10 Yard Sale Shopping Tips to Get the Best Bargains

A couple of weeks ago I gave you 10 Tips for a Wildly Successful Garage Sale in preparation for my own yard sale. Unfortunately I didn’t take my own advice and only netted about $100, but I got rid of all the big stuff I wanted out of my house. I’m happy with my new, decluttered home, so I have no complaints. The very next day I went shopping at the neighborhood yard sales and got a dresser for my son’s room, 30 cloth napkins (because I’m trying to give up paper products), and a ton of clothes for my daughter for under $55 total!

I thought I’d pass on my yard sale shopping tips to help you get the best possible bargains.

1. Preparation is Key

In order to have the most success shopping at yard sales, you have to have a plan. In the week leading up to shopping day, check your newspaper and Craigslist for yard sale ads. It’s helpful to have a community map on hand, if you don’t know your neighborhood well. The area where I live is pretty small, so I do without the map. I once read of a person who laminated a map and marked the yard sale addresses with a dry erase marker every week.

Once you know where the yard sales are, map out a route, so you don’t waste time or gas money. I like to travel in a circle around my city, starting in the area with the most sales. I also take advantage of sales that aren’t advertised in the paper. You’re bound to come across signs to sales that aren’t listed in the paper. Take a detour and stop. These sales might not see the traffic of the advertised sales, so you might have a better selection of items to buy.

2. Make a List

Yes, just like grocery shopping, I like to have a list for yard sale shopping. I love a good bargain, and in the heat of the shopping moment, I often find myself buying stuff I don’t need, because it’s such a great deal. A list will prevent that from happening.

This summer my lists includes a dresser (which I found), cloth napkins (also found), clothes for my daughter (found those, too), clothes for me, possibly a desk, a recliner, a magazine rack, a grain mill (this might be wishful thinking), canning supplies, and possibly a food dehydrator. If it’s not on the list, I think long and hard before I buy.

3. Pack Coffee and Snacks

If you’re going to be shopping for a while, make sure you pack food and something to drink. You’ll get hungry and thirsty. And on cool mornings you might get cold, so I like to take some coffee along, too. If you have your kids with you, snacks are an absolute must. There’s nothing like hungry kids to ruin the perfect yard sale shopping spree.

4. Shop Without the Kids if at All Possible

Most kids hate shopping. I know my kids do. When I go yard sale shopping I never take the kids. If your kids are still in carseats, it’s just cumbersome. Even if they’re not, they’ll probably get bored.

If you have to take the kids, give them a little money to spend. Teach them about finding great bargains. Have them make a list of things they’d like, and challenge them to see if they can find the items on their list. Have them help find the items on your list, too.

5. Check Boxes

Sometime while garage sale shopping, you’ll come across an item in a box. Once I made the mistake of assuming a can opener in a box was the same one that was featured on the box. I bought the can opener, and when I got home, I was disappointed that it wasn’t as great a can opener as I thought I was getting. If something is in a box, make sure you take it out and inspect it.

6. Carry Change and Batteries With You

I like to carry lots of ones and quarters with me when I go garage sale shopping. As someone holding a sale, it’s annoying when a shopper gives you a $20 bill for a $1.50 item. If you’re a shopper and the person holding the yard sale is unprepared to break your $20, you might have to pass up a bargain.

I also like to carry a variety of batteries with me. When buying electronic equipment, it’s important to make sure it works. Usually the person holding the sale will have an outlet available to test electric items, but sometimes they won’t have batteries for battery operated items. If you carry your own batteries, you’ll never have to wonder if something works. You can test it yourself.

I like to carry my money and batteries in a belt pack, so I don’t have to worry about keeping track of my purse. I like to have both hands free to inspect and carry items. I also like to be able to jump in and out of my car quickly.

7. Church Rummage Sales Rock

I love church rummage sales, because a lot of families usually donate items to be sold. It’s like going to a huge multi-family yard sale. There’s lots of selection, and the prices are usually great!

8. City-Wide Sales Are the Best

I also love citywide sales. Our citywide sale was last weekend, and our town was hopping with sales and shoppers. The yard sale bug is contagious, and people keep putting more and more stuff in their yards to sell! And if you live in a small town like I do, you don’t waste a lot of gas driving to different sales. A lot of times I just parked on a street and walked up and down the streets in the neighborhood, browsing the sales.

It also helps to talk to shoppers and people holding yard sales when a lot of sales take place in the same neighborhood. I kept asking people if they had seen any dressers, and I got a lot of tips for places to look.

9. The Early Bird Gets the Worm

If you’re looking for a specific item, especially if that item seems to be in high demand, it’s best to shop early. The best items tend to disappear quickly. I like to single out the two or three most promising sales in the paper, and try to be at one of them as soon as it opens. That’s the best way to find what you’re looking for.

10. The Late Shopper Gets the Better Bargain

The late shopper may not have the best selection in yard sale items, but the late shopper will often get the better bargain. People holding yard sales are often unwilling to budge on their prices early in the day. As the day goes on, however, sellers are often ready to cut some good deals.

Don’t be afraid to bargain. That’s half the fun. If you make an offer, the worst that can happen is the seller says no. If they say yes, you get a great deal. If they say no, you can either pay the asking price, or you can walk away. You’re never out of options.

If you have a truck and you’re not afraid of some work, you might even get some free items. I’ve never tried this, because I don’t have a truck, but I’ve heard of people offering to take yard sale leftovers off the sellers hands. The upside is you might get some good stuff for nothing. The downside is, you need to figure out how to dispose of the junk.

Whether you’re a serious yard sale shopper or just someone who likes to browse every once in a while, standard shopping strategies apply. Know what you need, know what it’s worth, and don’t get caught up in the moment.

Do you shop at yard sales? Are you a serious shopper, or do you dabble? Have you come across any great finds this year? Do you have any tips that I missed?



Author

By , on May 13, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{15 Comments}

  1. Deborah Bick:

    My grandsons have learned a lot about living frugal by going to garage sales with me. One is now a teenager and said when he’s ready to get his own place, he’ll be shopping yard sales for furnishings. Of course, Grandma and mom will be there helping out. It’s worth the effort, fun, and is the best recycling system in existence.

  2. Debbie:

    I keep looking for most important tip for a successful yard sale and can never seem to find it. Without it – you will never have a successful yard sale. Clear Street signage!!! You cannot print your sign with an ink pen on an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper, ( I see it all the time) or with a sharpie on a piece of card board. As people are driving by they cannot read it!! Drivers have a very limited time to see it so it must be big!! Go have a look at a street sign and see the size of the letters – they must be large – at least 3 inches in height and in dark colors. Try it!

  3. MichelleH:

    Hi Lynnae,
    I second that on church garage sales – they are wonderful. I went to one last week and got a great deal (it was after lunch and they were ready to bargain!). I got a queen size airmattress with three separate pumps, (electric, manual and car), a Trivial Pursuit game, a pair of capris, and 3 small vases—all for $6.00! I was dubious about the airmattress – thought it might have a hole but took it home and checked and no holes! Yea for garage sales!

  4. Jan:

    I’ve been garage sailing all my life and I”d like to add one tip: if you see something you might buy, pick it up and hold on to it until you decide!

  5. Liana Ottaviano:

    I’m an avid garage-sale shopper — practically every weekend in the on-season. Your tips are spot on. In terms of planning a route, I’ve often wondered if there is any (free) software out there that will allow you to type in multiple addresses and have it map the ideal route of travel. Does anyone know of/use something like this?

    If you have a small car like I do, it is worth it to ask the seller if they can hold your big purchases for later pick-up when you can come by with a larger vehicle. Just make sure to remember where you bought what!

    If a seller is unwilling to bargain early in the day for something you really want, go back later, or get their phone number to call later to see if it has sold yet. If they still have it late in the day they’ll be glad to hear from you.

    Along with your own checklist, ask friends about items they are looking for. If you see something on their list, call them on your cell phone and let them know. If you each cover different areas of town, you can divide and conquer.

    I also like to carry hand-sanitizer/handi-wipes with me. Some sales have dusty/grimy stuff to look through.

  6. Marci:

    Getting stuff out of your house and $100 in the bargain was worth the effort! Congrats!

    I do most of my family gift shopping at garage sales – birthdays, Christmas etc… always finding something for $1 to tuck away. The secret is to have a dedicated shelf and boxes for putting those things away til they are needed. I keep a running list of what I have bought and who is is for so I know what/who I still need for. I can honestly say that over 75% of my gift giving is garage sale items. My family has NO problems with that!

    My 7 year old granddaughter started garage saling with me at 5. She loves it! She does chores for me so she will have some quarters to spend. And she likes those Free Boxes!

    One rule I did make about Free boxes tho – I tell the Grandchildren they may only have ONE Free item from each garage sale – to be polite and leave some for other kids… that way we don’t end up with too much stuff! And they know the rules ahead of time.

    I’ve been remodeling my house and I have to say that over 50% of it has been done with free or garage sale items, including the furnishings, curtain rods, curtains, blinds, doors, windows, rugs, paint, trim, and decorations.

    Thanks for the tips!

  7. I do most of my “household needs” shopping during the summer at garage sales, including as much of the next-size-up clothing as I can for the kids. I have to agree with you on all your points except for one – my children LOVE going out to garage sales! I’ve even heard my oldest in a store say, “I’ve seen these at garage sales, I’m going to wait and see if I can find one there.” I love that! :0)

  8. Great tips! I like the idea of making a list. . . that way you have a few ideas in mind when you’re looking. Too bad you weren’t able to stop by my garage sale last week. I sold a great food dehydrator for $3!

  9. Karen:

    We are in the process of getting settled in our new house…and we’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still some to do. We had too much furniture for our apartment, but not enough for the house. So, we bought a shelving unit for the bathroom for 30 dollars at WalMart and were planning to get another one for the other bathroom, eventually. Then our community had a yard sale, and my husband found a very similar shelving unit to the one we’d purchased, and bought it for only $5. We saved $25 and it is a welcome addition.

  10. Nicole:

    $100 is pretty good actually. I only made $50 in all and after buying pizza for my friends(they helped) afterwards, I only had $15 left. But the house was emptier!

  11. Kathy:

    Lynnae when are getting rid of big bulky items somehow you make less. I did that last summer, I wanted pieces in my way out quickly. But you have to be prepared for them to go cheap.

    Great tips, the box idea is one I don’t do.

  12. Ron:

    Another tip is to involve the neighbors and other families. If you can have a 12 family “street sale” you will attract a TON of attention and even could potentially get mentioned on the evening news for the Friday before. You gotta play those cards just right though!

  13. I like to find the yard sales with tiny little signs that no one can see because they almost always have really cheap things and, like the one we went to Saturday, are happy to be rid of whatever you will take for much less than the original price. Got a toaster oven, almost brand new, for $3. And I will often, after a yard sale, offer all the yard sale stuff on Freecycle for whoever will take it–get LOTS of takers.

  14. I’m a life-long garage sale shopper. My mom always took me when I was a kid, and we still go together now that I’m an adult! It’s a fun bonding time for us.

    Your tips are great, especially about bringing small change and bills. Very important!

    If you’re looking for large items like furniture or need lots of items b/c of setting up a household for the first time, make sure you take a vehicle with lots of room! I can’t tell you how many times my mom and I have gotten something out to the car only to say, “How are we going to fit this inside?!?” Good times!

  15. Thanks for the great tips! I’m planning a big yard sale day soon, so that we can pick up some summer clothes for the YLs. I’m taking notes ;)

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