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Reader Tip: How to Avoid Garage Sale Pitfalls

Jessica emailed in the following tip:

Summer is in full swing and like many bargain hunters, I love a good garage sale. It’s like a treasure hunt. Looking though one box or pile after another, searching for that one needed item.

Garage sales, however, can have their downsides as well. Here are three pitfalls to avoid when going to a garage sale:

1. Don’t buy what you don’t need.

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean you need it. Spending a $1 on a set of curtains may be a great deal but if you have three sets of curtains at home and have no need for another why waste the money.

The best way to garage sale is to have a list of items that you need and are looking for. I also try to make a list of my children’s clothing sizes so I can purchase a size up of off season clothing they will need in the future.

Also remember to travel with a tape measure this will keep you from buying that item you just knew would fit but turns out to be too big for your space.

2. Try before you buy.

If you are going to buy electronics, kitchen appliances, yard equipment, or anything that requires electricity or batteries, make sure you try before you buy. In my experience garage sale hosts are happy to demo an item for you to show you all the bells and whistles.

Make sure you run it through all the cycles and ask if the owner has had any problems with the item. I may just be blessed but I have never had a bad experience buying any items such as these at a garage sale most people are honest with the things they sell but you always want to do your due diligence.

3. Watch your mileage.

When you go out hunting for your treasures have a plan. Look through your local sale papers, check Craigslist, and look online for other garage sale postings in your area. Most will have a list of items that they are selling and this will help you decided on a route before you leave the house.

Driving around on a Friday or Saturday morning just searching for signs or going all the way across town for a sale that turns out to be nothing can be hard on your gas tank and eat up your garage sale savings.

Garage sales can be a lot of fun and a great way to stretch the family budget. Just remember to set some simple guidelines for yourself before you start and you can really watch the savings add up.

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  • Lisa says:

    So true! I always keep a list of what we need in the next size up for all my kids and I try to keep a list of what size future winter and rain boots we have so I don’t buy 3 pair of the same size and none of a needed one. It is hard to remember these things when you see a deal, but it isn’t saving if we have more than we can use of something and still need to run out at the beginning of the season for a forgotten item and pay full price.

  • Jessica says:

    *Take off your sunglasses while shopping. Wearing your sunglasses can mask flaws in fabric and finishes.

    *Bring wipes to keep in your car after touching all that stuff.

    *Bring your own bottle of water and snack.

    *Bring tie-downs for your car or drive a bigger vehicle if shopping for large items so you can take it right then and there. You might get a better deal.

    *Bring small bills.

    *Lock your car while shopping.

    *Keep your wallet in your front pocket. Don’t set your purse down. Don’t enter a stranger’s home to use the facilities.

  • Lori in NC says:

    Thought I had uncovered a treasure at a yard sale last month — Kate Spade purse — only $3. Walked away from the house smiling! Found a similar one on-line for $348 retail . . . But a few days later the purse was literally falling apart! Even her name was peeling off! Must have been a knock-off. Oh well — I had a very good laugh – and so did the dozen people I had excitedly announced my bargain to!

  • Bethany M says:

    Each weekend I do a search within the Craigslist Garage sale to find what I’m looking for. So I’ll search “4T” or “dishes.” Saves me a ton of internet time, time on the road, and expense of travel. Plus you can then email for more specifics about what they listed like, “Are these 4T girl’s clothes or boy’s?” or “Do you know the pattern of your dish set?” or “I might be interested in your treadmill. Could you send me a picture?”

    • Veronica R says:

      I do this also. This is a great tip and has often saved me gas mileage and time! Most of the time the replies are very polite and more then once I have even had the seller ask if I would like to come early and possibly purchase the items before the sale even starts.

  • Melissa says:

    Since I commonly shop thrift stores for items, I keep a chart of current family measurements on an index card in my purse. I also keep a measuring tape on me also. Sometimes tags are missing so it’s easy to see if an item will work.

    I also like to keep other measurements like curtain and tablecloth measurements, curtain rod lengths, blind sizes etc. on me. I’ve made bad purchases before thinking I could tell the measurements by looking at them.

    • Gail says:

      Great tip on household measurements! I have bought several mini blinds that looked like just the right size, but weren’t, so have wasted money. It may only be $1, but still hate to waste it. I also have learned to include measurements of the lampshades I need to replace, frames for pictures I plan to frame, and if you have power tools, it’s good to have the brand and size of the replacement blades, sandpaper sheets, and other replaceable items. I often find sales where people are moving to condos and no longer need the replacement line for a weedeater, and other similar items, which can be very costly to buy at the store, but may only be $1 at a sale.

  • Gail says:

    I’ve learned that I needed to measure the inseam of my TALL Grandson’s shorts, and have that number handy for when I shop the garage sales. With only one boy in the family, there was no one else who could wear them, and I had to donate them. Just shopping by his size has cost me money, because the shorts looked plenty long enough when held up to “short” Grandma, but were way too short for him because his legs are long 🙂

  • Emi says:

    I need help in this pitfall. I go to garage sales in our neighborhood only to find that I know the seller either casually through the local moms club or professionally and it seems that every time I happen to know the seller they have some outrageously high prices because they don’t go to garage sales or thrift stores themselves. So I end up buy a $2 stuffed toy that is dirty and falling apart or $5 for a flashlight that is partially broken and I these are the cheapest items that they are selling. (I do find good deals at other garage sales.) And yes, I could just get back in the car without buying anything but I feel bad because 5 other groups of people just did that to her or in the second case, another buyer was bold enough to tell her the prices were too high. Any ideas on how to save face?

    • I have found myself in that situation and my solution is to scan around the sale (looking for something specific that I need that I can see they don’t have for sale!) and simply say, without lying, that I was looking for “X” and I’m not seeing any of those. Perhaps I missed it? That gives me a reason to walk away without disappointing either of us. And since I have a list of things I’m looking for (and a wide variety of charities that I will support with donations if the price is right), I can usually come up with something to “be looking for.”

      For instance, if all I see is baby boy clothes, I might mention that I was specifically looking for clothes for my tween girl. Or if the sale is mostly clothes, I might mention that I was looking for books for my daughter’s school. Neither are lies and they are specific to my situation. (Now that doesn’t mean I couldn’t *find* a reason to buy something that they’re selling—but if I say that was my main reason for stopping, it would be hard to fault me for not buying something else!)

    • Marcelaine says:

      I participated in my first yard sale (a multi-family yard sale in my apartment complex) a couple of months ago, and I quickly realized that most people don’t buy things. They scan everything pretty quickly and it doesn’t take long to decide if they’re interested in anything or not. So if a person is doing a yard sale they need to learn pretty quick not to be hurt that nobody’s buying their stuff. (After all, they’re trying to get rid of it themselves.) I also lowered prices as time went on and I figured out what people were willing to pay for things, so if your friends really want to sell the stuff they’ll probably figure out by people’s looks or comments that they need to lower the prices.

      You might also trying bargaining the price down. Ask if they’ll take fifty cents or a dollar for the dirty stuffed toy that was priced for two dollars. But I don’t think anyone should ever feel guilted into buying something they don’t want.

  • Pam says:

    I try not to spend too much on items I am not sure will fit or work in my house. That way if it doesn’t work out I can donate it and don’t feel so bad about it.

  • Claudette says:

    I love using this website.
    It gets the posting from craigslist and put them on a map.
    You can view a short clip from the craigslist ad or click on it and go directly to craigslist.
    Planning my itinerary has saved me gas and time. I love, love, love it!

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks so much for posting this–it is amazing! So much time saved by not going through multiple sites putting half a dozen towns that are close by in!

  • Rebecca says:

    I enjoy going to garage sales too, but have often wondered if the gas money spent driving around to multiple garage sales is worth it. Even with a mapped out plan, the money spent on gas could be put towards buying new items at the store. I have found that pairing sales with coupons and clearance items has sometimes worked out better than if I had gone out garage saleing.

  • Barbara says:

    First of all JUST STAY HOME. I find if I look in my closet, my husband’s closet and the childrens’ closets I can not justify buying a single other thing. If I want to go to a garage sale just to get out of the house I will find the one thing I am looking for (recently it was a coffee perculator – stovetop kind) and will only allow myself to buy that item. I am pretty good at not allowing myself to get off track. Then I will not allow myself to go to another garage sale for at least one month. I have begun to enjoy doing other fun things on the weekend mornings!

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