How to Have a Successful Garage Sale

by Janey Osterlind on 5 October 2010 5 comments

I recently had my first garage sale ever as an adult. It was a wild success, if I do say so myself. In dollar terms, let's just say we made enough to go out to at least four gourmet dinners, which is completely worth the effort in my book. How'd I do it? Here are some things I did that might be helpful when you plan your own sale:

Advertising

Letting people know you're having a sale is, of course, one of the most important parts of the equation. I put a posting on Craigslist on the Monday before the sale describing the location, time, and some of the better items for sale. I noticed that others who were posting about garage sales were including pictures and descriptions of some of their priciest items — a good idea, in my opinion, because people will email you ahead of the sale to purchase those items at full price. I also purchased a Friday ad in my local paper ($14), only because I assume professional garage sale shoppers scour these ahead of the weekend.

Finally, I made numerous signs to be put up at major intersections near my home and in my neighborhood to guide people to the sale. Be sure to check your local ordinances and neighborhood covenants for stipulations about signs, though, and always remember to take them down after the sale.

Setting Up the Sale

The two most important things to keep in mind when setting up your garage sale are money and time. As far as cost, keep it low by borrowing everything you need, including tables and clothing racks. For these, I called on friends and family. All told, I'd say I borrowed about six long folding tables, a shelving unit, and a clothing rack, which was perfect for my modest two-car garage.

I say to keep time, as well as cost, in mind because I failed to do just that. Apparently, lugging tables and clothing racks, setting them up, arranging items and pricing them takes some time. Who knew? I assumed (wrongly) that it was something I could knock out on the Friday evening before the sale. Give yourself several days to collect items, set up, and price items. And, speaking of pricing items, I erred on the high side. That way, people will bargain and feel like they're getting a great deal.

I also recommend pricing items either by table (as in, "all items on this table $2") or by type (as in, "all pants $2"). This is MUCH easier than pricing individual items. On the other hand, people don't like to look around, decide what category an item fits in, and try to guess price. So put prices on items that aren't clearly in one category or the other. Lastly, I'd only price in one-quarter increments — who wants to deal with making change in pennies, nickels, and dimes?

Checking Out

Have a cash box ready with plenty of bills and change. Despite the 20 or so $1 bills I had before the sale, I somehow found myself running short by 9 a.m.! Luckily, my parents stopped by (a consequence of living in the same town, I guess), and I hit them up for some change for a $10 bill. Problem solved, but you might not have that luxury. Prepare accordingly. Also be sure to keep the cash box on you at all times. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears mentioning.

Business

Here is a hodgepodge of tidbits to keep in mind during the actual sale:

  • The majority of people will be in and out of your sale within the first half hour, since the serious garage sale shoppers know that you have to go early to get the good stuff! After that, it's a pretty consistent (though sparse) stream until near the end of your sale. Mine was from 7 to 11 a.m.
     
  • Don't be afraid to tell people to leave. This is your home, and you should feel safe. I doubt this is the norm, but I had to do it after a strange man decided that it would be appropriate to shout expletives at his wife/girlfriend via cell phone at the end of my driveway. He wasn't buying anything, anyway.
     
  • Consider selling other items. In my case, we sold brand-new tailgating chairs (a long story relating to a failed chair store endeavor some years back), but you could also sell baked goods or coffee.
     
  • Do something with your barky dog. I thought about it beforehand, but couldn't think of a good solution to keep my giant Boxer from greeting people loudly when they approached. Perhaps you can come up with a solution for your own sale.

After the Sale

The work of a garage sale doesn't end at closing time, unfortunately. After the sale, you might consider selling some of your better unsold items on Craigslist (none of the shipping hassle that comes with eBay). You might also consider leaving some of your larger unwanted items on the curb and creating a "for free" post on Craigslist. Chances are, the item will be gone before the evening, no further hassle on your part required! Other items can be donated to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army, or you might consider posting an ad on The Freecycle Network.

In addition to taking care of unsold items, don't forget to return any borrowed tables or clothing racks to friends and family in a timely manner. And, after all is said and done, consider doing something worthwhile with the money you've earned from the sale. Although I said I made enough at my sale to pay for four gourmet dinners, I think my money will be better served in a high interest-rate checking account. Well, maybe whatever is left after just one gourmet dinner.

What about you? What experiences have you had that led to a successful garage sale? Share your thoughts!

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Guest's picture

And I found a use for my old fanny pack...use that instead of a cashbox which you can accidentally leave somewhere (or someone walks off with it!). Great post!

Guest's picture
claire7676

In my area, NOONE haggles unless it's a good item they really want (i.e. old VCR). It's really quite annoying. We always make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies; 2 per snack bag is 50 cents. They sell really well, and it is so cute when a 5 year old comes up to you with 2 quarters for a bag. :)

Also, you can call the Vietnam Veterans of America or Goodwill; both will come by your house with a truck to load your leftover yard sale items for you. It's awesome! Just be sure you'll have enough stuff to warrant them coming to your home; I would feel guilty about them coming out if all I had left were 2 garbage bags of clothes I could have easily taken over by myself.

Guest's picture
Guest

Jane Spencer wrote an excellent article for the Wall Street Journal (I forget the title and date) that beautifully illustrates why holding a garage sale is a waste of time. First of all, if the proposed sale is held in a garage, that a sign that the owner is carrying a mortgage on a house. The owner would be better off increasing the available income tax deductions by having Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans of America or the Salvation Army pick up ALL unwanted items worth less than $50. More expensive items should be sold on eBay.

Janey Osterlind's picture

Excellent comments! I especially like the advice about calling Goodwill and Salvation Army after the sale to send a truck to pick up items. Good point also about the value of garage sales vs. increasing itemized deductions - I personally rent my home and don't itemize on taxes, but will keep that point in mind!

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Guest

I live in a very remote area and dont have the luxary of having my sales at home. Therefore, when I have a sale I pack my vehicle and trailer down and go to a spot where several others set up. One advantage to this is you get more customers. Experienced yardsalers love to be able to hit multiples in one stop. At the end if the day I pack what's left and then take it to goodwill, salvation army or a local charity and get tax reciepts. Not only do I have some immediate spending cash I also get a tax credit. It's a win win in my book.