How to shop at Garage Sales – A Guide to Garage Sale Shopping

Long before programmers started coding applications like eBay or Craigslist, garage sales were the only tool of choice for the bargain hunters. If you have never been to a garage sale it might be due to some of the myths.

Have you ever purchased an used car? If you can buy a used car why can’t you buy other used things? I often go to garage sells to pickup treasures. Somebody’s junk can be others’ treasure.

I once tried setting up a side business of buying from garage sales and selling on eBay. I made decent money leveraging the price difference. I got my first video camera with the money I accumulated with week-end ventures. Pretty soon I did realize that the model is only sustainable if I did it full-time.

How to shop at Garage Sales - A Guide to Garage Sale Shopping

How to shop at Garage Sales – A Guide to Garage Sale Shopping

You can get much more for your money when you buy it used than you do when buying new. So what is preventing you from venturing in to a garage sale? What are the myths that plays in your mind about garage sales?

Stuff at garage sales has all been used – Used items like porcelain, glass, silverware and some clothing can simply be washed or dry cleaned. Agree, cheap clothing may take more money out of your pocket to buy and then dry clean than buying new. But expensive clothes can always be purchased at a great bargain.

Used stuff can be bought online – More than 50% of stuff on eBay are re sale items from garage sales. Lot of people do that. So you are paying more when buying used stuff online, add to it the wait time and shipping charges.

It is time-consuming – Yes it is, to some extent, but as long as you are not doing it as a business and just doing it for saving money, then I’d say you should not consider it as a chore rather, it is a week-end fun. It can be treated like a treasure hunting.

Social Stigma – SMB was initially reluctant to Buying stuff at garage sales. “Don’t we have enough money to buy new things?” she used to say. I had to explain to her about the treasure hunting angle and how we can  better use the money for fun.

If you wish to setup a garage sells yourself – do it! Garage sale could be an excellent early financial lesson for your kids. Let your kids also take part and learn a few valuable lessons on trading.

How to shop at garage Sales

Now let’s talk about how we should go about garage sells when we are buyers. The main point is to be better prepared and getting the best deal out of the already reduced price sale.

  1. Make a list of things you need – I have seen impulse shopping at garage sales, just because cost is cheap people tend to buy things and clutter their home. Once I bought a paper shredder and never used before finally selling it on Craigslist two years later. Make a buying list a night before  the sale, preferably on Friday night.
  2. Match your list with garage sale advertisements – Local newspaper, classified sections or the free classified booklets you get in your mail box, scan them through for matching items on sale at a near-by garage sale. Don’t hesitate to call up the sellers if you need to inquire for the items that’d be on sale.
  3. Map out your route – Make sure the matched items from step 1 and 2 above is on your route. Map the sale hopping carefully with gas save in mind. Going first to the sale where maximum match is found worked with me. You may also start from the furthest sale and then gradually come back towards home.
  4. Check online prices for items in your list – Checkout Craigslist, Amazon or eBay for the price of the used items you need. This will help you determine deals at the garage sale. This can also help you negotiate with the seller. Last thing you want is to pay more than the price offered online.
  5. Be prepared. Wear cool, comfortable clothes. Bring lots of change and dollar bills. Keep your money in your pockets, not in your purse/wallet. Bring shopping bags and empty your car trunk before starting out.
  6. Be quick – Unless you are at the last garage sell of the day, be quick in order to cover other sales on your route.
  7. Negotiate – Always ask politely for a cheaper price. Be careful, don’t try to bargain on items which are already marked down drastically. I often find sellers accepting cheaper rate for items as a bundle, rather than haggling on each item.
  8. Check what you buy – Carefully check items for hard-to-see tears, stains, and breakage. For furniture, check for mold. Be careful with the glassware, thoroughly check for cracks.
  9. Too early or too late, both are fine. The best stuff is available at the start of a sale, but the best deals can be had later in the day when seller wants to get rid of things quickly.
  10. Wait for price drop – This doesn’t work always still, worth a try. Drop your name and number with the seller asking him/her to call you if the item is not sold by the end of the day. You may get good discount on those items later on.
  11. Get help on standby – Especially if you get good deal on heavy items like furniture. You may call your help to carry those items to your home.
  12. One weekend may not be enough –  You may need to go out for a few weeks before checking off all the items on your wish list. Try your luck at a different corner of the city the next week.

Which items to look for in a garage sale 

Some of the items that usually available at majority of the garage sales are

  • Kitchen appliances. Not talking about spoons and spatulas, I never tried that as these are things I would always prefer new. But appliances like mixer, grinder, blender, toaster or even microwave can be had at a very cheap rate.
  • CD/DVD. You won’t find the latest, greatest gadgets at a garage sale but, you’ll find enough of quality used items. Make sure you test before trying.
  • Microwave ovens. We saw many small microwaves. Often people upgrade and sale their old one. We even sold our old microwave just for $15 on Craigslist couple of years back.
  • Furniture. Once, when I was new to this country, our entire home was decorated with used furniture we accumulated from garage sales. Form TV stand to coffee table; including side bed lamps. Be careful about the mold though, thoroughly inspect furniture before buying.
  • Bikes. If you want a small set, you can pick one up for just a few bucks.
  • Glassware – No matter how old the glassware on sale is, a simple wiping off with a glass cleaner can make it as shiny as a new one.
  • Books and toys – Specially school text books can be had in garage sales. I often saw quality toys and sport equipment.

What not to buy in garage sales

Lastly, I won’t venture in to a garage sale to buy any of these things. I like them new.

  • Computers and electronics – If its manufacturer selling refurbished its a different thing. You simply do not have enough time to check electronics thoroughly.
  • Mattresses – The number one reason being bedbugs. Also hygiene concerns are more important than saving a few bucks.
  • A Baby Product – Because babies put things in mouth first. Items like crib etc are security risk as well as you do not know which part is compromised by the previous owner.
  • Food items – No brainer here. why should you?
  • Ordinary cloths, underwear, swimsuits – If money required to dry clean a cloth is more than the cost of new cloth, why should you buy in the first place? I will recommend against using products as body hugging as swimsuits or underwear. 

When you come back from a sale, make sure to wash everything off as soon as possible or send for cleaning outside,  I always ask my friends to get used clothes dry cleaned before using.

Shop at garage sale but be extremely careful of the deadly trio – bedbug, mold and fungus. Thorough cleaning of the items you buy (even glassware) is a must.

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  1. says

    I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Big thanks for the useful info……

  2. says

    I know there are great deals to be found at garage sales, but I try to avoid them. Primarily because shopping a garage sale just seems like browsing and if I’m not looking for anything in particular, then I probably don’t need it. If I didn’t think to purchase an item before I saw it, then that means I don’t really want it either. It doesn’t matter how cheap an item is, if you don’t need it and only kinda want it, then you’re wasting money.

    That said, if I had children, I’d probably go to yard sales to find kids toys and gently used clothing.

    • says

      As they say – do what is best for you. you could write a post on pit falls of garage sells, and don’t forget to link me :)

  3. says

    I am an ebay kind of guy. We don’t have too many garages in NYC but we have thrift stores. However the thrift stores are more expensive than the designer stores. They get you every which way.

    Ebay all the way.

  4. says

    I love going to garage sales. Sometimes I just like to look at what people are selling and not even buy anything. It’s like getting a glimpse into someone else’ lives. I’m not certain yet where I stand on dinnerware. Some people think you shouldn’t buy used plates and kitchen utensils, but others think as long as you clean them properly before using them then it’s fine :0)

    • says

      I have similar habits. Sometimes I pickup Saturday morning to go for shopping just to visit a few sales on the way. I browse items mostly and if I like something I buy it. I never bought dinnerware from garage sale. Not that I don’;t want to but, generally people don’t it unless it has a few pieces missing.

  5. says

    I’ve discovered a good way to get garage sale deals. If you have a friend or family member who likes going to garage sales every week, ask them to be on the lookout for things that you need. They can then call you if they find a good deal. My brother has done this for me, and I’ve gotten several good deals like a bike and a garbage disposal.

    • says

      But for how long Ken? and not sure how far you can depend on friend’s choice? When buying something new we never rely on others, right?

  6. says

    I’ve not gone to many yard sales this year, but I’m always on the lookout for old tools, especially garden tools. You can’t beat one or two bucks versus $20 at the store for a new pickaxe or spading fork.

  7. says

    Love garage sales! These are awesome tips, too! I got five hard cover books for $1, and once I even got lawn chairs in great shape for free by shopping at the end of the day.

  8. says

    I grew up in a poor family that used to go to garage sales and as a kid was embarrassed by them. I am well over that now and although I have money for new most of the time I see it as a responsible choice to buy used when I can. I don’t really enjoy shopping though so only go when I need to.

  9. says

    I’ve picked up great, gently used toys at garage sales, as well as craft kits. My friend recently found a whole set of bins and racks to put them on, for a fraction of what it would have cost her new. She was so excited!

  10. says

    This is truly a very nice discussion about garage sales. Personally, I love garage sales. It’s where I find lovely things that you can’t find at any store and get it for a great price. Garage sales mean used things but they are beautiful used things that are still in very good condition.

    • says

      Depends on what you buy, I once bought a chair which gave up within a month, I didn’t know that the screw is not found on US, it was an imported chair from Europe. I had to trash it.

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