3 Proven Ways to Save Real Money at Garage Sales


I just ended my whirlwind tour of a recent neighborhood garage sale event in a nearby community. Having been an annual tradition for as long as I could remember, I got up at 7 a.m., took breakfast on the road, and hit the sales with my mom in the driver's seat and my newborn son in the car seat. We hit sale after sale, armed with pockets of cash and an attitude of hopefulness.

Overall, it was disappointing: This year marked the first year I can remember wondering, "where is all the stuff?" Even with the obvious lack of selection, however, I was able to score some great items. Here is how I managed to get those awesome deals!

1. Look for forgotten items

That box of miscellaneous junk under the table, a shelf of unmarked items, or a few odds and ends that seem like an after-thought are going to be some of the best bargains at a yard sale. Why? In the rush to get everything tagged, many sale holders just don't know what to do with certain items. Items with price tags are those that they are hoping will bring in a profit. Those that aren't — they are just kind of there with no realistic expectations.

I recently snagged a set of Bushnell mini binoculars in excellent condition for a quarter because they were sitting on a shelf with no clear destiny. (I had just bought the same pair online for $20.) Those orphaned items are your best bet for coming in well under market price. Go ahead and offer a lowball price, or ask what they want. I guarantee you'll be surprised at the final price tag.

2. Scan all sales, then circle back for competitive pricing

A quick drive up and down a major garage sale route will tell you — in minutes — what the "hot" items are this year. During our recent sale experience we saw many of the same items at the end of every driveway: bunk beds, infant girl clothes, and high chairs. Seems like an odd trend, but one worth noting. I could drive around until I found the item most suited to my preferences and then strike up a deal.

The conversation would go something like this: "I see you have just the item I'm looking for. Since six other houses on in the neighborhood are offering a similar item, however, I'd love to just buy it here and save myself the trouble. Can I offer you $5 to take it right now?" By giving the seller the impression that the item will have to be competitively priced to sell, they will most likely give you your asking price (provided it is, indeed, fair).

3. Ask for exactly what you're looking for (even if you don't see it)

I was desperate to find my son knee pads to use with his new scooter. I didn't want to pay retail. After visiting about six sales with no luck, I began asking each seller if they happened to have any for sale. One of three things will happen by coming out and asking directly:

  • You will save time at each sale by not having to scour tables of junk for what you're looking for (and possibly can save money by not being tempted by unnecessary items).
  • You give the seller a chance to consider whether or not they might want to sell one that they own (but don't have out on the tables).
  • You give the seller a chance to let you know about a neighbor or friend that is selling one at their sale (which gives you a direct lead to what you want, without all of the window shopping hassle). When you arrive to the destination sale, be sure to let the seller know that you came in search of a great price on the item, and that their neighbor referred you. They will appreciate the business and might be willing to haggle on the price.

In the case of our knee pads, one seller could tell us the exact address of a sale that she swore sold them. She ended up saving me much time in my search through over 50 sales!

All in all, I found the yard sales to be a great reminder of how to negotiate in the real world. If you're terrified to try bargaining tactics at your local mall, why not get some practice at the next city-wide garage sale?

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Guest's picture

You had me at "neighborhood garage sale event." Those exist? How do I organize one of those in my community?

Linsey Knerl's picture

Good question! Look for my upcoming article to address this :)

Guest's picture

The best way to save money...anytime, anywhere? Stop spending money.

Guest's picture

There is one important reason why you find less and less at annual neighborhood yard sales. Households that have had more than a couple yard sales usually do not have a lot of great stuff remaining to sell. Last year they boxed up the stuff that didn't sell, and offered it again this year, and added in some new stuff. There is a street in the city where I yard sale that has had an annual sale for years now. I can hit 20 sales in under an hour, yet find nothing I want to buy. So now I hit that annual sale only if I have time after hitting the other individual sales in the city.

In general though, you will find that after you have gone to yard sales for a few years, there is less and less you need that typically turns up at yard sales. If you have young children or are just setting up a household, you will easily find enough
to make your time and gasoline worthwhile. I yard saled all summer with my with my daughter who bought a house this year. Toward the end of the season she found less and less she needed, because by then she had already bought the basics for her house.