How to Make Big Money Shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army

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At a Goodwill in Asheville, North Carolina, a Tennessee man paid 58 cents for an old West Point jacket worn by the legendary Vince Lombardi when he was coaching football at the U.S. Army academy. Over the weekend, the jacket sold at auction for $43,000.

Earlier this month a Phoenix man paid $5.99 at an Arizona Goodwill for a diving watch that he then sold for $35,000 plus a $4,000 watch. And a Michigan man dropped $22 at a Salvation Army story on a bronze bust that was not a bust at all. The value of the sculpture was estimated at up to $900.

You never know what treasures could be hiding at your local Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army and other thrift stores.

There's no formula for wandering into thrift shops and making the big score. And while luck and timing play some role, knowing what to look for and how to do it is the key for success, according to "Garage Sale Millionaire" author Aaron Lapedis, who made $1 million by the time he was 24 reselling items he bought at thrift shops and garage sales.

Lapedis, who owns an art gallery in Colorado, still pokes around thrift stores with the belief he will discover more discarded gems that he can flip for cash. Among his more memorable finds: a speech signed by President Lyndon Johnson (paid $10, got $650), a painting (paid $25, got $2,500) and an antique tin monkey toy (paid $27, got $925).

Lapedis' Tips for Finding Hidden Gems at Thrift Shops
  • Be patient and persistent. Inventory in the stores is constantly changing. Going back multiple times, and on different days, is key to being the one to find a piece of value.
  • Look all over. Don't just assume that the only jewelry and watches will be junk or already picked over. Look anywhere in the store where you may spot something that has value.
  • Develop an expertise. The more you get into the chase, the more you can develop or grow an expertise, whether it's in fine China, artwork or watches, or whatever. That will make you less dependent on doing research on the spot and more confident that you came across something of value.
  • Go outside your comfort zone. While you can have more confidence shopping for things you really understand, use your smartphone to support you. Look for identifiable markings, stamps or any other branding that can help you search an item's potential value.
  • Understand selling. Is there a market for the item you want to buy? Perhaps you found a rare vase that is potentially worth 10 times the price it's selling for. Is there a dealer nearby who'll buy it or will only a collector participating in a niche auction be interested? Figure out what will be involved in selling it buying it.
  • Keep perspective. Not every purchase, even a researched one, will be a winner. And just because you saw a price that someone is asking for a similar item online doesn't mean that's what you'll be paid.
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