April 1, 2011

Tip of the day—Ways to Save when Shopping at Yard Sales

I joke that our daughter can spot a coupon from a mile away.  When I was young, instead of being able to spot coupons from a distance, my cousins and I learned how to read yard sale signs before we were reading books.  My grandmother was an avid garage sale shopper, and she would map out a route and we would all pile in the car and shop from sale to sale on Saturday mornings.  Since she was a real estate agent, she would watch for FSBO signs or “moving sale” signs and drop off her business card to the homeowners.  She was pretty successful in her business, and I can imagine that potential customers getting to know her in a less formal avenue first probably helped her quite a bit. 

My cousins, aunt, and I loved shopping with her.  My sister was never a big shopper but when she became interested in jazz and Big Band music as a teen, she liked the idea of finding records for super cheap.  I remember that we would each get a dollar from our grandmother to buy whatever we wanted.  At the end of the trip it was as if we were treasure hunters bragging on our loot—who bought the best deal?  Of course we all knew the answer.  It was always our grandmother because she could spot a bargain and knew how to get it for the right price.

While I don’t shop at yard sales as often as I once did, I love summer months when they are on each street.  I notice myself driving a little slower to see if I can spot something that would make a stop worth the time.  There are a plethora of sales in the summertime, but some of the better bargains I’ve found have been in the spring and fall months—especially if it is rainy outside and there is a “rain or shine” or indoor sale.  The goods are a little less picked over, and people are ready to make deals. 

Below are a few tips about garage sale shopping and further down are a few things that I like to watch for when shopping:

  • Go early.  The best variety will be early in the day.  If you prefer to shop later in the day, be more active about haggling.  The people having sales are usually ready to get rid of the stuff and call it a day. 
  • Respect.  If a yard sale posts certain hours, respect that time frame.  Don’t go knocking on someone’s door at 6am when the sign says that they won’t start until 8am.  Remember that you are in their personal space.  Don’t make fun of the merchandise (no matter how cheesy it may be), don’t throw cigarette butts on their property, don’t block in their neighbor’s drive.  Remember the Golden Rule.
  • Pack change and small bills.  It is easier to haggle if you have the exact change ready for them.  Set a limit for what you’ll spend that day and put that money in a separate envelope or change purse so that you don’t overspend.  You won’t be getting a receipt so this will also help you to record it on your budget.
  • Shop different parts of town.  The pricier neighborhoods tend to have really great clothes, jewelry and so forth.  However, it has been my experience that on things like furniture they tend to price things a little high.  Some of the best small home furnishings I’ve found have been in multi-cultural neighborhoods—vases from India, paintings from Italy, etc.  Plan your trip so that you can run errands on a different side of town while out so that you save gas.
  • Multi-family sales and street sales in my experience are worth the stop.  You can park your car and walk from neighbor to neighbor browsing instead of parking, shopping at one house, going a few blocks away and shopping at another.  Get to know what subdivisions have sales regularly and patronize them.  You’ll have a better feel for who prices their things best and who has the best loot. 
  • Pack a survival kit.  Keep a few bottles of water and some snacks in your car.  Pack a few wet wipes and some hand sanitizer since you’ll be putting your hands on all sorts of stuff.  Keep some newspaper in your car in case you need to wrap up something or want to put something that is dirty on top of it to keep your car from getting messy.  Wear comfy shoes and attire.  Bring your sunglasses and if going to more street-wide sales, pack some sunscreen.  Bring a map (if you don’t have GPS) and the yard sale section of the newspaper.
  • Bring a friend.  Sometimes a friend who knows the kinds of things you are looking for will spot things that you might have looked over or not noticed.  Plus, shopping with a friend or family member makes it more fun.  There is a couple at church who spend each Saturday shopping the sales together, and she described it as their weekly date.  Since she’s one of the snazziest dressers I know and almost always says, “I got it at a garage sale” when I ask her about her clothes, she’s definitely found a good hobby for her and her hubby!
  • Don’t pay full price for it unless it is already a really good bargain.  Most hosts of sales price items so that they have a little wiggle room for haggling.  Some of the most fun for me is bringing a stack of things to the host and saying, “I’ll give you X dollars for all of this.”  Almost always, they are happy to give me a little bit of a discount on what I would have paid for each item.
  • Use the sale as an opportunity to teach children about money and value of goods.  “See those Jonas Brothers shoes over there?  They are selling for 50cts and when you wanted them in the store they were $15.”  Teach them how to make choices about what they want—weighing pros and cons of purchases.  Teach them about delayed satisfaction.  “You have $1 for shopping.  If you don’t see anything you want, you can wait until next week and you’ll have $2.”  Encourage younger children to count money and learn what change to expect back.  Teach them about planned obsolescence.  “You see that Playstation over there?  Can you find games for that player in the stores now?  Why do you think that is?” 

What do I watch for?

  • I usually have a small list of things that I’m looking for when shopping.  There are those items that you always need for one part of your house or another, but I either don’t want to pay full price for it or don’t need it enough to justify the purchase.  I browse with those things in mind.
  • Watch for books and DVDs that you might be able to resale for a profit at a used bookstore. 
  • I like to pick up things like wrapping paper, baskets, and new greeting cards to use for the holidays or birthdays.  Last year I forgot to stock up on baskets to use when giving gifts of my home canned treats, and I won’t make that mistake again.  I forgot how much they cost when you are paying full price!!
  • I stay away from bathing suits, undies of any sort, socks, earrings, and shoes because of hygiene concerns. Of course I know people who have bought all of those things at sales and have been very happy.  I’m just not willing to risk it.  For the same reason, I don’t like to pick up stuffed animals.  Something that can be easily cleaned or washed is a different matter, though. 
  • Dishes are probably one of my favorite things to buy at sales.  I like to watch for sets of plates, glasses, or dessert plates that I can use when entertaining.  Of course my sweet Hubby kind of rolls his eyes when he sees yet another set of dishes coming into the house.  What can I say, I love having a different set of dishes for every occasion!  Some people collect knickknacks, coins, or arrowheads, I collect dishes!  I also watch for seasonal dishes or super cheap plates that I can use to send a friend or neighbor a meal or cake as a gift. 
  • I watch for educational toys or materials that I can use for our daughter.  Dry erase boards, coloring books, lacing boards, and so forth are great to have on hand—especially in the summer months!
  • Furniture of all types is fair game.  I like to watch for antiques and outdoor furniture best of all.
  • I watch for any kind of canning supplies and canning jars.  Always inspect the jars for cracks and chips before purchasing.
  • I like to pick up really pretty vases to use when I have a friend or relative with a birthday or who just had a baby.  I’ll make a nice arrangement of flowers from our yard and deliver it with the vase as a special treat.  I don’t waste my time with the simple glass vases that everyone has, instead watching for unusual sizes, shapes or designs.

What about you?  What are your favorite things to pick up at sales?  What is that certain item that you always keep your eyes peeled for?


  1. Have you ever used Yard Sale Treasure Map? :) I love it!

    The one on Murphy Road was nice this (Friday) morning; lots of fun 50s and 60s stuff.

  2. Absolutely! We love that site! I highlighted them a while back on the blog, but it would be a good time to repost. Thanks for the reminder!!

    Have a great weekend!