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Tips For Your Next Garage Sale

Friday, June 14, 2013

With summer upon us, many are making room for the charcoal grill and pool –side furniture by clearing out last year’s outgrown sweaters and tossing worn camping supplies.

Tips for your next garage sale 02

Back in April, I promised here that I would share how I typically make around $300 – $400 in just four - five hours by hosting a garage sale. While that amount isn’t exactly hitting the jackpot, garage sale money has been used to pay off debt and fuel our momobile (aka minivan.) Granted, we’re a military family who often has to purge quite a few items because we simply don’t have room in a moving truck – or – they don’t fit into the new house.  However, before I married into the military, I was still able to earn several hundred dollars in a few hours using these five steps:

Sale Step One

My first step is determining when I’ll have the garage sale. Mark your calendar. *Moving tip: Try to have the sale about a month before moving day.

Sale Step Two

Go through each room in your house. Set aside items in two piles, Sell and Trash. This is by far the most time consuming part of the process, although, if you’re an obsessive compulsive like me, it’ll give you an opportunity to organize your space. I will begin pulling items from each room about 3-4 weeks before the garage sale date.

I take the time to pull things from my home that I’m more than 50% sure will sell. I also place items in the sell pile that I may not be wanting to sell right away, but if I think I can get money for it then I give it a go on Garage Sale Day.

For example, at our last sale, Brandon had quite a few military items such a old BDUs (battle dress uniforms,) and a military issued watch and backpack. All of those sold to a guy who just PCSed (permanent change of duty station – a move) to our installation (the one we were leaving,) and lucky for us, he needed all of those items. At first Brandon wasn’t sure if he wanted to sell them, but he stuck it outside on Garage Sale Day to see what would happen – and nearly everything in our military section sold.

Items I trash are things that are un-repairable. In my house, these are broken toys or loose nick-knacks. In preparing for a move, this is a perfect time to remove trash.*Moving tip: Step 2 should begin about 1.5 – 2 months before moving day (or about 2-6 weeks before your garage sale date.)

Sale Step Three

Market your shop. Garage selling can be fun if you act like you’re setting up your own shop. Now that you have your merchandise set aside, you need to promote your business. There are several ways in which I do this.

First, I get onto social network websites to promote my sale such as Craigslist.com, local area resale and consignment shops, and local Facebook groups. For Craigslist, I post in the ‘garage sale’ area and list off several items I will be selling that retail for a lot of money in order to gain quick initial interest. At our last sale we listed on Craigslist our charcoal grill, and many high-demand baby items such as my Moby Wrap and Infantino Carrier. Be sure to mention everything is first come, first serve.

Secondly, I post dollar store signs around the neighborhood about 3 days before the Garage Sale Date. This way, those early bird shoppers (you will have them) can plan their route.

My signs include my address (leaving off city and state,) the date(s) my ‘shop’ is open, and an arrow. Put arrows on your signs. Always. I get frustrated as a shopper when signs have an address, but no arrow. Sure, I have GPS, but I have lived in two rural/new areas where the GPS didn’t recognize the address which kept me from finding the house. Several ‘shops’ lost me as a customer because I’m directionally challenged. Put arrows on your signs for us dummies.

One more thing about signs: Don’t use pen or pencil. Use marker. And write big and legible. A sign is a total waste of effort if no one can read it as they drive by.

Sale Step Four

Seriously. Price everything. Brandon thought I was crazy when I told him to price all of his military gear. If you don’t, you will have people coming up to you every minute asking how much you want for whatever they’re interested in. That gets overwhelming when you have several people doing this at once, you’re taking a payment from another customer, and keeping your kids from giving things away for free.

My key to pricing: List everything for about a quarter of what you paid for it. Example: You bought a coffee table for $100 five years ago and you list it for $25. Now, if that table has obvious wear-and-tear, you may want to list it at $15 – $20 depending on the damage. Don’t insult your buyers by pricing too high, but respect yourself enough to get a reasonable return on your investment. If in doubt, price it a wee bit higher because you can always go down in the middle of your sale if it’s struggling to sell.

Make Me an Offer: If you think you might be able to get more for something, write “Make Me an Offer” on your label to see what happens. Example: I had a nice silverware set that I received from a dear friend many years ago as a hand-me-down. I got it for free, but it wasn’t a gift. I had never shopped for silverware, and I didn’t have it appraised, so I had no idea if it was real silver or not, nor how much to charge for it. I wrote “Make Me an Offer” on that set, and not only was it one of the very first items that sold, it sold for a nice chunk of change. It was probably fake because it bent with little effort, but I figure I came out ahead on the transaction because I let the customer start the negotiating.

Create Deals: I had 3 nice walk-thru baby gates. Two were gently used and one was still in the box unopened. I listed them, “$15 Each – or – 3 for $35.” I didn’t want someone to come by and buy only one or two, leaving me stuck with the remainder(s.) So I made a deal. Some nice family with an infant came along and bought all three baby gates.

If items are priced right, you'll have few hagglers. At my last sale I had only one person haggle prices for everything she bought – and I still made about $400.

Sale Step Five

So, Garage Sale Day has arrived. Have your shop set up at the time indicated on your signs and social network ads, because there are those serious yardsalers who will be there right when you open – with their assortment of mini flashlights to see your merch. in the wee-hours of darkness.

I display everything by sections to make it easier to browse. For example, I place all kitchenware together, books together, etc. To aide in my display, I use large totes, tables, blankets, and a rope strung between two poles to hang nicer wardrobe pieces. I also start my aisles close to the curb for those who “window shop.”

During the sale I wear a fanny pack to store my money for transactions. You laugh, but it’s uuber convenient. I also try to be polite and engage people in small talk as they rifle through my crap. Most people want to be left alone as they shop, but I say hello to everyone who walks up my driveway. I once was semi-interested in something at a garage sale I shopped at, but left empty-handed because the lady didn’t even acknowledge my presence. Want this to go well? Fake a smile or else people will stop looking at what you put a lot of effort into organizing.

Once the sale ends, I separate remaining items that I can probably sell on-line or at a future garage sale. If I don’t think an item is worth it, I start a Donate pile.

Garage selling is a lot of work, but the payoff can be worth it. What are your tips for a successful garage sale?

Erin Bettis


  1. Hi there, I just happened to come across your site on pinterest. My mother and I have become pretty successful at our annual garage sale and I was searching for some new tips. I love your site and you have great advice!

    Some extra things that work well for us: we always plan out sale the weekend after the 1st or 15th of the month -- which are paydays for many people. We also advertise our sale on Craigslist in a gimmicky yet memorable way. Because of my work in the cosmetic industry and my mother's shopping obsession, our sales consist of lots of beauty products and tons of clothes and shoes. We like to call it "The Ultimate Woman's Garage Sale" online when posting ads. This not only draws attention because of the original name but also steers those away looking for baby things or other items. We also use the same name and ad style every year and usually have repeat customers expecting the same type of items and great deals. :)

    Thanks for the tips and I wish you success at your next sale!


    1. Hi Tristen,

      Thank you for the wonderful tips. It's a lot of work, but very exciting to "set up shop" with your old unwanted items.

      And much success to you, as well, at your next sale.

      - EB

  2. My sis and I are going to tackle this. Thanks for the great tips.
    Pam and Sue

    1. Hi Pam and Sue,

      Thank you so much for stopping by. I sure hope that your sale is a great success!

      - EB

  3. Thanks for sharing the information. Enjoyed reading it - Please can you read my Businesses For Sale article and give me some feedback. Will highly your comments.


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