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Budget Decorator's Guide to Yard and Garage Sales

Decor For Less

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Budget Guide to Yard and Garage Sales
Photo: J. M. Griffin

This yard and garage sale guide is a result of years of addictive shopping for "stuff." As you have probably guessed if you have read any of my guides to budget decorating, I am a long-time fan of garage or yard sales. In my 30+ years of Saturday morning garage sale marathons, I have found them to be the best places to acquire home decor items and furniture that can be recycled. During those years, I have learned to be a master garage sale shopper. Follow these guidelines for shopping (adjust them to fit your area) and you can be one too!

  1. Make a list. Spend some time the night before creating a list of the sales you want to hit. Look at the map to make certain you know where the sale is located and write directions on your list to remind you. When Saturday comes, you can hit more sales in less time if you don't have to search for the listing and addresses.

  2. Go early or late. To get the pick of the most items, go early when the sale is just opening. Warning: you may not be able to haggle as much as you can later in the day, but you can get popular items that may be sold before noon. To get the best price on items, go later when the seller is just wanted to get rid of "stuff." The seller will be more likely to bargain.

  3. Haggle. I haggle for everything unless the price is so low that I would be embarrassed to offer less! I usually start at half the original price and go up from there. The worst that can happen is that they will say, "NO."

  4. Show them the money. Come with cash and hold out the money as you offer a price. Most sellers, when faced with the actual money, will agree rather than see those greenbacks disappear back into your pocket. I recommend bringing a stack of dollar bills, but keep them in your purse. We don't want sellers to think you are a "high roller" with that stack of money. Just take out the exact amount of your offer. If you hold out a $20 bill and offer $1 for your item, the seller will probably not agree to the lower price because they know you are able to pay more.

  5. Buy bulk. Offer a bulk price if there are several things you want. Sellers are often willing to sell at a cheaper price if you are buying a group of items.

  6. Watch the signs. This is a purely unscientific personal opinion based on years of observations, but generally the fancier and bigger the sign, the worse the yard sale. Maybe it's the amount of traffic the sale gets or maybe sellers are making up for the lack of items by marketing what they have. Whatever the reason, it seems to hold true in several parts of the country.

  7. Watch for typed tags. An equally unscientific and purely personal opinion is if the items are tagged with individually typed notes and prices, the prices are too high. The seller obviously invested a lot of time and emotional value in these items. They are probably going to respond negatively to a low offer. Again, a purely personal opinion based on observation.

  8. Know what you need. Make a list of the items you need and look for them first. Try to stick with the list, but if you come upon an one-of-a-kind item with a striking and unique design that you love, feel free to toss the list in favor of serendipity.

  9. When you buy. If you buy something that won't fit in your car, write down the address and ask for a written receipt for the item from the seller. Give the seller your name, your telephone number and the approximate time of pickup. Then put a "Sold" sign on the item yourself! Covering all your bases will reduce the chances that your item will be sold to someone else accidentally.

Yard sales can be fun and exciting. The "thrill of the chase" is definitely at play here. If you are patient, avoid buying items you don't need, and consistently visit yard sales, you can furnish your entire home inexpensively. It's that "avoid buying items you don't need" part that always gets me into trouble. But if I buy too much, the next month I have my own yard sale - the best in the neighborhood. And with an itty bitty sign!

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