How to Hold a Garage or Yard Sale
By Joan Whetzel
As the old saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." It's the basic philosophy behind all garage sales and yard sales. These types of sales not only keep landfills from filling up with perfectly usable items, they are a great way to recycle gently used items, and earn the seller a little extra pocket money. Holding a garage or yard sale does take a bit of planning, but they are not difficult to run. Here's how.
First, sort through closets, dressers and attics to find items that you no longer use. For anythng that hasn't been used in a while, and hasn't been missed, now is as good a time as any to part company with them. Items include clothing (especially kids clothing), household items (dishes, appliances, drapes), holiday decorations, toys and games, and specialty items like furniture and baby items.
For sales held on warm days, set up a couple of ice chests with iced down sodas or bottled water. For cooler days in spring or fall, maybe set up an urn of coffee or hot water for tea and hot chocolate with some disposable to go cups. Sodas and water bottles can be bought in bulk for a cost to you of around 25₵, so if you sell them for 50₵ you've just doubled your money. For coffee, tea, or hot chocolate you'll have to figure out your cost and then double it to figure out how much to charge customers. On our last garage sale, we were open for business for 4 hours (8 am to noon) and sold 24 cold drinks, earning us $12 extra dollars over and above our yard sale earnings.
When choosing items to sell, keep in mind what events are coming up in the near future. For instance, if your garage sale is in August, sell your kids' old school clothes. They'll go fast. Also Halloween is right around the corner so if you have some Halloween decorations that are unique, or that younger customers haven't seen before, they may be good sellers. Also, teens may be heading off to college and be in need of stuff for their dorm, so if you have any items that would be great for a college dorm, price it to sell. If your garage sale is in April or May, try offering items that families can use all summer. If a customer offers you a good price on that ice chest containing your sodas, and you are willing to part company with it, accept the offer. Garage sales in late September or October open up the possibility for selling winter clothes, coats, and Christmas items that you will no longer be using.
Since some items may be outdated, they should be priced to sell. Even an item that cost you $20 new can be priced at $1. Yeah, it sounds like you've lost a lot of money. But think of it this way: you've gotten some good use out of it (probably at least your $20 investment and then some), and, if you hadn't sold the item for $1 it would either sitting around collecting dust or it would be going to a landfill where it won't earn you anything, or it'll go to a charity like Goodwill, the Salvation Army or Purple Heart where it will only earn you a small amount as a tax deduction - next year.
Some of the newer items can be priced higher, at nearly new prices. But be willing to haggle. If a customer offers you a lower price, and it seems reasonable to you, accept the offer and be grateful you've got a few extra bucks. If the customer's offer seems a bit too low, counter with a new price, somewhere between their price and your original price.
Price everything in even dollar amounts, or in 25₵ increments. This will make it easier to keep track of change.
Setting Up the Sale
First, and most important, make sure that everything you plan to sell is clean. Nobody's going to buy dirty stuff. That means running clothes through the washer and dryer, taking soap and water to household items, and hosing down yard care items and sporting goods. Apply price tags to the items. This process could take up to a week, especially if everyone is working and can only do this in the evenings.
Package up loose items or sets (sheets, sheet and comforter sets, ornament sets, sets of dishes), either with zipper baggies, clear bags (used for paper shredders or something similar), or in open boxes. The only criteria for the containers is that they contents are clearly visible so that the customers can see what they are getting. For single items, lay them out on newspaper, bags or tables to help keep them clean.
Advertise your sale in the local paper or Greensheet. This will cost you a little money, but if you have a lot of things to sell, or if you are having a neighborhood or organization-wide garage sale, this may be worth the extra expense. If you don't have that kind of money to spend - and most people don't - simply post a few homemade signs around the neighborhood and at the entrance to the neighborhood. The color of the sign doesn't matter so much. The writing on it does matter. Make sure there is a sharp contrast between the marker ink color and the color of the poster you use for the sign. Also make sure to use a wide tip marker, not a fine point maker. Anything written with a fine point marker is way too difficult to read. Also, keep the information short and to the point. Include: "Garage/Yard Sale" title, day of sale, hours of sale, and street address.
Chances are good that some of your other neighbors will also be having a garage sale on the same day. This is a good thing because those customers who frequent garage and yard sales love it when there are multiple sales in one neighborhood. Make sure you have a couple other people to help you run the sale. They can help you by selling the customer on the great things about the items in your garage sale, and help you keep an eye on things. If you have a husband or grown son to help carry heavier items, even better.
Go to the bank the day before and get change. About $20 in $5 bills and another $20 in $1 bills, and about $10 in quarters. If you've been tossing your loose changing in a jar like I do, you may already have about $10 in quarters, dimes and nickels. Early customers will usually only have $20s, for about the first hour or so. After that, you'll find that the shoppers will have been hitting multiple sales and will have lots of change. Have a lockable cash box to keep your money in, and make sure you have someone to man it at all times. I'm not saying your customers will steal your cash. I'm just saying it's good business to keep an eye on things.
Yeah, every garage sale or yard sale has items left over at the end of the day. The question is: what can be done with these items? Here are a few suggestions:
1. High ticket items in good working condition can be put up for sale on E-Bay.
2. Donate gently used items to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Purple Heart for the tax break come next April.
3. Sell the items at a second-hand store, resale shop, or consignment shop.
4. Save until the next garage sale.