Garage Sailing: 13 Tips for shopping neighborhood sales

Photo by CAPL

It’s that time of year again, when all your neighbors drag their trash and treasures out from the dark corners of their attics and basements and closets and put it out on display.  After years of only seeing the exterior of their home, now you can get a revealing glimpse into their lives – if only by the possessions they don’t want anymore.  Summer just officially started for 2012, but these sales have been going strong for a couple of months already.  Nevertheless, I came up with 13 tips to help you score big at the sales this summer.  No matter what you call these wonderful sales (garage, yard, boot, etc.), they all mean one thing – deals even cheaper than the thrift store!


13 Lucky Tips for Garage Sailing

  1. Get an early start.
  2. Have a plan.
  3. Map out route ahead of time.
  4. Dress for the weather.
  5. Wear sunscreen & bring sunglasses.
  6. Bring a lightweight purse.
  7. Bring your own water & snacks.
  8. Wear walking shoes.
  9. Have plenty of small bills & change.
  10. Bring your own shopping bag.
  11. Bring a friend.
  12. Remember the good houses.
  13. Know what you’re willing to pay, and when to walk away.

Tips for Shopping a Garage Sale

Get an early start. Hardcore shoppers roll out of bed early, and you don’t want to wait until the afternoon when all the good stuff might have been snatched up. It’s better to plan an early morning spree if you can.

Have a plan.  What are you shopping for today?  If you are hunting for big-ticket items like furniture, you’ll need to drive a truck to haul any goods home (or recruit a friend with a pick-up.)  Shopping for a gift?  Review the items that your sister or friend has on their list.  If you’re looking for clothes for yourself, review your closet and evaluate what you need to focus on.  You’d be surprised how it makes a difference to shop with a plan versus winging it – you’ll find yourself more focused on your goal and less willing to buy a bunch of crap you don’t need (or even really want.)  It’s the thrifting equivalent of making a grocery store list (and eating before you go so you don’t gorge on junk.)

Map out your route ahead of time, or least a general direction.  Many neighborhood sales have actual maps that list sales, but keep in mind that some sales may crop up last minute and didn’t make the cut for the map.

Dress for the weather.  Garage sale season is usually in the heat of summer, so wear loose-fitting clothes.  Try athletic wear; it will wick away sweat and be easy to move in.  Try sneaking in a workout by jogging or biking to sales, or park far away and jog or power-walk to where the sales are located.  Bring an extra layer (like a light sweatshirt) in case the morning air is chilly or it starts to rain.

Wear sunscreen so you won’t burn to a crisp.  It depends on the climate where you live, but if it’s sunny, you’ll be spending a lot of time out in the sun and only be able to duck into the shade for a few moments inside a garage or tent.  Bring sunglassesso you don’t have to squint at all of your potential purchases.

Tote a lightweight purse, if you choose to bring one at all.  You may rather stick a small wallet in your pocket.

Bring your own water bottle and snacks– that way you won’t be tempted by the sugary, overpriced goods that the sellers are hocking.  (This is especially important if you are watching what you eat.)  To avoid impaired judgment as you shop (you wouldn’t want the heat to influence your judgment on that hideous jacket), bring your own water and stay hydrated.  And a little power snack will keep you energized so you can keep shopping.

Walking shoes will be your best bet.  Chances are you’ll have to park and walk to at least some sales, especially if they are in a tight cluster.

Have lots of smaller bills and change handy.  You won’t have to worry about the owners not having enough change, checkout will be so much faster, and the sellers will love you for giving them singles when everyone else only gave twenties from the ATM!  Instead of hitting up the ATM the day before, try saving all your smaller bills and change over the month.

Carry your own shopping bag.  This is a great thrifting tip, but it is even better for garage sales.  Grab a sturdy canvas bag with longer handles that you can throw over your shoulder.  Since you’ll probably be walking a lot, you can stuff all your purchases along the way into your own bag.  You won’t have to worry if the sellers run out of cheap-o supermarket bags, or if the bag will tear and spill all of your treasures on the sidewalk.

This weekend, I actually bought a great canvas bag at one of the sales.  I carried it for the rest of the morning, just tossing new purchases in and making pit stops at the car to empty it so it wouldn’t get too heavy.  Like having exact change, BYOB (bring your own bag) makes the payment process so much faster because you don’t have to wait for the seller to find a bag; you can just hold open your bag and let them dump the goodies right in!

Bring a friend.  If you try on stuff over your clothes, they can be your “mirror”.  They can advise you on purchases, help you look for treasures that suit you, and be an extra pair of hands help you carry big hauls or snatch up that treasure before another shopper can.

Remember houses that have the best loot at their annual sales.  If the neighborhood sales have a handout map, you can even mark which houses you scored the most at and check back there first next year to see if they are having another sale.  As long as they haven’t moved, you’ll be a loyal customer!  At first, this tip may sound weird or stalker-ish, but I swear, just like a kid on Halloween, I know where the best houses in my neighborhood are and I make a point to stop when I see their annual sign!

Know what you’re willing to pay – and know when to walk away.  It’s my general rule not to haggle; I think it comes off a bit rude, even when you try to be polite, and it’s even harder when the person might have a sentimental connection to whatever you’re haggling over.  Compounded with the fact that you may live in close proximity to these people – imagine running into your neighbor at the supermarket after you insulted them with a lowball offer – and you’re just asking for an awkward situation.  It all depends on the seller – some don’t mind haggling or invite you to make an offer.  If you’re seriously conflicted, they might pick up on it and sweeten the deal for you.  But for the most part, if the price is marked, they priced it that way for a reason.  Know what an item is worth – and when it’s better to hold out for something better.

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  1. […] usually prefer to carry my own water & snacks and save more money for shopping, but there’s certainly no harm in patronizing food & […]

  2. […] bought this particular vintage dress at a garage sale back in May. It was hanging on a rack facing outward, and I was immediately drawn to it. I had a […]

  3. […] to look for neighborhood sales near you.  If you’re a neighborhood sale newbie, check out my tips for garage sailing for the basics.  Then add these two tips to your arsenal for hunting down the good late-season […]



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