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Score big at garage sales

You can find great deals on things you might've never considered buying out of somebody's driveway.

By Donna_Freedman May 30, 2012 2:13PM

Image: Home garage sale (© UpperCut Images/SuperStock)Personal-finance blogger "J. Money" recently wrote about how to optimize your trips to garage sales.


I've got a few suggestions of my own. A couple of quibbles, too. 

First we'll look at J.'s tips, which I've grouped together for easier reading: 

  • The plan. Have a good meal before you go and use a bathroom (you might not find a public restroom in suburban or rural areas). Bring your own bags. Carry small bills and change. Use a garage-sale app.
  • The attack. Start early. Hit multifamily and church sales first. Be friendly. Always ask for a better deal.

I'd like to address two of J.'s points:

  • Not everyone has a smartphone. Those who don't should check garage-sale ads via Craigslist and the local newspaper.
  • Regarding the "always ask for a better deal" tip: If an item has a 25-cent price tag, I'm not going to ask for less. It's already just a quarter! If it were a bigger-ticket item, I might ask the famous question, "Is that your best price?" (Post continues after video.)
That's just me. Obviously you have the right to ask for a better deal even for a 25-cent item. But don't be a jerk if the sale organizer exercises his right to say, "No, I think this is a fair price."

Just because you've seen bookcases for $5 at other yard sales doesn't mean that the owner isn't justified in asking $10. You're probably paying less at a garage sale than at a thrift store, and you're definitely paying less than retail.

Groceries at the garage sale

Sometimes simple hesitation can bring a discount. Once I was examining some boxes marked "canning supplies." The owner saw me looking and asked for $10. Figuring that was a good deal, I accepted.

At home I discovered just how good the deal was: The boxes held 147 jars, 37 lid centers and 78 bands. Now you understand why I keep going to garage sales.

But I don't rule out estate sales either. I'm not in the market for large items, but I always check the kitchen. Estate sales mean that everything goes, including the contents of the cupboards.

Among the items I've bought are bleach, birthday candles, muffin-pan liners, aluminum foil, wax paper, cake mixes and lots of canned goods, at prices ranging from 25 to 50 cents.

Maybe the idea of somebody's "old" food is off-putting. Think of two cans of soup with March 2013 expiration dates. What's the difference whether you buy the soup from an estate sale or a grocery store?

If you're still skeeved out, ignore the food items and stock up on stuff like aluminum foil and laundry soap. Have you priced these items lately?

A few more tips

These sales are a good way to stock your RV or your summer place. Recent grads can find items for their first apartments; using garage-sale bookcases and cookware is (or should be) a rite of passage.

Look for still-shrink-wrapped items or things like apparently unread books, for frugal Christmas gifts

Give linens the sniff test; if they smell musty, ask for a lower price and use homemade mildew remedies later on.

Swing back by on your way home, in case prices have dropped. Again: Don't be a jerk. A former co-worker's sister had a yard sale that included a pile of old (but still nice) doilies for $5. One shopper declared loudly that she'd pay $1, tops.

When the organizer declined, the visitor said she'd be back later. "These will still be here. You'll take my dollar then!"

Sure enough, they were. "Are you ready to take my dollar now?" the woman sneered.

Whereupon the owner doused the doilies with Blazo fuel, struck a match and replied, "Take 'em -- they're yours."

That's not how I would have handled it. But I sure would like to have witnessed it.

What are your best garage sale finds?

More on MSN Money:

May 30, 2012 9:43PM
My best garage sale find was at a large addition sale on an "old"lake. My wife and i made it early to the sales and found a whole car load of things(my car is an HHR, so it was full). i bought old oil lamps, several old porcelain items, including signs and an infant toilet, old fishing equipment, and best of all, 4 complete sets of the old pointed lawn jarts, still in the original boxes. I took all the stuff, cleaned it up, and ran it through the local saturday night auction. I sold the jarts for 75 a set on line, and the rest of the stuff i made $680 profit. With the jarts I made a total of $905 dollars profit on $172 in purchases. And it took only 6 hours of the day.
May 31, 2012 8:10PM
My favorite item(s) found at a garage sale were a pair of Hudson Bay blankets for $3 each. I am guessing that these were wedding gifts and the seller had no idea what they were.
May 30, 2012 7:08PM

Love garage/yard best purchase of all time my 16 inch  gas powered Craftsman chainsaw. Seller wanted $25 but the unit BUT it  had "issues"...I got it for $2. Fixed it and it works like a champ! I have cut a lot of firewood with that saw...and if it catches fire tommorrow...I'm only out $2!

 As for the guy with the flammable liquid...not a fan. Will tell ya...IMHO garage sales are the place to buy things ....not sell things. Clothing especially goes real cheap in this neck pof the woods....

May 30, 2012 2:50PM
I would be a little scared if someone set something on fire. Hmmmm, issues maybe?
Great article Donna even if parts of it were second hand from J.Money. Haha I made a second hand joke. Ok it wasn't that good to begin with.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.