Thrifty Tips for Shopping Garage Sales from the Yardsale Queen

This is a guest-post from Chris Heiska, The Yardsale Queen.

Some people believe the myth that there's only junk at yardsales and thrift stores. That is absolutely not true. Buying at yardsales doesn't necessarily mean that you are buying someone's used, dirty castoffs. I often find Christmas wrapping paper still attached to the box,
or a wedding card tucked inside of a box that was probably a duplicate wedding gift (and now the present that probably cost $40 in the store is selling for $5 at a yardsale).

The nicer stuff does get snapped up quickly, so persistence is the key. I often stop by the thrift store in my town two or more times a week to see what “new” stuff has come in. Often the cashier says to me, “Oh, we just put this out today.”

I can't say specifically that shopping at yardsales and thrift stores is totally responsible for us living a debt-free life, but I know it has definitely helped. (Our mortgage was paid off in April 2000.) For instance, I'm not spending $99 for a metal two-drawer filing cabinet at Staples and putting it on a credit card; instead, I bought a similar one for $4 at thrift store. I don't have high credit card bills since if I know I need something, I just wait until I can find it cheap at a yardsale.

Shopping at yardsales has enhanced our lifestyle — our money goes a lot further than buying retail. My son is enjoying playing in a $50 camping tent from Target that we have set up in the backyard. I paid $5 (still new in the box) at a yardsale a few years back.

Here are a few tips when shopping at yardsales:

  • Be sure to look over stuff carefully since things are generally sold “as-is”.
  • It's easier to shop when I am not lugging my huge heavy handbag around so I wear a fanny pack. It keeps my hands free to look over items and carry stuff.
  • If you are buying something in a box, make sure its what it says it is. My friend was disappointed when he bought a printer at a yardsale and opened the box at home to find the seller's old printer in the box, not the one pictured on the box.
  • Carry lots of change and small bills — much quicker to pay for something with exact change than waiting for the seller to make change.
  • When buying electronics, ask to plug it in to test it.
  • When buying a big item (like a desk or set of drawers), if you have to come back later with a truck to pick it up, take a piece with you — like a single drawer. That way the seller won't be tempted to sell it to someone else who comes by later and offers more money.
  • Clothes can be a real bargain at yardsales. The downfall is that you can't try them on to see if they fit. Sometimes thrift stores have dressing rooms. Make sure all the buttons are there and the zipper zips. I also check the label for cleaning instructions (if it says Dry Clean Only, I tend to stay away since I want wash ‘n' wear clothing). I also try to plan ahead for any special event clothing we may need. When I saw a classic conservative black dress ($5) that could be used for funerals or weddings (multipurpose!) I bought it since I knew it would come in handy.
  • When buying CDs, VHS, or DVDs, check to make sure the right item is in the right case. Check the backs of DVDs and Cds for excessive scratches.
  • If toys are electronics aren't working, check the battery compartment to see if they have corroded batteries inside. I keep a multi-purpose tool in my fanny pack with a screwdriver to check.
  • Look toys over carefully before giving to your child. I found nails and thumbtacks thrown in a canister of TinkerToys. For baby items, you can usually call the manufacturer's toll-free number to find out if an item has been recalled. The safety belt on my child's baby swing (that I bought at a yardsale) had been recalled and they sent me a replacement safety belt.
  • In general, I would stay away from buying a used baby carseat at a yardsale or thrift unless of course I personally knew and trusted the seller.
  • If you buy glassware, gently run your fingers of the edges. Sometimes your fingers can catch imperfections easier than your eyes.

Note that not every thrift store is created equal — some are run by volunteers and others are run for profit by storeowners. To find some non-profit thrift stores in your area (or to check some out while on vacation), visit thethriftshopper.com.

And when you do decide to check out your local thrift stores, flea markets and yardsales, you never know who you may run into. Celebrities who have been seen buying secondhand include Kirstie Alley, Jodie Foster, Clint Eastwood and even Oprah to name a few. If buying secondhand is good enough for them, it's good enough for me!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Visit Chris at The Yardsale Queen for more ideas on how to save money at garage sales and thrift stores.

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j powell
j powell
12 years ago

For the thrift stores without the dressing rooms, bring a measurement tape (one that often for the sewing), so you can measure the clothes and see if it can fit on you. This handy measurement tape can be bought for maybe 50 cents somewhere or invest $1 at the dollar tree stores.

Eric D. Burdo
Eric D. Burdo
12 years ago

For “bigger ticket” items, don’t be afraid to haggle. Sometimes people will say no, sometimes they say yes. It depends on why they are selling.

And if you ever find an LEGO Bricks at a yard sale, buy them and ship them to me. 🙂

Dustin
Dustin
12 years ago

My mother has found that you can often pick up items at a garage sale that are missing a piece (e.g. toy sets) for pennies and a call to the manufacturer’s toll free number will net your a replacement part for free. She’s filled a whole room in her house with toys for her grandkids through techniques like this.

handworn
handworn
12 years ago

Thrift stores and yard sales are great; my Dad once found a bronze-base stained glass lamp (the real kind, not the cheap Asian imports that are everywhere these days) at a yard sale for fifty bucks, and tons of other stuff for nothin’ that way, too. One thing about yard sales, though, is that you have to drive all morning. A different way to get stuff for cheap is estate auctions, which most local auction houses have on the same day every week, or every other week. They sometimes sell the individual items people want off the table full of… Read more »

Owen
Owen
12 years ago

Great stuff – and another source of good ideas is the online freecycling movement. Our washing machine (16 years old) gave up the ghost four weeks ago – I tried to fix it myself and did pretty easily (new motor coupling – $20 part online) – but the new power from the fully working coupling cascaded on and revelead that the clutch/brake assembly was wearing out and the combined effort of another week delay for parts and fixing wore us down. Right before going off to Costco to buy a new machine we looked on craigslist (www.craigslist.org) and there was… Read more »

Lucy
Lucy
12 years ago

I love shopping at yard sales and thrift shops. The biggest stumbling block I have, though, is that many of my buys there are impulse buys. When I shop somewhere like Target, I have a list, and I know those particular things will be there. You just never know what you’re going to find at these thrifty spots. Any suggestions?

Hieronymus
Hieronymus
12 years ago

Yard sales are GREAT little economics lessons as well. Give your young ‘un a five spot (or, heck, just TWO), tell her “here’s five dollars, it is yours to spend however you like” and suddenly economics comes to life as she tries to maximize her utility while minimizing expenses.

My daughter has spent an HOUR trying to find the best way to max her utils; only problem is, yard sale operators often just GIVE her stuff, which a)potentially teaches a bad lesson, and b)is more “stuff” to deal with later…

A M
A M
12 years ago

OK, I have been going to garage sales and scoring great stuff since I was out of diapers. Depending on what you are looking for you want to go to different kinds of sales: yard sale, contents-of-house sales, estate sales, auctions, etc. Realize that different socio-economic neighborhoods are going to have different kinds of goods for sale. Persistence and patience are the most important. It is well known that if you are looking for a bicycle you will not find one. The moment you go out and buy one, every sale you visit will have great bicycles. Don’t be discouraged.… Read more »

franchise opportunity
franchise opportunity
12 years ago

Great tips, and perfect timing too. I’m planning a sale in a couple weeks, so this will be perfect. 5 stars from me 🙂

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

we have our equivalent of an ongoing yard sale, it is a recycling depot south of the city – people drop off what the y don’t need, and other people take it. saves it from the landfill – which is wonderful. Plus it makes a bit of money that this non-profit organization can donate back to the community for energy-saving/ sustainable projects. I’ve gotten two cool retro 50’s lamps, my 2 dressers for beside my bed, my small couch and my desk chairs, and my espresso machine all for a donation – I think I spent a total of $35… Read more »

Karen is Thrifty
Karen is Thrifty
12 years ago

We LOVE going to yard sales. You can find some great stuff there. My daughter’s very cute hand-painted dresser came from a yard sale for only $15. Most of my son’s clothes come from yard sales. When my friend’s compliment his clothes, they are shocked that I found such great stuff. And I usually only pay 50 cents to $1 for them. I’ve even found brand new Stride Rite toddler shoes, still in the box for $6. Much better than the $42 price tag that was on them. We’re a little late getting started this morning, but we’re getting ready… Read more »

jackie
jackie
12 years ago

Most of the yard sales start on friday, I can’t be one of the first because I work on fridays, I think they should start on Saturday’s, give me a fair shot at the bargains too. LOL

Karen is Thrifty
Karen is Thrifty
12 years ago

Most of them here start on Saturday. There are a few on Friday though.

Today I was at a yard sale that had Japanese Maple trees for $5. The guy’s yard was beautiful and he would prune his plants and sell them once they had gotten more mature. We bought some plants from him for our yard.

chris
chris
12 years ago

thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. If you haven’t already, feel free to stop by my message board on my website, we talk about yardsales non-stop.

William Profet :: OneJobTwoSalaries.com
William Profet :: OneJobTwoSalaries.com
12 years ago

Yard sales could be a Treasure Island for the smart Ebay sellers. No kidding!

Barbara
Barbara
12 years ago

Love the great advice about garage sales.

I also love to have garage sales. it’s a great way to clean out that excess “stuff”, and let your “trash” become someone else’s “treasure”.

Plus, that extra cash in your pocket,feels pretty good too.

Gramma
Gramma
11 years ago

As I have many grandchildren, I keep a variety sizes of clothing on hand. We live in country and the kids always get dirty, wet, or cold. This way they get a new outfit and go home clean and dry. Of course all of these were purchased at garage sales. Wish they had them when my kids were little.

Roger
Roger
10 years ago

As an antique picker, I have learned to carry my internet connected phone with me. That way, when I find a piece of art at a yardsale I can Google the artists name and see if I have found a diamond in the rough.

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