Garage Sales - a treasure hunt for bargains

Garage sales are my favorite places for bargain hunting, and an important part of my frugal living plan when it comes to shopping. They are also a great place to practice your negotiating techniques to obtain the best bargains possible.

And, don't forget, they’re also a treasure hunt – you never know what you might find, and often what you find is amazing. What a great combination, fun and frugality!

If you want to shop for quality merchandise at rock bottom prices, and have a great time doing it, then you need to start going to garage sales. They stretch your dollars.

Sometimes they are known as a yard sale, family sales, neighborhood sales, church rummage sales, moving sales or estate sales – call it what you will. They all have one thing in common; ordinary people who have lots of stuff that they want to get rid of for a little cash.

A frugal shopper’s paradise indeed! The bargains at garage sales are usually much better than can be found anywhere else.

Sunbeam mixer at a garage sale for $3.

Here is a Sunbeam mixer and bowl and beaters for $3. Next to it is a plug in electric appliance timer for 25 cents. You just can't beat bargains like this if you are looking for these kinds of items.

Admittedly, it isn’t a good place for deliberate shopping, but if you have your list in your head, you’ll be surprised at what kinds of things you will find at near give away prices.

Typical items found at garage sales include things of general interest to a wide range of people. It is common to find:

Clothes - Furniture - Knick knacks - Home decorations - Tires - Plates - Glasses - Books - Hand tools - Power tools - Toys - Tool boxes - Kitchen utensils - Home appliances - Nails and other fasteners - Shoes - Tire chains - Log chains - Stuffed animals - Candles - Shelving - Buckets and pails - Gardening tools - Musical instruments - Lawn mowers - Cameras - Christmas decorations - Craft items - Vacuum cleaners - Household cleaning supplies - Oil and antifreeze - Canning jars and lids - Pasta makers - Free weights and exercise machines - Fishing rods and lures

Not so typical items at garage sales include specialty interest items for specific trades, sports and hobbies. I have found such items as:

Baseball pitching machine - Pianos and organs - Collectibles and memorabilia - Garden tractors - Rare first edition hardbound books - Coin and stamp collections - Fur hides - Antiques - Motor vehicles - Ball cap collection - Snow shoes - Trailers - Art supplies - Hot sauce - Squirrel cage motor-blowers - Fine art - Buzz saw blades

Prom dresses for $5 each.  What a great bargain on some very nice dresses.

While we are talking about unusual items, the picture to the right shows very nice prom dresses for $5 each. I don't know what dresses like that sell for, but I know it isn't anywhere near the asking price of $5.

What a great buy for a young miss, and they are priced just right for someone with money from an allowance or occasional babysitting in the neighborhood.

Can you find unbelievable bargains at garage sales? Yes, you can. Here are some of the best purchases that I have made in the last several years:

  • Quality and well cared for dress and sport shirts – 23 for $25
  • Eddie Bauer corduroy shirt in like new condition for 25 cents
  • Lightly worn Levi blue jeans – 36 pairs for $7
  • Baseball pitching machine for $17
  • New ball caps from around the country and world-250 for $8
  • Heavy duty log chains – 18 feet in length with hooks, $2 each
  • Craftsman radial arm saw for $25
  • Box of nails – forty pounds for $2
  • New in box Ingersoll Rand high speed pneumatic cut off tool for $2
  • Craftsman rolling toolbox for $20
  • High quality clarinet and case for $10
  • Ten ton floor jack for $35
  • High quality stuffed animals 25 cents each
  • Beanie Babies 25 cents each
  • High quality accordion with case for $25
  • Four slot wide slice toaster with dual controls for $1
  • Two new tool boxes, full of new tools, all Craftsman for $200
  • J.A. Henckels chef knife for 25 cents

A Black & Decker 1/4 inch drill for $5.  In great shape, and the owners manual comes with it.

Here is a Black and Decker 1/4 inch electric drill, with the owners manual, for $5. It looks like it hasn't been used much at all. Where else can you get a quality tool like this for so little?

Why are we shopping at retail stores if you can get those kinds of bargains at garage sales? The answer is simple, retail stores specialize, their products are always new, and the merchandise is well organized so we can find things easily. Besides, the environment is clean, and it is often vibrant as well as comfortable.

It's also a matter of convenience and selection.

You know a retail store will have what you want in a wide range of products. Part of the appeal of a retailer is that they are often conveniently located close to other retailers in a mall or shopping area. We’re spoiled, and that’s the way we like it.

Oh, and we also pay a high price for all the convenience.

To be fair, we have to recognize that garage sales aren’t very convenient, as they are spread all over the community. They are conducted all year long, but mostly during the fair weather months of spring through fall. “Store hours” are limited and they are usually open only Friday through Sunday.

That’s a quick look at the down side of private sales.

The up side is that garage sales and yard sales are an adventure. It can be a lot of fun exploring and discovering hidden treasures that many families have to offer. The bargains just can’t be beat, and there is no better place to dicker to get a super low price on your purchase.

Although it doesn’t seem possible, there are people that do most of their shopping at garage sales and grocery stores, and very little anywhere else. The reason is simple – they have learned to live off the waste of others. It may sound a little icky, but living off the waste of others is a wonderfully cheap way to get things that you want.

As an example, a family nearby has had a couple garage sales in as many years. Based on the items offered at those sales, it is clear to me that they have way too much money, and no idea what to do with it. At least 5% of what they are selling is new in boxes and hasn’t ever been opened.

The idea is to turn their waste into your gain for just a little coin and a little traveling around the community.

The great benefit of garage sales is people have things they want to get rid of, and many times they will take a very low offer for things, just to get them out the door. Remember, since it isn’t an auction, you have no competitors – it is just you and the person selling the items.

Did I mention that there is no sales tax involved in any of the transactions? That’s a plus in my book. While you are busy saving money, there is no sense in giving any of what you saved to the government.

A free sticker means that these three 5 gallon buckets are free for the taking.

In addition, there are often bags and boxes of free stuff. Sometimes a seller can’t organize a portion of their belongings, or doesn’t want to bother with selling some items, so they are given away. Look for free items and take what you want.

To the right is a "free" sticker on three 5 gallon buckets. I use them for many purposes, so I was happy to have them free of charge. At any sale, "free" is the best price.

Once I saw a woman who was giving away a beautiful organ. Unbelievable, but it was like new and free for the taking.

For her, I suppose finding a good home for her organ was more important than selling it.

If you are a college student or newly out on your own, garage sales and auctions are a great way to furnish your apartment for very little cash outlay. Common household items like kitchen ware, bedding and furniture are available at many sales. Ladies golf clubs for a $10 asking price at a fund raising garage sale in Cheyenne.

Are you a beginning golfer? As you are aware, golf isn't cheap, so it sure would be nice if you could get bargains on golf equipment to offset the cost of the sport.

Well, you can if you shop at garage sales in Cheyenne. Here are ladies golf clubs and a golf bag. They are in great shape, and they are classics. As you can see, the woods are made of real wood with a metal facing. These days all the woods and drivers are made of alloy.

I've seen complete sets of this style sell for hundreds at auctions, but this one was for sale at the rock bottom price of $10. What a great buy for a beginning golfer.

You couldn't buy one of the clubs at half retail price for $10, and here is an entire set with a bag for the same price. Golf balls are a common item sold at garage sales, so you could be all set for the practice range if these clubs were the right size.

Enjoy yourself. A large part of garage sales is enjoying the human interaction. People have stories about their collection of things, why they are selling stuff, where things came from and so on. You can meet “old friends” that you never knew you had.

Logan and Brody man the bake sale table at this garage sale fundraiser.

Above, brothers Logan and Brody enjoy being in charge of the bake sale table at this garage sale fund raiser. The cookies and brownies were wonderful, and reasonably priced. Just the thing I needed for a Saturday morning breakfast.

Cassidy runs the garage sale office table while mom helps customers and dad brings out more things to sell.

At the right is Cassidy, one of the best garage sale clerks you'll ever meet. It is clear that kids rule at Cheyenne garage sales.

It's fun to use garage sales as a way to get to know a little about the lives of others in the community – whether they are your neighbors or just part of the larger community. There is an opportunity to get insights about their hobbies, employment, lifestyle and so on.

Your route may take you to neighborhoods where you otherwise would never travel, so you get to see a little more of the area surrounding your home.

If your work life doesn’t involve much interaction with the community, your travels to and from private sales will.

There are people that regularly go to yard sales, and those that regularly have sales. Your paths will cross on occasion and that gives you an opportunity to wave to say hello and celebrate your participation in the most basic of marketplaces; private parties engaging in free trade.

I have a human interest story about an interaction I had during a garage sale where I bought five basketballs for just a few dollars. The balls were purchased as toys for my Boston Terrier buddy named Humper (a.k.a. Dude). Humper loves to play with basketballs.  The higher they bounce, the more fun he has.

Most of the balls were worn, except one that was in especially nice shape. It was an official NBA basketball. As I was paying for them, a little blond haired boy and his father walked up to examine the balls. The woman that sold them to me told the boy that they were all sold. He was a little disappointed, but you could see that he accepted the fact.

When I went to get the balls, the little boy offered to help carry them to the car for me. He carried one and I carried the other four. I loaded the four I was carrying into the trunk while he stood by with the one ball he had carried. When I turned to him to get the last ball, he asked very nicely if he could have it.

I looked at the ball and thought to myself that he had the nice official NBA ball.

I also thought that Humper was going to wear out the balls and put holes in them anyway. It seemed that a nice basketball in the hands of the little boy would be much appreciated, last much longer and bring him just as much joy as it would “the Dude”.

The balls are too big for

I was also very impressed that this little garage sale negotiator was forward enough to ask for what he wanted. I liked his style. He didn’t tell me he wanted it, he asked me if he could have it.

It made sense to me that the little boy should have a ball, and it made sense that he should have the nicest one of the bunch, so after some thought I said “sure, you can have it”. It put a big smile on his face and he thanked me and skipped off to be with his father.

As we turned the car around in the street to head off to the next garage sale, the boy and his father stood there in the drive waving at us. Both had big smiles on their faces. The boy was calling out “thank you” as we waved back.

It was a good garage sale day for all of us, and Dude has plenty of basketballs for lots of fun on the driveway.

Let’s look at some of the mechanics of garage sales. Garage sales are often advertised in the newspaper and local trading publication. In some cases, the ad will list some of the key items for sale. Other ads simply indicate that they are having a sale.

Advertisements that sound great often aren’t and those that aren’t very appealing in print can be some of the best sales once you get there and look at what they have. You can never tell. It is very much a crap shoot.

Plan your route to maximize time at sales, and minimize travel time. Since sales aren’t coordinated in any manner, you may have to backtrack a little, but planning your route based on location and time of sale is a good way to minimize unnecessary travel.

Showing up 30 minutes early is just fine for sales that start from 7am to 8am. For sales that start 9am or 10am, showing up 60 minutes early should be just fine too. If you arrive while they are setting things out, just say you are there to help them set up, and then help them set up for a little while. The help will be appreciated.

Everything is a cash sale. Bring folding money and a little change. Small bills are better since the price of many items is $10 or less.

Check here for more yard sale tips and suggestions.

Garage sale protocol. “Early birds” are often welcome at a garage sale. The people are having a sale to sell things, and so they should be happy that folks are eager to buy.

Closed garage doors mean that you have to wait. If the door is open and things are on display, then you aren’t too early. Popular items are often purchased by the first few people that come to the sale, so there is a good reason to show up early – the early bird gets the worm!

“Early birds” aren’t always welcome before the appointed time of the sale. Some people are sticklers about the time that the sale begins, like they were opening up their department store or something. Fortunately tightly wrapped people like that don’t tend to have garage sales, so you won’t have to be too concerned about your arrival time.

Courtesy dictates that when others are looking at something or making an offer, you should wait until they are finished before offering to buy the item.

If there are several items you would like to buy, either carry them with you or mention to the seller that you intend to buy them, so others don’t mistakenly think that the items are still available for purchase.

Example: I went to a sale where there were many tools, lawn care items and videos that I was interested in. I couldn’t carry everything, so I asked the seller where might be a good place to make a pile while I continued to look. He told me “Right there on the table would be fine” so I put my stuff there.

A few minutes later a man came along and liked what he saw in my pile, so he picked up everything and asked the seller how much he wanted for it. Since the seller knew they were spoken for, he informed the man that they were already sold.

Making an offer. Organized sales will have prices marked on each item, or a note that says make an offer. There are garage sale kits at office stores and in the stationary department of retail stores that have brightly colored stickers marked with prices. These are popular and help take the guess work out of what someone wants for his or her things.

This like new food chopper works like a charm and at $3 it is a great price.

If something isn’t marked, then ask what they want. If they don’t know or ask you for an offer, be prepared to make an offer. Often any reasonable offer will be accepted right away. Sometimes a counter offer is made, so be prepared to dicker a bit.

My thoughts on making an offer are simple. If the marked price is low, then pay it and be happy. They just want a little money for their things, and you just want to give a little money, so it seems only fair.

For example, to the right is a Black and Decker food chopper priced at $3. It was like new in the box. We gladly paid the asking price. It works great and is one of our favorite tools in the kitchen.

If the price marked is too high, then politely ask if they will take the amount you had in mind for the item. Usually they will take less and be happy. Remember, they are trying to get rid of things - help them!

These signs below seem to say it all. They have stuff and they want to get rid of it. It is abundantly clear that they want you to make an offer rather than walk away because the price is too high. A sign encouraging visitors to the garage sale to make offers.
Example: I saw a large long chain with hooks at a garage sale. I asked about the price and they didn’t know. They wanted to know what I would give. I told them (truthfully) that I had bought several chains just like that a couple of weeks earlier for $2 a piece. I said “That’s what I have been paying.” The seller knew that the chain was worth much more, but couldn’t argue with my recent experience, so I got the chain for $2.

Again, people have stuff that they want to be rid of, so they hold garage sales. With rare exception, the folks holding the sale want you to take the items off their hands, so they will accept just about any offer that seems reasonable, and many that don't.

Garage sales that aren’t really sales at all. Occasionally you’ll run into a sale that isn’t a sale. Here are some examples.

I have seen people selling items at or above retail price. These are people that aren’t really trying to get rid of things. They are trying to make money like a retail store. In these cases, I recommend that you don’t even make an offer.

If you wanted to pay retail, you would go somewhere else. You are looking for a bargain, so you’ll need to look elsewhere. Wish them a good day and walk away. You can be sure that they will still have all their things for sale when they go to pack up at the end of the day.

Another type of sale that isn’t involves people that can’t make up their mind what is for sale. They aren’t prepared. When you make an offer, they might decide that they want to keep the item instead. Such ambivalent people are only a source of frustration. Again, walking away is the best use of your time.

There are lots of other people who know what they are selling and want to get on with it. Go there and enjoy the sale.

Some are sticklers for opening up at the time advertised. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is the rare exception rather than the rule. If you have a garage sale, you have to expect people will come early. If they didn’t want early arrivals, then they would say so in their ad.

The best approach in these situations is to go to other sales nearby and come back to the sticklers later. There is no sense wasting time waiting for a sale to open if there are others nearby that would be of equal interest.

If you love to shop (and who doesn't), garage sales offer you an opportunity to shop consistent with your interests in frugal living. Inexpensive and fun, yard sales are a great adventure in frugal fun.

Done with Garage Sales, take me back to the Home page

There certainly is a broad scope of topics here at Frugal Living Freedom. When you think about it, money permeates so very many activities in our lives, therefore, being frugal encompasses a wide range of interests, from being employed to taking a vacation, and just about everything in between. Enjoy the variety, pick up some new ideas, and start making frugality a part of your signature.

I'm a big proponent of being debt-free, and I mean entirely debt-free - no mortgage payment. It's not essential for financial freedom, but you'll love the feeling once you get there. If you didn't have a rent or mortgage payment, how much more could you do for yourself with your current level of income? I suspect plenty.

If you ever hope to see an abundance of wealth, you need to plug the hole in your boat. The wealthy don't necessarily make lots of money, instead, they know how to hang onto what they make, and make it work for them.