Common Cents, Uncategorized

The Art of the (Yard) Sale: 5 Buying Tips

Different families have different traditions. Our family has a yard sale tradition.

When I say “yard sale,” I’m talking generally about yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, community yard sales–everything but consignment sales.  Come springtime, my wife and I enjoy scouring our town for neon paper signs on yards, stop signs, and telephone poles. Whether we discover a great find or not, it’s a blast!

Shockingly to me, my wife was not a big yard sale person before we married. (I have my own flaws, of course: I had no idea how good chicken curry was until she made it, for example.) Our first yard sale experiences consisted of my teaching my wife the art of haggling, and explaining why all yard sales are not created equal. 2+ years later, she’s a veteran. With yard sale novices in mind, however, here are 5 tips for those of you trying to save a buck in today’s economy. Also one tip for those of you on the selling side of yard sales.

  1. Have items in mind before you go. While yard sales are always interesting, they can also be a little overwhelming at first. Having an idea of what you need helps you to shut out all the stuff being sold and look for exactly what you want. Otherwise you might find yourself driving home with a bag full of junk you don’t really need.
  2. Set a cash or price limit. On a good Saturday, we might visit 30 or more yard sales, so budgeting is a must! Having a cash limit (or a price limit on certain larger items, like furniture) is a good way to avoid overspending.
  3. Have cash. This should be obvious, but I’ve made the mistake of not having physical dollar bills on me. Yard sales don’t usually take Discover. It’s also wise to carry a variety of bills, but not more than you’re willing to spend (see tip #2).
  4. Haggle. 9 times out of 10, the person selling their old stuff is willing to lower the price they’re asking. Often they just want the item gone! This can be tricky at first, but it’s actually a fun part of the yard sale game. Try things like suggesting a lower price than you’re willing to pay: $4 instead of $5, for instance. Or find the three items you want to buy, and offer a combined price. A question as simple as, “would you take $5 instead of $10?” can save you nicely. And always make your offer with a smile. 🙂
  5. Learn to perform a “yard scan.” When my wife and I enter a neighborhood with dozens of yard sales, we don’t stop at every single home. Instead, we  take a slow drive down the street, checking for items that suggest what we’re looking for. It’s a safe bet, for example, that the house selling a box of vinyl records and an electric guitar isn’t to have clothing for a toddler.

And now, one word of advice for those holding yard sales: WRITE LARGER SIGNS. If I can’t read your sign clearly from my car, chances are I won’t stop. My favorite signs are the ones that just say “YARD SALE” with a big black arrow pointing towards the right street.


For those of you who are already making your signs legible, bless you.

There you have it! Now go save a buck or two when your neighbors start spring cleaning.

Oh, and most important: have fun!