How To: Garage Sale Shop Like A Pro

To start with... This is the Mrs. I have never written a complete article for Not the Jet Set but when it comes to this topic Mr. NtJS asked me to do it all. So here it goes!

A few years ago we started to notice a trend when we had guests over. Our friends would ask us to tell them about X (could be the couch, end tables, chandelier, curtains, etc). They were wanting to hear all about our great bargains! Which I do have to admit... almost everything we own has a story behind it. Kinda makes it more fun, especially when the story doesn't include, "...just a few more payments and it'll be ours..."

Most stories start with "Well, a month ago I was garage sale shopping and...". I hate to brag or say that I'm good at anything but I do have to admit that I have really perfected my bargain finding skills over the years. (Ed. - Seriously, she's like a garage sale ninja) It was not always that way. I remember the summer our first daughter was born, and I was trying to find clothes for her at garage sales. I would be so mad and disappointed by the end of the day because I did not find what I was looking for, or it was not as good of a deal as I was wanting. I believe that being good at garage sale shopping is a learned skill not a born talent - anyone can do it with the right guidance. The following are some of my rules for when I go garage sale hunting. These rules have worked for me in the different areas of country we have lived in, and in every size of town. So they should work for you know matter where you live.

Mrs. NtJS's Garage Sale Rules:

  1. Know what you are looking for. I always have a list of what I'm looking for that week. It's just like when you go the grocery store - if you don't have a list, then it's too easy to buy what you don't need and spend to much.
  2. Know the neighborhoods. I have found that some neighborhoods are better then others when it comes to finding quality items at a good price. It might actually be surprising which ones I do the best in and the worst. The worst neighborhoods to go shopping in are the ones that are what I call "new rich". These are the really nice neighborhoods that are being built and have younger people moving into them. What I usually find is cheaper quality items that are selling for way to much (simply because they are in an upscale neighborhood). Established rich neighborhoods area typically good ones to try. They have nice quality stuff, and making money at the sale is usually not an issue, so they will take less to see it go. Established upper-middle class neighborhoods are also great.
  3. Plan ahead. I don't buy the local paper (too cheap for that). So I go online to review the garage sale classified ads for free the night before I plan to go. I ONLY go to garage sales that have spent the time and money to place an ad. I've done it the other way and I found that I just waste time and gas. Also, if they are willing to put a little bit of time and money into their sale they must have a lot of good stuff since they are planning on making some money at this deal and/or clear out some real clutter. When I review the ads I first look at all of them. If they sound interesting, then I cut/paste them into a word doc. After this first rough cut, I then take a closer look at the ads. What neighborhood are they in? What are the start times? Just one thing or multiple things I'm interested in? One family sale, multi family, moving, neighborhood, estate sale? All these things paint a better picture of what will be there, the condition and my bargaining power or lack there of. At this point I try to narrow it down to 4-6 garage sales in the same area of town. The last thing you want to do is drive all over town, and spend a fortune in gas while trying to save a buck.
  4. Dress right. If you dress like a pan handler they will treat you like one. If you dress like you are rich they will not give you a price break. Just dress like you could use a good deal but not like you live in your car. Remember, first impressions...
  5. Go early... Go late. I try to be at the garage sale on the first day as it opens if I am really looking for something hard to find. Last year we wanted to get our oldest a play structure for a birthday present. Holy Cow! I had no clue how expensive they were at retail. Then I found out just how hard they are to find used. Well, after 2 months of searching, I found one at a garage sale. I was the first one there that day, and it paid off. I got the whole thing for $100! They even moved it for us including the 3 big guys for labor. Now that was a deal. If I had not been there first thing that morning someone else would have snagged it in a heartbeat. Sometimes I find garage sales that have lots of great stuff but high prices. What I usually do is go back the last day about an hour or two after they start and get great deals then as they are trying to cut stuff loose.
  6. Play nice with the hostess. I'm amazed at how rude people can be at garage sales. You are a guest at someone's home who is willing to sell you things they own for a fraction of the price that they paid for them. So why be so rude? Think you will get a deal that way? I don't think so! I always make it a point to say hello and smile at the hostess (casual not pushy). I try to ask questions and get them talking if they are not super busy. I try to relate to them if possible. They are more willing to work with you on a price drop if they feel like you are a nice person or like you have become a friend. Or like in the case of a garage sale 3 weeks ago, like a daughter. Three weeks ago I went to a garage sale in an established rich neighborhood. It was 3 neighbors having it together at one of there houses. Well, the one lady's daughter who was a young adult (close to my age) had just moved cross-country. Due to high gas prices, she decided to sell everything and buy new when she got there. Well, she happened to be my current (not quite back to pre-baby size) size. Luckily for me, she and her mother had very expensive taste. I was trying to figure out if they were in my size, and after talking to the mom it sounded like they would fit. I bought very expensive designer jeans (most never worn) for $3-4 each. When I got home and tried them on they fit me like a glove! The next morning, I went back first thing. I reintroduced myself to her and said that I had bought a few of her daughter's jeans and they fit me so well and thanked her for her help yesterday. Then I asked her if she could help me find a few more of her daughters clothes and explained why I was needing them and how I could not wait until my body bounced back. Well, the next thing I know she starts filling a sack full of clothes for me that she is just going to give to me for free because "it's just Old Navy and Gap clothes" and she feels like I'm her daughter! I bought a ton of clothes! Like 3 large sacks of them. And was given another one for free. Of course, on the 3 sacks I payed for, I asked for a discount too.
  7. Eavesdrop. I'm normally not a nosy person but I'm very nosy at garage sales. When I first get to the sale and figure out who is taking the money, I eavesdrop on them as other people pay to see if they are flexible on their prices and which items' prices are firm. I can then get a feel for what they are willing to do or what they will be offended by. If you offer too low they will just give you a flat "No, that is the price", but if you can figure out before hand what they are willing to do you can offer a price that is in their ball park.
  8. Round-the-numbers game. Sometimes I go to a garage sale and find that the hostess forgot that they were having a garage sale! "The price on the sticker is the price!" is what I will hear them tell someone else. If there are items I'm interested in I'll gather them up and then I'll asked the hostess to round down to the dollar amount. So if I had picked up $7.75 worth of items I would ask if she would take an even $7 for them. I've never been turned down. It might not seem like a lot but that could mean a free item for me. Besides, after saving 75cents at 4 garage sales in one morning you just saved 3 dollars!
  9. Stick with the plan. The hardest part is to stick with the plan. I bring a set amount of money, a written list of addresses, and a written list of items to look for with me. That is the plan. If I start going off and looking at other sales or buying things not on the list I'm just wasting time and money. That is not to say that I never pick up something that is not on the list, but you do have to remember that if you don't have the money, then it's not a good deal. There will always be more garage sales and more of the same items will be on someone else sale.

I find garage sales to be a lot of fun especially when I stick to my rules. You never know what great deal you will find at the next sale! Now that I've shared my secrets to garage sale success what are yours?

PS. If you live in my town please disregard everything you just read and stick with the mall. LOL


DivaJean said...

Not towards sale recommendations- BUT we always make sure to garbage pick in neighborhoods the garbage day after a big neighborhood sale.

You then get free pick of items not sold.

We picked up a big box of American Girl sized clothes this way once-probably $75 worth new- not to mention tons of other great stuff we then had for our annual sale.

Greener Pastures said...

Love this article! And love your site!

Beth Hawks said...

What a wonderful post - love the tips. There is definitely a method to the madness. Thanks for sharing! I'll be including this as a resource link on my blog.

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