How to Price Garage Sale Items

by Katy on May 2, 2019 · 18 comments

This post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

Whether you’ve been bitten by the KonMari bug or you’re simply indulging in a classic spring cleaning session, now is the beginning of garage sale season. Yes, garage sales are a lot of work, but done right they can prove quite profitable.

First of all, you need to let go of thinking that you have a snowball’s chance in hell to recoup the money you once paid for your stuff. These spending choices are in the past and are a sunk cost that’s already been incurred and can never be recovered. How much you spent on an item is now irrelevant to its garage sale value. You essentially drove it off the lot and took the financial hit. Get over it.

However, you can still rake in enough money to make hosting a garage sale worth your while. The key is to set prices low enough for as many sales as possible. Yes, it’s painful, but it’s better to make a fast nickel than a slow dime. Or no dime. There’s zero profit in an unsold item.

Of course some items are better sold online rather than from a garage sale buyers who are looking to for amazing bargains. Those things include antique and vintage goods, as well as other high value items. A quick look at “completed items” on eBay will give you a sense of how desirable your stuff is, as spelled out in this Clark Howard article. (Sadly, this tip may educate you on how little your stuff is worth rather than confirm that you’re sitting on a fortune.)

How much to ask can be confusing, so I reached out to members of The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group to get a sense of how prices differ throughout the country and there was almost no consensus except that people vehemently hate unpriced “make me an offer” sales. “Nothing is worse ‘than make me an offer.’ I don’t even know where to begin if you don’t give me an asking price.”

So much much should you ask?

Rule of thumb varies from 10% to 30% of the initial price, and I’ve even heard to price half of how much an item would sell in a local thrift store. The Salvation Army publishes a donation value guide, which is quite handy, as it provides prices on everything from ice skates ($3 – $16) to bathing suits. ($4 – $12)

Consider these pricing guidelines:

  • Books – Hardback books $1, paperback books 50¢

  • Clothing – Shirts $1, pants $2, shoes $3, outerwear $5

  • Housewares –  Dishes – 50¢ – $1, glassware 50¢, pots and pans $4, linens $2, small appliances $5

  • Toys – Large toys $3, small toys 50¢, stuffed animals 50¢ – $1

  • Furniture – Chairs $5, tables $10-$20, rugs $20, dressers $30, lamps $5 – $10

  • Collectibles – Records $1, knick-knacks 50¢ – $2

If the thought of individually pricing your merchandise is overwhelming, consider setting blanket prices for certain categories such as hardback books for $1, baby clothing for 50¢ or shoes for $3. Create easy to read signs and make it as easy as possible for potential buyers to understand your pricing structure. Maybe even set up a $1 table, a $2 table or similar.

Of course, the key to getting people to pay your set prices is to physically get people to your sale, and for that you need advertising. And in today’s internet era that means sites such as Craigslist, Facebook and Next Door. However, don’t discount the power of a straightforward hand drawn cardboard sign, set up at nearby intersections. You’ll need traffic, lots of it.

Preparing for a successful garage sale with:

  • Price stickers – Can be as official as the pre-printed ones from an office supply company or ordinary pieces of painter’s tape.

  • Tables and clothing racks – Folding tables are ideal, but don’t hesitate to haul out a couple of traditional tables as many people lack the physical ability to crouch down.

  • Change – Small bills and coins. You’ll be making change and will need dollar bills and quarters.

  • Bags – These don’t need to be as professional and uniform as a standard retail store would supply, but you’ll still need a stash for customer convenience.

  • Snacks and drinks – You’ll be outside all day and need to plan what you’ll be eating and drinking throughout the day. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to leave your stuff unattended while cooking a meal from scratch.

  • A buddy – Whether or not you’re hosting a neighborhood garage sale, it’s still a good idea to recruit a buddy for both safety and sanity.

  • Sunscreen – Slather up people, skin cancer is a killer.

Bonus garage sale tips:

  • Move your cars to make it easier for potential shoppers. Maybe even ask if your neighbors are willing to do the same.

  • Price all items at 25¢ increments to simplify the math.

  • Set aside the notion that bargaining is rude. Give discounts when people are buying multiple items and remember that your goal is have as few unsold items as possible.

  • Slash prices at the end of the day. Yes, you’ll hardly make any money on these items, but some money is better than no money.

  • Rearrange and tidy up your tables throughout the day so potential buyers don’t think the good stuff has already been sold.

  • Pay attention to the weather forecast. Nobody wants to buy a soggy book.

Be sure to make a plan for unsold items. If you’ve gone through the mental anguish of deciding what to get rid of, you do yourself a disservice by bringing those things back into your home. Some non-profits will pick up donations, or you could even advertise a “curb alert” on your local Buy Nothing Group. Borrow a truck, load up the minivan or make multiple trips to the donation center, but do not haul your stuff back into your house!

Unfortunately, not all living situations lend themselves to hosting a garage sale. Maybe you’re in an apartment or living under home owner association or civic regulations that prohibit hosting a sale. Worry not, as you still have options. You can either pair up with a buddy who lives in a sale-friendly area or do a virtual garage sale through Facebook Marketplace, VarageSale or LetGo.com.

Whether the goal of your garage sale is to declutter or to bring in revenue, the Clark Smart thing to do is to set specific customer friendly prices that’ll relieve your home of excess stuff while maximizing profits. Best of luck, and may the luck of good weather be on your side.

Katy Wolk-Stanley    

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

A. Marie May 2, 2019 at 9:52 am

Katy, I’m delighted by how closely your garage sale guidelines resemble the ones we followed (sometimes explicitly, sometimes by instinct) back in the days when DH, I, and the neighbors were holding street-wide sales. Sadly, those days are now gone (age and decrepitude have taken their toll on too many of us), but we remember them fondly.

A favorite story: An Irish Jesuit friend, a professor at the local Jesuit college, stopped by one of our sales. After observing the proceedings with a foreign visitor’s bemusement, he said, “Now let me get this straight: People are paying you a small fee to haul away your junk?” We beamed and replied, “Is this a great country or what?”

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Bethany May 2, 2019 at 10:16 am

If you have a good cause for your profits to go to, you can let people know you are taking collections for your garage sale. We donated to an adoption garage sale once and we’ve donated to the church kid’s camp fundraising sale.

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Christine May 3, 2019 at 2:33 pm

The Relay for Life team I was on used to have a yard sale every year. Not only did people buy our stuff, we had a donation can on one of the tables. The customers would stuff money into that, too. A few even out $10s and $20s in. The kindness of strangers was beautiful to see.

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Christine May 3, 2019 at 2:34 pm

…”put” $10s and $20s in…sigh…

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Bethany M May 2, 2019 at 10:17 am

And don’t forget to get a donation receipt for tax purposes if you end up taking the leftovers to a thrift store.

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Patti May 2, 2019 at 10:38 am

One thing my mom always did that helped clear out a lot of stuff was have a “fill a bag for $5 (or insert your amount).” She wouldn’t necessarily advertise it but she could usually tell which customers were truly trying to stretch a dollar that they didn’t have….so she’d walk up, hand them a bag and tell them they could have whatever they could stuff in the bag for whatever amount she thought they could afford ($1 to $5 usually). She would have given them whatever they needed but could tell that they honestly wanted to pay. Usually, this was people buying kids clothes. So, she’d get rid of stuff and they’d both feel good. Obviously, this won’t make you a millionaire but it helps both parties in different ways.

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Mary in Maryland May 2, 2019 at 11:13 am

Easier than price tags–I’ve used colored dots and then had a large sign which said red dot $1, yellow dot $2, etc. You can the slash all prices in half fairly easily. If the lowest price was 50 cents, you still don’t need anything smaller than a quarter for change.

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Kate May 2, 2019 at 11:35 am

Please, I beg of you, make clear signage to your house if you’re having a garage sale. I use pink neon posterboard with huge black arrows and place them at every intersection from the main road. It makes it very easy to follow the obnoxiously-colored signs. Since we live on a road that no one realizes even exists in our neighborhood, the more signs the better. Also, don’t put “Today” on your sign, as that’s not helpful – every day is today and far too many people don’t go back and take down their signs, so I never follow ones that say that.

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lulutoo May 2, 2019 at 1:20 pm

Yes, I fully agree with the ‘don’t put TODAY on your sign’! Please put a date! Including the day and year!

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Roberta May 3, 2019 at 6:40 am

Put the date on the sign, and if you have a lot of something (baby clothes, sports equipment) put that on the sign as well. I often skip sales that don’t say anything, as I am specifically looking for kids’ stuff, and people around here are having fewer little kids.

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Lisa M. May 4, 2019 at 7:40 am

As a veteran garage seller (not buyer), I love this article. Before I became a parent, I was completely unaware of how critical it is to have some means of discarding kids’ items. Now that I know the exhilaration of decluttering, I hope to continue with household items after DD flies the coup. Some alternative thoughts:

If the goal is to make $ & not to declutter, it is reasonable to set higher prices. If the goal is to truly declutter, the prices in the article seem high. Perhaps east & west coasts may be higher, in the Midwest (where I am) lower. I measure my progress by # of items sold, in addition to actual $ made. For example, routine kids clothing items that are not designer brand or show a little wear: 25 cents, jeans/pants/sweaters: $1 but higher if more expensive brands. One neighbor & I truly want to move items, so price lower but another neighbor sets higher prices & moves fewer items. Typically, I have many items 25 cents – $1. It takes a lot for a garage sale customer to spend $5 but is appropriate for items like winter coats, costumes or small furniture/household items. Overall, we find that the typical customer wants to spend as little as possible to get something.

Regarding signage, we economize & have used the same signs over many, many years so only include address. The further ones go up the night before the sale & come down immediately after the last sale. Since we typically have 3-day sales, signs within 1 block are put up & taken down daily to decreased unwanted traffic in the neighborhood (we live in a townhome complex & have received complaints). We also try to have just one or occasionally 2 sales/year out of respect to our neighbors. We provide highly detailed information & photos on Craigslist & Next Door listings & because we have been doing this for 13 years, many of our past customers recognize our signs & are familiar with our location & typical wares.

It is a grueling amount of work but there is no better feeling than decluttering & having a little $ to boot. As Katy says: “Money in, crap out”!

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lulutoo May 4, 2019 at 8:44 am

Also, very important, keep your money on you not on a table. Someone once swooped in (literally a matter of seconds) and ran off with a coffee can full of money at a sale (for charity, no less)!

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Lisa M. May 4, 2019 at 10:28 am

Great point. If going solo & I need to refill coffee, grab my pre-made sandwich out of the fridge or use the facilities, the $ ALWAYS comes inside with me. I have also had the exact opposite situation, where customers accidentally leave their clutch with cash on the main table after paying. I place their values in a safe place until they rush back in a panic.

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Lisa M. May 4, 2019 at 10:29 am

*valuables

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Ney May 6, 2019 at 1:04 pm

I would like to add that https://www.yardsalesearch.com
Is extremely popular for finding yard sales and advertising them for free. In my area, it’s more popular than craigslist.

Great article!

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Diane C May 7, 2019 at 6:54 am

– Always keep your money in a fanny pack.
– Only one person takes payment.
– If you can get one, use a pop-up canopy or “easy up” to create an entrance/pay station.
– Have everyone who is helping wear the same color T-shirt for easy identification. You can wear them inside out if you don’t have exactly matching ones. (We do a community event that gives brightly colored shirts each year, I am not advocating purchasing new shirts.)
– Poster board in neon colors is 2/99 at the 99 Cents Only Stores and 69 cents each at The Dollar Tree. Buy a contrasting color for arrows. DT also sells punch-out letters. Make your signs well in advance, as creating them is tedious and time-consuming.
-Price everything. The small return address labels can be printed with multiple prices and cut into strips. I get them cheap at estate sales.
– For higher priced items, print out an eBay listing and attach it to the item. People will pay more if they’re sure the item is “worth it”.
– Greet everyone and be friendly!

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Randi Macdonald May 8, 2019 at 2:27 pm

We just had a yard sale 2 weeks ago. Our housing community( in a suburb of Los Angeles) only allows a community wide sale 2x a year. We get a lot of people!! We priced almost everything at 1.00, or 2.00 or 3.00. We sold one item for 25.00( a vintage LANE hope chest). Our goal was to get rid of things, not make a huge amount of money. That being said, we made 170.00. We have 4.5 years before we move to FL for retirement and we don’t want to pay good Money to move crap.

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Oxford Girl May 9, 2019 at 12:41 am

We just finished with the annual spring cleaning and the number of things we no longer needed is astonishing. So we were considering donating and making a yard sale. Thanks for the great advice they will definitely come handy especially the prising ones.

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