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Friday, August 14, 2009

Prudent Penny: Garage Sales

I was going to talk about a serious subject like building an Emergency Fund, but since we're still in the season of garage sales in my neck of the woods, I thought I would talk about that instead.

I'm going to break this down into two parts: going to garage sales and holding a garage sale.

If I can claim expertise on anything, it's garage saling.

The very first time I went to one was in Chicago. There was a neighborhood garage sale where Greg lived and he invited me to come along. I was 17 years old and had NEVER heard of such a thing.

I was intrigued. It had never occurred to me to invite total strangers to my open garage to fondle my trinkets.

I was also scared. In Chicago, you just don't waltz onto other people's property--even if the garage door is up. But Greg assured me it was all right.

I clung close to him, shuffling behind him and letting his much bigger body hide mine. It still seemed strange to me to wander around someone else's property. (This affliction disappeared by the time I got to Texas.)

Also my mother taught me never to touch someone else's belongings, so I stayed at arm's length from everything that was displayed while Greg pawed at tools and small appliances, all the while assuring me that it was okay.

The more I watched him and the other strangers, the more mesmerized I became. Slowly I touched a little chotchkee and then another. Ooh, I liked this.

Greg bought a camping lantern at a giveaway price, and that's when I ceased being a garage sale virgin.

What?! A dollar for a nearly new lantern! Get out of my way! Let's see what else these crazy people are giving away.

A garage sale queen was born.

Over the years I learned how to get the best deals and sometimes even buy things that weren't for sale. And then I met the MASTER. My next door neighbor made me look like a wet neophyte. One day he took me with him on his trek and I've never been the same since. Here are a few tips from me and Cecil.

• Carry lots of small bills and change.

• Never put your big bills in the same place as your small ones.

• Keep a notebook for things you're looking for. Don't forget measurements for things like windows, doors, and floors.

• I don't buy clothes at garage sales, but it's the perfect place to buy little kids' clothes. They grow out of them so quickly, why pay full price?

• Normal price point is 10 to 20% of what the object would be new. So if a vacuum cleaner was $150 new, I will not pay more than $30 (EVER). The only exception to the percentage rule is if it's an antique. And some things are almost standard in pricing. Hardback books are generally $1, soft cover, .50. DVDs, a buck.

• Learn to negotiate, but do it graciously. My philosophy is this: if it's in a garage sale, it means it no longer has any real value to the owner. Also, the bigger it is, the less value it has. Remember, he has to put it back in his house if it doesn't sell. Nobody wants to do that.

If you come across something you really want, ask: "Will you take --- for it?" I always give a specific amount and it's always slightly less than I am willing to pay for it. This gives them room to counter offer. The seller gets what he wants and you get a bargain. It leaves both parties happy.

• Whenever possible, go with a buddy. That's twice as many eyes canvassing the grounds for bargains. My favorite garage saling buddy is Greg because I know what he likes and he knows what I look for.

• If you're not sure if you want the item, grab it and hang on to it anyway while you're looking. Put it down, and I guarantee you someone else with take it.

• Go early and go late. The early bird catches the worm and the good bargains. But the late saler gets the big stuff that lingered too long. Now the seller is desperate and does not want to put that big treadmill or china cabinet back in the house.

• Want to get the big stuff cheap? Pull out cash. Many sellers will negotiate for cash, but not checks.

• Think outside the box when it comes to home decor. I've bought gorgeous lamps, clocks and vases at garage sales and have never spent more than two dollars at most. My home looks lush and expensive, but honey, I am the original frugalista. I can take you on a tour and show you all the things I've bought for literally pennies. When you shop for decor, just remember scale and color. I promise you if you buy things within your color scheme and in the right scale you won't go wrong. It'll fit somewhere in your house.

• Buy to donate. The one thing we are always on the lookout for are items that rescue shelters need like dog crates and kitty carriers. We usually tell the sellers that we are donating these items and ask for their best price. We've actually had sellers GIVE us these items.

• Don't chitchat unless you have time to waste. You are on a mission, not a social call.

• Examine items carefully. There aren't any return policies at garage sales.

• Don't feel you have to negotiate for everything. If it's a fair price, buy it.

• Go to lots of sales. It'll give you a good feel for what the price point is in your area and you'll get valuable practice in negotiating.

I will leave you with one last story about garage sales.

A few years ago, Greg and I went to a sale. We were about to walk out when a mother approached me and handed me a quarter. "Will you do me a favor and buy my son's art work?"

A little boy, not more than four was feverishly painting away on plain white sheets of paper. His other masterpieces were lined up in a neat row.

Always having been a patron of the arts, I smiled and nodded at the woman. I complimented the little boy on his talent and asked how much he was asking for his paintings. "A quarter," he said.

I handed him 50 cents (the quarter his mother gave me and one of my own). "I'd like to buy two please," I told him.

You should have seen the smile beaming on his face. He was so excited he ran to his mother and father and told them proudly that he had sold two of his art pieces. It made my day!

Before we left, I complimented the parents for being so supportive, and for teaching their son the value of a good work ethic. He was so proud of selling his work, he couldn't wait to get back to work.

I hope that kid makes a million bucks.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --


Mike Keyton said...

Great post

Vintage Vacuum said...

The end of that post was so endearing, thanks for sharing it. Also, your ideas for sale a holics are priceless. I really enjoyed reading this and especially your view of garage sales from a "virgin's" perceptive. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Thanks, Mike! When you finally make it to the states, we'll go garage saling for your American souvenirs.

Maria Zannini said...

Thanks, Vintage Vacuum! You'll find lots more saving tips every Friday.

The Queen of Fifty Cents said...

Good points! And I'd add, don't give up on the idea of looking at clothing. I regularly buy designer brands for next to nothing (I'm talking Jones New York, Coldwater Creek, St. John knits...) and haven't bought clothes in a store for a couple of years.

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Queen,

Excellent point! I don't look for clothes at garage sales because I have plenty. Other than shoes, which I wear out at an incredible rate, I haven't bought an article of clothing in almost a decade.

Also, I'm short and it's not easy to find my sizes at garage sales. That's why I prefer resale shops if I have to buy something.

Thanks for popping in!

Unknown said...

Fantastic tips Maria. I'm bookmarking this post to share with Mom. And your story of the young artiste has me tearing up--so sweet!

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Catie,

Glad it was helpful. It's my favorite hobby.