Other people’s trash can be your treasure if you know where and how to look. This article shares all the great garage sale shopping tips so you can find the best bargains.
Hunting for bargains at garage sales falls somewhere between being a hobby and a competitive sport.
On one hand, there’s the joy of strolling through someone’s garden on a warm spring morning, and the serendipity of discovering that perfect thing. The rose hiding amongst the weeds.
On the other hand, there’s the strategic planning to get a competitive edge over the other hunters out that weekend.
The pawing through other people’s belongs looking for a bargain. Or better yet, that elusive lost treasure, wildly undervalued, just waiting for the discerning to recognise its valued and make their fortune.
Garage sale shopping is an enjoyable and social way to spend a Saturday morning. But if you are looking for a bargain, it does pay to keep in mind a few tips from seasoned garage sale shoppers.
9 Tips For Getting The Best Bargains at Garage Sales
You have to wade through a lot of trash to find the treasures at garage sales. Increase the number of bargains you find with these eight tips.
1. Take Plenty of Change to Garage Sales
Don’t be the person who wants to buy a 50c comic book with a $50 note.
Not only is it annoying, but it can also work against you if you want to negotiate a price.
Most people hate negotiating. So if you have a five-dollar note in your hand and you ask the seller (politely) if they will accept it for a ten dollar item, the answer will probably be yes.
This strategy won’t work if you’re flashing bigger notes.
2. Plan Your Garage Sale Route
There can be dozens of garage sales advertised every weekend. If you’re on the bargain hunt, then planning your garage sale route will reduce travel time (and petrol cost), allowing you to fit more garage sales in.
Here’s the garage sale tactic we use:
- Pick which garage sales you want to go to. That might be based on what they are advertising or where they are located.
- Plan your garage sale route to save time and petrol (unless there is a sale you really want to go to first).
- Write each sale down, their address, opening time and any necessary directions in the order that you want to attend them. Alternatively, put them into Google maps.
- Jot down items that caught your eye in the ad as a reminder of what you’re looking for.
- Follow your garage sale route.
Making a garage sale plan sounds a bit serious, but part of the fun lies in the thrill of the chase.
Where Do You Find Out About Garage Sales?
Here are the best places to find out what garage sales are on in your area:
- your local classifieds (Grab the paper early in the morning (5 am) so you can do your planning and start early)
- Garage Sale Trail
- Facebook community groups and garage sale listing groups
- Garage Sale Tracker Aus app (and there are lots of garage sale/yard sale apps to explore for other countries).
3. Time Your Garage Sale Visits
The good stuff goes early.
People even attempt to shop before the advertised opening time so they get the bargains they want.
(But that’s annoying for the sellers. Don’t be annoying.)
So if you see a garage sale advertising something you really want, you’ll want to get there right on opening time.
Sleep in, and you may miss out.
On the other hand, if you’re not after something specific, then later in the day is when sellers reduce the price of what’s left to get rid of it.
They want that stuff gone, so it’s also the best time to negotiate on price.
4. Know What You Want But Keep an Eye Out for Bargains
A bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need it. Don’t let one person’s decluttering clutter your space.
(This can be hard if you’re like me and love a bargain!)
So go with a list of things that you need.
Having said that, being flexible can save you money in the long run.
Here are something things to look out for at a garage sale:
- solid wooden furniture
- dress-up clothes
- sports equipment
- camping and outdoor equipment; bikes, canoes etc.
- collectibles (if you’re knowledgable about a particular collectible)
- vintage items
- baby clothes and baby gear (with caution – you want to make sure they are up to safety standards)
- musical instruments
- art (even if it’s just for the frame)
- good quality clothing
- garden tools
- exercise equipment
- appliances (check that they still work)
- Christmas decorations
- dishware and bakeware and other kitchen goods.
5. Essential Things To Take When Garage Sale Shopping
Make the most out of your garage sale shopping by taking a few essential items below.
Along with plenty of spare change, take a water bottle and snacks if you plan to be out all morning. A coffee thermos and a muffin in a park on your garage sale route can break up the day.
If you’re taking your kids give them some change and a budget so they can learn essential money handling skills and enjoy the fun of bargain hunting as well.
If you’re looking for specific items like furniture, take measurements at home and take those measurements with you. There’s nothing worse than buying a piece of furniture only to realise it’s not going to fit in the space you have.
Other things to take include:
- a tape measure to measure furniture or other items
- bags or boxes to carry items home in. You might also want to take some packing materials like newspaper or old towels for fragile items
- batteries for testing electronics
- an extension lead for testing appliances
- clothing sizes
- gift ideas list
- pen and notepad
- rope or bungee cord for securing large items.
If you’re planning to buy large furniture, plan ahead of time how you will get it home. Can it fit in your car? Can it be dismantled? Do you know someone who has a ute or trailer you can borrow? Will you need to hire a trailer or truck?
6. Inspect Your Bargains Before Purchasing
Inspect everything over before you buy it to make sure you don’t buy a dud.
Look inside boxes (don’t assume what’s on the box is what’s in the box). Check that all the essential parts are there.
Test things to make sure things work (ask to plug electronics in and test them).
Look for tears, chips, breaks etc. Broken stuff isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you know that is what you’re getting and you are happy with that.
You may also want to Google the make and model of a specific item to get an idea of the cost and look for any information like product recall info.
Another place to look for an idea on price is to check eBay’s sold listings. Don’t look at items that haven’t been sold yet – they represent the value people wish to get. Look at sold listings for actual sale prices.
Looking to host a garage sale? Get the essential tips to ensure you make the most profit possible on the day.
7. Have an Eye for Possibility
When is an item a bargain even if you didn’t plan on buying it?
When you know you can creatively repurpose it.
Not everything that is broken, dented, rusted or worn out is worthless.
If you’re thinking of repurposing something, using part of it, or just using it for parts, it doesn’t matter if it’s broken.
When shopping for bargains, look at something for what it could become as well as what it is.
For example, if you’re a sewer, you might not be buying that top because you want to wear it, but because you want to cut it up and make something else out of it.
Or maybe you want to unwind that atrocious jumper and knit something else.
Maybe you really want to smash those ugly dishes and make a mosaic.
Or use that broken wooden furniture to build something else.
And creative repurposing isn’t just a way to keep things out of landfill, it can be a source of income too if you then sell those creations.
8. How to Find Good Garage Sales
Knowing which garage sales to go to will help you find the best bargains.
It may seem tacky to say this, but ‘wealthier’ suburbs will usually have better quality stuff for sale in their garage sales. That doesn’t mean they have the best bargains though.
If you’re looking for baby stuff, you will want to pick a suburb where there is a high concentration of young families rather than a high concentration of retirees.
Looking for vintage pieces or antiques? Then the retiree suburb or suburbs where people downsize from might be just where you need to head.
If you can only go to a couple of garage sales in one suburb, scan garage sale ads for what you’re interested in and go to the suburb with the most sales.
9. Garage Sale Shopping Tips
When you’re ready to hand over hard cash, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Greet and make small talk with the person hosting the garage sale. Remember, you’re a guest on their private property.
Not only is this polite and a great way to meet people and be friendly, but you’re also more likely to negotiate on price. People are more obliging with people they like and are friendly with.
It’s ok to haggle over items. Make an offer that’s just under what you’re willing to pay. Be polite and be prepared to not buy something if you feel it’s overpriced.
If you’re not sure about small items, carry them around with you while you decide so no one else snatches them up.
(And yes, it’s within the limits of polite society to subtly stalk a person who seemed undecided about an item at a garage sale. That way you can swoop in and grab it if they decide to put it back.)
If you are buying several small items, ask if you can bundle them together and offer a ‘price for the lot’.
For large items that you can’t carry around, pay for them on the spot if you definitely want them. Use your pad and pencil to write a sold sign to stick to the item, along with your name and phone number.
If you can’t take large items straight away, arrange a time with the garage sale seller to pick them up.
Write out an informal receipt with the item name, price and that it has been paid for and have them sign it, just in case it gets accidentally sold to someone else. Also write down the seller’s address, phone number and pick up details.
Shopping at garage sales is a great way to save money on what you need while also having a morning out and meeting new people. I hope these garage sale shopping tips will help you find your next great bargain.
Read more on finding second-hand bargains:
Melissa Goodwin has been writing about frugal living for 10+ year but has been saving her pennies since she first got pocket money. Prior to writing about frugal living, Melissa worked as an accountant. As well as a diploma of accounting, Melissa has an honours degree in humanities including writing and research and she studied to be a teacher and loves sharing the things that she has learned and helping others to achieve their goals. She has been preparing all her life to write about frugal living skills.