One morning last month, I bought a dozen books, a lemon caddy, a Tonka toy bulldozer (with working batteries), and a lawn sprinkler. New, these items would cost about $100—I bought them for a total of $3.50 (plus a few bucks for gas). In just a couple of hours, I got myself more than a month’s supply of reading materials, a way to save the lemons halves left over when I make lemonade or whiskey sours, a great toy for my 2-year old grandson, and a sprinkler to replace the one that decided it didn’t want to oscillate any more. When I set out on this particular Friday, none of these items was on an official shopping list, but rather they were on vague mental list that only becomes clear when I see something I cannot live without.
On most weekends during the summer, my wife and I head out first thing in the morning in search of garage sales. These outings are a little like the hunts I used go on for deer and elk. As I start out, I have a few target items in mind and my family may have tossed in a request or two, but I am basically stalking my prey.
You can find the sales listed in the newspaper or Craigslist as the weekend nears. Many of the garage (or yard, or moving, or estate) sales are listed with their address and hours. Then, if you like precision, you can head out with your GPS to find them. For me, however, this approach makes it seem like work and is frustrating when I can’t find a particular address.
Instead, I like to head out without a plan—just free-styling. Like hunting, you look for signs. Not antler rubs, tracks, or droppings, but rather actual signs next to the roadside that point the way (with actual arrows).
At one time, we believed the strategy of driving through the more well-to-do neighborhoods would lead to better booty, but we often found these sales disappointing. Seems the affluent tend to sell things nobody else really needs or wants (or sometimes even identify) while at the same time thinking they need to charge quite a bit more for their cast-offs than any sane garage sale person would pay. So now, we don’t pay much attention the neighborhood we are in and just head out. Although we may hit an established route or two, we just go wherever whimsy takes us.
Here are some basic factoids about garage sales:
- If you’re looking for toys, books(especially cook books), photo frames, used countertop appliances, Christmas decorations, kid’s clothes, half-full cans of cleaning products, assorted coffee cups or drinking glasses, or old tools (mostly rusty and dull) you’ll find them at nearly every sale.
- Prices at properly priced sales usually run around $.25, $1.00, and $5.00. That fits nearly every item for sale and if they are priced higher, it may not be the good deal you are seeking.
- Never buy used lawn mowers, German beer steins, underwear, jigsaw puzzles, poisonous materials, or anything you think you can repair. Later on you will regret picking up any of these items.
- Never pass up ordinary items if they are priced right or you will regret it the next time you purchase them in a store. Light bulbs at the store are $2 each so the 10 cent ones at a garage sale are worth the risk even if they don’t work.
- You should barter for anything that has a price of more than $10.
- If you think something is a collectible item and worth much more than it is priced, you are probably wrong. But you never know.
- If something has more than a dozen parts, then at least one or two parts will be missing. Buying three things that are from a set of four things is just crazy.
- Used watches and clocks never work for more than 24 hours.
- Never assume a sales item you want to check out further will still be there 5 minutes later.
- Most garage sales start on Saturdays, but many people now jump the gun and start selling on Fridays. That makes early (around 8 AM) starts on these two days the best time to find pristine shopping.
- You’re not going to be able to pay with a credit card, a check, gold bullion, or any bill over $20. Be sure and take a lot of one and five dollar bills.
- Estate sales are the cream of the crop of garage sales because the sellers are trying to get rid of everything after a death in the family. There is usually a huge variety of all of the things (often dating from the 1950s) accumulated over a family’s lifetime Three things about estate sales, however, are 1) usually the family has cherry picked the really good stuff, 2) if the sale is handled by a professional liquidator the prices are usually fairly high, and 3) other sellers know all of this and have started using the term “semi-estate” sale which really means ordinary “garage sale.”
In all, although garage sales are great places to get great bargains, it is really the unique experience that makes it an exciting activity. It’s a bit like going to a museum and looking at historic relics. It’s a search for things only you would consider a treasure. And, if nothing else, it’s a way to meet a lot of interesting people.