Garage sale shopping 101

7 04 2009

Raised by a veteran garage sale shopper, I am a veteran garage sale shopper, raising the next generation of garage sale shoppers. Yet, I have always more or less winged it.

As a new young mom, I found a treasure trove of clothes, toys and baby equipment at a fraction of the price. Baby clothes for 25 cents. Toddler toys for 50 cents. If I found something in like-new condition at a reasonable price, I would buy it. And over the years, there’s no doubt I saved a bundle of money. At 90 percent off the retail price — OR MORE — we could stretch our tight budget as a young couple so much further. Who could resist?

My first baby, now a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, came home from the hospital in a beautiful yellow outfit with a matching receiving blanket and hat that came from a yard sale. It was $1. He and his brother, who arrived two years later, slept in a bassinet found at a yard sale and the sides of their store-purchased crib were lined with bumpers purchased where else, but at a garage sale.

Over the years, I have continued to find great items for a fraction of the cost. My son’s freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill, I found him a UNC  jacket that goes for about $50 at the university bookstore. I paid $3. When my younger son, now a freshman at Appalachian State, was crazy for the Carolina Hurricanes, I managed to find him a jersey for $1. The very same ones sold for $60 and up at the team store. For my daughter, I have found closets full of cute clothes and toys galore.

While it’s indisputable that I have saved tons of money over the years, I have also bought things that we ended up not really needing. When items are priced at under $1 each, it’s easy to get carried away. But I’ve come to realize that if you don’t need something, it’s not a bargain — no matter the price.

So this year, as prime garage sale season gets underway, I’m changing my buying strategy.

For the first time ever, I am typing up a list of the things we need. I’m taking inventory of our closets, cupboards, drawers and garage storage, and asking each family member if they have anything on their wish lists.

Also included on this list will be clothing sizes for each member of the family and reminders for gifts that I may need to buy for upcoming holidays and occasions. As anyone who frequents yard sales knows, it’s common to find brand-new items at garage sales — still sealed in the original packaging or with the tags still on them.

I’ll keep the list in my purse so when I happen upon a good sale, all I need to do is pull out my cheat sheet to see, for instance, if my son wears a size 9 shoe or a size 10. Or exactly what size air filters we use. Or what was the name of that book my husband was wanting to read. Because you never know what might show up at a yard sale.

Here are some other great garage sale shopper tips I’ve employed through the years.

1) Take a little time Friday evening to write down the addresses of all the sales you want to attend. Craigslist and your local newspaper are your best resources, but also take note of any signs posted around town and neighborhood bulletin boards. Check for any directions you might need. Then group the sales by location to avoid wasting time and gas.

2) Be sure to take quarters and $1 bills with you as a courtesy to sellers who may not be equipped to handle making change for a $20 first thing in the morning.

3) Go early. In most parts of the country, yard sales are in full swing by 7 a.m. I typically get up by 6:3o and leave by 6:45 to make it to my first sale right at 7. You definitely get the best selection first thing in the morning. If you happen to get a late start, use that as an opportunity. Many sellers are ready to deal by lunchtime.

4. Bring a water bottle and snacks with you if you plan to be out for awhile. No sense in wasting money on fast-food when you’re making the effort to save money by going to yard sales.

5. Here are some other essentials that serious garage sale shoppers keep in their purses: a tape measure, a magnet, a magnifying glass, cell phone, sun screen, hand sanitizer.

6. If possible, attend yard sales without your kids. This will cut down on impulse purchases and save you from ripping that “must-have” baby doll from your screaming child’s hands and dragging her down that long driveway.

7. Know your prices so you know if something you want is fairly priced.

8. Don’t be afraid to bargain. All the seller can do is say no, but more than likely sellers will negotiate with you.

9. Take a vehicle large enough to hold the items you are hoping to buy. It would be pretty tough fitting that leather arm chair you’ve been hunting for into the back of a Prius.

10. Thoroughly inspect every item you purchase before walking down that driveway to your car. Check for holes under the arms, be sure zippers work, and ask the seller if he or she knows of anything wrong with the item you are about to buy.

11. Dress for the occasion with comfortable shoes and layers you can remove as the day warms up. I also would not wear your best designer duds if you’re planning on doing a little haggling.

12. Go with a friend, especially a frugal one. It’s way more fun and you have someone to bounce prices off of and keep you from spending too much.




2 responses

8 04 2009
Rosey Dow

Excellent advice at the beginning of the season. Yard sales and swap meets are the rage of 2009. Great article.

8 04 2009

Thanks, Rosey! Hope you will keep reading.

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