Tips for Shopping Garage Sales

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It’s been almost ten years since I introduced my Brazilian husband to garage sales. I remember how impressed he was after those first sales when we left with a coffee grinder, an iron board, a brand new model engine (the kind you assemble with glue) and some like-new clothing. On our way back to the car he asked me, “if you buy such nice stuff so cheap at a garage sale, why do people even shop at Target?”

Since then, going to garage sales has become one of our recreational summertime activities. As we head out shopping this summer here are a few things I do to make the most of my time and effort.

Garage Sale Finders

Smartphone apps. If you have a smartphone, then check out the free versions of iGarageSale and Garage Sale Rover. These apps take all the garage sale listings from Craigs List and put them on a map. Combine that map with your phone’s GPS and you’ll easily be led from sale-to-sale.

Local garage sale calendar. A journalist in my hometown of Minneapolis puts together an annual garage sale calendar of neighborhood and church-sponsored sales. It helps if you want to plan ahead and just hit the biggest sales around. Do some google searching to see if you can find a similar calendar for your area. If you live in Minneapolis/St. Paul, then check out the Twin Cities Garage Sales Calendar.

Shopping Tips

Keep clothing and shoe sizes handy. Since you can’t return items you buy at a garage sale, you need to know you are getting the correct sizes. To help with that, I jot down my kids next-season clothing and shoe sizes, plus my husband’s sizes, on the back of business card. I carry the card in my wallet  as a quick reference when I’m out shopping.

Make a seasonal to-buy list. For even the most self-controlled shopper, garage sales can be a permission slip for impulse buys on things you don’t really need. We manage that by taking a few minutes each spring to brainstorm a list of things we need for our home, garden, garage, kids and ourselves. I don’t carry the list in my wallet, but I review it every couple weeks. It reminds me what I’m supposed to keep an eye out for.

Making Your Purchase

Negotiate. Yes, you know that you can (and probably should) negotiate prices at a garage sale, but it can be uncomfortable. Next time you want to offer a lower price use this simple phrase. “I’ll give you xxx for this.” It’s direct. It’s simple. No explanation, apology or justification required. The worst they can do is say no, but I think you’ll be surprised at how often the seller agrees.

Bring small bills. Speaking of negotiating, I think you’re more likely to negotiate if your wallet contains smaller bills. If you are going to pay with a $20, and know that, then you may talk yourself out of offering $3 instead of the $5 ticketed price. But, if you’ve got five $1 bills, then you may prefer to only part with three of them.

Now it’s your turn to share the things you do to make the most of your time and effort as you shop garage sales. Please leave a comment below with your ideas.


    • says

      Therese – Did you ever feel intimated asking someone for a lower price? If so, how'd you get over that and what do you say to them when you start to haggle.

      • Therese S. says

        I have never felt intimidated asking for a lower price. Not sure if it is because I go to a lot of garage sales and flea markets or just my personality.

        I figure that the seller wants to get rid of their stuff and what do I have to loose.

        When I do haggle, it is usually when I am buying multiple items…and I do not go too low…usually $1-2 dollars (if original cost would be $10)

        Larger items, such as furniture, I find it a lot easier to ask for a lower amount. Last year, I got bookcase for my daughter for $7 when it was priced at $15.

  1. Sue S. says

    I used to feel intimated about asking for a lower price. But then figured what is the worst that can happen is they say no. We usually come to a price that is agreeable to both parties. I don't ask for a ridiculously low price though.

    • Karen S. says

      I usually phrase my negotiations as a question, "Would you take XXX for this?" It feels non- agressive, lets them know the price I have in mind, and gives them the option to say no.

  2. Christina says

    I just recently bought a large Samsung computer monitor at a garage sale. It was listed for $10 and I asked the guy "What's the best price you could do on this?" and he replied "Well, the worst price I could do on that is $5". I laughed out loud about the two different perspectives of our conversation. Although, I was pleasantly surprised that he was willing to go that low and I accepted immediately. I'm using it right now and it was well worth every bit of that $5! :)

  3. Lisa says

    I usually wait to negotiate prices until the second day or at least the end of the first day. I think it can be a bit tricky on the first day…

  4. Miranda says

    Another website I've found is :

    This gives a list of all rummage sales (found on Craigslist) in your area. You can create a list with a map to help you hit as many as possible with driving the least. You can add sales not on the list to your map or delete ones off the map that you don't think you'd want to go to based on the listing provided.

    I used this over this past weekend. It really helped me decide which sales to prioritize over others.

  5. Tracy G says

    Yard Sale Treasure Map also has an app called Yard Sale Mapper that I absolutely love! I use it on my way to work or when I'm out and about on the weekends to find sales close by.

  6. Becca says

    I ask that question too and although they may not always agree to my price, I have (literally) ALWAYS gone away with a lower price. Oftentimes I'll also small talk as I'm shopping to establish a relationship before I ask. "Would you take XXX for both?" or "Would you take XXX for all of this (many items)?" are also questions I ask all the time. If I'm shopping spontaneously and I only have a few dollars, I'll even say "This is all I've got. Would you take it?" … Coach yourself to feel unselfconscious… the worst they can say is no!

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