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Stretch Your Dollars Shopping at Garage Sales

Updated on May 15, 2015
Save dollars at garage sales
Save dollars at garage sales | Source

As the snow melts away and temperatures begin to rise, many of us begin pulling out the grills, putting away our winter gear, and enjoying our time outdoors. If you are a bargain hunter like me, the nicer weather also means garage sale season!

The rush of getting a good deal, turning trash into treasure, and repurposing something old into something new are experiences you can only find by sorting through items for sale across front yards, garages, and local communities.

Check out some tips below to make the most at your next garage sale and ensure you are getting the best bang for your buck. Learn tips such as how to plan your strategy, what to prepare ahead of time, how to make offers, bargain, shop for all seasons, repurpose found items, work with a partner, and have fun!

Plan Your Strategy

Map your route
Map your route | Source

Waking up after a long week of work can bring the exciting anticipation to jump out of bed and head out in search of your next great treasure; but before you rush out the door, take the time to plan your strategy.

  • Know your community

    Perhaps the most important part of planning your strategy is getting familiar with your community. Do you know your neighbors? Are you comfortable going to sales outside of your immediate vicinity? What is the demographic like? Are most sales held during the week or over the weekend?

    For example, in my community, many residents head out of town and to the lakes over the weekend so Thursday and Friday are the preferred days to look for the best sales.

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  • Look for a variety of neighborhoods

    Decide what you are interested in to plan where you will find the most items in exchange for your time. If you are searching for children or baby items, look for neighborhoods with lots of young families. If you prefer antiques or household items, an estate sale, townhome, or condo community may be a better neighborhood to explore.

  • Map your Route

    Once you are familiar with your local communities and neighborhoods hit your local newspaper, keep your eye out for fliers in your grocery stores, and online forums on Facebook or Craigslist, and write down all of the addresses that you want to check out.

    If you have a smart phone, preprogram those addresses into your maps app so you can save time when navigating from sale to sale, especially if you plan to make a day out of shopping. Decide if it’s worth it to drive around from individual sale to individual sale or if there are any community, church, or multifamily sales within the same vicinity to make the most use of your time.

Make a List

Pen and paper
Pen and paper | Source

There is nothing worse than looking through boxes or piles of items on tables and trying to remember exactly what you set out to look for. Use your smart phone or take a minute to put pen to paper and make a list of items you hope to find. Are you shopping for your children or have a holiday coming up? Write down “play clothes and their sizes” or “Christmas tree bulbs” so you don’t come home and regret not looking for something specific.

If you are going shopping just for the fun of it, however, leave the list at home and keep an open mind. I like to keep a pen and small pad of paper in my purse so if I find some interesting items at large sales I can write down some ideas that come to mind for repurposing them. Think of a great way to turn an old jar or clay pot into a modern light fixture? Yes, please! Have a unique plan for turning that old ottoman into a storage bin? Write it down!

Look Online Before You Go

Garage sale treasure map
Garage sale treasure map | Source

Now that you are familiar with your community and neighborhood and made a wish list of items you would love to find, do your homework! The internet is a great resource for learning where the best sales are going to be before you hit the pavement or spend endless hours driving around your town or city in search of a promising sale.

  • Craigslist

    Craigslist now has its own section for people to advertise and look up garage sales. I like to keep my eye out for those that read “multi family,” “multiparty,” or that post lots of pictures or descriptions to decide those that most interest me or that fall along my planned route.

  • Facebook

    If you live in a community or larger city, chances are someone has established a “Buy/Sell Page.” These pages are usually reserved for people to advertise and sell individual items, but more often than not, garage sales are advertised. Use the spyglass icon on the top right of the group page to search words like “garage sale,” “rummage sale” or “group sale” to find where the best upcoming sales are going to be. Many sellers also post pictures and it’s a good opportunity to ask the sellers about items they may be advertising ahead of time.

  • Online Newspaper

    Even if you do not receive a local hard copy of your newspaper delivered to your mailbox, you can still check out the sales advertised online in the classifieds section. Print off a copy and tuck it into your purse while you are out and about to ensure you haven’t missed any sales that you were planning to check out.

Take your Time

Start early to get the best deals
Start early to get the best deals | Source

Once you have planned your strategy, you have already saved yourself much needed time while actually out shopping. When looking through sale items, remember that it’s ok to take your time. If at first glance, you do not think there will be anything promising, give it a chance. If the ad online or in the newspaper looked promising or you are in an interesting neighborhood, chances are you may find a little treasure hidden in a corner or deep inside one’s garage that you would not have found if you had not have given it a chance.

  • Take laps

    Take a quick lap around the tables and don’t be afraid to take a closer look at items even if they end up being something you do not end up purchasing. If you are waffling on whether or not to take something home with you, but aren’t sure if you would find the right use for it or do not like the price, make an offer and haggle with the seller (more tips about how to successfully do that below!)

  • Start early

    Make the most of your shopping time by starting early. Like most sayings, “the early bird gets the worm,” came from some semblance of truth! Those that head out early will get the pick of the litter. Also, keep in mind that many sellers keep their sales open in the morning and early afternoon early so if you wait until too late in the day not only will items be picked over, but they may begin closing up shop while you’re still looking around.

  • Dedicate the weekend

    One you get the garage sale itch, it’s hard to stop, especially if you come home with bags full of goodies, so why not dedicate the weekend to hunting for treasure? When mapping your route, divide the sales you hope to hit in half. Start by hitting some on Friday and finish up on Saturday. If you are more of a community, church, or estate sale kind of shopper, you will probably find the best deals at those sales that are open on Sundays.

Make Offers

Always pay with cash
Always pay with cash | Source

While out shopping, you will more often than not find an item (or a whole bunch of items) that you wish were priced just a little bit lower or within your budget. While most sellers price each of their items individually, that price is not set in stone and most sellers not only don’t mind if you make them offers, they expect it! So what are some tactics you can use to get the most bang for your buck and win a successful negotiation?

  • Just Ask

    If an item is marked with a certain price or if you feel uncomfortable throwing out the first offer in the negotiation, start by asking the seller what he or she would like or would take for the item. Try a line like, “I see this is priced for $10, would you consider anything lower?” or “I see there is a price tag on this item, is the price negotiable?”

  • Suggest a price lower than the price you want to pay

    If the seller agrees to negotiate or asks you to throw out the first number, always suggest a price slightly lower than you want to pay. More often than not, the seller will come back at a higher price, so you want to give yourself room to grow, but not too much.

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  • Bundle items together for a better deal

    Sellers are more likely to work with you on prices if you take their items off of their hands. Most sellers hold garage sales to clean out their house and get the items out of their boxes, and closets so they have a strong desire to sell. If they see that you have several items in your hands or if you are purchasing a few bags, ask if they will take a certain amount if you take all of the items. You can also bundle like items together and ask if the seller will take a slightly lower amount if you take them all. Even if you do not want all the items, if it means getting the items you want for a lower price, put those items you don’t want aside for your own sale or try selling them online.

  • Always pay with cash

    Money talks. Cash talks even louder. Most sellers won’t accept credit cards or checks from strangers so when you hold out cash, sellers will be more likely to strike a deal with you. Bring a variety of bills. If you have several items in your hand totaling $7 for example, holding out a $5 bill will allow the seller to see how easy it is to make the sale and move their items out of their garage or yard by taking just a little less than what they had originally priced.

  • Smile just a little bit sweeter

    Show an emotional connection and appreciation for items. Sellers like to know that their items are going to a home where they will be used and appreciated. Smiling, being friendly, and building a connection with the seller is always a sure way to create a positive negotiation in your favor.

Bargain tips from a garage sale guru

Shop for All Seasons

Garage sales are a great opportunity to shop year round and for your friends and family. Most of us love opening up a unique gift for our birthday or special occasion. Often garage sales are the perfect place to find that quirky, funny, or offbeat item to bundle together for a special friend, neighbor, or loved one.

Even though many garage sales take place during the warm spring and summer months, think about upcoming holidays all year round. Take advantage of 50 cent Christmas bulbs, ornaments, and gently used decorations that you would normally pay several dozen dollars for brand new. Last year, I was able to pick up a Martha Stewart brand 6 foot Christmas tree for just $7. Normally I would have paid almost 5 to 10 times that price in a retail store.

Find a New Use for Items

Repurposing and giving life to new items is all the rage. With everyone going green, keep your eye out for versatile items that you could breathe new life into. Below is a list of some items that you can easily transform into something new:

  • Turn mason jars into lamps

  • Refinish or paint old furniture

  • Make a wind chime out of old silverware or tea cups

  • Pick up small office supplies like paper clips or paper pads to restock your desk

  • Chairs missing the seat area can make cute plant holders in your garden

  • Old shoes can also be turned into planters

These are just a few simple ideas to get you started. Let your imagination run wild and create a one-of-a-kind garage sale find that no one else has!

Tips for discovering hidden treasure

Tag Team

One of my favorite tips for stretching your dollar at a garage sale is to tag team with a friend or family members. Having someone by your side who knows exactly what you are looking for not only gives you a second set of eyes to spot those hard to find items, but allows you to spread out and make the most of your time.

It is especially handy to bring someone with you if you are hitting a community, neighborhood, or block sale. Split up and head to different neighbors’ houses so you aren’t both overlapping the same sales twice. Plus, bringing someone with makes shopping so much more fun at the end of the day when you show each other the treasures you found.

Have Fun

Bring a buddy and have fun
Bring a buddy and have fun | Source

Remember, going to garage sales isn’t an Olympic event so have fun! Remember, sales can encompass much more than the traditional table on the lawn with a few items scattered on it. Look for estate sales, household sales, or moving sales to keep it interesting and find a larger variety of items.

Above all keep your options open, keep an open mind, bring a friend, and have a great time wheeling and dealing and bringing home something great! Your wallet will thank you.

Are you addicted to bargain hunting? Share your own tips for getting the best deal in the comments below!


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    • WheelerWife profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Minnesota

      Hi MarloByDesign - thanks for your comment and your tip! Isn't the thrill of coming home with a bundle full of deals a great feeling?

    • MarloByDesign profile image


      3 years ago from United States

      Rated 'Interesting' and 'Voted Up'. I get a thrill out of buying a bundle of items for cheap ~ that is a great strategy for getting a lot of bargains at once. I love going to garage sales and enjoyed your Hub.


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