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Yard Sale Shopping: How to Find Good Sales, Know When to Shop and Score Great Deals

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.

Just send me a cashier’s check for $399.99 and I’ll send you that potion. ORRRR I’ll just spill all of my secrets here in this post, and you can go forth and shop the sales like it’s your JOB.
How to find yard sales, score amazing deals and shop yard sales like a PRO.


Ready? The first step is to know what kind of sales work for you. They’re not all created equal!
Types of Yard Sales

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).
Cheap plates on a plate display from yard sales and garage sales

My plate wall

How to Find Good Yard Sales: Tips and Tricks
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.
Garage sale deals in a girl nursery

Mila’s Nursery

When to shop: Best times to find good yard 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.
Cheap yard sale finds on a decorated bookshelf

Office built-in bookshelves

What to Buy at Yard Sales
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.)

Cheap decorations from garage sales make decorating a spring mantle easy and cost-effective

Summer mantle

Make sure you check out this post: 7 things to shop for to decorate on the cheap! Tips for styling with yard sale finds!

What to Avoid/What Not to Buy at Yard Sales

  • 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.

Garage sale decorations on a green summery mantle

Spring/summer mantel

How to know which yard sales are worth stopping at
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?”

YES.

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’!

Decorating a home office with garage/yard sale decor

Yard Sale Lamp Makeover

What's a fair price for yard sale items? How should I price items to sell at a garage/rummage sale?
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.

Do you shop yard sales? What tips and advice did I miss? How do you know when it’s worth stopping to look around?
How to find yard sales, score amazing deals and shop yard sales like a PRO.


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!



Let's connect

Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Did you write this post specifically for me? Because I totally stink at yard sale (and thrift store) shopping….so thank you so much for these tips!!!

  2. Awesome post! I’m one who likes making a list of what I need/want before I go so that 1) I don’t impulse buy and 2) I don’t get home and say oh yeah I was supposed to look for X for Abby…

    Not sure if it’s a Midwest thing, or a Michigan thing, or just an our-area-of-the-state thing, but around here yard sales are almost always held Thursday-Friday-Saturday. And so Thursday mornings are the best time to get out and find stuff (hey, what am I doing sitting around home right now?!), and Saturday afternoons I’ve had luck finding “free” piles at the ends of driveways.

  3. cassie says:

    these are all great tips, and i think i already do them all…. i am sure that is no surprise! :)

  4. My favorite is a great estate sale – moth ball smell and all! Yesterday, I went to one where everything was 75% off – $5 for a table & metal stepstool (yes, cheering for myself)!
    Here’s to fall sale season – I’m raring to go!
    Kelly

  5. Thanks for the tips! I might have to seek out some sales tomorrow =)

  6. Great tips! We’ve only been living in our new neighborhood for 3 months and due to the mad dash to get unpack/semi-settled we haven’t ventured out of the house to check out the new hood much but maybe we’ll go browsing this weekend since it’s Labor Day and I’m sure (I hope) a lot of people will be having sales :D

  7. Erin says:

    Love this post and your blog. You have a new follower from the Atlanta bloggers group! I need to tag along with you one day!

  8. I’m definitely in the “I suck at yard saleing category” so I really needed this, especially since I’m going on Saturday morning!

  9. Bliss says:

    I practice everything you preach. I’m always on the look out for cheap used underwear, it’s tops on my garage sale list, yeah NOT.

    ~Bliss~

  10. I LOVE yard sales! I just wish I didn’t work so that I could go on Fridays! Estate Sales here seem to be so overpriced. I went ot one last weekend and they wanted 5k for a dining room table….not even the chairs!!!

    • William says:

      I know what you mean, out here near Joliet, IL everything cost a fortune no bargains and most won’t take less for things and very rude, had a few mock me while I was buying from them …

  11. do I shop yard sales? Only…..every single Saturday (except this one….I am out of town). Great great post. I don’t like to take my husband to yard sales because he is one of those drive by lookers. Like you, I say you have to stop even if it looks like nothing. Never know what’s hiding under the table. Went to one two weeks ago and the lady really didn’t have much but we got to talking and ended up in her small greenhouse. She gave me all kinds of plants she had rooted….perennials! I was so excited. And you have to go all the time ’cause you aren’t going to find the great stuff going twice a year. :)

  12. Andrea says:

    8:00??? Ha!! If you lived up here in Amish land you’d miss all the good stuff. If you aren’t on the road by 6:30 – 6:45 a.m. you may as well not even head out. : ) I’m hittin’ up the big one in our area this weekend. Can’t wait!

  13. You go, girl!! Great advice — every bit of it. I would add that you often need to COMMIT to yard saling for up to a few hours… it’s rare that you find stuff if you’ve only got 30 min to do a high fly by. Allow yourself enough time to get out and look. And try to enjoy the ride. :)
    Thanks for sharing, Kelly!
    xo Heidi

  14. Laurie says:

    Great post! I love yard/rummage sales. Oh the things you can find!

  15. I LOVE this post – great tip on going to the rich neighborhoods. That seems to work for me, too. The downside is, they often seem to have nice baby/kid clothes marked WAY up. Do you ever find that? This makes me want to go garage saleing!!!

  16. Thanks for the tips! I never go to yard sales {they don’t seem to be that big here in the DC metro area, but maybe I’m just missing them?} I just started going to thrift stores this month though, and it has changed my life!!!

  17. Great tips! I get the comment a lot, too, about finding deals. My favorites are really the neighborhood sales for the exact reasons you mentioned, minus the kids part, obviously. (Unless Rick counts?) I love just being able to park and walk. And I avoid estate sales for the exact reasons you said. (I think we might be the same person.) Piles and piles of junk to sort through that is more expensive than I’d want to pay and it usually smells like old people. And the person running the estate sale isn’t as likely to negotiate since they are not the owner of the items.

    I bet living in Georgia is another obvious benefit: YEAR-ROUND SALES! Nobody holds sales in 3 ft of snow. :(

  18. Kirby says:

    I agree with everything except the ritzy neighborhood having deals. I’m actually going to write about that this fall. ALSO–it doesn’t hurt to leave them with your name and number if they won’t negotiate. When that awesome piece of furniture is still sitting in their driveway at 2 pm because no one want to pay too much money, you might get a call and you’re in a position to negotiate.
    PS–I know that Bliss is on the lookout for underwear. She told me.

  19. Throwing my first yard sale with friend sin a few weeks so I’m heading over to that post now!

  20. Christa says:

    Great tips. Now that we have 3 kids, we usually only go to neighborhood sales, or we find a ‘route’ than encompasses a lot of the single sales. I use google maps and type in the addresses (that I get from craigslist and the newspaper) then put them in a logical order so I’m not back tracking. It’s become a Saturday tradition with us to go out to yard sales as a family.

  21. Gwen says:

    I needed this post! I keep trying to find good deals but just can’t get it together!

    Now, I’m totally inspired!

  22. Great tips! I need to hit up yard sales more often. It stinks going by yourself. Maybe I just need to get over how awkward I feel walking up to a stranger’s house and looking at their stuff by myself. Or maybe I should start a yard sale support group, where we can combat the awkwardness of solo yard saling by banding together.

  23. Great post! I’ve yet to negotiate prices with anyone at a yard sale…flea market…thrift store, etc. I’m just too intimidated! I promise I’ll try next time :)

  24. Liz says:

    I LOVE garage saling! Seriously, I have garage sale deprivation dreams in the winter when there are no garage sales here (in the north). Up here the best day to garage sale is Thursday morning. I never seem to find the best finds during citywide garage sales but that could be just me. Estate sales usually are overpriced here as well. I do the loop thing but also usually check Craigslist on a Wednesday night to see if there is anything interesting in my area.
    I really think there should be a reality tv show about garage saling, kind of like Storage Wars or American Pickers. Maybe there already is one…we only get basic cable so I wouldn’t know. I think that would be awesome!
    I like how you have styled your garage sale find. Nice!

  25. Jessica says:

    Very nice post, and I love that plate wall! Excited to find your blog and follow along your decorating journey. We have a new house (we’ve been in for 4 years now), and I’m contemplating painting all our trim/baseboards white… I hate the oak. I loved seeing the white in your photos.

  26. Tami says:

    These are awesome! Don’t know if this was in the write up and I missed it…but here is a great website that maps out yardsales in your area for you. You just type in your city…

    yardsaletreasuremap.com

    Thanks for the info! ~Tami

  27. Kathy says:

    A few tips to add…if you are afraid of “making an offer”, instead ask, “can you do any better on the price?” If you see a few items you want, gather them together and say “what would you take for all this?”. This next tip is hard for some people, but try to look at an object that you find and isolate it in your mind. Imagine what it would look like outside of the “garage sale” environment. My last tip; if you are not sure if you want it, think about if you will regret not getting it later. I love your posts, Kelly. Folks, without a doubt, bring small bills and change! After you negotiate that wonderful item down to one dollar, it’s embarrassing to ask if they have change for a twenty! Happy Hunting!

  28. kris says:

    Wear comfy shoes, small purses or no purse( money in pockets!) tape measure if you are looking for specific sized furniture! BRING a sweathshirt or coat… or you may end up buying one at a sale you don’t need! gloves are nice in case it is that chilly ( I’m in Minne – snow ta…. ) If I’m going to a huge indoor sale, I bring my laundry basket to slide along the floor with me. I fill it up, sort through one last time in a quiet corner to make sure all the clothes are rip stain free and zippers work. I am not afraid to buy jeans with HUGE holes in the knees because I HACK them off make golf length shorts!

  29. trina says:

    This might be kind of sneaky, but i love when you find a sale that i wife has left her hubbie in charge of for awhile. They are generally not that into it and will accept almost any offer, cause he knows if it doesn’t sell he’ll be the one hauling it off to the Goodwill. If a guy is running the show I’ll say jokingly, “How’d you get stuck with this mess? You could be fishing!” You’ll find out real quick how bad he wants to get rid of his stuff. I get really good deals all the time that way.

  30. “Garage sale” shopping brings back such sweet memories of summers with my mom and Aunt Carol (In Heaven now). Thanks for this post, because I just emailed my mom and told her I want to go out on a “garage sale date” with her. :). I also dread anyone cursing me with dial up. Ack! The nightmares I’ll now have! Hopefully I’ll dream about a great garage sale find instead… :)

  31. Terry DeRossitt says:

    I LOVE garage sales! But on the neighborhood sales..I find that you get better deals and more selection by going to the sales NOT in the neighborhood ones..because everyone else is at the neighborhood sales and you get the better selections!

  32. Jena says:

    I love the tips!! When I go and find something I like I always look for quality of the item. Like is it torn or cracked, does it have all the pieces if its a board game. If you can fix it you can low ball it a lot. I’m taking these tips when I go next!!

  33. William says:

    I spend about 4 hours on the weekend, Garage Sale’s are my most favorite past time. The best thing I ever found was a World Class Bowling Arcade Machine for $400 and a Atari 2600 collection for $10.
    always find great electronics … Mostly anything that catches my fancy and I always offer less, I get a great response from $5 will you take $3 works 90% of the time. Yesterday I Found : LaserDisc Player and 35 Movies $10, Whole bunch of Records (Elvis, 78′s of SpikeJones,ect) $10, 4 Mutimeters New (Gave one to dad and brother,kept other 2) $4 each, Car Stereos $5 each, 2 VCR’s $5 each but got for $3 each, see it works… but one was broken loose parts inside, thats not nice :( , Found a Replica Payphone looks cool in my bedroom for $7 got for $5, 2 lcd handheld Tv’s $1 Each, 50X zoom lens sony Digital Camera $5, A few 12volt car to 110volt wall plug converters lets you have a house wall outlet in the car I plug in all kinda stuff on the go … I will be moving soon and when I get there will go saleing to get what I need. Also found a Cash Register from Casio free … Gonna have my own sales probably when I move got a lot already, Ebay a good Friend !

  34. Deborah says:

    Hubby and I go rummaging about every weekend and use most of your tips. We always bundle then offer less and very seldom does anyone say no. We have a vintage booth and most of what we sale comes from yard sales as well as a lot of my craft supplies. We are going on the 127, the longest yard sale Aug. 7-10 and I can’t wait, always find fantastic bargains and it’s so much fun. I totally recommend it for any rummage addict.

Trackbacks

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