I’ve shared with you my awesome list of tips for hosting wildly successful garage sales and my biggest yard sale pet peeve (and how to avoid them when you’re hosting a sale), but today I want to focus on shopping at yard sales and garage sales.
Whenever I share my great yard sale scores with friends or casually mention that I got whatever they just complimented me on for super cheap at a garage sale, I am always asked how I manage to find such amazing deals. They usually follow up by saying they can never find good things at yard sales.
Sometimes the great deals just fall into your hands, but many times it’s a matter of being a smart yard sale shopper, and that’s a learned art. Here are my best tips for scoring big at yard sales:
Don’t give up
In my experience, the people who say “I never find anything good at yard sales” haven’t gone to very many. After one morning of going to sales without discovering any treasures, they decide that shopping at garage sales is a waste of time and they never go again.
To be a successful yard sale shopper, you have to come to grips with the fact that you aren’t going to score big every time. In fact some Saturdays I won’t find a single thing to take home.
Don’t just try garage sale shopping once or twice and decide based on those experiences that it’s not worth it. You need to be consistent and not give up. Don’t be disappointed when you come home empty-handed. Be proud of yourself for holding out for the best deals!
Go with a list (items, sizes, etc)
Keep a running list on your phone or in a notebook of items to look for at yard sales. A list in your head doesn’t count! There are very few things that I won’t buy secondhand, so when I think of something that I need or would like to have at home, I try first to buy it used. Of course if it’s time sensitive, that isn’t always possible, which is why I like to anticipate future needs, especially for seasons and sizes of clothes.
You might think you’ll know the item you’re looking for when you see it, but I know from personal experience that if you have lots of things on your list you won’t remember to look for all of them. You won’t even remember that you need them when they’re staring you in the face.
Another benefit of going with a physical list is that you’ll be able to shop faster. If the sale doesn’t have the things you’re looking for, you can take off and head to the next sale instead of taking a second look around the sale trying to think of those other two things on your mental list so you remember to check for those too.
Have you ever been to a sale and had the host ask if you’re looking for something specific? With your list, that question is easy to answer. In fact, you might find things you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed when the host helps you find items on your list. At the same time, if the host tells you they have none of the things on your list, you don’t have to spend your time hunting, but move onto the next sale instead.
If the host doesn’t ask what you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to just ask “Do you have any ___?” They might say no, but they might say yes! You might be surprised that what you’re looking for was in the next box to be unloaded or was still sitting in the garage because they didn’t think anyone would be interested in it.
Know the retail price and have a target price
If you don’t know the price range of the item you’re looking for, you won’t know if you’re getting a great deal or getting ripped off. Since you’ll be making a list of the things you’re in the market for anyway, you may as well do some research on what your item would cost if you had to buy it new. For bigger ticket items, you can even look at the reviews of various brands and models and decide what kind you want to look for or want to avoid.
After you know the retail price of what you’re looking for, decide on a target price. It’s easier to decide ahead of time what you will and won’t pay for something. This will prevent buyer’s remorse that comes from buying something that you got excited about in the moment and paid too much for. Go down your list and put a price next to everything.
When my kids were little and we lived in the Midwest, my target price for kids clothes was just a quarter. Having shopped at many sales, I knew that price was totally doable. At sales where kids clothes were a dollar each I didn’t even bother digging through the boxes. Now, as my kids are to the age where kids wear out their clothes before growing out of them, the pickings are slimmer than for baby clothes which are always in abundance. We also moved to California, which is more expensive in just about every way. My target price for kids clothes is now a dollar per item.
Know what you’re buying
Don’t be afraid to ask for some background on what you’re buying. Ask the seller if it works. Ask them if it works well. Ask how long they’ve had the item and why they’re getting rid of it. Have them show you how it works. If it’s electric, plug it in to test it. If it has pieces or parts, open the box to make sure everything is intact.
I have found that most people are honest and will give you good information to help you decide if you should buy the item.
Many times, people are selling things that they just never used. For example, we have a fantastic ice cream maker that we got for our wedding and love, yet I often see the same model at yard sales. That doesn’t mean it was a dud, just that not everyone is interested in making homemade ice cream regularly enough to have an appliance specifically for that purpose.
If you have a smartphone with data, you might even want to do some on-the-spot research when you find an item that fits your description. Look up the specific model to see if it gets good reviews or is a dud that everyone hates (and is thus selling at yard sales). Before my smartphone days, I would call my husband and have him look things up for me.
Don’t be afraid to haggle
In most cases, garage sale prices are negotiable. Occasionally you’ll see a tag that says the word “firm” after the price or there will be signs that say the sellers will not be negotiating any prices. In all other cases, feel free to haggle.
Try simply asking “Would you take $$ for this?” They might say yes, they might say no, or they might counter your offer. You can make your purchasing decision based on the response.
Be brave! You aren’t out anything by just asking. In fact, some sellers encourage haggling by announcing (especially as the hours go by) that all prices are negotiable, in which case it’s almost silly to pay full price for anything.
If there aren’t price tags, group all of your potential purchases together before proposing a price. If there are prices, you can still ask for a “bulk” discount for purchasing your entire armload of stuff.
The saying “the early bird gets the worm” definitely applies in yard sale shopping. When you go early to a yard sale you’ll have first pick of all they have to offer. If you’re looking for specific popular items, then you’ll definitely want to arrive as the sale opens.
If you’ve ever hosted a garage sale, depending on how well you’ve advertised and how enticing you’ve made your sale sound, you may have had cars lined up hours before your sale is set to start. As a host, it can be annoying to have shoppers show up when you’re still frantically trying to bring your things out and price them, so sometimes the ads will even say no early birds.
When you’re planning your route, take the opening time (and day) into consideration. You want to be to each sale (especially the sales that sound like they’ll have what you’re looking for) as close to the beginning as possible because the best items and hottest deals will go first.
Or go late
If you don’t make it out of bed at the crack of dawn, don’t despair. There is also a lot of benefit in going to a sale as they are nearing the end of the sale or cleaning up. Often you can get things free or deeply discounted at the end of a sale. Some of my best yard sale deals have been at the close of a sale.
By the end of the sale, the sellers are exhausted. They look over what remains and think, “Now we have to figure out what to do with all this stuff!” Either they’ll be boxing it up and putting it back in their garage or they’ll be loading it up in their car to donate. Both options take effort, so sellers will do their best to prevent having to do much of this, especially when it comes to big and awkward items.
Even if sales don’t end with an official free sale, half-off sale or stuff-a-bag sale, you can feel comfortable making an offer less than whatever is listed. Like I mentioned earlier, the worst that can happen is that they decline, but the best is that you get a great deal and the seller is thrilled that they don’t have to figure out what to do with that item after the sale.
Don’t be afraid to leave a sale empty-handed
If shopping at yard sales tends to clutter up your home with things you don’t need, don’t have room for, and don’t love, then you aren’t doing it right. Sooner or later, you’ll decide that garage sale shopping is not saving you money or blessing your life. You are missing out on the point.
When I very first started going to garage sales, I felt obligated to buy something from each sale. I didn’t want to hurt the seller’s feelings by not buying something. I was embarrassed when I left a sale empty-handed.
After hosting my first yard sale, I realized that this mentality and fear was just plain silly. Lots of people came and left without buying and I was never offended. I simply understood that their needs didn’t match up with my stuff.
I have learned that there is no need to feel awkward when I don’t find anything to buy. I typically greet the host as I approach the sale and then thank the host as I leave. Being assertive and confident like this, I’m able to only buy the things that I love and are good deals instead of coming home with junk I felt obligated to buy.
Some things that go without saying (but I’ll mention them anyway)
- Bring cash. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone to take your check these days. Estate sales run by commercial firms will often take a credit card, but you’ll want to be prepared with cash to cover the cost of the items on your list. Smaller bills are especially appreciated at garage sales because the seller often has a limited amount of change.
- Research your route. Just driving around looking for signs is a great way to waste gas and get you frustrated. People who are planning awesome sales will be using multiple advertising methods (Craigslist, Facebook, newspapers, signs, etc) to get the word out. Plan your route according to their location and start times.
- Neighborhood sales can be great, BUT they can also be frustrating and use up a lot of time. It’s convenient to have many sales in a small area, but they often aren’t very quality sales. Instead of going to all the effort that a stand-alone seller does, sellers participating in neighborhood sales haven’t invested as much time into preparation. Often people will just put out a few things to sell, so your chances for finding the things on your list are slimmer. You might decide to walk (which may or may not be faster) since the sales are in close proximity, but you’ll walk away empty-handed more often. Well advertised stand-alone sales are often better than community sales.
Going from sale to sale can be tedious for some people, but yard sale shopping can yield some great deals if you stick to it and don’t give up. Preparing yourself by making a list and doing research will help set you up for success. Having the confidence to talk to the seller will help you lower the price and get the information you need. Most of all, find the fun in the hunt! Go with a friend and enjoy the time to talk as you drive around searching for treasures.
How about you?
- Do you love yard sales and garage sales too? What are your best tips for finding awesome deals at sales?
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