13 Smart Garage Sale Bargain Hunting Tricks

Unlike retail stores where prices are fixed and the sales staff has a lot of experience handling shoppers, garage sales are a free-for-all. Many garage sale sellers have little experience setting prices, running a sale, or negotiating with buyers. A smart garage sale bargain hunter can score some great deals at garage sales.. (See also: 5 Things in Your Garage That Have Serious Re-Sale Value)

Here are some tricks that can help you get the best deals on the best items at garage sales.

1. Make Sure It's Built for the Future

Kids will continue grow and will need clothes for many years. You might as well get them cheap at a garage sale. If you find high quality kids' clothes for cheap prices, pick up sizes that are too big now, and put them away for a year or two.

2. Seek Apathy

Try to bargain with the person at the garage sale who is the least attached to the item you are trying to buy. I have been at garage sales where the husband seemed to want to hang on to an item, but the wife has said, "he never uses that" and gave me a great deal!

3. Leave the Car Behind

Use a bicycle or walk at citywide or neighborhood garage sales. You can hit more sales and avoid crawling along in the traffic jams. Come back later with your vehicle to pick up items you have purchased. Sellers are happy to mark your item "Sold" after you pay for it so you can pick it up later.

4. Buy It All

Offer to buy an entire set of items for a reduced price. For example, offer a few dollars to take all of the books in the box, or all of the pans on a table if you are interested in a few of them. People want to get rid of stuff at a garage sale and will usually give great deals if you offer to buy a lot of items together. You can always sell the extras later and perhaps make a profit.

5. Haggle on Prices

At garage sales, the price tags are only a suggestion. Selling items for 20% less than asking price is pretty standard. If you are not used to bargaining, it can be uncomfortable, but garage sale sellers expect to get offers for less than the tag price. The worst thing that can happen is that your offer will be rejected and you'll have to decide whether to offer more to get the item.

6. Hit the First Day

Go on the first day of a garage sale while all of the good stuff is still there. If a garage sale is advertised for Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, go on Friday afternoon. The best items and deals are likely to be gone after the first few hours.

7. Plan Your Attack

If you have several garage sales on your list to visit, make a plan to minimize your driving and maximize the number of promising garage sales you can check out. This will increase your chance of finding bargains and reduce your expenses from driving around.

8. Bring Cash

Bring cash to garage sales. Many garage sales will not take personal checks. Cash is better for bargaining — if you have a variety of bills, you can pull out the exact amount you want to offer and present that to the seller. It can be hard to say no to cold hard cash.

9. Arrive Early

The early bird gets the worm at garage sales! You might be able to scoop up a great item before the sale even gets officially started. "Early Birds" is a term for buyers that show up at garage sales before it starts to pick out the prime items. If you are really interested in an item, you might be able to check it out while the garage sale is being set up — and maybe even buy it before competing buyers arrive.

10. Check Your List

Make a list of items you are hunting. It's easy to get distracted by the wide variety of cheap items and bargains you see at garage sales. I keep a list of garage sale items on my cell phone so I can check my list when I happen upon a garage sale.

11. Check Back at Closing Time

If you see things you like but the prices are too high, stop by during the final hours at the end of a garage sale. If the items are still there, this is a chance to get a substantial discount. Garage sale sellers don't want to deal with leftover stuff after a garage sale and welcome getting rid of one more thing and getting a few more dollars to put in their envelope before the sale ends.

12. Items to Avoid

Although there are lots of potential bargains at garage sales here are some items to avoid:

  • Car seats: Older models may not be as safe as modern products.
  • Cribs: Older cribs had safety issues, and it's not worth the risk.
  • Helmets: They may have hidden damage and no longer be safe. Older models may not be as safe as newer models.
  • Packaged food: It is likely near the expiration date or past it.
  • Pets: Puppies for sale at a garage sale may comes with a risk of future health problems due to inadequate screening and vet care that professional breeders provide.
  • VHS and cassette tapes: The audio quality of old tapes degrades over time and with use. Look for CDs instead.
  • CRT TV sets: You may need to pay to dispose of this, plus old TVs use a lot of energy.
  • Old electronics and computers: They may be cheap, but old electronic items are likely outdated and not as capable as a newer items, which likely give you more performance for the money.
  • Old appliances: These are usually heavy and hard to move, and may have problems that you won't discover until after you get it installed in your house.

13. Look for These Instead

If you are looking for bargains, check out these items at garage sales:

  • Antiques and collectibles: When someone decides to clear out their attic, you might be able to pick up some interesting, or even valuable stuff.
  • Exercise equipment: Often found for pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of new equipment.
  • Books: You can find lots of popular titles for almost-free.
  • DVDs and CDs: These don't wear out as fast as older tapes and are cheap at garage sales.
  • Bikes: You can find great deals on quality bikes that have been outgrown or have become clutter.
  • Tools: Look for quality items and specialized equipment. Older tools are sometimes sturdier than new ones.
  • Lawn mowers: Sometimes people move to a larger place, upgrade their lawnmower, and sell their previous mower for to make room for the new one.
  • Sporting goods: A lot of sporting goods for sale at garage sales are very lightly used.
  • Clothes: Kids clothes, suits, jeans, jackets — these are all fair game.

What are your best tips for getting bargains at garage sales? Share with us in the comments!

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Guest's picture

Just a couple more ideas. Bring a tape measure. Instead of kid's clothes sizes, take measurements, as different manufacturer's size things differently. If you're trying to accessorize your home or person, bring color swatches. Sometimes neighborhoods give clues to what will be offered. Developments tend to have new stuff. Kid's clothes, toys, household gadgets that didn't make the cut. But older neighborhoods tend to have treasures. Words like "moving sale" or "estate sale" are ad buzz words there. Older neighborhoods more often have older, better made furniture, vintage finds, collections, wider variety of kitchen equipment, hand tools, items garnered from travel. With the proliferation of online yard sale sites, photographs help you know what kind of sale to anticipate. Bring a water bottle with you and snacks.