Important Garage Sale Tips – What TO DO and What NOT TO DO

by Chris Tecmire

Garage Sale Sign


Garage Sales are a staple of frugal living.  So, I’m sure you’re very familiar with them, but there are ways to use garage sales to your advantage and there are ways to waste your time and money.  Here are some important “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” of shopping at garage/yard/tag/rummage/moving sales.


The “DO’s” and “DON’T’s” of Saving Money at Garage Sales


DON’T  Buy something just because it’s a “good deal”

If you don’t need it and you’re not going to use it – it’s not a good deal.  In that case, you’re actually wasting money and causing clutter.  Granted, you may only be wasting $2 instead of $20, but it’s a waste none-the-less.  Garage sales are a fantastic way to find items that you need for much cheaper than you would expect, but they’re also an easy way to fill up your basement…and fuel your own garage sale next year.   Be picky about what you buy, even at garage sales.  Don’t end up on Hoarders.


DO  Shop in the more well-to-do neighborhoods

You’re looking for quality items and the middle-class and upper middle-class neighborhoods have them.  Why?  They are more likely to buy more expensive items to begin with and they tend to get rid of their “old” thingamajigs much more regularly in order to make room for the new and improved whatchamacallit they just found at Saks.  Whereas, the less money that a family has available to buy new items, the older and more rugged the products will be by the time they make it to a garage sale.  While they should be commended for getting the most value out of their belongings, their garage sale is one you can skip.

Also, look for entire neighborhood sales.  These are great because you don’t have to travel as far from house to house.  It’s the most efficient method by far.


DO  Bring a cell phone, some snacks, and some water

If you don’t have some snacks or beverages you’re going to end up grouchy.  When you’re grouchy you tend to lash out at innocent bystanders.  You’re pretty much guaranteed to end up pushing the guy next to you because you saw the “Grandmas are the greatest” mug first.  What if that guy is a cop?  Now you’re in jail.  And it all could have been avoided with a sandwich and a juice box.

Also, a cell phone is useful if you’re spouse isn’t with you.  I’m not sure you want to spend $200 on an antique mirror without at least talking it over with your hubby.


DON’T  Wait until Saturday if you’re looking for a particular item

It used to be that Saturday was the big garage sale day.  Now it’s Thursday or Friday.  If a sale starts on Thursday, and a lot of the sales in our area do, all of the good deals will be gone by Saturday.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t go look around, but if you’re searching for something specific there’s a better than decent chance it will be gone after two full days of sales.


DO  Check to make sure all of the Monopoly pieces are accounted for

How many games do you have at home that are missing important pieces?  It happens all the time.


DON’T  Just look for yourself

Garage sales are a great way to find unique gifts for your loved ones.  This is especially true if you have a collector in the family.  Even more so, garage sales are the perfect place to find toys for your kids or nieces and nephews.  They’re going to outgrow it or toss it aside in 3 months anyway.  Why pay more than you have to?


DON’T  Buy these particular items at garage sales


Cribs – This is a tough pill to swallow since you can certainly find some great deals.  The problem is that many of the older cribs are no longer considered safe according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  While tragedy is rare and many of us grew up in these “unsafe” cribs without so much as a scratch, the new safety standards are certainly worth noting.  Obviously, we would all hate for our child to become one of those rare instances, so saving $40 on a crib isn’t worth the risk.

Also, it is difficult to know whether the crib you are buying has ever been recalled.  Here is a list of the recalls if you’re interested, but I must warn you…it’s pretty long.

There’s one last thing that makes buying an older crib difficult and probably not worth your time.  Last year the CPSC unanimously voted to make buying or selling drop-side cribs illegal - even at garage sales.  So, if you’re not careful, you and your baby might end up in the slammer.


Car Seats – Much like the cribs, this mostly stems from the fact that you don’t know the history of the car seat.  If it’s been involved in an accident, its ability to protect your child in the future is in doubt.  Car seats aren’t necessarily designed to withstand accident after accident.  A defective or weakened car seat is not something you want to take a chance with.


Mattresses or Bedding – Two words…bed bugs


Laptops – First of all, computers become obsolete so quickly now that a laptop from 5 or 6 years ago may not have the features and capabilities that you expect it to have.  Also, much like the car seat, you don’t know its history.  Has it been dropped, had something spilled on it, or had a nasty virus?  If you’re going to buy one, buy it from a trusted source or make sure it’s a simple $20 laptop that your kids are going to use to type term papers on.  Even then, you’d hate for there to be an unknown defect that could endanger your hard drive or memory in some way.


Underwear or Swimsuits – Gross


DO  Expect to negotiate

Negotiation is a key aspect of garage sales.  Most people expect it, so don’t let them down.  If an item is priced at $5, ask if they’ll take $3 or $4.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They could say no and then you’ll have a decision to make.  There are a few principles that I use when negotiating a price at garage sales.  Take a look below.



Negotiating Principles to Remember


1.  Have a price in mind before you start

It’s simple planning.  Know your ideal price along with the price you’re willing to pay to bring it home.  Plan A – ideal price.  Plan B – maximum price.  Don’t go any further.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the negotiations and the fun of finding something new.  Stick to your guns and avoid buyer’s remorse.


2.  Let them name the first price

This is negotiating 101.  You always want the other person to name the first price so you can counter.  Obviously, this principle is only helpful when the item isn’t already clearly marked.  “Make an offer” is a lure that owners use to get a better price.  The owner always has a price range in mind, so your job is to find out what that price range is so that you don’t pay more than you need to.

If they insist that you make an offer, one way to find out what they’re thinking is to give them a low-ball offer.  If you’re completely willing to pay $50 for a pretty nice refrigerator, there’s no price listed, and the sign says “make me an offer”, you could always say “Would you take $10 for the fridge?”  They’ll say, “No way” and you can follow up with, “Ok, then how much do you need for it?”

At that point a couple things can happen.  They could tell you a much higher price than you were planning on paying and you can either continue negotiating to see if you can reach $50, or the person will say that they would take $30 and you got yourself a deal.  The point is…don’t assume that you know how much someone would be willing to sell an item for.  How many times have you come upon an item that you would have been willing to pay $10 for, but the price on the tag had said $2?  If there hadn’t been a tag and the sign had said “make me an offer” instead, you would have probably paid $10, not realizing that the owner was willing to give it away for $2.


3.  Be willing to walk away

If you NEED this item and you haven’t found it anywhere else, then just pay what you want for it and move on.  However, the less you NEED an item, the better the price you’ll end up with.  Being willing to walk away is your best negotiating tactic.  Often the owner will call you back and give you a better price, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, so that’s why you need to make the decision whether you’re willing to leave it alone if you don’t get the price you want.


4.  Don’t be rude

This is good advice in ANY situation, not just negotiating.  But, sticking to the point, do YOU want to give someone a good deal after they’re cocky or rude?  Doubt it.


5.  Don’t argue over pennies

I’m all about keeping track of every coin that leaves your pocket, but asking someone if they’ll take 20 cents when the tag says 25 cents is just plain silly.  If they’re already giving you a great deal, leave it alone.


Now, head out and find some good deals.


If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, please share it with someone (or everyone).

Garage Sale Photo by Eastlaketimes

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dawn May 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

As always I love your sense of humor. But your tips are spot on. I am one for making the mistake of making the first offer and again the mistake of not being willing to walk away.

I love yardsaling (is that a word?) so when I am looking for something in perticular and I find it- well then- Wa Laa! I am not leaving with out it… not good huh?

Thanks for taking the time to put this list together. Well, for this blog in general, I have really enjoyed it.


Chris Tecmire May 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Thanks for the kind words Dawn. I really appreciate it.
By the way, we all have a few items like that – I wouldn’t worry about it too much :)


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