10 Ways to Save Time and Money at Garage Sales

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Most of my books cost a quarter. Half the furniture in my house cost less than $50. I’ve been drinking wine out of a 10 cent wine glass for the past three years. And I owe it all to getting up at the crack of dawn to score good deals at garage sales.

While garage sales are a great way to make money, they’re also a great way to save money – if you do it right. Here are 10 things I’ve learned after years of garage sale hunting.

1. Make a map

Finding the garage sales ahead of time is the easiest way to maximize your early morning shopping hours. I start by looking in my newspaper and online for the weekend’s sales. Here are my favorite sites…

Then I plot each address on a map in a circle around my house. Having a map saves me hours of driving around looking for random signs.

2. Find neighborhood sales

A neighborhood garage sale (also known as a community yard sale) is just what it sounds like: An entire neighborhood bands together and hosts a mega-sale. It’s like striking gold. Since the neighborhood handles the advertising and organizing, sellers are more likely to participate, and you can find either one big sale or tons of smaller sales in one compact area.

Many neighborhood garage sales will have posted ads in the newspaper, but I also keep an eye out for signs during the week. The neighborhood association usually posts a flyer or a banner in front of its neighborhood sign a few days ahead of time.

3. Have small bills and change ready

While most sellers are prepared with ones and fives to make change, some forget. And if you’re one of their first customers, they may not have enough change to sell you, say, a 25 cent book and make change for a $20. I set aside ones, fives, and even quarters throughout the week so I’ll have them ready for the weekend.

4. Get up early

It pays to show up right on time or even a few minutes early – and at most garage sales, that means an official 7 a.m. start, with the serious buyers milling about 15 to 20 minutes before that. If you’re looking for something specific and in short supply, like furniture, you can bet someone else is looking for the same thing, so the key is to beat them to it.

5. Scout the sale

If you have several garage sales on your list for the day, don’t feel like you need to stop at each one. You’ll save time if you drive by each sale and do a quick check of the inventory. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, just keep going. Odds are you won’t miss anything, and you’ll have more time to spend at a better sale.

6. Take your time

If you do find a great garage sale, take your time. I have a bad habit of rushing, so I can hit all the garage sales on my list. But I’ve missed out on hidden deals that way. Last weekend, I decided to change that and spent almost half an hour at my neighbor’s garage sale. I bought vintage salt-and-pepper shakers for $25 that were in a box stashed under a table. I never would have found those racing down the driveway.

7. Know what it’s worth

Garage sellers love to say, “Make me an offer” for one reason – most people come back with an offer well above what the seller actually wanted. And before you know it, the seller made money and you lost yours.

According to MSNBC – which wrote about hosting garage sales – most items sell for 12 to 15 percent of their original value. That’s a fair price. So as a buyer, if I find an item that isn’t marked or the seller wants to haggle, I aim to pay no more than 15 percent of what I think it cost new.

8. Combine items for better deals

I’ve found the best deals by grouping items together. For example, last week I saw a box of books marked at 25 cents each. I counted 26 books in the box, which would have been $6.50. Instead, I offered the seller $5 to take the whole box. I saved $1.50, and the seller didn’t have to fret about not selling every book by the end of the day – everyone wins. I usually go for boxed items, but I’ve seen people bring up handfuls of toys, clothes, or dishes and get a discount.

9. Don’t haggle too much

While haggling is just part of shopping at a garage sale, you’re not always going to win. People often place an emotional value on their belongings and aren’t willing to part with them for anything less than a ridiculous price.

My friend once put a (very) used brass coffee table on sale for $250, thinking she’d get at least $200. For three days people came by and offered her everything from $20 to $75, but she wasn’t budging. More than a few people stood there for a while haggling with her. But it didn’t matter, because she had placed an emotional value on that coffee table.

In my opinion, it’s a good idea to make one or two offers and then walk away. You could be missing out on a great deal at another garage sale by standing there arguing with an emotional seller.

10. Come back on the last day

People have garage sales for two reasons – to make money and clear out space in their house. The first day is all about making money. By the last day, they’re looking out at everything left and realizing they’ll have to cart it all to Goodwill or drag it back into the house. And that’s when the markers come out and the prices get slashed.

I once bought a bookshelf marked $30 for $5 because the sale was ending. Since then, I always try to hit the last hour or two of garage sales – I’ve gotten stuff for half price and even free that way.

And if you end up buying so much stuff you have to throw your own garage sale – I’ve thrown a few in my day – check out 13 Tips for a Super Yard Sale to learn the best way to make the most money.

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