How Garage Sales, Clearance Sections, and Dollar Bins Can Make You Broke

How Garage Sales Clearance Sections and Dollar Bins Can Make YouBroke

Guest post by Jenae from I Can Teach My Child

I love a good bargain. Not only do I love it, it’s a bit of a high for me to find a really great deal!

Some of my favorite deals are found at garage sales and the clearance sections of my favorite stores. These same places, however, I now consider “danger zones” to my budget and my self-control.

You see, the thrill of the chase sometimes outweighs the need or desire for the item itself. Recently, I went to use my Old Navy Groupon and found a $4 cardigan for my 3-year old son. I was so thrilled with the price for a winter sweater, I picked it up to take to the checkout line. I suddenly stopped to ask myself, “Wait, do I really like this? Am I really going to dress my little boy in a cardigan???”

I didn’t end up getting the cardigan. I decided I didn’t love it and therefore wouldn’t dress my son in it. Plus, it was itchy. But had I let my “deal-loving” side win, I would have bought the sweater and it would have ended up sitting in the closet with the tags still on it nine months later.

Similar scenarios have occurred time and time again at garage sales and dollar bins. Sadly, however, I had not yet learned to stop and think, therefore ending up with a bunch of junk I didn’t need. Many garage sale “bargains” have ended up being put in my own garage sale/Goodwill pile while the dollar trinkets quickly wound up lost or in the trash.

The truth is, even if we spend $5 a week on “deals” at garage sales or dollar bins, that’s $260 a year! With that money, we could have bought something that we really loved and even paid full price for it (not that I’m suggesting that, by any means).

Here are just a few questions to ask yourself whenever shopping to avoid the “deal-buying remorse” that often ensues:

  • Would I pay full price for this? Even if you rarely pay full price for anything, the answer to this question usually determines your attitude towards the item in question. When the rubber meets the road, we are all willing to fork over the cash for the things that really matter to us.
  • Do I love it? If the answer is “no”, don’t buy it!
  • Do I feel good wearing this? If you don’t feel good about yourself in any clothing (besides pajamas, perhaps), you won’t wear it. Period.
  • Will _____ really like this gift? Chances are, your friends and family members would rather have a thoughtful card or handmade gift rather than trinkets that seemed like a good deal at the time.

Don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not suggesting that garage sales and clearance sections are “bad”. On the contrary! These are the places where we all should shop. But for those of us who love the thrill of a good deal, it just means we have to exercise some major self-control to ensure we don’t buy something we later regret.

Jenae is a Master-degree holding former first grade teacher turned stay-at-home Mom. She loves finding creative ways to save money, spending time with her family, and sharing fun and educational activities on her website I Can Teach My Child.

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  1. Pam says

    I have been learning this lesson recently. I was at the dollar store today – summer stuff was 75% off – I had a bunch of plastic made in China stuff in my arms.
    I ended up leaving without any of it. I was very proud of myself.

  2. says

    Great post…

    This is not only something I struggle with, but something that I have recently seen becoming an issue with my children.

    I have heard on more than one occasion, “But mom, it’s only a dollar.”

    Yes, it only a dollar. That is, until you grab several of them because they are “only a dollar”, or until you find many other items that are “only a dollar.”

    It’s amazing how fast you can end up with a cart full of items that are “only a dollar”, which then leads to a home filled with a bunch of useless and/or unneccessary junk.

    • Stephanie says

      My husband drives me crazy with this. Of course, it’s not a dollar. It’s only $50 or $25 or $36, whatever the price. It’s not only $xx.xx. It is what is, and it’s not a planned or needed purchase. I can do alot (as we know) with that $xx.xx.

  3. says

    I needed this! This is something that I am working on (by encouragement of my husband), especially with clearance rack clothing. If I bring something home and tell my husband that it was a great deal, he makes me put it on and decide if I ACTUALLY like it, or if I just liked the price.

    I’m a work in progress :)

  4. Nancy says

    I SO agree with this post!
    I recently arranged to stop getting notification from Groupon, Living Social, etc. because I was going broke, “saving money”!

  5. Erin says

    I especially like the point about whether recipients would like the gift. On a lot of bargain blogs, you see people proudly stocking up on junk clearance toys for their toy closets. Being someone who always spent good money on what I thought were fun, thoughtful, and often classic gifts for children, that attitude always rubbed me the wrong way. I wouldn’t be pleased to have my house filled with junky, gimmicky, dated toys (think plasticky garbage tied into last year’s movie that we didn’t even see or other discontinued toys that were either fleetingly or never popular).

  6. Janet T says

    This is such good advice, thank you! It’s a personal struggle to not buy every good deal. Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve almost picked up a cute holiday decoration at the Salvation Army. Both times I had to stop myself since we already have more decorations then house. I just keep reminding myself I don’t need to make every trendy cute holiday decoration.

    • Sarah says

      Great job, Janet! But I would say if you LOVE that decoration enough to get rid of something you already have, then it MIGHT be worth buying.

  7. BethB says

    What a great post! From reading the comments above it seems a lot of us realte. Unfortunately, in my past impulse “bargain” purchasing wasn’t at used stores and garage sales so I accumalated quite a bit of credit card debt. Clothes were my poison, so to speak.

    Many years out I’ve reformed because I started really thinking about each purchase AND considering what I already have at home. It’s a great feeling walking through a store during bargain season and realizing how much my shopping habits have changed!

  8. Jen says

    I used to always pick up something at every garage sale I would stop at, just trying to be nice and support whomever was holding the sale, even if it was just a book or something. That starts to add up though, and now I will allow myself to walk away empty handed. As much as I would like to help everyone out, I have to just focus on what I need.

  9. jenarant says

    I used to struggle with this same issue. now I no longer look at price tags while shopping for clothes. I first find an item I like, decide what I am willing to spend for it, then check the price. If it is less than or equal to that amount, I will purchase it, if not, I will pass it by.

    Years ago, I would buy something just because of the price, not because I wanted or needed it. I would much rather spend $60 on a pair of shoes I love, then get 3 pairs for $20 each that I never wear. What is best though is to find a pair I love, then determine it is on clearance for only $15. :)

  10. says

    Garage sales here are not that great. However, there is a neighborhod garage sale that happens twice a year. I have a running list of things that I need, and I take it with me. Once it even resulted in me getting something that I wanted that the seller had forgotten to take out for this sale, but had had out at her last sale! She asked to see my list, and went in the house and got it for me. I’m so glad I had that list, because the one she had was just the size I needed, and I LOVE it (and it was made in 1917, which is really neat!)

    I also have a friend that goes garage sale shopping for me every year in another state (she goes there for 3 months every year in the summer). She loves to go shopping and her children are all grown. I give her a list of what I need for my children (x number of short sleeved shirts in this size, x number of shorts, x number of pants, a coat, etc.), and she buys from the list. She gets the thrill of shopping and spending someone else’s money to do it. I get a HUGE convience and no gas money spent. She offered to do this for me several years ago and I said YES! She is a real bargain shopper and almost everything is .25 or .50 per item. She has spent a bit more on coats ($3 for a Land’s End coat). She’s not afraid to leave it if the price is too high.

    Give yourself time to think before checking out. Don’t be afraid to find a quiet spot in the store and ponder if you really need the item you put in your cart, even if it is a great deal. If you feel like you shouldn’t get it, put back. There are very few things in my life that I have regretted NOT buying.

  11. Audrey says

    I always ask myself “If I pass this up, will I regret it later?” Most of the time I will pass up a “deal” (a great price on something I kind of like) and never think about it again. Once in a while there is a time where I pass up a great deal on something because I don’t think I really want it or need it and then I think about it for days, and kick myself for not buying it! I recently came across a brand new Graco Snugride car seat on clearance (marked down from $80 to $25!!!) at Walmart and I bought one for my baby (that’s due in 2 weeks), but I honestly was kicking myself for not buying both of them and giving the second one to a friend in need or donating it to a pregnancy center. That is a GREAT deal, and how often do car seats go on clearance?! I went back later that day to get it and it was gone, and I’m STILL kicking myself 3 weeks later! So yeah–I always think ahead and ask myself, “If I buy this, is it really a great deal? Can I live without it? If I don’t buy it, will I regret it later?”

  12. says

    I agree! I like to pick something I like in a store and walk around with it, I think about what I will wear with it and stay in the store awhile. Sometimes I go to other stores and then go back if I really want the item.

    We live in a very small apt in London so we don’t have much space.

  13. says

    I recently (it’s been 2 months) stopped using coupons, stopped scoping out every garage sale I see, and stopped my weekly trips to the thrift stores. I have paid full price for a few pieces of clothing for myself and my kids, but I LOVED what I bought, and we wear my choices at least once a week. I also bought flexible clothing (I bought my daughter a shirt and leggings outfit in a size 18 months. She wears the shirt as a dress right now.) that will match most of what we already have.

    I keep a list of things I need (ok, want) from the thrift store, and let my mom know. She goes every week. If it’s on my list, I won’t buy it in a store. My current list includes a face steamer, nice inexpensive pillowcases (for pillowcase dresses) shoes in 1 and 2 sizes up from what the kids wear now, and long sleeve solid shirts so that the kids can wear them under their summer clothes.

    I stopped shopping for myself. I have watched Crystal’s minimalist wardrobe vlog a million times, and try to mix and match what I already own to make “new” outfits.

    I found that I was spending so much extra money on things I didn’t need, simply because I was getting a great deal (Often 90% off at Target!). You save way more money by staying home :0)

  14. says

    I have been doing the same thing. Just today i picked up a desk calendar i saw on clearance because i had seen an idea about putting up a calendar in kids rooms so they see whats going on and can track dates and all that. I walked into the next aisle and stopped, looked at the calendar and put it back deciding i really don’t need it because the small calendar on the fridge is enough, i don’t need that many calendars in the house…

  15. Melanie says

    Agree! I saw a neat decorating book the other day for $2. I decided not to buy it since I would be better off checking it out of the library so I don’t have to find someplace to store it in my house.

  16. Emmy says

    I was always a clearance shopper, but recently discovered thrift stores. I love clothes and most of time can resist a deal if it doesn’t look good on me or fit right (although I did buy a few designer items a size too small, silly me). I have a lot of fabulous clothing I really like, but it doesn’t fit my lifestyle most of the time. I am a stay at home mom, but I have a lot of dresses, dress pants, and blazers. There is a rush to finding a great deal for a great item (even if I don’t really need said item). I have a bag in my closet and put things that I never seem to wear in the bag to donate. If I haven’t worn something in a while, I will try it on and see if I still like it – if not or if it is only OK, into the bag it goes. It is a cleansing feeling to drop stuff in the bag and donate it.

    I do like garage sales for kids clothing. My 3 year old can be quite picky and even if she says she likes something in the store, she sometimes will not wear it once purchased (grrrr). I buy her nearly all thrift store/garage sale clothes because if she doesn’t wear something, it is less of a loss. Like others have said, it can be easy to go overboard on shopping because it is cheap.

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