Get Paid for Donations? How We Used Coupons to Flip Thrift Store Finds

Value village
Image courtesy of Value Village

My husband and I are thrift shop junkies. It’s rare that a week goes by without a visit to our favorite secondhand store, Value Village.

We are always on the hunt for treasures and everyday items that save us a trip to the department store, and over the past couple of years, we’ve realized the potential to profit from all of our bargain shopping.

Over the past year, we have made over $1,000 on the side through our donations and purchases at Value Village, and this year is looking even better.

How We Get Discounts for Donations

Value Village, also known as Savers in some areas, is a for-profit consignment chain that has been in business for over 50 years.

Unlike other secondhand charity organizations like Goodwill and The Salvation Army, Value Village has a rewards program that can monetize your donations and subsidize your purchases.

They collect donations from stores and individuals like us, partner with more than 120 nonprofits in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Each store pays its nonprofit partner for donations made through the nonprofit or at a store’s Community Donation Center – whether the item sells or not. Over the past 10 years, Savers/Value Village has paid its collective nonprofit partners more than $1.5 billion, which helps fund their missions.

Since 2015, Value Village has used a reward system to encourage donations. Whenever you drop off a bag of items, they give you a coupon in the form of a punch card.

It takes six punches to fill the card, and once full, the punch card becomes a 30%-off coupon to use when treasure hunting for yourself.

Depending on how generous the collection team is feeling, this could take a couple bags worth of clothing donations, or a couple of trips to fill the card. If the nice gentlemen and ladies on the collection team ask if you want a coupon, always say, “Yes, please” — you may even get an extra punch for having good manners.

Know What You Can Donate

We always keep a collection bag next to our door where we can recycle clothing, household items, random kitchen utensils and anything that we just don’t use anymore that may be useful to someone else.

We like to have an uncluttered home, so those bags fill up fast. This usually results in a donation at Value Village — and another 30%-off coupon in our pocket — every couple of weeks.

Most of the items we give away would be under $5 if we were trying to sell them ourselves at a garage sale, so the coupon we get in return is often a greater value to us in potential discounts. They win from our donations, and we win by not having to hold garage sales.

When deciding what to donate, it’s important to know what is accepted.

  • Clothing should be clean and in decent condition
  • All electronics must be in working order
  • Avoid items that are illegal for businesses to resell, like used mattresses and secondhand car seats

The collection crew will sort your items later and test to make sure your electronics at least turn on, so they are accepting your items on good faith.

Basically, if you wouldn’t be willing to sell it yourself at a garage sale, they probably don’t want it either. If in doubt, check the Value Village website for guidelines.

Make the Most of 30% Off

While 30% may not sound like much, it can add up quite a bit on large purchases, so we always make the most of it.

Value Village has a lot of tag sale days, seasonal sales and weekly promotions that you can learn about ahead of time if you sign up for their marketing emails. So far, they have only emailed me once each week with the upcoming specials, which is just often enough to know what to shop for without feeling spammed.

They also have additional coupons you can earn in the form of punch cards from frequent purchases. My favorite find this month? An old LaserDisc player — yes, those LP-sized digital movie disks that were sought after before DVDs took over.

I picked it up at my local Value Village for only $10 (using my 30% off coupon of course), and I recently sold the player to a nostalgic gentleman for $75.

You never know what they might have from day to day, so it’s best to have a strategy so your lucky days could also become profitable ones.

The basic strategy we use is to always shop with ourselves in mind, as well as others, and it’s broken down into three phases.

1. Combine Shopping and Treasure Hunting

Your time — and therefore your profits — are maximized when a household shopping trip doubles as a treasure hunt.

Hubby need a new pair of gym shorts? Find the perfect pair on the rack for $5, but be sure to throw in those 2 like-new digital humidifiers that they are selling for only $15 each but sell for $240 new according to Amazon.

Before you leave the store, be sure to plug in both the food processor and the air conditioner in the electronics testing area to make sure things are chopping and whooshing as they should.

If they don’t work, you can return the appliances within a week for store credit, but it’s always smart to avoid a return trip.

With the coupon, those shorts only cost you $3.50, and you acquired a couple of sought-after appliances for $21.

2. Prepare Your Loot

Admire your hubby in his new favorite pair of gym shorts, and get to work on finding new homes for those appliances.

Wash, polish and test those humidifiers to be sure they are in top shape, and then post up some shiny pictures.

Craigslist is always a solid venue because it’s the largest local online network. You can sell anything bulky with the fastest turnaround without worrying about shipping.

To hedge your bets, you always extend your reach by posting to OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace.

We’ve tried other peer-to-peer resale sites, but we’ve found that the quality of the buyers is far lower in other platforms. We’re looking at you Letgo — more than 45 inquiries in two weeks, but zero actual buyers.

If you’ve scored a premium item that isn’t too bulky, consider shipping it to buyers instead through a posting on eBay. Try Tradesy for designer clothing items.

3. Sell For a Good Profit

Find a buyer who is seeking some relief from the summer dryness without breaking the bank, and give them a great deal on a tested portable air humidifiers for only $120 — resulting in a $99 profit for you.

On average, you should budget for 15-30 minutes to post and then sell each item with all the back-and-forth messages between you and potential buyers.

Some of your treasures will sell quickly, while others take a few weeks of renewed postings, but if you are diligent about taking a minute to respond to potential buyers quickly, you’ll see how much your minimal efforts can lead to big returns.

In the end, you made $99 within an hour worth of thrift shopping you would have done anyway, with just a small investment of your old sweaters, a bulky hair dryer and that set of mixing bowls you always thought would come in handy (they didn’t).

Pick the Right Items to Flip

In order for this strategy to work, you have to develop an eye for treasure, but if you’re ever unsure of a bargain, there are quick ways anyone can assess the basic values.

I always have my smartphone on me, and an internet search can tell you everything from the original price, origin, scarcity and possible demand.

Basically, if similar items are selling for a higher price on places like Amazon, Ebay, or Craigslist, and there isn’t an abundance of local listings, there’s a potential for profit.

After doing this for years, I’ve developed a natural radar for which items may be more trouble than they’re worth, but I still double-check my finds often before throwing them in my cart.

I’ve found the best times to score good deals is early in the morning, especially on Sundays and Mondays, because the weekends are always the busiest times for donations.

Like most people, we always seem to have plenty of stuff, but not enough cash. Thanks to our new hobby, we have downsized our hoard, made room for worthwhile treasures, and put some money away to purchase our first home which, hopefully, won’t be too far away from a Value Village.

Laura Hamilton is a Youtube vlogger for RollingDiaries and fellow Penny Hoarder who’s always looking for ways to live beyond her means. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband and her imaginary dog, Nickels.