Garage/yard sales are my favorite Saturday activity, apart from brunch. Give me a mimosa, fifteen bucks, and a garage sale to attend and you’ve just made my weekend. Plus, it’s an awesome date activity that results in sweet belongings on the cheap. Many of my most unique and useful possessions happen to be g-sale finds. (Here’s a pic of some of our favorites)
It may seem strange, because going to garage sales sounds so very grandparent-y. Trust me, it’s so worth your time to change your mind on that. So, how do I manage to find gems (that are actually awesome) on a budget? Don’t worry. This is The Cares. I’ve compiled a step-by-step list to walk you through it.
Step 1: Hop on Craigslist and map out a few sales to attend. Email a list of addresses to your smart phone so you can GPS your route.
While you’re searching for sales, look for a few key words (such as “furniture” or whatever you’re looking for) in addition to these:
- “Everything Must Go”
- “Neighborhood Sale”
These words indicate that you’re going to get the most options out of your trip, and that the merch is priced to sell.
Step 2: Wake up early, get small bills, and fill up your tanks (your car and your stomach).
Most sales end in the early afternoon, so either wake your ass up, or stay awake and go while you’re still drunk. You could be shopping for a few hours. You absolutely don’t want to get hangry (hungry/angry), nor do you want to stop for gas in the middle of a hunt. If you’re a child (or hungover), you’ll need to get a Big Gulp of Gatorade as well.
You should have small bills on hand if you’re planning to negotiate. Nothing is worse than haggling something down and then asking “Can you break a twenty?”
Now you’re ready to hit up your first sale.
Step 3: Immediately assess what kind of sale you’re walking into.
There are two reasons that people have garage sales.
- The genuine need to get rid of shit.
- The desire to make money.
The latter type of sale is not worth your time. A very quick and easy way to tell what type of sale you’re at is to check the glassware. People who need to get rid of stuff are going to basically give it to you in sets of a million. People who want to make money are going to try to get back what they paid for it.
Anything more than $2.50 for a set is a big red flag.
Step 4: Be wary of “pickers” and rich-people neighborhoods.
I avoid “pickers,” people who buy up junk and then sell it for a living, because they’re in it to make money. You’re not going to get the best deal because they’re paying themselves for their time. Also, for the most part, they have no idea where their wares have been. You’ll end up with a rug that starts to smell like cat pee if you place it under a sunny window, stuff like that. You can usually spot the pickers by the fact that they have a cash register, and by their overly-ornate (and sometimes weird) signage.
OK, I get pickers. But why be wary of rich-people neighborhoods? Don’t they have the best shit?
Well, on one hand, rich-people neighborhoods often do have the best shit, but there’s a catch. They’re like the Whole Foods of garage sales. The stuff is awesome, but you’re going to have to pay for that level of awesome. What’s “affordable” to a millionaire is “astronomical” to a young newlywed like myself. If you’re making a trek through the burbs, stick with the middle-class neighborhoods, or sales with the aforementioned “everything must go.”
Step 5: Tell the seller about yourself and what you’re looking for, find whatever it is that you want, and make a deal on your way out.
If I were to say “Oh, we’re newlyweds. Just trying to find a few unique things for our place,” I guarantee you the seller is going to work with me on pricing, and they may throw in a few items to help my cause. Personalize your adventure. Trying to start a garden? Tell this to the seller. Maybe she has some gardening gloves or fill dirt that she wants to be rid of.
As for what to get the best deal on, I like to look for “out of season” stuff (like pots and gardening stuff when summer’s over, or Christmas decor in the summer). People are alarmingly short-sighted about these things, and that works to your advantage (I recently got four pots for $2. So I basically stole them).
I also like to look for stuff that’s still new and in its original packaging. These shelf brackets were a major score at 50 cents each.
And the reason I say to haggle “on your way out” is that this is the point when the seller is most afraid of losing your sale. This way you’re not “haggle everything the whole time” guy. I hate that guy. Do all of your haggling all at once on your way out, and the seller is most likely to come down on some things. My favorite question almost always works: “Can you do $20 for all of this?”
Step 6: Have a plan for your purchase, and remember what things could be, not just what they appear to be.
You don’t need to buy things just because they’re cheap. Only take it home if you have an immediate and actionable plan for it. This isn’t about filling up your storage closet, it’s about finding unique and affordable pieces for your home.
Further, you don’t have to use things as they were originally intended.
This Buddha was a tan, ugly “good luck charm” for a teenager’s bedroom. I decided Buddha deserved to be set free, and he now lives (spray-painted blue) in my garden where he gets fresh, non-teenagery air.
Remember that you can paint. Remember that you know how to hammer in a few nails to fix a wobbly table. Remember that wood stain can be sanded down and refinished. But only remember this if you know you’re really going to do it, and you’re going to start right when you get home.
Step 7: Go forth, save money (and the world).
It’s getting colder for a lot of us, but don’t worry. There’s sure to be a few good sales before winter completely takes over and sends you into hibernation.
One of the best ways to do your part in the community is to buy used goods. You’re not only helping out the planet and keeping their perfectly-good stuff out of landfills, you’re helping out your neighbors by giving them a few bucks.
Find the things that make you happy and fill your home with them. You are now a yard sale boss. Be careful with your newfound responsibility.