Welcome to October’s series on 31 Ways to Earn Extra Cash Before Christmas. In this series, I’m highlighting simple and legitimate ways you can earn extra cash in the next two months for those of you who could use a little extra cash to help you pay for Christmas — or just for your living expenses if you’re in a tight spot right now.
If you’ve found a great way to make extra cash before Christmas that doesn’t require an outlay of cash upfront, please email me your tip. I’d love to hear it and possibly share it during this series!
A series on earning money wouldn’t be complete without me talking about garage sales — especially since I’ve sort of garnered a reputation for having smashingly successful garage sales. After many years of hosting and earning thousands of dollars from garage sales, I’ve learned much through trial and error.
Here are my well-proven top 10 tips for having a successful garage sale:
1. Collect Clutter Year-Round
I have an ongoing Garage Sale Stash. When I come upon something we no longer need or use and I don’t know anyone to pass it onto, I stick it in a box in our garage. Once a box fills up, I start another. And another.
Without much effort at all, by the time it’s the month of our annual garage sale, I usually have at least 8-10 boxes of stuff collected.
2. Have a Plan
A successful garage sale does not happen without organization. At least a week before the sale I go through my home from top to bottom and clear out clutter. At least 2-3 days before the sale, I take an afternoon to price everything and organize it. And then the day before the sale, I devote a few hours to final organization, posting an ad on Craigslist, getting the cash and signs together and so forth.
Do not wait until the last minute to pull off a garage sale. Either it will flop or you’ll run yourself ragged–or both. If you’re in a new location or you’re new to hosting a garage sale, I’d suggest that you start getting organized at least 3-4 weeks in advance.
Getting Organized for a Garage Sale
::How are you going to display items? Do you need to borrow or make a clothes-rack?
::Do you have enough table space? If not, check and see if you can borrow tables from friends or put together some makeshift tables out of plywood and boxes.
::What signs will you be using and how many do you need? Where will you be displaying the signs to best direct traffic to your home? Drive the routes people will be coming and decide on these locations so you’re not scrambling the morning of the sale.
::Who is going to put the signs out the morning of the sale? Designate someone for this ahead of time and let them know specifically where to place the signs.
::How much cash should you have on hand and how will you keep it in a safe location?
::Do you need to purchase a license for running a garage sale in your area?
::Do you have enough help?
3. Team Up
One of my best “secrets” for success when it comes to garage sales is that I never do them on my own. I always find friends or family to team up with.
Not only does this arrangement mean you have more stuff to sell and more variety in sizes and types of things offered, it also means you have more help. Divvying up the responsibilities between 3 or 4 people makes a garage sale much more manageable. Plus, it just makes it more fun when you’re doing it with friends and family!
4. Location, Location, Location!
If you want to have a garage sale that flops, pick a location which is off-the-beaten-path and hard to get to. That’s a surefire way to lose a lot of business.
Don’t live near a busy intersection? Well, look for alternative locations like a friend or relative’s home.
This is probably the key to our garage sale success. We live right between two very heavily-trafficked streets. We put up some good signage and the crowds descend!
5. Timing is Everything (well, just about!)
I don’t advise planning a sale in the freezing cold Winter or the blazing hot Summer. Choose a time of the year when the weather will be very pleasant and try to check the weather forecast ahead of time to make sure rain is not expected when you’re planning your sale.
In addition, find out what days of the week are best for yard sales to run in your area. When we lived in Kansas City, I found people usually only held sales on Friday and Saturday. However, where we live now, Thursdays are a big yard sale day and seem to garner the most traffic.
6. Clearly Mark Your Prices
It’s easy to want to just stick a big sign on a table saying that everything on that table is a quarter, but, in the long-run, it is much more efficient to go ahead and put price stickers on everything. Instead of having to make up prices on the spot, people will know exactly how much something is. In addition, some people are too shy to ask the price of an item, so you’ll lose a sale if an item isn’t marked.
I’ve found it’s easiest to invest the few dollars it costs to buy pre-priced stickers for most of my items as this makes pricing a snap. I try to have variety in pricing with plenty of $0.25 or less items. I’ve found that when people pick up one thing to buy, they are more likely to pick up other things as well, so have lots of $0.25 items and it might help you sell some of your larger-ticketed items, too!
Since we pretty much always have multiple families involved when we run a garage sale, we just mark initials on all our price tags and then keep a tally sheet in a notebook as things sell. It adds a bit more time when customers are checking out, so it’s good to have at least two people working the money table–one to keep track of the tally sheet and one handle the money and making change.
7. Price Things to Sell
When I go to a garage sale, I expect to pay yard sale prices. Unless something is brand-new with the tags on, I am not going to pay more than a few quarters for it, if that. When I am pricing my own items to sell, I always try to price things at what I feel would be a good bargain if I were buying the item at someone else’s garage sale.
I’d rather price something on the low end and have someone actually buy my item, than to have 25 people pick up the item and put it back down on the table because it is too expensive.
8. Advertise well
The marketing of your sale is usually the number-one factor in how well your sale does. You can have great items, great prices and a great location, but if you don’t tell people how to get there, they won’t find it on their own.
Put some time and effort into making a number of quality, clearly-readable signs which you put in conspicuous places to easily lead to your home. The brighter, bolder and bigger the sign, the better.
I have also found Craigslist to be the most-effective marketing tool for advertising a garage sale. And did I mention it’s free to advertise on Craigslist? I usually advertise the day before the sale and then re-post a revised ad each day of the sale. The more details you can put in your ad, the better. Tell specific items, specific brands, and specific sizes.
When people search for items on Craigslist, if they are looking for what you’re selling–even if they aren’t looking at garage sales–your item will pull up in searches for them. So the more descriptive you can be in the listing and title, the better.
Of course, don’t write a book; just focus on your hottest sellers. And please use proper grammar and spelling. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference!
9. Mark Things Down on the Last Day
Things are usually pretty picked over by the last day of the sale. That’s the perfect opportunity to get creative and hand out rock-bottom bargains! We found that running “Fill a Bag for a Buck” is extremely effective. In a recent garage sale, we got rid of around 25 bags full of stuff in a few hours by doing this.
We’ve also done it where everything was half-price the last day. Or, if we have quite a bit of stuff left and we’re feeling ready to close up shop, we’ll just say that everything is free the last hour.
10. Don’t forget the cookies and lemonade!
What better way to teach your children entrepreneurial skills and let them earn a little money in the process than to have them set up their own little cookie and lemonade stands at the sale? Or, if it’s cold outside, try selling hot chocolate, coffee, and fresh cinnamon rolls. One yard sale, we even set up a pancake griddle and sold pancakes hot off the griddle on Saturday morning.
Baked goods–like homemade cookies and bars–sell extremely well at our garage sales. In fact, my younger brother made around $100 from selling cookies at a recent garage sale!
What are your best tips for having a great yard sale? I’d love to hear!
photo credits: Louisa_catlover; Chiot’s Run