When I was a kid, I used to hide on the floor of my mother's car whenever it pulled up to a thrift shop, which was frequently. But now that we're all pitching in to whip inflation, thrift shopping is almost chic. Maybe that's why the prices have gone up.

But while inflation has spiraled its way into the thrift shops, you can still buy your furniture and furnishings there cheaper than just about anywhere else. It's more expensive than picking through people's trash, but you don't have to get up quite so early.

Here's what a veteran thrift-shopper found on a recent binge: AMERICAN RESCUE WORKERS THRIFT SHOP, 629 H Street NE: In this clean and pleasant store in the heart of the unreconstructed riot corridor, I have, in the past, found real treasures: an 11x14 Chinese rug for $30, a Japanese lacquer floor lamp for $15, a wicker chair for $6. A recent visit found no such gems, but some usable furniture, reasonably priced. A sturdy, one-drawer library table, painted green and white, was $12.50.School desks with chairs attached -- not the antique kind -- were $5. For the creative decorator, there were four gold vinyl beauty-parlor chairs, with dryers removed, for $10 each. Dishes were 10 cents and up.

At the AMERICAN RESCUE WORKERS store in the other riot corridor -- at 3616 14th Street NW -- prices were less reasonable. Vinyl recliners were in the $150 range, and a metal floor lamp I wouldn't have troubled to lift off a trash pile was $35. A Formicatopped dinette set with four chairs was $69.50. Hours for the 14th Steet store are Monday to Friday, 10 to 6, Saturday 9 to 4.The H Street store is open from 9 to 4 Mondays through Saturdays.

At the VALUE VILLAGE's vast store in an old theater at 4618 14th Street NW, prices were uneven. A small Satsuma-ware vase was $16.95. Larger wicker baskets with handles that could be used as log carriers were $4.95. A pine rocking chair was $44.95. A wing chair in good shape except for the soiled upholstery was $74.95. An antique Philco Television, with no sound, was also $74.95. And a large dressing table, vaguely Art Deco but not of collector quality, was $350! Value Village is open from 9 to 9, Monday through Saturday. THE VILLAGE THRIFT STORE at 4900 Annapolis Road (Route 450) in Bladensburg is a large, well-run operation in a suburban shopping center. On a recent visit, most of its furniture was of the vinyl and creepy-crawly velour variety. A living-room suite, consisting of black vinyl sofa and chair and veneer coffee table, was $65. A pair of Chinese figurine lamps was $30 -- $10 for the lamp with the crack in it and $20 for the uncracked lamp. There were four terra cotta handprinted plates, probably Italian, for $2.50 each. A green glass cake plate was a bargain 75 cents. The Village Thrift Store is open from 9 to 9 Monday through Saturday and 10 to 5 on Sunday.

The lunch bunch hasn't been the same since GOODWILL INDUSTRIES closed its New Hampshire Avenue store, but Goodwill addicts can always traipse over to 2060 West Virginia Avenue NE. The ambiance is straight warehouse, but there are bargains to be found. A ten-foot armless sofa, for example, with white-and-burgundy upholstery that would look sensational in the right setting, was going for $22. A circa 1940 blonde oak dining room set with table, six chairs and china cabinet was $315. Large office desks were in the $69 range and working typewriters were $15.

The VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA keep shop in a huge warehouse at 525 Rhode Island Avenue NE, crammed with furniture, books, mattresses, appliances and some antiques. An antique oak chest of drawers with brass hardware was $125. A pine kneehole desk, in need of refinishing, was $30. A drop leaf mahogany dining table, Empire style, with a pedestal base, was $175. But the best buy was a big, comfortable vintage 1930 chair slip-covered in a big print of pink-and-white calla lilies for $35.

Just up the street, at 1438 Rhode Island Avenue NE, is a large, well-run AMVETS THRIFT STORE, with a parking lot. Among the recent offerings were a fireplace screen with brass trim, at a bargain $6.96, a child's Raggedy Ann chair, wobbly but appealing, for $3.50, and a Coleman stove for $6.96. For those who like black velour, a chair covered therewith was $19.95. Amvets hours are 9 to 9, Monday through Saturday.

Prototype of all charity thrift stores is the SALVATION ARMY operation. In the store at 1375 H Street NE (open Monday through Saturday, 9 to 3:50) I found a red leather lounge chair for $37.50, a homemade bar for $49.50, a chintz-covered vanity bench for $10.50, and a clear glass boudoir lamp with silk shade for $12.50. In the main Salvation Army thrift store at 102 F Street NW (open 9 to 4, Monday through Saturday) there was a larger selection of stuff with comparable prices. A ten-foot oak bench was $89.50, a mahogany chest of drawers $139.50. A 45-piece set of hand-painted earthernware dishes was $53.60, while ironstone turkey platters were $12.50 each. Raffia bread baskets were 75 cents. A mahogany double four-poster bed with pineapple finials was $89.50. A leather camel saddle was $29.50, and a glass-topped patio dining table with four chairs -- not all of which matched -- was $59.50.

Antique or semi-antique items that the Salvation Army collects are sent to the bookstore at 512 First Street NW and sold at antique-store prices. A large zebra-covered conga drum with a Plexiglass top that would make an interesting coffee table was $99.50. Hours: 9 to 4, Monday through Saturday.

The bargain spot of the Salvation Army complex is the Alley Shop, in the alley between the bookstore and the thrift store. Stacks of vinyl-covered restaurant chairs were $2 each recently. A metal floor lamp was also $2, and there were several old-fashioned painted wood kitchen cabinets with glass doors for $3 each -- a real find for anyone who's redoing a kitchen and doesn't like high tech. The Alley Shop is open from 9:30 to noon, Monday through Friday.

These specific items may not be there when you get there, but at least you have an idea of the type of merchandise offered at the various thrift shops. Happy hunting!