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10 Essential Tips to Help You Get the Best Deals at Garage Sales

colorful garage sale sign
dreamsjung, Flickr

With the popularity of eBay and craigslist, it has become very easy to get great deals on “gently used” items without leaving the comfort of your home, but as the weather warms up, we can’t deny that there is just something much more exciting about finding those great deals while on the hunt at garage sales all over town.

In order to make sure you’re getting the best deals possible, and not wasting time and money, this isn’t something you should just rush into and do without some planning.

You, too, can spend the next six months getting great stuff for ridiculously small amounts of money, but you need to be ready. Here are 10 ways to get the best deals during the 2012 garage sale season.

Learn the Market

books and old toys at a garage sale
macinate, Flickr

First of all, if you’re going to shop efficiently, bargain smartly and save money on garage sale items that you don’t have to purchase for retail, then you need to know the market. In order to know what kinds of things you should be looking out for, you need to know what useful items you’ll be able to find at garage sales. You can usually get great garage sale buys for baby items, kids’ clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, tools, camping gear, games (both board and video), DVDs, CDs, off-season holiday items, speakers, spare parts, craft supplies, gift items and furniture. Make sure you stay away from computer and electronic items that you can’t test, or pricey “antiques” with interesting histories that you can’t verify. Then, do a little research early in the season and while you shop. Check prices for items you want online and pay attention to the prices people have on their garage sale items. If you always see books priced at about 25 cents apiece, you know not to pay $1 apiece for them somewhere else. This is also a good way to know if you’re at a garage sale where everything is way over-priced and you’ll just be wasting your time.

Have a Plan

garage sale at a nice house
John Beagle, Flickr

The next thing you have to do to be sure you’re getting the best deals possible at garage sales is to have a plan. For one thing, you don’t want to spend a fortune in gas driving randomly all over town just to save a few bucks on an old table. Use an app like YardSaleMapper that maps sales listed on Craigslist, or any mapping program to help you find the most efficient route to your selected sales. Also, to find the best stuff at low prices, make sure you’re shopping in a relatively upper middle class area. These garage sales usually have nicer items that are less used and they are usually trying to just get rid of them, rather than make their livelihood. Also, look for group sales where you’ll be able to shop for more items in less time. Finally, your plan must be well-timed. It’s common knowledge among the pros that the good stuff goes early. Things will be cheap at the end of a sale, but it will also be picked over. You may have a harder time negotiating the lowest price for something early on, but if you wait too long, it’ll be gone. Check for sales that start during the week and don’t wait until Saturday or Sunday if you can avoid it. Plan your route according to when people are starting their sales. Don’t show up early, though. Nobody wants to make deals with the early bird, because now you’ve made them cranky.

Don’t Look Like You Have Money to Burn

you can't get a good deal if you're overdressed
m.gifford, Flickr

Now that you’re ready to actually get out and shop, you need to think about your presentation. If you want to be able to negotiate prices down, don’t show up in your expensive car with your expensive clothes and your expensive accessories. Nobody wants to lower prices for someone who looks like they could easily pay retail without blinking an eye. You’ll get better deals if you look like it would help you to get them. This seems obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make. Leave the Coach bag and BMW at home. Wear your Old Navy and drive the clunker you’re saving for when your toddler’s a teen. You’ll definitely get the best deal possible if you look the part.

Bring Notes & Tools

lots of different items for sale at a garage sale
Bob n Renee, Flickr

The best way not to waste your money at a garage sale is to know exactly what you need and exactly what will work for you. At the start of the season, make a list of the items you’re hoping to find during your sale quests. It doesn’t matter what the list contains, it just matters that you make a list so you don’t get sidetracked by interesting stuff that will only turn into clutter later. Then, make notes. If you’re looking for clothing, have everyone’s sizes with you. If you need a gift for Aunt Matilda, note what she likes. If you’re getting video games for the kids, know what system and games they have. Then, bring a garage sale kit. You need to have a tape measure for furniture, batteries to test battery-operated items, a small screwdriver to open battery compartments, a portable CD player to test CDs, a CD to test CD players, a DVD to test DVD players, an extension cord to test electric items, a working light bulb to test lamps, bags to carry items, newspapers to wrap breakables and a rope to tie large things to your car.  Also, make sure you bring munchies so you can keeping ‘saling even if it’s lunch time.

Show Interest in the Stuff You Like

discussing items for sale at a yard sale
Bob n Renee, Flickr

Don’t be afraid to show a seller that you’re interested in the items for sale. If you are interested in more than one item, the seller will like you more because his taste will be validated. Also, if you’re interested in what you see on the tables, you can strike up a conversation about certain items, further forming a bond with the seller. This means he’ll be more likely to negotiate a good deal with you because he’ll like you. If he has things out that are similar to other items you’ve been searching for, but not exactly what you want, ask about the items you’re looking for. For example, if you know your husband needs a certain tool and the sale has some tools, let the seller know what you’re looking for because he might be willing to part with it. Maybe he has something inside that he didn’t put out because he thought it wouldn’t sell, but would be willing to sell it if asked. Or, maybe he’s seen it somewhere else in his garage sale excursions and can give you a tip.

Take Small Bills

people looking at items at a garage sale
BrownPolyester, Flickr

This is something, as a beginner, you may not have considered, but having small bills when you hit the sales is a must. It’s hard to make a deal if you’re whipping out a 20, especially if you’re early and the seller can’t make change. You can negotiate better prices if you can make exact change, and if you’re pulling out fives and ones, it won’t look like you have tons of money to spend. Here’s another important money idea — keep your bills in separate pockets. This way, if you’re offering $3 for an item, you don’t have to flip through a bunch of tens to get to your ones. You simply reach in your ones pocket and grab what you need without looking. Again, it won’t appear you have tons of money to spend and you can score better deals. Also, it adds to your efficiency and you can move on to the next sale that much faster.

Be Ready to Negotiate…Nicely

people negotiating prices and shopping at a garage sale
BrownPolyester, Flickr

People expect to negotiate at garage sales, so you need to have your skills polished. The first thing to remember is that negotiating goes much smoother if you are polite and complimentary to the seller. Whatever you do, don’t insult the products. Telling someone her items are second-rate will not help you negotiate. Instead, tell her how much you are interested in the item and then let her know the price just isn’t in your budget. If you can’t get to a good price, try buying things in groups. The seller will appreciate that you’re going to clear a lot of the things she’s trying to get rid of and may be willing to let things go for a bulk discount. Above all, be reasonable, non-confrontational and polite. And, be ready to walk away. Know what value the item has for you and don’t overspend if you don’t want to. You can always check back at the end of the sale.

Leave Business Cards Before You Go

shoppers finding items at a garage sale
giuliana_miranda, Flickr

If it turns out that you can’t get the price you want for an item and it’s early in the day, have a card on you that you can leave with your best offer written on it. If the item is still unsold at the end of the sale, the seller may just want to get rid of it at a bargain price and will contact you. Sellers are especially eager to get rid of large items they don’t want to drag back into the house at the end of a long day. You can go to sites like VistaPrint.com and have basic cards with your name and number on them printed for a very low price, or even free. It’s well worth it for that perfect piece of furniture that you know you can get for a steal.

Thoroughly Check Items Before You Buy

electronics should be tested before buying
Dick Penn, Flickr

Test. Test. Test. Taking home an item that doesn’t work is more of a waste of money than buying something for retail that you can get at a sale. Paying $3 for garbage is not smart at all. Turn things on. Plug things in. Check board games for all the parts. Use your smartphone to look up items and see what a complete version of it looks like. Make sure decks of cards contain every card. Don’t buy a puzzle unless you know for sure it has all its pieces. Ask the seller if she can play a CD or DVD for you to make sure it plays, and then check for scratches yourself. It’s not rude to make sure something works properly before you buy it. Just make sure you get permission to start taking stuff apart before you do it. No seller should have an issue with you saying, “Do you mind if I put batteries in this and see if it works first?” If they do, put it down, thank them for their time and walk away.

Be Picky

variety of items for sale at a garage sale
colros, Flickr

Finally, you aren’t saving money if you’re going around buying things you don’t want or need, or couldn’t sell for a profit. Garage-saleing isn’t about getting things at cheap prices, it’s about getting the things you need at bargain prices. Having a house full of useless junk isn’t the best way to stretch your dollar. Keep track of your list and make sure you have a plan for everything you purchase. Is it something you’ve wanted for a long time? Is it something you or someone in your family needs or could use? Or, is it something you could clean up and mark up and then sell it at your own garage sale for a profit? If you can’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, walk away. Don’t get caught up in the moment. You aren’t going to buy something at every sale, so keep your money in those pockets until you find something on your list.

Watch This

Just so it all sinks in, here’s a quick howdini.com clip describing the best ways to get fantastic deals at garage sales. Happy ‘saleing!

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