Turn Thrifting into a Moneymaker Like These Vintage Sellers

A woman looks at black high knee boots in a thrift store.
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The ideal side hustle earns us enough money to help pay our bills but doesn’t cut too much into our leisure time. An added bonus is to make money from something we love to do — right? Some vintage sellers have this figured out.

If you find yourself stopping by thrift stores or vintage shops from week to week, combing the racks for the best items, it might be time to turn your minor shopping addiction into a moneymaker.

How Much Can You Really Make?

While it varies how much money you can make from selling secondhand goods, an informal poll of resellers on Reddit revealed an earning range from about $1,000 a month to as much as $5,000 a month. (Some users reported as much as $100,000 to $300,000 annual revenue, but those numbers are likely outliers.)

Reselling instructional website Flea Market Flipper reported earning $20,359 in a month from flipping used items. If you get lucky, you may find something like a rare Italian vase at Goodwill for $3.99 and resell it at auction for $107,100, like this Virginia thrifter. (Ah, thrifting — you never know what you’ll find. This is the joy.)

An important tip: don’t limit yourself to one type of item, like clothes or furniture. The secondhand sellers we spoke with sold everything from clothing to bamboo bars, artwork and napkin rings. It’s less about the item and more about finding something that speaks to an audience and tells a story.

Here’s how four vintage sellers got started and what advice they have for those hoping to follow in their footsteps.

A woman swings a crochet top.
Photo courtsey of Brooke Austell

Brooke Austell, Jacksonville, Florida

Brooke Austell’s Depop shop, Beez Vintage, came about almost by accident in 2019. The 22 year old met a girl who was a top seller on clothing resale site Depop. “I pay my rent from my sales here,” the friend told Austell. She shared her best tips, and within a month, Austell quit the serving job she was looking to leave. She started using Depop as her main source of income.

As an avid fan of fashion and modeling, the career pivot wasn’t completely out of Austell’s wheelhouse.

She took her Depop in a creative direction and curated a cohesive style with her images for a uniform look.

“I’ve got studio lights, and I repainted my entire bedroom white just so that I can use it as a backdrop,” she said. “Over the years, my iPhone photos have turned to professional camera photos, and I have a preset on [Adobe] Lightroom to edit.”

Austell also has her sourcing process down to a bit of a science. She thrifts once or twice a week, often avoiding actual thrift stores, which tend to be priced higher. She goes to The Salvation Army on Wednesdays, which is a half-off day where she is. (Check out your local Salvation Army site to find out when they have discount days.) She goes to Goodwill once every other week but usually leaves with no more than 10 items.

She does the bulk of her selling on Depop, which charges sellers a 10% fee on each transaction plus the additional 2.9% transaction fee from the site’s payment system (or PayPal). 

Austell also uses Whatnot. The social marketplace allows users to run livestream auctions and sell their items off in real time. Austell uses it less as a way to make a high profit and more as a way to get rid of old inventory. She might sell everything at $5 just to start.

As she’s grown her business, she’s also begun to experiment with what she calls style bundles. She asks followers for a Pinterest board of aesthetic inspiration, their style and their measurements and surprises them with various pieces.

Her numbers show she’s doing something right. On good weeks, she can make as much as $1,000 in revenue while listing 25 to 50 items. She generally spends between $1 to $6 on each item and sells them for at least $20, but as high as $90. 

The most important bit of advice she can offer is consistency and doling things out. Posting five to 10 items every day around the same time throughout the week yields more rewards than posting 30 things at once, she said. Developing a style and niche can help as well. For example, she tried to provide a wider range of sizes, but it affected her photos. She would have to pin or clip the clothes to such a degree that they no longer seemed realistic.

Still, she has successfully veered from her traditional style. She once won a pair of Nike Dunks through a contest. She did some research and sold the shoes online for $1,000 — still the most expensive individual item she’s ever sold.

A woman wears black knee high heeled boots.
Photo courtsey of Josefina Beto

Josefina Beto, San Francisco, California 

Josefina Beto graduated from college in San Francisco during the pandemic and was looking for a way to make money on the side. After studying abroad in London for a year, the 27 year old heard about Depop and wanted to try it.

That was roughly three years ago. By the time stores began to reopen in her area, she started reselling her own wardrobe and some of the secondhand items she already purchased. Now, her Depop, Girlfriend Material, has more than 34,000 followers and is largely her full-time job.

“I’m a reliable seller, and that more so than the following gets me a lot more sales,” Beto said. “People know that I’m trustworthy and not going to be scamming.”

Like Austell, Beto advises consistency above all. She tries to post every day, and getting her pieces out in quick succession led to her steadily growing a following. 

Beto described her style as “90s and early 2000s” and “pretty girly.” Her wardrobe is largely neutrals, with the occasional pop of pink and red.

“At the same time,” she said, “I’m open if I find something a little bit different than my norm. I enjoy not necessarily adhering to one specific style.”

Like most vintage sellers, Beto has a pattern — she frequents five or six locations in the Bay area, including two thrift stores and one Goodwill wholesale store. In San Francisco, the warehouse store allows shoppers to purchase from bins of items starting at $1.79 by the pound, boxes of presorted items between $50 and $100 for the whole box and bales of whole items.

Estate sales also garnered some of her best finds, like four pairs of vintage leather Italian boots. She bought them for $50 total and sold two for $300 each and two for $200 each. Leather jackets as well are an almost guaranteed moneymaker. But it still comes down to frequency over individual items for Beto.

“I have had friends who I’ve told to try doing Depop, and then they start and fall off because they were too lazy to ship or sold something with a flaw and got a bad review,” she said. “It’s about focusing more so on being someone who is reliable than focusing on selling something as much as I can.”

A black antique dresser sits in a house.
Photo courtsey of Ellen Wuagneux

Ellen Wuagneux, based in Sarasota, Florida

Ellen Wuagneux happened to be one of the many furniture refinishers who started around the pandemic. In her case, however, the timing was purely coincidental.

“The market is flooded right now, but it has kind of thinned out, because you either can make a living at this or you can’t,” Wuagneux said.

Luckily for her, she is one of the people who can. Her Sarasota-based business Vintage Key  started when she still lived in New York and was making seasonal trips to her family’s Siesta Key home, which would eventually become their full-time residence

As a former editor at a trade magazine, she was looking to go back into writing or another professional foray altogether after becoming an empty nester. At the same time, she was examining her 90s oak furniture with an enterprising eye — the quality was still there, but she wanted to change the style.

“I just realized that the market in Florida is really unique,” Wuagneux said. “Where I lived in New York, you couldn’t touch these antiques.”

Florida is a wealth of opportunity for vintage sellers, in part because of its transient population. Families moved expecting their high-quality but perhaps dated furniture to seamlessly fit with their modern condo. Or, adult children no longer wanted to deal with their parents’ ever-growing furniture collection and left perfectly good pieces out on the curb.

But Wuagneux also finds pieces in more unusual ways, like realtors who need help removing their seller’s furniture or businesses that clean out condos for owners headed to assisted living.

“If you have the skill to be able to fix these pieces, they have been through many years of use,” she said. “You have to have the vision to know this is really a quality piece of furniture — with some embellishment and a little bit of an update, it could be a show-stopper.”

While she likes to shop outside of Sarasota, which she says has become a crowded market, she has occasionally found items at consignment stores like The Exchange. At one point, she stumbled upon a demilune, or semicircular, entryway table made out of solid mahogany with lion pulls. She paid $300 for the piece but sold it for $2,400 once finished.

“I would say that’s kind of my niche,” she said. “I’m definitely more high-end, but I very rarely have spent money and invested in something that hasn’t recouped that value for me.”

She now sells in a few local retail locations as well as on Etsy and through her site. Her goal is to reach a point where the bulk of her work is through commissions rather than items she finds, refinishes and then sells. After all, working on commission means a certified sale.

But she found some of her greatest items almost by chance or rescued them practically from the dump. She refinished a vintage bamboo bar that was “pretty hideous” at first glance — she bought it for under $100 through a contact and sold it for around $1,500.

When it comes to furniture, Wuagneux said if it has legs, make sure they’re not broken. In the world of refinishing, many things can be changed, but a broken piece of furniture is sometimes not fixable. And we all know what that translates to — not sellable.

Glasses lay on a countertop.
Photo courtsey of Haylie Waring

Haylie Waring, Florida  

Haylie Waring, former lead photo stylist for home and still photography at Anthropologie, decided to start her secondhand reselling business Sunland Co. when she moved back to Florida from Philadelphia three years ago.

Her inspiration as a vintage seller was the book, “Come to my Sunland: Letters of Julia Daniels Moseley from the Florida Frontier, 1882-1886,” a Florida pioneer who eventually settled in the town from where Waring hailed.

“The book has always just been an inspiration to me — and aesthetically, too,” she said. “She used nature and her surroundings in Florida to inspire everything in her house.”

For Waring, it became something of a mission statement. She had been shopping secondhand for years and had a good eye — after all, she was in the fashion and lifestyle industry — and sold items at flea markets in Philadelphia on and off for some time. She dabbles in clothing and accessories, but her main items are houseware. Waring likes to find objects that might not work in her house but will certainly work in someone else’s.

To some degree, she knows what she wants to sell and what she definitely doesn’t. That means, for example, staying away from the mushroom shag carpeting of the 70s or the staid taste of the Victorian era. Instead, she’s carved out a niche for herself by going after certain objects, like antique glassware, corkscrews or cocktail shakers.

But her real secret is using her treasure hunt expertise to find artwork that sells. After finding a piece at Goodwill for $6.99 that was created by a relatively famous local artist, she resold it for $700. She spotted another item at a Seminole consignment shop for $30 and got around $250 for the resale.

Her preferred scouring spots tend not to be Goodwill —”it’s a lot of work to find something good,” she said. However, she admits it has garnered her some of her best profits. She recently found an Italian-made dresser mirror from the 1950s or 1960s. She has yet to list it.

“I’ve never seen one like it, at least nothing as finely made as it is,” she said.

Aside from artwork, home accessories and furniture, Waring finds the occasional rare book or art book. At one point, she discovered she purchased the photography book of her midwife’s ex-boyfriend. That was another win — she purchased it for $1 and sold it to a photography student in Savannah for $25.

Perhaps part of Waring’s business, albeit unintentionally, is intuiting psychologically what her audience might want. Since the pandemic, she’s noticed increased interest in entertaining and hosting gatherings. So she bought vintage bakeware, baskets and napkin rings, which have been a top seller.

“I thought that nobody used napkin rings anymore,” she said. “But I had people asking, ‘Do you have any more of these napkin rings?’ People think they’re out of fashion.”

Writer Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.