You’ve heard about the great deals to be found at garage sales and want to try it. But you’re nervous because this is all new (and to be honest, a little strange) to you. When and where should you go? And how do you find those great deals? Here are my 34 best garage sale shopping tips for beginners to get your started and help you feel confident.
Overview of the Best Garage Sale Shopping Tips for Beginners
While I have a lot of best garage sale shopping tips for beginners, here is an overview of the top tips that will help make your shopping successful.
- Map out your route the night before
- Take cash in $1s, $5s and $10s
- Wear the right garage sale clothing for comfort
- Use Ebay photo tool or Google Lens to look up value
- Make a specific dollar offer on multiple items
- Ask to test an item
- Keep on shopping even when you haven’t found anything
- Keep shopping in the rain
- Grab a friend and have a donut break!
My Experience Shopping Garage Sales
This list of best garage sale shopping tips for beginners isn’t just something I made up. I have been shopping garage sales since I was a babe with my mom. For over a decade, I’ve furnished and decorated our home, dressed my kids and created a resale income almost entirely of garage sale finds. These are tried a true ways to make garage sale shopping a fun and successful adventure!
Tips for How to Find and Plan Your Garage Sale Outing
1. Search Social Media and Online For Yard Sales
There are a lot of garage sale finders out there, but not all are created equal. Here is a list of consistently valuable places I find garage and estate sales.
- Facebook Marketplace – they don’t have an app, so write down or enter into an app the address and times as you find them.
- Craigslist – yes, this is still a valuable resource for garage sales. I probably find most sales listed on here. Write down or enter into an app the sales you find here.
- Gsalr – an app or website to find garage sales listed in your area and map them out.
- Yard Sale Treasure Map – an app where you can enter garage sale address to see on a map and create your route.
2. Sign Up For Estate Sale Emails
Estate sales can be great places to find some good treasures. So you don’t miss out on the local sales, sign up for emails at EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org. You can browse the photos and see if there is anything you want.
Read more about 15 Differences Between Estate Sales vs Garage Sales and 16 Estate Sale Shopping Tips.
3. Plan and Map Your Route the Night Before (address, start times, items you want)
You will want to get an early start in the morning on garage sale day, so make sure you plan the night before where you want to be, when you need to leave and what items you see in the photos. I’m mostly a pen and paper kind of girl, but EstateSales.net, Gsalr.com and YardSaleTreasureMap.com have great maps on their apps. A bit of prep work is the best way to save you a lot of frustration on the big day and will give you a purpose rather than wandering! You will still want to quickly check the morning of to catch the late listed sales.
Read about how to prepare the night before and Shop Garage Sale with Kids
4. Drive a Particular Section of Town Searching for Garage Sale Signs
While it is great to find and map out sales before you leave, you will still find a ton of sales simply by driving around. This is where it is good to know the parts of your town. It will take time and practice, but this is a great way to start getting a feel for the best places to shop.
You can find any type of items in any section of town, but some sections have typical items at their sale. Newer houses have lots of baby items, nice but old houses have antiques, “rich” sections have name brand everything. You get the point.
5. Make a Shopping List
Just like grocery shopping, you start garage saling, and you cannot remember what you need, what size shoes your kids wear or the dimensions for that couch you want to find. Download my fully customizable PDF shopping list on your phone for a list you can add and delete items and keep notes.
6. Keep an Open Mind About Your Shopping List
Unlike regular shopping, garage sales are very random. Don’t expect to check off every item from your list in one morning. And you will also find valuable items that are not on the list! Keep an open mind for whatever comes your way.
7. Don’t Overbuy a Lot of Stuff
Shopping garage sales is like going into a store where everything is 70 – 90% off. It’s tempting to start grabbing and buying a lot of items you don’t really need. Having a list makes it easier to stay on track (rather than buying 5 jackets for your three year old…ask me how I know).
While some items will be too good to pass up, it is usually a good idea to have a plan for something before buying it.
What To Wear and Pack for Garage Sale Shopping
8. Dress Accordingly
Yes, you can certainly wear high heels to a garage sale when you’re on your way to work. But for a planned morning of garage sale shopping, the wrong shoes, not having a jacket or forgetting a hair tie can make you grumpy.
Read my post on the best garage sale outfits for detailed advice.
9. Take Cash in Small Bills
Here and there you might find a sale that accepts electronic payments such as Venmo or gasp checks. But for the most part, cash is king at garage sales. Not having enough or having large bills might cause you to miss out on a really cool find!
I suggest a couple hundred dollars in $1s, $5s, $10s and some $20s. Any bills over $20 will most likely be rejected by the seller out of fear of counterfeit.
10. Take Snacks and Water
Shopping anywhere on an empty tank is a quick way to become hangry and ruin your outlook. Make sure you pack enough and the right kind of snacks, water and, of course, coffee! This will just make you happier all around.
When To Shop Garage Sales
11. Message the Seller Before the Sale Starts
Have you ever arrived at a sale early, and the item you wanted was already sold? I have sold many hot ticket items through Facebook Marketplace messages the night before. Most sellers won’t hold the item for potential buyers without payment, but some will accept Venmo, Paypal or Facebook Pay and hold it for you until the next day. It never hurts to message and ask!
12. Start Early (before opening time) for the Best Selection
Make careful note the night before when the sale starts and then show up 20 – 30 minutes before they open (at least). This is particularly true if you want a hot ticket item that sells quickly. Unless a sale says “no early birds,” it is almost always true that many great items are sold while the seller sets up (even in the morning darkness).
13. Go In the Afternoon or On the Last Day for the Best Deals
Often, sellers will not come down on price much in the early morning of the first day. For the best prices and deals, go in the slow afternoon or on the last day when sellers, sometimes literally, are giving unsold items away.
How to Get a Good Price at Garage Sales
14. Smile and Say Hi
Not to manipulate, but being pleasant when you walk up will make a much better impression on sellers. And you want people to like you if you are going to ask them for a lower price. You don’t have to go overboard. Just be friendly.
15. Know an Item’s Worth
Is it a great deal or isn’t it? Garage sale prices can vary from expensive store prices all the way to free. Having a general idea of new prices for kids’ clothes, kitchen appliances or gardening tools is the first place to start when getting a good deal.
16. Use the Ebay App Photo Tool or Google Lens
Many times you won’t know the original value of an item. That’s where taking a quick picture and looking it up in one click will come in handy. The Ebay app has a camera button right next to the search bar to look up a photo of similar items. Google Lens will take a photo and look it up online for you.
17. Know Garage Sale Pricing
Finding name brand children’s clothing 50% off retail price is NOT a good deal. As a general rule here are what garage sale prices should be in relation to new prices:
- Good condition items – 30% or less of original price
- Kids and baby clothing and accessories – $1.00-$3.00 for general clothing items; $5 – 10 for coats; $2.00 – $5.00 for shoes, depending on size and condition
- Vintage and antique – 25% of Ebay prices or 15% of Etsy prices
18. Ask To “Make a Pile” at the Checkout Table
The more items you buy, the better chance you have on getting low prices. Pile up items at the checkout table to keep your hands free AND to get a bulk discount.
19. Tell the Seller You Want a Large Item Right Away
Garage sale shoppers can be cutthroat. If you see a large item that you want, let the seller know right away. This will hold the item for you while you browse the rest of the sale. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed out on big-ticket items by dilly dallying while someone else snatches it up.
20. Make a Lower Offer on Bulk Purchases
As the sellers are totaling each item up, ask if they would take a lower dollar amount on individual pieces. Or after the total of similar items (like a pile of baby clothes or household items), ask for a lower amount on the whole thing.
21. Barter By Asking Specific (Not Open Ended) Questions
Don’t ask open ended questions when bartering such as “What would you take on this?” Ask a specific question such as “Would you take $3 for this ($5 item)?” or “Would you take less on this?”
22. Don’t Make a Lowball Offer
Unless you are shopping at the very end of a sale, don’t make ridiculously low offers (this is my opinion). If you offend someone right off the bat, they will not be as willing to barter. As a good rule of thumb, don’t ask below 50% of their asking price.
If you really want an item but really don’t want to pay anywhere near their price, preface your request with “I don’t want to offend you, but this is all I am able to pay.”
23. Don’t Always Barter
I used to ask for a lower price almost 100% of the time. After all, that’s garage sale culture, and why wouldn’t I want to save a couple bucks? Now, I’m not so cheap. If an item has a fair price and I am happy to get it at that price then I will pay what they’re asking. There’s a fine line between being thrifty and being a cheapskate.
How to Find Quality Items at a Garage Sale
24. Ask To Test an Item
It is very, very common for people to sell items that don’t work. For anything that plugs in or has batteries, ask to test it before you buy.
25. Look for Damage, Holes and Stains
Garage sale items, after all, are used. Especially on kid and baby clothes, inspect for missing buttons, broken zippers (especially on coats), holes and stains. Again, it is very common for people to sell items that have problems.
26. Ask If the Seller Has More of an Item
If you find something you’ve been looking for (ie certain size of kids clothing, collectible comic books or vintage paintings), ask the seller if they have more. Often people collect multiple items and just haven’t had the time to get it all in the sale.
27. Look Under Tables and In Boxes
A successful garage sale is a lot of work, and sometimes sellers just haven’t had the chance to lay everything out well. It’s a good thing to look under tables and in boxes. (I don’t mean being weird and crawling around. Just if it’s obvious that things are not unpacked all the way.)
How to Keep Shopping When You’re Tired
28. Understand That Some Sales Are a Bust
Successful yard sale shopping takes plenty of time and tenacity. Sometimes you find a whole bunch of items you need and sometimes, well, the sales are a bust. I’ve driven over an hour to a yard sale that looked interesting online only to find the stuff was terrible in person or that the prices were outrageous. It happens.
29. Keep Fishing
Shopping garage sales as a kid with my mom, I tended to get discouraged in my quest for Nancy Drew books. Mom would always say, “It’s just like fishing. Sometimes the fish are biting; sometimes they’re not.” The key was always to keep on “fishing” because often the best find was just one garage sale away.
30. Get Out of the Car
Granted, it can get tiring to pull up to one garage after another. Pretty soon, I find myself just doing “drive bys” where I see if a sale is worth stopping at. Guess what? You can’t see most treasures from a car. You need to get out of the car to truly find the cool stuff sometimes.
31. Keep Shopping in the Rain
If you read my post on the best clothes to wear to a garage sale, you will have brought a rain jacket and umbrella with you. If it starts to lightly rain (or even heavy) keep on going. Many times people will pull their items into the garage but stay open. I’ve found some of the best things in the rain. (This is especially true during a city wide or neighborhood wide sale.)
32. Take a Break
As much fun as it is, shopping of any kind is also tiring. If you are planning on being out the whole morning or day, make sure to take a break. Our tradition is grabbing a donut around 10:00 as a reward and pick-me-up before hitting that next garage sale.
33. Make It Fun. Take a Friend
Shopping and hobbies are usually more fun with a friend or family member. And it is especially valuable to have someone there for moral support if you’re new to garage sales and to bounce ideas off of. (They will be more likely to tell you to put down that vintage cat artwork and walk away slowly.)
34. Practice, Practice, Practice
This is probably one of my best garage sale shopping tips for beginners. Like anything, garage sale shopping takes a little bit of time and practice to learn well. Those amazing treasures your garage saling friend always seems to find? Well, I can almost guarantee they’ve spent hours going from one sale to another. If a morning of garage sale shopping is a total loss, don’t give up! Get out there next week and keep trying. You can’t ever find treasures if you quit looking.
Armed with this list of 34 best garage sale shopping tips for beginners, you now have the knowledge to save some serious money on everyday essentials and have fun treasure hunting each week! And if you’re a garage sale veteran, comment below and tell me what your favorite garage sale find has been.
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