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Garage Sale Know How

Updated on August 4, 2023
JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

The weekly habit of thrifting and going to garage sales has made me somewhat of an expert in the field.

Shopping at or Having a Garage Sale

Do you get excited about the finds you can procure at local garage and yard sales? The treasures are endless, and knowing some techniques of finding bargains and having a bartering spirit helps you get what you want!

Also, read some tips for the next time you want to host a garage or yard sale.

Either way, garage sales are really an All-American sport!

National Garage Sale Day

The second Saturday of August is always

National Garage Sale Day!

Searching for Good Sales

There are several things you need to do when seeking out a good sale.

First off, check your wallet. Most sales only take cash so you need to have plenty of it on you. Try to have small change especially if you are heading out first thing in the morning. It is difficult to make change for a $20 when someone is purchasing only a 50-cent item. I usually put a few dollars in my pocket or carry my wallet in my hands.

Second, establish a driving pattern around your area where your eyes can be looking for signs. You will get to know the neighborhoods that have the most sales and the neighborhoods that like to plan group sales. You will learn the amount of time it takes for you to go on your route and therefore, lengthen or shorten your sale time depending on your timeframe for that day.

Signs are great for directional purposes but they also give you a flavor for what you can expect at a sale. If a quickly put together sign is your directional, chances are the sale will also be quickly thrown together. On the other hand, if you see a nice organized sign, maybe even printed, you may find a very organized sale.

Yard Sale Techniques

Scoping Things out

You've arrived! Where do you start looking? Depends on what you're looking for. I always do a grand scope of the sale to see where to begin. I love looking for glass products so I go there first - easy to spot. Then I gravitate to towards knick-knacks and useful items, lastly the books. Last year I found a $60 clear Sandwich glass plate for $1 by heading to the glass area first. Clothes are not my thing at garage sales, so I go there last.

If you see something you MIGHT want, pick it up! If you wait even a minute, your item may be picked up by someone else. You can always change your mind and set it back down.

Dig, dig, dig! Many times people are not organized and just throw boxes of items out on their driveway. Often times, you will find a bargain or steal in these boxes. I have found many antique toys in these types of boxes because they are buried under other miscellaneous items, such as bedding or pillows. I have three old Fischer Price toys and found the original "Little People" that go with them in these kinds of boxes.

I also like to search through boxes by emptying them in front of me or into a box next to me. I always put them back when I am finished looking.

How Much Should You Pay at a Yard Sale

Pricing Techniques

Let's talk about pricing. If there are no marked prices, this is where you can make great deals. Do not ask the price, ask instead, "Will you take a quarter for this?" Another technique for clothes is asking if you can fill a bag for say $5. When there are not prices marked on items, you tend to get better deals. Bargain prices are also prevalent if you are arriving at the end of the sale. People are ready to just get rid of "their junk" so that is the best time to get a deal.

Where there are prices marked, don't be afraid to ask for a lower price. This may not work at 8:00 am, but even a few hours later, bartering the price down usually works, especially if it's a one-day sale. Be reasonable, if the item is marked $20, ask for half and many times you will be met halfway at $15. That's 25% off the original marked price! In all fairness, if I think the price is very fair and just, I go ahead and pay the asking price. This is especially true when it's something you REALLY want, don't haggle then lose a treasure!

Making the Purchase at a Garage Sale

Your last time to deal

Say you have quite a few things in your hands as you head to the check out table. As they are adding the items up, it comes to $12.85. I always ask, "will you take $12 for all that?" The reason is two-fold: 1) the seller realizes you helped take a lot of stuff off of her hands, and 2) you have nothing to lose here, just get a better deal (plus there are no coins involved). Always try to get the best deal.

Best Bargain Stories

One day in the fall I had thirty extra minutes before picking up children from school so I stopped in a thrift store that was advertising a "half off everything" sale. I wandered up and down the isles with not much catching my eye until I saw a stack of my Nikko Christmas dishes. I bought 7 dinner plates for $5.25 and wanted to click my heels after paying at the register. A great bargain indeed!

While wandering through a yard sale, I picked up a $48 beaded necklace from Talbots (with the tag on) for $2 - it's beautiful and I have used it many times!

Deal of the year so far...found 20 pieces of PortMerion dishes at a yard sale for $20. Folks, you can't get one piece of PortMerion for $20 event at a discount store! I have already resold the butter dish for the price I paid for everything and am enjoying using the remaining pieces.

Estate Sales and Auctions

Don't limit yourself to garage, rummage, and yard sales. Branch out and visit estate sales and auctions too

Do You Love To Shop Outdoors?

Do you Love to Shop Outdoors?

See results

Hosting Your Own Garage or Yard Sale

Extra Money In Your Pocket

Instead of spending money at sales, what about hosting a sale and make yourself some money. All it takes is a little organization, good preparation, and a reason to make some money - say a trip or some new furniture you have been wanting.

First determine the best time of the year to host a sale. A sale in May (when I thought I was safe from the heat) was difficult as it was so blasted hot, I had to keep jumping in the pool to cool off! Garage salers are die hards, they will shop when it's hot, cold, raining, or in between, but for your sanity, try and host a sale on a rain-free weekend with even temperatures. This means you will have to look at the weather forecast the week of your sale and plan a rain out date from the beginning.

Another thing to check on is whether the city you live in requires a permit to host a sale. These are usually $5-$15. Our city doesn't require a permit but has strict rules on sign placement. Be mindful of your community laws.

Preparing For The Sale

Organization is the Key

As mentioned in the shopping category, being organized can make or brake your sale. It is a personal preference as to how much preparation you put into your sale. You can be successful in a variety of ways.

To start with, gather a variety of items. Some shoppers just drive by and see what you have in view; if the items they see don't look plentiful or pleasing, they may just drive right by.

If your preparation time is limited and you just need to get rid of your compiled stuff, this is when you may elect to not price anything and just display it as nicely as possible. This means you always have to be front and center to give prices when a customer asks, but it does take some prep time off. If someone asks you what the price is, one tactic is to ask them in return, "What do you think it's worth." Be willing to barter since you don't have the item marked with a price.

If you are the organized type, you should plan on spending a few days pricing the items you are putting out for sale. You can use:

*masking tape

*purchased stickers

*purchased labels

*purchased pre-printed stickers or

*paper with a pin through it

Another name for these types of sales is Rummage Sale

Setting Up for Your Yard Sale

You will also have to give some thought into how you are going to set up your sale with tables, racks for clothing, blankets on the ground or make-shift displays using items you own.


Tables are the best way to display household items, glassware, knick-knacks, and some clothing. A table is easiest to shop from because there is no bending down. If you don't have a table, you can put two saw horses several feet apart and a piece of plywood on top to act as a table top. You can also use your backyard picnic table to display items.

Clothing Racks

A clothing rack I purchased at a garage sale has proven to be a great buy. It's been used again and again! This is the best way to display clothing so it hangs freely. Many racks are available: circular racks, scarecrow-type racks, racks that store all folded up, and racks that come completely apart for storage. I do not recommend hanging a string from end to end across the front of your garage entrance because the clothes all gravitate to the middle making it very difficult for shoppers to look at individual pieces of clothing. This just turns me off and I simply walk away. If you have more than one rack, you can label the rack by the type of clothing you have on it, "girls clothes" "mens clothing", etc., making it easier for your customers to quickly see what type of clothes are for sale.


Shallow boxes are great for small toys, books, shoes, CDs or videos, or categorized items liked crafts, kitchen items, tools, and miscellaneous items. I love digging through boxes because when you find something it's like locating a treasure!


Throwing a blanket on the grass or driveway gives you a new space to work with. I have seen stuffed animals and toys on a blanket and it's a lot easier to view them this way than in a box. I personally don't like putting clothes on the blanket because they are always unorganized; the blanket asks for that type of chaos, but some people do it and are successful.

Ladder for Clothing

If you own two ladders you can put them several feet apart, empty one of the doll rods in your closet and place the doll rod between each end of the ladder for clothing display. You can also use the ladder itself for some of the clothes. Don't forget to put a sign on the ladder describing the type or size of clothes on display and mark it "not for sale."


It is best to keep jewelry displayed near the payment table. It is small and can disappear if you aren't looking. A shoe box lid, the box itself, or a clear plastic container works well for displaying jewelry.

Try to avoid using a large piece of furniture that is for sale as a display because if you sell it, you have to immediately find room for the pieces that were on it.


Keep your money pouch with you at all times!

Sad to say, there are dishonest people who also like to garage sale so

keep someone at the money table or keep your money attached to you!

Charity Sales

For A Cause

Many times the biggest and best sales are hosted by people representing a group donating the money to a cause. They are usually big sales because several families have gone in together or in some cases, a church, non-profit, or organization is the host. Most times this is the type of sale where there are no prices marked and you have to ask what the price is. I appreciate these causes and generally round up for the cause when paying for my purchases. It feels good and it is helping that charity. This is also the type of sale where you can find excellent deals because of the number of items for sale.

Recently our church held a rummage sale using these techniques and we made our goal of $1500 and only marked the higher priced items such as furniture and larger items. Our customers were wonderful and never haggled a price, some even rounded up and donated to our cause. It was a real easy sale because we were raising funds for our new church being built right on our property so people could see our physical goal and motive for the sale. Of course we donated the leftover items to a local mission.

Lemonade Stand

An Economy Lesson for Your Kids

This is a great way for a) kids to make a few dollars and b) keep your customers happy. Here in Texas the garage sale season is year round, with the peak months in March-May and again in October. The summer months are just too darn hot to have a sale but many do anyway despite the Texas heat. When that happens, not only do you have to entice customers with good signs and visuals, you have to keep them happy.

Setting up a lemonade stand or table with drinks is a great idea. You can stock it with water bottles, Gatorade, sodas, cans of tea, any portable G rated drink. Have your kids learn about entreprenuership at the same time by giving them the responsibility of running the table. This also keeps your customers on the premises a little longer since they are leisurely sipping a drink!

You can also do it the old fashioned way by using a lemonade or Koolaid mix with cups, but this is a little more involved and labor intensive. On the other hand, it probably makes more money too.

Keep It Safe

Keep the doors to your house locked and do not let any customers inside, even to try something on. Sorry to say, there are some people who steal and take advantage of your sale.

Donate, Donate, Donate

Be charitable with leftovers from your sale

This is a great time to finish off getting rid of your items by donating them to a local charity. Many charities will come to your house and pick up the leftover items. If you are interested in including this donation in your taxes, make sure you get a receipt and write down the total number of bags, boxes or items you donated.

Some popular organizations that accept donations:

Goodwill Industries

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Paralyzed Vets of America

Or choose your own favorite charity. Be smart, be charitable!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Joanie Ruppel


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