Seven Principles of Yard Sale Season

I enjoy going to yard sales. On our free spring and summer weekends, our family will burn part of the day going to these sales, looking for

Have a plan. Rather than simply trusting that we’ll find sales by serendipity, we take some time to locate sales beforehand. Sites we use include Craigslist, YardHopper, and local newspapers (both web and print).

I usually make a list organized by town so that we can hit all the sales in a particular area before moving on. If a yard sale ad lists the items that they’ll sell, I’ll note that, too.

Community yard sales make this easy. Many towns and neighborhoods have community-wide sales and provide helpful flyers listing all of the sales. This can help you fill an entire day in one area.

Part of your plan should include having a bunch of $5 and $1 bills along with lots of quarters, dimes, and nickels. It’s much easier to shop (and to haggle) if you can come up with exact change for the agreed-upon price. Don’t take more than you can reasonably spend, either, and have a good idea of what kind of items you’re actually looking for.

Start in the rich neighborhoods. Generally, yard sales in expensive neighborhoods have somewhat higher prices, but the items are of much higher quality. I’ve found great furniture that I’m happy to have in my house thanks to yard sales run by affluent people.

It’s not worth researching average incomes in particular areas, but most people have at least some sense as to which neighborhoods have a pretty high average income. If yard sales exist in that area, start there.

Always look for collectibles that you know well. I know trading cards, board games, and vintage video games like the back of my hand. Because of that knowledge, I’ve found many incredible deals at yard sales, including a small collection of trading cards worth hundreds of dollars on sale for $5 and an unpunched classic Avalon Hill board game for $3 or $4 (which could be flipped to eBay for more than $100).

It’s well worth staying up to date on the values of items related to the hobbies you enjoy even if you’re not actively buying them any more. That way, if you spot a ridiculous deal at a yard sale, you’ll recognize it and can pounce on it.

Never buy an electric or electronic device if they won’t let you plug it in first. If a device has a power cord, they better let you plug it in or you shouldn’t buy it. The lone exception is if you’re going to pillage it for parts.

If a device runs on batteries, the same thing is true – if they won’t let you put batteries in it to test it, you shouldn’t buy it. I usually keep a few AAs, AAAs, and Ds in the car just for this purpose.

If the seller says “make me an offer,” always say “let me think about it.” Then, do some quick research (if you can). Look for the price of the item on a retailer’s website, then figure out what 10% of that price is (just take that price and multiply it by 0.10 on your phone). Make that your offer.

Most of the time, items sell at yard sales from between 10% to 20% of their original price provided they’re in good condition (it’s lower for items showing wear). So, start at 10% if the item looks good or at about 5% if the item is worn. They might negotiate up a bit, but at least you’ll have a baseline to start with.

Bundle! If you find several items that you want, bundle them together and make an offer. There’s no better way to get a discount at a yard sale than putting multiple items together.

If I pick up a group of items, like baby clothes, I’ll internally calculate the price if it were on a “buy two, get one free” sale and use that. If I’m picking up a large group of items, I’ll usually offer half price for all of them (essentially “buy one get one free”). It’s been very rare that the person running the sale has turned down the offer.

Go back on Sunday. If they have hours on Sunday, go back then. Yes, the items will be picked over, but the prices will be lower and you can haggle even more. I’ve found some incredible buys during the middle of the day on Sunday at yard sales, including a bookshelf that’s sitting in my office for $2.

Most importantly, have fun. That matters more than anything else.

Good luck finding a great deal or two!

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