Great Savings Tip #83 – Earn Cash With A Garage Sale

Not all garage sales are created equally.
This post is part of our Great Savings Tip series, designed to help you find ways to spend less and save more. For more ideas see our Great Savings Tips page with a complete list of all our tips. Here is today’s tip you can put to work immediately:


Make Some Extra Cash


Turn that garage into a parking place.

Are you overwhelmed with stuff? Need money?

Tip #83) Hold a garage sale. The garage sale “season” in the Pacific Northwest is a summertime event—typically between Memorial and Labor Day.  However, depending on the climate in your area, it may be more of a year round happening.


Garage sales are a great way to (a) get rid of old and unwanted items, (b) get organized, (c) create more space in your home, and (d) earn some extra cash.  The cash you earn at a garage sale depends a lot on the items you’re selling, how many items you have in total, and how motivated you are to part with them.  It also depends on keeping your garage sale expenses to a minimum (more on that in a moment).


Effort Required


If you are contemplating whether or not to hold a garage sale, be sure to ask yourself why you want to go to the trouble in the first place.  If you have lots of items and need extra cash, that can be reason enough to hold a sale.  However, if you only have a few items, or you don’t care so much about what people pay for them, it may save you a lot of time and effort to donate them to a local charity.  If you do donate them, you may also qualify for a tax break.  Garage sales are a lot of work so it’s best to be clear about your goals.


Not Created Equally


Tools always sell well at garage sales.

Some items attract buyers better than others.

If you’ve been to a number of garage sales you know they are not created equally.  You never know from one to the next whether it will be a complete dud, or if you’ll find that one special item that makes going worthwhile.  We’ve held a number of our own garage sales over the years, and are often surprised by what people buy and what they don’t.  For example, we’ve sold tools and some collectibles quite easily, though it’s rare that our clothes or dishes move at all.  However, there’s no predicting it, so don’t be afraid to put all your stuff out there.  Even items you consider junk may be a treasure to someone else, or perhaps the very thing they need for their next art project.  Also, be aware that some people will drive by before stopping so you may want to make sure some of your more interesting items are visible from the street.


Watch Those Costs


How not to make a garage sale sign.

Avoid small lettering, extra markings or anything that complicates.

Keeping garage sale expenses to a minimum is important.  The more you spend on your supplies the less profit you’ll end up with at the end of the day.  If you have lots of sales in your area, there’s a lot less reason to advertise your sale in a local paper.  These days, you can do most advertising for free on websites like Craigslist so why bother to pay for it elsewhere.  Chances are good that the best money you’ll spend on your sale will go towards signs.  Signs do drive traffic to your site and there’s a huge difference in how people go about it.  The best signs are bright, have big readable letters and an arrow that makes sense.  I can’t tell you how many signs we’ve seen that were too small to read from only 10 feet away, or the sign directions were vague.


Garage sale signs drive traffic to your site.

Use bright colors and keep the message simple.

Tips For Success


Here are 14 tips for holding a successful garage sale:


(1) Prepare ahead of time:  People will show up as soon as they know you’re holding a sale. “Early birders” will start dropping by before your posted hours.  They tend to be pushy so don’t be afraid to tell them they have to wait like everyone else.  However, if you’ve posted or advertised your hours, make sure you’re prepared to start selling accordingly.  For this reason, it helps to mark all items with a price in the days leading up to the sale. That way, you’ll field a lot fewer questions when things get busy.


(2) Signage: The more signs you put up the more traffic you’ll generate, but be aware that some localities have signage restrictions.  The last thing you want is for someone to rip down all your signs because you failed to take note of the regulations, or worse to get  fined.  Also, if you’ve put up signs ahead of time, you might hold off on those closest to your location until you’re actually ready to start selling.


Saturday mornings are good for garage sales.

Try holding your sale on a Friday or Saturday for best results.

(3) Hours: Most sales run on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.  Our best results have always been on Saturday.  We don’t do multi-day sales as they tend to be too much work for one weekend and we are tired enough just doing one day.  We start at 8 am and are ready to go by 7.  Lots of the sales in our area start at 9 or 10 am, but we’ve found the garage sale pros are always keeping an eye out for early sales because they want to hit as many as possible.  Many sales also run until 4 or even 5 pm.  By the time we’ve hit noon, we’re usually beat.  We also find that afternoon foot traffic drops off considerably so since we start early we’ll typically quit at 2 pm.  Another note on days: If you can’t do a Saturday, pick Friday over Sunday.  Lots of people attend church on Sunday morning so that will really cut into your traffic.  Plus, the pros will always be looking for early sales so they are more likely to come on Friday.


(4) Bigger is better: Join up with another family or group.  Neighborhood and community sales attract more attention, plus more people are spitting the cost of advertising and signage.  Organize your block and you’re bound to get more traffic.


(5) Pricing: Marking your items with the right price is the hardest part of holding a sale.  It’s easy to over or under price things, so you might visit a few sales yourself to get a better idea what things are selling for.  Alternatively, you can ask a friend whose held a lot of sales to help you price your stuff.  You can also watch people’s reactions to pricing on the day of the sale.  If 3 or 4 people pick up an item, look at the price, and then put it back down, it may be a sign you’re asking too much.  At some point, go ahead and mark it down.   We’ve often marked down items as the day progresses.  Since our ultimate goal is to get rid of things, we’re willing to bargain, throw in freebies and have even been known to deliver some larger items (if the buyer lives close and it’s a reasonable request). Finally, if you have something special you need to price and are uncertain how to go about it, try looking the item up in the completed sales section on ebay—in other words see what people actually paid at auction.  To find the completed sales section, just type “completed sales” in the ebay search box on their home page.


Use some blue tape and a fine point Sharpie.

If you use tape like this, use the blue or green tape so it doesn’t leave a sticky residue.

(6) Marking prices: Mark everything. You’ll find it easier on your customers and much easier on you if you don’t have to decide on a price every time someone picks an item up. You can now buy pre-printed pricing stickers to mark your items. Check you local office supply or drug store for those. They’re relatively cheap and very easy to use.  Otherwise, buy a roll of that blue masking tape and use a good pen. Blue tape won’t leave a residue on items.


(7) Display: Borrow as many display tables as you can for your sale.  Avoid crowding items so your customers can see them.  This also prevents breakage.  If the items you are selling are in a box (like a big set of dishes) make sure you take at least some of them out for display.  People want to see what you have and are much more willing to look if the items are up on tables instead of down on the floor.  A set of shelves can work for this as well, though don’t overload them if you plan to sell them at your sale as then you’ll suddenly need more room for the displaced items.


(8) Make extra money: Depending on your situation it may be possible to sell cookies, hot dogs, juice or soda on the day of your sale.  If you plan to do this, make sure you have extra help for it and post a sign at your site.  This might also be a way to get the kids involved—tell them they can keep a part of the profits in return for helping out.


Jewelry sells well.

Jewelry is always a hot item at a garage or estate sale.

(9) Visibility: Where is your sale?  Front yard?  Back yard? Around the side? Whenever possible, hold your sale in front or wherever your visibility is best from the street.  If weather is a consideration use the garage or borrow a friend’s canopy.  Canopies are also nice in sunny weather as they provide a bit of shade.  Plus, they are easy to spot from the street so those passing by will be more likely to take note.


(10) Parking: Got fussy neighbors?  Be sure you warn your neighbors you’re having a sale ahead of time.  If they are particularly fussy about things, ask if they have a few items they’d like to sell at your sale.  Sometimes the offer alone goes a long way to smoothing over feelings.  You might also put up a sign or signs if parking is tough to tell people what to do.  Otherwise, you can pretty much expect they’ll park anywhere, even on sidewalks or lawns.


(11) Money: Don’t accept checks, and stick to cash, unless you’re set up with one of those smart phone apps that let you take a credit card.  You must be prepared to handle cash ahead of time as the first thing people will want to do is break a $20.  Before the day of your sale, get at least $60 to $80 in bills, most in $1’s and $5’s to make change.  Add a roll of quarters and dimes as well.  Also, when pricing your items don’t bother with anything less than a dime or a quarter.  If you have things worth less than that, group them with other items. This will save hassle counting coins.


Avoid showing your cash.

Don’t leave too much cash in sight. It’s too much of a temptation.

Be sure to play it safe with your money: Use a purse, wallet or cash box to hold it, and after you’ve sold several items, periodically move some of it to a safer location inside the house.  Finally, it’s a good idea to have a calculator within reach as you are bound to do a lot of addition throughout the day.  Use one with a paper tape if you have it as they are better for rechecking your figures.


(12) Help: There’s nothing worse than trying to hold a sale on your own.  You’ll need help watching things, keeping the tables organized, wrapping things up, and collecting cash.  You may also need several breaks during the day—chances are good you’ll want to run to the bathroom, grab a soda, get some coffee or just get a moment of peace.  Ask friends or family to help.


Parking at garage sales is important.

You’ll be overwhelmed with visitors so lock your house and car. Warn the neighbors to do the same.

(13) Security: Lock your house and car.  If you’re holding the sale in front, lock any gates going to the rear.  Have someone stay with the money at all times.  Try not to show cash to your customers.  Put excess cash in a safe spot, preferably hidden inside the house.  Also, if asked how it’s going, keep your answers vague.  Though some inquiries are meant to be polite, you don’t want to broadcast how much cash you’re holding on hand.  In regards your sale items: As soon as you’ve put them out you’ll want somebody standing watch at all times to ward off potential thieves.  Yes, you’re trying to get rid of the stuff, but getting ripped off feels awful.


(14) Clean up: At the end of your sale you have a choice:  Either pack up the unsold stuff and sell it on another day, or donate the excess to charity.  Either way, it’s a good idea as the day winds down to set any items you don’t care about out near the curb with a “FREE” sign or sticker on them.  People love free stuff and you can save yourself a huge amount of work by letting them haul it off.  Chances are good you’ll be tired by the end of the day so try to arrange for some fresh bodies to arrive at the end of your sale to move unsold items back inside and help sweep up.  It’s also a good idea to pre-arrange for a charity pick up the next day.  Oh, and don’t forget to go out and collect those signs—you can use them again on your next sale.


Final Word


Garage sales can be a great way to turn some of your used and unwanted items into cash—hopefully, enough cash to make the effort worthwhile.  As long as you have sufficient items to sell, a well run sale should generate one to several hundreds of dollars in profit.  That makes it worth gathering your stuff ahead of time to see if there’s really enough there to go to all the trouble.  If you’ve only got a few items, it may be better to find a friend who’s holding a sale and offer to help them in exchange for putting your items on display.  Either way, we wish you the best of luck.


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