Updated on 09.07.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Garage and Yard Sales

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Naomi said, Garage Sales – it takes a day to set up; we usually purchase lunch that day because we’re busy (day before and day of) adn can’t make lunch…and usually gross about $150 – 200.

I’ve found that garage and yard sales can vary greatly in their success level depending on a wide variety of factors.

The amount of promotion If you promote your yard sale with signs and flyers, you’re going to get a lot more traffic. The more you promote it, the more traffic you’ll get. Savings tip: I tend to try to schedule yard sales in conjunction with my neighbors so that we can promote our yard sales together. Our town has a regular “city wide yard sale,” so we’ll schedule things in conjunction with that.

The weather on the day of the event If the weather is beautiful, you’ll see more traffic. I’ve actually postponed yard sales because of forecasted bad weather (since I do much of my promotion during the week before the yard sale).

Meal preparation What I often do is prep all of our meals two days in advance of the yard sale. I’ll make food so that it’s easy to pull out of the fridge and eat at the table. Often, we’ll just have sandwiches for lunch the day of the sale, eating while the sale is going on. If you find yourself ordering food, you’re going to reduce the profits from the sale.

Quality of items If you have good stuff to sell, you’re going to make more money than if you’re selling retreads from previous sales. People go to yard sales to find bargains on stuff they actually want. If all you’re offering is well-picked-over stuff, you’re not going to make a lot of money.

What I usually do is give away what’s left at the end of a yard or garage sale. I’ll take the remnants to Goodwill and other stores and give them whatever they’ll take. If there are still items left, I’ll often trash them, as they have little value (I didn’t want them, my customers didn’t want them, and Goodwill didn’t want them). This ensures that the next yard sale I have will be all new items, not retreads that didn’t sell before. This drastically increases the percentage of sales I’ll make.

I also make sure the items are as clean and presentable as possible.

Quantity of items The more you have, the more you’ll sell. Of course, there’s a caveat along with that…

Organization of items If you throw everything out there in a mish-mash and it’s hard to find all of the items or find similar items, you’re going to have a hard time making the sale. This means using your space effectively so similar items are near each other and as many items as possible are easily accessible.

All of these factors play a role in garage/yard sale success. The fewer of these things that you successfully pull off, the less you’ll sell at your yard sale and the less you’ll earn per hour of time invested.

The last yard sale I ran, I netted about $600 after expenses. I estimate that 30 hours of work went into the yard sale, giving me a return of about $20 per hour. (Of course, I was selling off items that I already owned.)

A poorly managed garage or yard sale earns pennies for the hours you invest. A well managed garage or yard sale earns dollars.

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  1. deRuiter says:

    1. The ability to pick a good day weather wise is crucial to success. If you have the flexability to make your decision final a few days before the sale, you can pick great weather. 2. Graphic directional signs are the most important element of all. I don’t mean 8″ by 10″ copy paper with minute (1″ tall) letters saying “Garage sale 5 oak street something for everyone baby clothes, dresser, old photos, men’s suits, comic books…” etc.) Use 2′ by 2′ free standing signs or signs on a stick. The signs should have “SALE, the street address” and directional arrow in 6″ tall or taller letters, posterboard and black poster paint are the best for this. Ask property owners if you can put a sign on their corner during the sale and remove as soon as sale is done. The number of people who stop because of signs is much greater than those from newspaper ad and internet ads combined. That said, get a good ad on Craigslist with photos the afternoon before the sale, so your ad is near the top. Email everyone you know about sale in advance, list on facebook. 3. Before all else, get the permit from the town. 4. You can prep food before the sale, or if it is a sale where you’ve invited a few friends to participate, there’s nothing wrong with splitting the cost to buy pizza. 5. You generally get out of a garage sale what you put in in the way of effort, advertising, energy, unwanted stuff. 6. At the end of the sale, don’t toss what you don’t want, put a quick ad on Craigslist in the “Free” column, and watch the dregs go away, Freecycle is good too. Remove the ad when the things are gone, or a day later you really can throw away what is left with a clear conscience. Yard sales are hard work but they are rewarding financially, with the newly clutter free space, meeting friends and neighbors at your sale for a quick chat (you are really there to sell, not to get embroiled in long conversations where you ignore potential buyers!) good for the environment because things are recycled, and you know the folks want the things because they give you money in exchange. Just giving the items away often menas they are tossed for you by people more hard hearted than you are. Yard sales are also good because every item purchased resale means one more item we don’t send money to the Chinese Communists to buy, yard sales are good for America’s balance of trade.

  2. Tom says:

    I’m going to nitpick here; isn’t this really about earning pennies or dollars, and not saving? I saw the title and thought that you were going to dive into whether buying things at yard sales were worth it. Good tips, but again, this topic fits awkwardly into your series.

  3. David says:

    A dollar saved, my grandmother would have told me if she had been American, is a dollar earned.

  4. Adam P says:

    Usually in this series you are comparing things, like buying something versus making it yourself. I don’t really understand what you are comparing here? Having a garage sale versus not having one? That’s comparing an action versus doing nothing, which isn’t really what the series is. I agree with Tom, this isn’t fitting with the series.

    But all good tips none the less, sorry for the nitpick.

  5. Tom says:

    David your implied contrapositive isn’t necessarily true, but it made me smile.

  6. Jessica says:

    I save loads of money by buying secondhand at rummage sales and yard sales. I prefer rummage sales due to the increased likelihood of finding what I’m looking for- stuff from 100 families is more likely to contain what I need compared to stuff from 1 family. I usually go on bag sale day. Some rummage sales I shop at charge as little as $.25 per bag of clothes on bag sale day. The vast majority of my and my kids’ wardrobe comes from these sales and I AM choosy. I wear Ann Taylor / Loft, GAP, and other quality brands. I just don’t pay high prices for them.

    I also buy books, puzzles, housewares and craft items.

  7. Tom says:

    converse* not contrapositive ( I always mess that up)

  8. Tanya says:

    I don’t really enjoy garage sales – either going to them or hosting them. However, last summer in our neighborhood, people having a garage sale put up brightly colored poster board signs that said “Awesome crap!” with an arrow. I drove by the garage sale – but didn’t see anything I wanted or needed – simply because they were humorous about the way they promoted their sale. And their signs were well-placed, big and easy to read.

  9. Bridget says:

    Most of what I had to sell was baby and kids clothes. Most recently, I have decided to go with a consignment sale (not consignment shop) for a one-time hit. We have “Just Between Friends” locally, but there are other similar businesses.

    I was able to clear $130 between clothes and a few pieces of baby equipment.

    One of my challenges is having someone to watch the kids while having a garage sale. This way, I was able to prep my clothes at night, when the kids had gone to sleep. I had to take about an hour to drop off the clothes and an hour to pick up the clothes. The prices I got were probably better than what I would have received at a garage sale.

    And I am using the leftover clothes for hand-me-downs and clothing swaps. Another option I have is to sell these same clothes (already prepped and priced) at another local sale in this chain.

    Now, this doesn’t work for the grownup’s stuff, but it has helped me clear out the baby stuff while making a few bucks. (The proceeds are going into my HVAC fund.)

  10. Andrea says:

    Location plays a big factor in the success of a sale as well. When we lived in town we were right on a busy corner (part of why we now live rurally–ha). I could put things in the yard and on the drive way so people saw the stuff as they were coming and going.
    Another factor is payday. If most of the people in your neighborhood work for the state and get paid once a month then the 1st Saturday was the best day. Consider the ‘bonus’ payday in a month too for the bi-weekly folks, like Sept this year people will be paid 3x so 9/30 and 10/1 would be a great day for a sale.

    Which brings me to the next item and that is in our neck of the woods, Friday morning and afternoon sales were great, cathcing people going to work later and coming home earlier that day. Followed up by Saturday until noon-1pm. After that traffic fell off to nothing and you were wasting your time. If it was a nice day people had other stuff to do and on Sunday’s people were at church not out looking for the sales. So I stopped even trying.
    I had good success and depending on what I had I could make several hundred dollars. It was the clean garage and fatter pocket that was the best at the end.

  11. MARY S says:

    I love garage sales but seldom have one due to location (our driveway is 1/8 mile long and on dead end street with few neighbors). I regularly donate to Goodwill or church organizations (taking the tax write-off )or freecycle.
    Good point about the signs-it’s aggravating to see a small sign with no arrow or address on it that is hard to read while driving past it. My other pet peeve is that people leave their old signs up 3 days past the sale!

  12. con says:

    Maybe Trent is talking about dollars versus pennies in regard to how well you set your garage sale up? Maybe.

    My mom usually has one about once or twice a year. She likes to do it, but personally, if it was just about money, I don’t think it’s worth it. Yeah, you can make a few hundred dollars and that’s great if you don’t have anything else to do and need the money. I’d rather just give my stuff to Goodwill, etc. and not hassle with it. There are so many people that try to negotiate with you from day one, it’s tiresome to me.

  13. Kim says:

    My best suggestion is actually signs on the table. It was touched on to group the items together, but I like to have a big sign on a table Kitchen or Baby or Tools, etc. That way when people are driving by they can see the categories rather quickly instead of just the “junk” that’s on the table. Have everything priced already so people know where to start bargaining or if they want to even bother. Also everything clean and organized is great. Lastly, have a long extension cord ready in case you need to prove an electronic item works.

  14. aj says:

    I just finished up my Yard Sale season, lol. I hadn’t had one for a few years, but this year we are fundraising for the high school band trip to Disney in the Spring so I had a sale on 3 Saturdays. I had planned to do FRI & Sat but it turned out that the Fridays ended up being rainy.

    We had been collecting all of our sale stuff on our carport for quite some time as we decided to rid it out…so it took some sorting through & organizing the night before the first sale…but I like to group things together & make bright signs with the prices on it for stuff like clothing. I had my dh put up a rope between my carport railing posts to hang all of the nicer clothing, then had the other stuff on tables. Anything bigger, nicer I was sure to put out where it would catch people’s eye as they drove by, using some neon paper that I printed on with big bold black font. These are easily read while driving by.

    I made a couple of Yard Sale signs on neon green cardstock, again big bold black font, and laminated them, attatched to pole to put at end of driveway, another set on front of house by carport, and 2 sets with arrows to along the road at other end of property so I get traffic going both ways…we live just out of town & within view of a busy road so I don’t even waste my time paying for an ad in the local paper anymore. We have lots of traffic so I quit advertising.

    I made over $525 for the 3 days of sales, but the 2nd & 3rd days were really not much work because I was able to just move stuff over to the side of my carport until next time & took only about 30 minutes to set back up again. When we weren’t busy I would just work on other things I needed to attend to, & we didn’t eat out any, just got stuff out of the freezer.

    Now that I am done with it (tired of seeing it on my carport!) I am going to list a few of the bigger things that did not sell on our local Trading post the radio does, & the Traders Guide a free pub in our area. Clothes, especially childrens clothes, sell well if you just sell by the lot. I sold 3 different lots (by size) over the winter for $30 each. Made $90 by just taking a few minutes to sort, and list, email in…not bad!

    I have sorted out some really nice lots of women’s/teens name brand clothes to sell on eBay.
    They sell better there than locally. Use flat rate USPS mailers that are $5.95 and stuff as much as I can in so buyers get a good deal in the lot without having to pay so much S&H…better deal=better sales.

    The rest I am taking to the local mission & Goodwill. Some things Goodwill can’t take, and will just throw away if you drop it off there (look it up on internet…sometimes it is better to just advertise it as free to someone so it doesn’t get trashed!) Sometimes we simply set stuff out at the end of the driveway with FREE sign & it will be gone in minutes!

    My goal is to spend the least amount of time handling this stuff to make the most profit…My goal is to make another $200 selling the stuff I am keeping…the rest is getting donated Saturday! Woo Hoo!

  15. aj says:

    @Jessica: Oh I know what you mean about Rummage sales! We have one church that does one every year that we will NOT miss! They end it with $1 a bag sale, and we always come away with lots of great stuff! I usually donate extra because we end up with so many great finds it is definitely worth Much more! Good for them, GREAT for our Family of 5 budget!!!

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