We’re in the midst of the annual neighborhood garage sale, which makes it difficult to find time to post. I have drawn up some garage sale tips, though. This isn’t everything you need to know, but it’s a start:

  1. A group sale is better than selling alone. If you can coordinate a weekend with your neighbors, you will draw more traffic. Our street has a sale every May. My neighbor Al places an ad in the paper; I post ads on craigslist. People come from all over to wander from yard-to-yard. When I sell on my own, I’m lucky to get one-tenth the traffic.
  2. Be prepared. Wear comfortable clothing. Have water and snacks at hand. Get one-dollar bills the day before. (I forgot to do this yesterday, and so spent half an hour scrambling from store to store breaking big bills before the sale opened. Good thing, too: the first two people paid with twenties.) Move things out early. The hassle of early birds is that they prevent you from getting displays set up.
  3. Plan your sale layout with customers in mind. I am writing a review of the book Why We Buy for Get Rich Slowly. I was able to apply principles from this book to my garage sale. I had wide traffic lanes. I used clear signs with bold lettering. I placed the stuff that would appeal to older customers on tables. The stuff for kids is on the ground. The stuff I want more people to look at is in the center of the driveway, accessible from all sides. Eye-catching stuff is near the road.
  4. Price things carefully. Most things are easy to price, but some will give you trouble. You don’t want to just give away your perfectly functional television, but at the same time you want the price to be low enough that people will be interested. Some stuff just won’t sell at any price. “You’ll never sell that encyclopedia set at $35,” a man told me yesterday. “I run a book store, and I haven’t been able to sell an encyclopedia in eight years.”
  5. Label things well. It won’t matter. People will still ask you how much that potholder costs, even though it has a $2 price tag on it. Label anyhow. If something “works great”, label it as such.
  6. Be friendly. You don’t need to chat with everyone, but be open to conversations. Say “hello” to people. Answer questions. Entertain the kids so that their parents can shop. Build goodwill.
  7. Do NOT bad-mouth your items. At one group garage sale, a friend consistently explained to customers what was wrong with the items they were purchasing. “Oh, that book is awful. That’s a terrible movie. That skillet doesn’t heat very well. That game is boring.” Needless to say, we sent this friend inside to drink beer ASAP. Your goal is to sell the items. Don’t lie — just emphasize the positives. “Oh, that book is very popular. That movie won three Oscars. That skillet is great for pancakes. That game is fun for kids.”
  8. Be willing to bargain, but be less flexible at the start. On the first day, you want to get as much as you can for each item. Most people will still buy Aunt Lucy’s soup tureen at $5 even after asking you to sell it at $3. If they’re bargaining, it’s because they want the item. Don’t be completely rigid on the first day, but don’t give your stuff away.
  9. Keep a ledger. It’s easy — and useful — to keep a written ledger. For everything you sell, jot down a brief item description, how much it cost, and who it belonged to. This is especially important in large multi-person sales. The price and the item description are most important; if the description is good, it’s easy to find out who owned the item.
  10. Do NOT use a cash box. Carry your money on you at ALL times. You don’t want to present a target for casual thieves. More than that, you don’t want to be duped by professional swindlers who run distraction con games. It happens. It is devastating to see the profits from all your labor and the proceeds from your hard-to-part-with items vanish in an instant. This happened to a woman on our street on the last day of the sale last year. Do NOT use a cash box. I use a cheap cloth apron/utility belt from the local hardware store. It works beautifully. Some people use fanny pack or a zippered bank deposit pouch.

Garage sales are a popular with most frugality and simplicity types. They help achieve multiple objectives. They’re especially good at generating a chunk of cash, and at purging excess stuff from your life. They’re also an excellent way to meet neighbors and to learn about the history of your community.