Whenever I decorate with yard sale finds, I often get comments from friends that they never find good stuff at yard sales. They say they must be going to all the wrong sales, or every time they go yard saling it ends up being a waste of time, or they wish they just knew “The Secret” to finding good sales.
The Secret lies in stimulating a certain deal-finding hormone in your brain via an expensive underground potion, which will awaken a superpower within you that directs your vehicle to nearby sales and casts a brilliant light from heaven upon the items that you should purchase.
Ready? The first step is to know what kind of sales work for you. They’re not all created equal!
1. Neighborhood Sales
What it is: A whole neighborhood or community hosts a sale on the same weekend, with multiple homes across the neighborhood participating. These are our favorite kinds of sales. If I pass a neighborhood sale, my car actually turns itself into the neighborhood. I can’t even control it.
Best for: Shopping with kids, because you can often park your car and put the kids in strollers while you walk from sale to sale. (Good exercise too!) Because there are many sales within a short distance, you have lots more to pick through, and you’ll waste less gas driving all over town. These sales are usually better for baby and kid’s items too.
Downsides: Sometimes, each house has less to sell than, say, an individual garage sale. Because they don’t have to do much coordination or organizing, they’ll throw a few items in their driveway and call it a day. With individual yard sales, there’s so much work to coordinate and prepare them that it’s only really worth throwing one if you have a lot to sell.
2. Moving Sales
Best for: Furniture, appliances, big items. Sellers are motivated and lowball offers are more likely to be accepted.
Downsides: Unlike neighborhood sales, you have to drive to each one individually.
3. Estate Sales
Best for: Antiques, cool unique items, tools, valuable collections of things, milk glass, vintage pyrex, well-made furniture.
Downsides: Usually more expensive than all other kinds of sales. Sometimes they smell like moth balls. (ha!)
4. Individual Yard/Garage Sales or Multifamily Sales
Best for: Low prices, variety of stuff.
Downsides: They’re always hit-or-miss, and you have to drive to each one separately. Sometimes this means you follow a sign for a sale that was held last weekend (which makes me want to track down the sellers and flick them in the forehead, or make them use dial-up, or some other legal torture method).
If you’re looking for sales, you can always search craigslist, but it’s not your best option. We only use craigslist to find neighborhood sales. Otherwise, the sales listed on craigslist tend to get picked over very quickly.
The best sales are in the nicer residential areas. It’s usually worth it to drive to the richest part of town.
My best tip is to find a regular route that takes you by as many neighborhood entrances as you can find. Avoid highways or major roads. The kinds of roads that take you through the ‘burbs by schools and communities are usually best.
We actually have a loop near our house that takes us through areas like this. If you can find a yard sale route and just drive through it on a Friday or Saturday morning, that’ll take a lot of guess work out of finding sales.
At least in this part of the country (the south), yard sale season peaks in the spring and fall, with a steady trickle through the middle of summer.
Saturdays have the most sales. Some people throw their sales on Friday/Saturday, so if you can get out on a Friday morning, you’re more likely to find things that haven’t been picked over. And the quality of stuff is always, always, best early in the morning. Plug in your coffee I.V. drip and get started by 8 a.m. if you really want to find the best stuff.
Let the deals fuel your adrenaline! Visualize and attack!
There are benefits to hitting sales later in the day! At this point, sellers are weary and ready to be finished. They don’t want to have to haul all this junk inside, and they’ll drop their prices or accept lower offers to get rid of it all.
Yard sales are great places to buy…
- Clean baby gear
- Baby and kids’ clothes (Usually cheaper than consignment sales! I regularly pick up good quality kids clothes – Gap, Ralph Lauren, Gymboree – for 25¢ to 50¢ per piece.)
- Lamps (Douse ’em in spray paint if you don’t love the color.)
- Decorative accessories like little figurines, plates, bowls, vases. See pic above!
- Brass/bronze (snap it up now!)
- Baskets (Usually less than a buck each!)
- Ugly art for cheap picture frames (Usually just a dollar or two. Take out the art and save the frame!)
- Well-made furniture (But this is always, always the first thing to go. You have to go early to find good furniture.)
Make sure you check out this post: 7 things to shop for to decorate on the cheap! Tips for styling with yard sale finds!
- Stuff that stinks. (Literally.) If it smells like cigarette smoke, we won’t take it home. There are ways to get the smell out of things though, if you really love something.
- Underwear. (It had to be said.)
- Electronics, unless you can test them before you buy.
- Anything you won’t use or don’t love. Doesn’t matter how cheap it is, it’s a waste of your money. Said Kelly, to herself.
I get this question a LOT:
“How do I know when it’s worth getting out of the car? Is it really worth stopping my car and getting out to look around?”
But how do I know which ones are worth stopping at?
You don’t, until you get out and look around.
But what if it’s all junk?!
Get back in the car. No harm done.
Unless you have supersonic vision, you probably cannot see everything. Hiding beside that giant statue of a clown head might be a pretty milk glass vase. Inside that broken particle-board bookshelf might be a nice rattan basket. There might be a beautiful vintage chair propping up that Elvis paint-by-number art.
And sometimes you don’t realize that everything inside the house is for sale too until you’re already in the garage. (Those are my favorite sales.)
That said, if there’s only one table, and it’s full of x-men figurines, and the person throwing the yard sale is a 13-year-old boy, I might pass.
But I seem to stop at all the wrong sales!
Sometimes, there are just off days when you don’t find anything. Don’t beat yourself up. Just keep chuggin’!
For most items, spend less than 25 percent of the price to buy it new. If it still has tags on it, maybe 50 percent. That said, if it’s something you need that you’re going to buy new otherwise, it’s worth buying even if it’s more expensive than that.
Also: PLEASE negotiate. If you see something that you’d like to buy but it’s just outside the price you’d like to pay, it’s NOT mean, rude or inconsiderate to offer a lower price. I just say “Would you take $5?” And if they say no, that’s cool! I’m not mad. I don’t egg their house. I don’t turn up my nose and walk away in a huff. I don’t even make them use dial-up.
Usually the sellers have no idea what to price something, and they’re just glad to see their stuff go. I’d say 90 percent of the time I offer a lower price, the seller accepts it. (Oftentimes, they accept it enthusiastically!) Make sure you carry cash, and bring lots of small bills! It’s much easier to offer $5 if you have a $5 bill in your hand ready to go.
And there you have it! If you just skimmed and skipped to the end, you can send me that $399.99 for the magical potion with paypal.
PS: Check out my post on how to throw an amazing yard sale here, or see my 7 things to shop for at yard sales to decorate on the cheap!