Secrets of a Savvy Goodwill Shopper

The card my husband gave me for Valentine’s Day this year was a gift card to my favorite local consignment store where I LOVE to shop. Now THAT says ‘I love you.’

I enjoy shopping outside of the mall and the big box retail stores and I am something of an expert Goodwill shopper. FanTABulous Women can and should be bargain shoppers! Newsflash: being a bargain shopper does not mean sacrificing style or quality.

Dressing with flair while on a limited budget just means learning some savvy shopping skills to score quality pieces that you will love adding to your wardrobe.

Navigating your local Goodwill takes ‘having the eye,’ as my mother calls it, and can easily be learned. Consider this your tutorial.

Secrets of a savvy Goodwill shopper from Tabitha Dumas on

Before you go:

1. Familiarize yourself with high quality pieces of clothing. You’ve heard it said about counterfeit money—the experts study the real thing so they can easily spot the phonies. You can scan the racks and easily spot the quality pieces of clothing when you are familiar with their look and feel. If you don’t have many in your closet yet, visit a high-end boutique or department store and familiarize yourself! The goal is that you can go to Goodwill and your eyes will easily pass over the faded t-shirts, dated prints, 80s denim and cheap polyester and land on the finer fabrics with classic cuts and expensive details.

2. Make a list of what you need. Spend some time in your closet to determine what you need. There are probably pieces that you don’t wear because they need a companion piece like white pants, a denim skirt or a white cardigan. Also consider upcoming events that you need a special item for, like boots for a Western-themed party or a red top for a patriotic holiday. Shopping will be less overwhelming and you won’t forget anything.

3. Use the Goodwill store locator. You can bet that the store location dictates the kind of donations it receives, so plan accordingly. Also remember that stores in a nice part of town = nicer donations. Look for stores near swanky, high-end neighborhoods and skip the stores in run-down areas. You don’t want to end up in a store that has nothing but the items left over from nearby garage sales.

4. Sign up to receive their emails so you can receive coupons (usually monthly for 20% off a $10+ purchase) and notifications about new stores opening. It’s on their main page.

5. Be aware that most stores have a half-price tag every day. The store will have a sign—and sometimes even balloons floating (as pictured below)—to indicate the color tag that is half-price that day. It’s a great way to save extra money, especially on more pricey items like designer-name clothes or high-ticket items like coats.

savvy goodwill shopping

6. Also be aware that most stores have half-price Saturdays when EVERY item is half price. You may want to go on that day for extra savings or avoid going that day to avoid the occasional crowds and long lines. For most stores, it’s one Saturday every month.

7. Dress appropriately for the trip. If you make a day of it, you might end up in the fitting room two or three times so wear clothes that are easy to get on and off. Wear neutral undergarments as well. Consider wearing a favorite pair of shorts or pants, too, for trying on tops. Or wear an item that you NEED to find a match for!

At the store:

1. Plan your route. Clothing is arranged by type (sleeveless, short sleeve, skirts, pajamas, etc.) then size (tops are S to XL, bottoms are usually 3/4, 5/6, etc.) then color. Refer to #2 to avoid being overwhelmed. I recommend starting at the ‘Better Brands’ racks (see #2 below) then visiting your favorite color IN your size within each type. End with shoes then bags then accessories.

2. Peruse the ‘Better Brands’ rack first. You’ll be amazed at the brand names you can find! Don’t miss the out-of-season items, too. I once scored a like-new classic black GAP coat in the middle of summer for less than ten bucks. Keep in mind, however, that the ‘better brands’ are often mixed in to the other racks, too.

3. Know your sizes and colors. I always make a point to check the white, black and denim sections in each section. Look for quality, classic pieces like a white blouse, black dress pants or a denim jacket.What colors do you look amazing in—brights? Earth tones? Pastels? You can spend some extra time in those sections to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you haven’t yet, Discover Your Signature Color to narrow down your color palette.

Also keep you sizes in mind, especially if you’re the type who is a different size on the top and bottom. Remember that a size 6 could be in the small or medium sections while a 10 could be medium or large. goodwill shopping secrets

4. Check labels. I look for J. Jill, NY & Co., GAP, Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor Loft and Banana Republic, among others. What are YOUR favorite stores or brands? You may know what specific brands you like from department stores or big box retailers so look out for those, too. Also check for ‘dry clean only’ labels. Add the cost of dry-cleaning to the price of the item. This is less of an issue for sweaters and coats that won’t be in direct contact with your skin.

5. Think of roaches: if you see one, there are usually more. If you see one Ann Taylor Loft item in a size medium, chances are that there are more from the same donator. Keep an eye out.

6. Check for stains or required repairs BEFORE trying items on. Chances are that you don’t want to have to repair a zipper or drawstring or replace a button on a $4 or $6 item. Give items a once-over before you get attached to them or take the time to try them on. It almost goes without saying, but…

7. Always try items on! Even if you know that you are always a size large at Forever 21, try it on to make sure it fits and flatters you.

Before you leave the fitting room area…

8. Remember to check the rack of fitting room cast-offs. They are full of items that caught someone’s eye but didn’t work out for whatever reason. They might work perfectly for you, though, plus there will likely be several items in the same size. Speaking of the fitting room…

9. It’s always better to take a friend along. Countless times, I have pulled something off a rack that my shopping partner passed over or vise versa. You might be surprised by what a trusted friend thinks will look good on you! Plus a second opinion is always nice and shopping at Goodwill is a great opportunity to try on items or outfits that you wouldn’t normally wear. Which brings us to…

10. Shop by your list…but feel free to experiment. If you’ve been dying to try a more gypsy-like or vintage vibe or have vowed to start dressing more professionally, the variety and affordability at Goodwill means that you can experiment with little risk. savvy secrets of goodwill shopping

11. Remember accessories and shoes. Belts, hats, shoes and jewelry are definitely worth perusing. You never know what treasure you could discover! You might want to visit these areas last to complete the outfits your just bought.

When you get home:

1. Launder your clothing purchases. Yes, this is a must.

2. Consider taking OUT the same number of items that you bring in and donating them to Goodwill! This will prevent you from overloading your closet and will freshen up your wardrobe.

3. Put a few outfits together with your new items to make getting dressed easier.

4. Enjoy the compliments you will receive—and resist the urge to reveal your secret of where you got it or how much you paid!

If you visit your local Goodwill, I hope you will consider these tips and report back on how you did. Have fun on your treasure hunt!

Have you shopped at Goodwill? Tell us about your experience!

About Tabitha

I am the one woman show behind FanTABulous Women. God is #1 in my life. I am a wife of twelve years, mother of two sons, purveyor of pretty and agent of encouragement. I am also a writer, dreamer, blogger and go-getter. I am happiest when I'm "putting myself out there" and inspiring others to do the same--in their own unique way. To pick my brain or schedule a consultation, call or text (602) 349-1129 or email letmerephrasethat(at)


  1. I’ve made 99.9% of my clothing purchases for the past year and a half at Goodwill & Salvation Army and LOVE it! The only things that I have had to buy at a regular store (Sam’s,Target & Ross) is a new white t-shirt, yoga pants 2 bras after I lost weight. Home things too! Restore is a wonderful place with great prices to check out.

    • I always start at Goodwill first–I’d rather buy used if I can. I am amazed at what I can find second hand! I get a few things here and there at Target and Ross, too–underwear is one of the few items we always need to buy new! :) Thanks for your comment! {and congrats on the weight loss!}

  2. I love, love, love shopping at Goodwill. It’s the best place to buy vintage clothing and one of kind fashionable clothing. I get loads of compliments from my family and friends when I have on one of my Goodwill dresses, might I add, it’s name brand. Having an open mind while shopping at a thrift store saves me tons of money and time. I also like the challenge in finding great deals. For instance; I bought a Banana Republic dress for $8.99 with 50% off. I will not shop at a mall ever again!.

  3. I go to Goodwill and Salvation Army several times a week to find merchandise for my vintage shop. I also buy for myself. I haven’t set foot in a mall since November 2012, when I started thrifting more often. I absolutely love the things I find. The only things I need to buy new are bras etc. We’re saving money, recycling and being creative. Great blog post!

    • Saving money, recycling and being creative are ALL things I LOVE! :) I almost never go to the mall, either. It’s just so fun to hunt for a treasure! Thanks for coming by!

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Copyright Tabitha Dumas, online and in-persona image consultant Gilbert Chandler, Arizona. All right reserved.