The most eco-friendly item you can buy is one that’s used, and thrift stores and flea markets aren’t the only places to score gently used items on the cheap. Remember garage sales?
Visiting garage sales in your community is a simple way to score rock-bottom deals while helping neighbors keep their old stuff out of landfills. If you’ve never gone garage sale shopping before, the concept may seem a bit intimidating, but a little know-how can go a long way.
To help you get started, we spoke with Chris Janota, a seasoned garage sale pro, to get his top tips for successful shopping.
1. Find the best sale
The days of hunting for signs around your neighborhood or looking up sales in the local newspaper are long gone. To save time, Janota suggests going online to find the best sales near you. A variety of free garage sale apps are available to help you find garage sales near you, such as Yard Sale Treasure Map and EstateSales.net.
Sites like Craigslist are also great places to track down a yard sale or garage sale, Janota says. Because advertising in newspapers costs money and posting an ad online is free, many garage sale hosts opt for the web to list their sales, so you’ll likely get the most accurate listings online.
2. Know when to go
According to Janota, most garage sales are held in late spring and early autumn — with more than 80,000 sales per weekend across the U.S. during these peak periods.
Additionally, garage sales tend to be held on Fridays and Saturdays, so you’ll likely find the largest number of sales to choose from on these days. And make sure to get there early for the best selection.
3. Come prepared
Your garage sale outing will go much more smoothly if you come prepared.
If you drive to the sale, Janota suggests you make sure that the trunk and back seat are empty to leave room for your purchases. If you’re going to sales by bike or foot, be sure to bring a backpack, bag, cart, or wagon to transport your purchases home.
Bring rope or heavy twine to tie down your finds for transport, a smartphone or GPS for directions, and plenty of batteries to test gadgets and devices, he advises.
4. Don’t forget the cash
Some garage sale hosts accept credit cards, especially with the Square smartphone card reader growing in popularity. Janota says that about 20% of the transactions at his own garage sales are credit or debit, but he notes that bringing plenty of cash with you is still a good idea.
Play it safe and assume you won’t be able to use credit or debit cards; bring both small and large bills with you to make transactions easier on garage sale hosts.
5. Use citywide garage sales
Janota is a huge proponent of citywide garage sales, calling them “celebrations of reuse” and a “great way to meet neighbors.” In addition to the camaraderie that comes with neighborhood sales, Janota says you’ll find better variety at lower prices since these events draw sellers from all over the community.
6. Feel free to negotiate
Haggling is almost always welcome at garage sales, Janota says. Try bundling items together to get a better deal. Or simply ask the homeowners if they would be willing to part with an item for a lower price. A few simple questions could save you loads of cash.
Some people employ the strategy of going to sales later in the day when the hosts are more willing to negotiate the prices of their remaining items. Although this method greatly reduces the selection of items available, you may get some excellent deals on items that haven’t sold yet.
7. Use your smartphone to score a better deal
If you’re not a seasoned garage sale pro, it can be tough to tell if you’re getting a good deal on a gently used item. To take the mystery out of pricing, Janota suggests using your smartphone to compare prices and score the best deal. Searching Amazon works great for book and media prices while comparing prices on eBay works for most other items.
8. Don’t expect a walk in the park
“It’s a lot of work,” Janota says of garage sale shopping. But the payoff of scoring a still-usable item for a super-low price, he says, makes it worth it.
Expect your day of garage sale shopping to start early and feel a bit long, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t find what you’re looking for right away.
“You may go for a specific thing … but garage sales are all about opportunity and finding the best deal,” Janota says.
For a fun and successful outing, keep an open mind and embrace reuse in all its forms. You may find something you truly love, and you’ll feel better knowing that you helped keep it from going to waste.
Feature photo courtesy of John Beagle, Flickr. Originally published on September 24, 2013, this article was updated in June 2021.