodwill, or you may be disappointed and overwhelmed. Items are sorted into very basic categories (clothing, books, etc) but that means that men’s, women’s and children’s clothing are all lumped in together. When I go, I may come with a broad category (“baby clothes”) in mind and bypass all adult clothes, but if I knew I wanted a red cardigan sweater, that would be too narrow.
4. Don’t think too hard. Due to the overwhelming nature of bin-hunting, let your gut lead you. I look out for patterns and fabrics, pulling those pieces out for closer examination, and leave the rest.
5. Bring a friend. Friends can help keep an eye out for any broad categories of items you may be seeking. Maybe you want to browse, but particularly want to see if there are any rain jackets? Tell your friends to grab any they see in their search bins and know that you’ve covered more ground by the time you call it a day.
5. Grab first, sort later. Anything that catches your eye as a possibility should go into the bag. That prevents it from being snatched up by someone else, and for me, saves my decision-making brain, which has a limited lifespan these days.
6. Keep your expectations realistic, but leave room for pleasant surprises. Sorting through the bins, you’ll come across quite a bit of clothing that you will understand why it didn’t sell. Many items may be an unusual size, outdated, or damaged. Expect that you may have to do some stain removal, repair, or tailoring. This is both why it can be tiring to shop at an outlet, but also why your treasure shines so much brighter when you do find that perfect item for a steal. Baby and children’s clothing in particular can be nearly unworn, as children frequently outgrow items before they are worn out. And you’ll find the occasional “NWT” items that somehow just didn’t get snapped up because they weren’t a good fit for the Goodwill they were donated to.
7. Pass on the shoes and delicate items. In the hubbub of the bins, shoes frequently lose their mate and delicate items can get smashed. Unless you’re looking for just one shoe, there’s a lower chance of finding a true bargain here.
8. Know when to say when. Expect that you may not make it through all the bins. Recognize when you’re starting to get tired, hungry, or overwhelmed and walk away from the bins before your brain checks out completely. You’ll need a bit of stamina left for step nine.
9. Re-sort. Go into a corner or somewhere with a bit of quiet and space, and sort through everything you threw in your bag. Examine items closely for stains, rips, or just for items that you don’t realistically want or need. Toss back anything that needs more TLC or reconditioning than you’re actually willing to do – even the best deals are a waste of money if they sit in your drawer or go right back to Goodwill.
10. Check the website. Most Goodwill Outlets will have a webpage through your regional Goodwill site that lists any important information, such as the hours, the schedule for rotating bins, or any specific deals they have going on.
About.com’s Frugal Living website lists Goodwill Outlets by state. Additionally, you can go to the website for your local Goodwill and search for local outlets. In Orange County, California, the outlet is known as the Goodwill Marketplace.
What’s the best thrift store bargain you’ve found?