Updated on 11.12.07

Six Things I Look For At Yard Sales – And How I Get Them Even Cheaper

Trent Hamm

Let’s face it: most items at yard sales are junk. The stuff is out there because it’s stuff that the family conducting the sale wants to get rid of – they often look at it as trash that they might be able to make $100 off of on a good weekend.

With that in mind, I do often visit yard sales, looking for specific items of various kinds. Here are the six things I usually look for at yard sales.

Old towels Don’t think of them as towels, think of them as heavy-duty rags for various purposes. I keep a tub of these out in the basement and, for a lot of things, they’re better if they’re well worn. If I get them heavily oil stained, so what? I just get them as clean as I possibly can (with bleach) and keep using them until they fall apart.

Junky t-shirts for the whole family T-shirts to wear when you’re mowing, cleaning, and so on. We actually keep these in a tub in the garage and sometimes use these for rags as well.

Children’s books Almost constantly, I see piles of children’s books that look as though they were scarcely read and I can pick up a pile of them for a dollar or two. I look for ones for all ages, putting into storage the ones that are just too advanced for my children at this stage.

Collectibles that I’m knowledgeable about This includes things like baseball cards and vintage video games. I usually have a really good idea what something is worth, and it’s paid off for me many times.

Plastic food containers Tupperware and the like are what I’m looking for. If the lid attaches tightly but easily, I’ll pretty much always take it, as I’m always looking for more containers for the pantry (for different kinds of pasta, flour, etc.).

Children’s clothes This is something many yard-salers look for, but surprisingly many people just buy one item or two. I tend to like to shop for these late and offer a very lowball price for everything in specific sizes.

Having said that, here are the tactics that I use to get even better deals:

Negotiate Realize that most of the items are ones that the people there are viewing as one step away from Goodwill or the dumpster and negotiate with them.

Buy large groupings of stuff Make an offer for everything in a certain set of items, like all of the old video games or all of the towels. I usually offer about 40% of the total value of all of the items if it’s early in the sale. If it’s near the end…

Offer very low amounts of money near the end of a sale If you’re there late on Sunday afternoon, you can often clean up. Make absurdly low offers for stuff and you’ll often find those offers are taken. I have been known to make offers for bundles of stuff at about 15% of what they’re listed for, even at yard sale prices.

Remember, you’re not going to yard sales to find items to display in places of pride. Look for big bargains on stuff with utility – and don’t buy stuff you’re not going to actually use or need.

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  1. paidtwice says:

    I also buy children’s clothes from yard sales and I use a similar tactic – I’ll offer a lowball price to take everything in a specific size. I’ve found this works really well with boys clothes and not at all with girls clothes. At least baby/toddler sizes. People seem very attached to their girl baby clothes and like to make money on them for some reason. here, at least.

    If I get clothes I don’t want using this tactic mixed in with things I do want I donate it to Goodwill or I try to get rid of it at my own yard sale ;).

    I like the idea of getting storage containers at yard sales, I will have to start looking for that next year when the season starts again!

  2. I’ve always wanted to try the yard sale thing. I mean, I think I went to one or two with my parents when I was a kid, but I have never been to one in my adult life. Sounds like a frugal way to shop!

  3. Cindy says:

    Don’t forget to watch for old cotton or linen tableclothes. Even with stains, these can be cut down & hemmed to make napkins or car cleaning rags. Also, I have found lots of “items to display in places of pride”. If you aren’t concerned about “perfection”, there are lots of old items out there with some light paint wear or a little chip !

  4. DivaJean says:

    Also- don’t forget to leave your name and number with the seller if you find a sale with the perfectly sized kids clothes you’d need.

    We have a resource from over 4 years ago whose son is about a year older than our oldest. They call us each spring when they are ready to have their annual sale- and we get first picks on the clothes. They give us a big break for buying the volume we do- and we get good clothes for Buddy for next to nothing.

  5. Wade says:

    Great advice, on the other side of the transaction, if you are holding a garage sale, realize the point is to get rid of stuff and encourage lowball numbers later in the sale. I will group things together, even things nobody wants in one box and put a nice item in the box as well. When someone asks the price of the item, I will tell them the price of the entire box. They are happy with their find, and I got rid of more stuff. In the end, it is wonderful to see someone else carry the box down your driveway to their vehicle and haul it off. I have made some decent change from these sales and more importantly, watched people happily carry my junk away.
    BTW, when they make a great buy like that, they will sometimes go through your stuff again and look at buyimg something they might not have, but now they realize they will get a great deal.

  6. vh says:

    Do you have estate sales in your part of the country? Around here (Southwest) there’s often a big difference in the quality of goods available in estate sales as compared to yard sales. I’ve managed to score quite a few items that sit in “places of pride”–two gorgeous hand-thrown pottery bowls; a giclee Diego Rivera print (an unusual one that you don’t see in every cheapo frame shop); a beautiful solid cherry library table made by the seller’s father, who was a furniture-maker in New England; a coveted set of Talavera-ware; and (get this!!) a high-quality brand-new leather sofa and matching chair for less than what the chair alone would have cost.

    Sometimes estate sales are really just yard sales, but sometimes they’re gold mines.

    When you’re throwing a yard sale yourself, one way to get rid of the junk no one will buy even at reduced prices is to push it out to the curb and stick a “FREE!” sign on it. Gone in minutes!

  7. deRuiter says:

    Here in the Northeast, sales (yard, estate, garage, tag) run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sales in more expensive areas often have beautiful clothing for adults, barely worn, for pennies on the dollar. You can buy natural fiber sweaters, fresh from the dry cleaners, FOR LESS THAN THE COST OF THE CLEANING. Freshly washed, ironed and starched men’s dress shirts are generally priced at a dollar each. You’ll find barely used furniture and decorative accessories, household goods and kitchenware. In upscale neighborhoods, things are sold when the owners want a change, not when the items are worn. You can get thousand dollar (literally!) window treatments for less than $20. The housewife changes her color scheme and a whole room full of beautiful things are for sale in the driveway for next to nothing. Unless you admit to the source of your elegant clothing and household furnishing, people will assume you’re a trust fund baby. This approach is also great for the environment. HAPPY YARD SALING.

  8. Heck, if you’re going to use old towels for rags (I do, too!), don’t even bother bleaching them. They’re rags, right? No need for them to be pretty! Bleach can sometimes be environmentally detrimental, so it makes sense to use it sparingly.

    For a well-rounded article on the effect of bleach breakdown in the environment, see: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Occupational-OSHA-Environmental-1417/Bleach-used-household-cleaning.htm

  9. Dale says:

    Keep an eye out for golf clubs. If they’re in halfway decent shape, you can always turn around and sell them on eBay at a profit. Golf stuff sells great on eBay.

  10. Topher says:

    One time late in the day I stopped at a garage sale and spotted a few items. Before I could even make an offer the lady said “It’s free! Take it away, please!”

  11. john says:

    Loose leaf binders — they are almost always undervalued and having a bunch in reserve will keep you organized. I use them at home and at work — and of course kids need them — although they won’t want the beat up ones, there are often high quality binders in mint condition for next to nothing.

    Screw drivers when they’re priced low. Five gallon buckets — also very handy to have extras.

  12. Sam says:

    Almost any tools when priced low – my kid either looses or breaks them.
    I second the thing on high end neighborhoods – they change decor & toss out everything from the old color scheme. My family thinks i’m fancy for having the nice things I do but it’s all from garage & estate sales and made from sturdier stuff then what I could afford to buy new. My running joke is that if it’s already survived in someone else home then I know it’s sturdy enought ot survive mine.

    I’ve also been keeping an eye out for cast iron cookware and metal anything kitchen related. My kids can drop metal mixing bowls with out any breakage & metal spoons don’t melt or bend when I stir boiling noodles.

  13. Suzy says:

    As new, good quality kid’s books and even toys are quite suitable to be gifts for kids. All the young families I know are hugely in favor of recyled everything and are so appreciative of these presents. Even well loved yard toys are welcome, especially when you are only paying small amounts of money and the toys will be enjoyed for years to come.

    I’ve given brand new linen towels to friends who have expressed a lack of them. Coffee cups are easy finds to match a theme. The downside is when people ask you to look for ‘something’ at a garage sale, then you find it, but forget who wanted it! My favorite painting came from a garage sale.

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