Okay, I can quickly tell you one thing not to buy at a thrift store. Underwear.
Anyways, here are more.
Good Buy: Wool Sweaters
Why pay $75 for a new wool sweater, when you can find one like-new for around four bucks! Tip: Toss it in the dryer with Dryel before wearing.
Bad Buy:Metal Baking Pans
Unless you want to bake that rust right into your cake, skip the used cupcake tins and cake pans and buy your baking ware brand new.
Good Buy: Coffee Mugs
Mugs break. An errant elbow has sent many mugs to their demise. Luckily, for a dollar or less, you can replace it with an interesting colorful vessel to brighten your morning. And for the ultra-low price you don't have to commit to just one style. Cherry pick your faves.
Bad Buy: Raincoats & Rubber Boots
When it comes to these items, it's about more than just looks. They have to work ... if you want to keep dry. With raincoats, waterproofing is compromised when a garment is washed and heavy use can introduce all kinds of entrypoints for raindrops and wind. Meanwhile, rubber boots are often not made to withstand several seasons of jumping in puddles.
Good Buy: Cookbooks
When you page through cookbooks in a thrift shop, don't look for favorite subjects or the shiniest pages. Look for the most used book of all; the one with pages splattered with olive oil and flour and tomato sauce. The one whose recipes were followed, and then followed again. Cooking from an "experienced" cookbook is the next best thing to learning from an experienced cook.
Bad Buy: Toys That Make Noise
If you cringe every time a well-meaning relative bestows your little one with a shiny new toy that buzzes and dings, don't add to your misery by picking one up just because it's a steal at the thrift store. If you can't stand noisy toys, you won't care how much you saved when your ears are ringing for the next few months until your beloved child tires of it.
Good Buy: Trustworthy Labels
When shopping at a thrift store: The very first order of business is to check the label. This is your first test to see if it's worth buying. You can get Cherokee new at Target. Gap and Old Navy are cheap already, and cheaply made in general. Look for well-made clothes with a reputation for hardiness like: Hanna Andersson, Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, L.L. Bean and designer labels.
Bad Buy: Picture Books With Cheap Bindings
Face it, kids man-handle their books. They suck on, rip, wrinkle and have sword fights with them. Keep this in mind when you save a few dollars buying a cheap staple-bound picture book for 50 cents. When you lose half the pages within a few weeks, you'll be several dollars' worth of crazy.
Good Buy: Baby Clothes
At the rate at which kids grow out of or wear through their clothes, thrift stores are the only place to shop for kids. Resist the urge to buy your child pricey designer clothes and instead snag it for pennies on the dollar the thrift store.
Bad Buy: Obviously Stolen Goods
When a thrift store employee or operator brings out something from under the counter which they have "saved for special customers," ... watch out! The chances are good that you'll be looking at an item from a questionable source. Be careful about buying full-case lots and be wary of large multiples of identical items. These are the earmarks of warehouse ripoffs and semi-trailer skimming.
Good Buy: Maternity Clothes
Fact is, maternity clothes are expensive and just as you buy something new, you expand out of it. If you don't have a bunch of friends ready to hand over their maternity wear, the next best place to turn is the thrift shop.
A Bad Buy: Record Albums
Sure, you can snag a thrift shop record for the cost of a single iTunes download, maybe your friends will be mildly charmed by your quirky collection. But see if you those friends will help you schlep twenty crates of 'em when moving day rolls around. If you can't resist collecting records, don't bother hitting thrift stores. Flea markets, used record shops and eBay are better choices.
Good Buy: Art Supplies for Little Guys
Why fight the power of a preschooler's exuberance? A colorful box of watercolors will soon be various shades of brown and black as your budding Picasso fails to rinse his brush between colors. Don't sweat it. Buy art supplies on the cheap during your next trip to the Goodwill and breathe easier during craft time.
Bad Buy: Handmade Sweaters to Recycle Knitting Yarn
In search of cheap yarn? Hunting for used sweaters won't work. Knitting has gotten way too trendy and any sweaters made of high-quality yarn that ends up in thrift shops will likely be snatched before you can get to them. Plus, a store like Michael's is a great source for cheap yarn and will save you the trouble.
Good Buy: Construction Goods
If there is a reseller of used construction goods in your area, it can save you some serious coin. Whether it's a salvage yard or something like a Habitat for Humanity Build It Again Center (in Columbus, Ohio) -- you may be able to find countertops, cabinets, conduit, concrete and more -- on the cheap.
Bad Buy: Cheap Mall Shoes
A thrift shop is an excellent place to find an excellent pair of shoes -- like maybe a nice pair of already-broken-in Nine Wests. It's not the place to buy a used pair, say from Payless. Cheap shoes were probably not even comfortable enough for the original owner, so don't ever bother buying them used.
Good Buy: New Items With Tags
Whether it's a business donating discontinued goods to charitable organizations for a tax deduction, a small retailer going out of business, or even a large chain discount store donating open box items, discontinued styles and display goods, new items with tags often wind up in thrift stores. You can snatch up these bargains for yourself or resell them on eBay for a profit.
Bad Buy: Holiday 'Collectibles'
Can you get it for the same price (or less) at those after-Christmas sales? Probably. You'll think it's lovely in the thrift store in October, but play patience and wait until December 27th. You'll get it for half the price, and without those character-adding chips.
Good Buy: Kitchenware & Fun Appliances
Pasta makers, popcorn poppers, espresso machines, have all been on sale at the thrift store for $10 or less. You may only use it two or three times before the novelty wears off, so why not get it at one-tenth the price?
Bad Buy: Metal Cutlery
Unless you can see the stainless symbol on the cutlery at the thrift store, stay away! The last thing you need is to introduce more metal into your diet (the mercury in your tuna is already too much). If you can taste it, it's certain that some of it is wending its way into your digestive system. When you're out looking for a bargain: pass up the spoons and forks.
In general, I do not recomend that you buy items that have been worn.
Or items that have been in someone's mouth.
In fact, I wouldn't buy anything.
Because you never know where it has been.