Looking to stage your home on a shoestring? Then put Salvation Army and other charity thrift stores on your list of places to shop.

It's no secret that thrift stores are the places to go for bargains in almost every department.

What's not as well known is exactly how to find those treasures in the mess.

I want to give you the pointers that will make the difference between whether you walk away empty-handed, or walk away with bags of furnishings you can use to stage every room.

I discovered the world of second-hand shopping years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. To keep up with my changing body shape, I purchased a couple of new outfits almost every week.

By the time my daughter was born, I owned an impressive wardrobe of maternity clothing, one I could never have afforded if purchased new. (And one, as every new mom understands, I couldn't wait to get rid of.)

Since that time, I have relied on thrift stores and garage sales to furnish and stage homes, decorate gardens, provide reading material and toys, give me crafting supplies, and dress my husband, my children, and myself. Here are my best tips. 

Keep your cool

It helps to know what you are looking for. Otherwise, it's too easy to be influenced by price. Don't become a junk junkie. Have a list or a specific purpose when you go thrifting.

I knew I needed a matching pair of table lamps, so when I saw the two pictured above, I scooped them up for $5.

Look for classics 

Thrift stores are showplaces for the quirky, the bizarre, the funky. That's one of the reasons people love them. But when you thrift to stage your home, you are hunting for what doesn't go out of style, or call attention to itself in a staged home.

Not that lava lamp. Not the iridescent purple shower curtain. Not the framed sharks teeth collection.

Hunt for simple shapes and timeless designs. Mid-century modern furniture, Asian-inspired table lamps, well-constructed bookcases, white curtains, basic end tables, large matching frames and vases, coffee table books, leggy furniture that makes rooms look more spacious, and generous outdoor planters, are examples of good buys.

Think ahead

Be realistic about what you are willing and able to do once you get your new-old things home.

Do you have the tools, the time, and the know-how to recover an upholstered piece, paint a stained dining room table and six chairs, or change the hem in lined draperies, for instance? Do you have the space for doing this kind of work?

Buyer beware

Examine what you are considering buying before you actually buy it. You can't return items. If you are accustomed to shopping only regular retail, your mind may not run in this path.

Although most thrift stores scrutinize what they put out, don't assume anything. A lamp part could be missing. Fabric stains may be incurable. Dresser knobs may not match. Sometimes the repair will offset the savings, like a new tempered glass for that outdoor tabletop, or the fabric needed to slipcover that chair.

Be prepared 

Drive a vehicle that will transport your bargains. Bring a tape measure. Bring hand sanitizer. Bring your list. Bring cash. 

Be persistent

Pick your favorite thrift store(s) and go there regularly. Ask about when new merchandise is put out. Hop in on your lunch hour, or on your way home from work, on Saturday mornings (although not always the best time), or whenever you can.

The more you haunt these places, the more "luck" you'll have. The best bargains are sold first. However, that doesn't mean there aren't treasures waiting for you that have been on the shelf for weeks. One homeseller's trash is another homeseller's treasure.

Deal with your distaste

For those of you who don’t like the way some second-hand stores smell, wear some of your favorite fragrance so you aren’t as discouraged or distracted by an off-putting aroma.

If what you want to buy has an unpleasant scent, reconsider. Some scents just never go away, no matter how much fresh air, bleach or baking soda you use. 

Upgrade your shopping experience

If you feel thrift stores are too tacky, bump yourself up to consignment stores, where the owners are more particular and you won’t have to check everything over for stains, missing parts, or poor quality. You’ll pay a little more than at Goodwill, but still way less than la-de-dah “maul” stores.

Don't wait

The sooner you start your search for frugal staging furniture and props, the better. You can't beat the prices for both essentials and the extras that make staging economical, especially when you are staging a vacant house. Unlike online shopping, you get to handle and take home what you've chosen the same day. No waiting, no guesswork, no shipping charges. 

I hope you'll have fun on your thrifting expeditions, and bring back bargains that add to your home's look of luxury and warmth. But buy only the bargains that work for home staging, not clutter. Remember, you'll be moving soon!

I give examples of decor styles that work well for home staging, the ones to look for in second-hand stores, in my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. The more you know, the better your staged home will look and the faster it will sell.