How to Run a Profitable Garage Sale

by Katy on June 25, 2018 · 14 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Garage sales, yard sales, tag sales, boot sales. Whatever you call them, they’re a great way to make extra money while ridding your home of unwanted Stuff. A well-organized and well-stocked garage sale can bring in hundreds of dollars, so it’s important to plan them out properly.

I consider myself a bit of an expert on pulling together a kick-ass and profitable garage sale — I held another one just last weekend — so I thought I’d share my wisdom with The Non-Consumer Advocate community.

Here are my top tips for running a profitable garage sale:

    • Make sure you have enough stuff to warrant a garage sale. This may seem like a no-brainer, but having enough Stuff to make people get out of their cars is key. Start a garage sale pile as far ahead in advance as possible. I’m not suggesting that you bring Stuff into your home in order to later sell at a garage sale. (Garage sale prices rarely warrant a resale mentality; for that use Craigslist or eBay.)

    • Get help. Recruit a friend or family member to act as your backup. This will be important for potty breaks, busy times, safety, setup and entertainment. Otherwise, no one will believe it when you tell your story about the distinguished looking woman who specifically asked if you had any “1970s vintage porn.”

    • Keep it short. Friday, Saturday, Sunday sales are exhausting. I’ve been known to have one-day sales, put everything back into the garage (still on their tables), and then do another sale months later. Believe me: You’ll be zonked after one day, so know and respect your endurance.

    • Move your car from in front of your house. If shoppers can’t find an easy parking spot, they’re likely keep driving along. And while you’re at it, see if you can convince your neighbors to move their cars as well.

    • Talk to your neighbors about organizing a group sale. Neighborhood garage sales attract tons more customers, so spread the word ahead of time to arrange multiple sales. Or, better yet, hold your garage sale during an established entire neighborhood garage sale day. Talk to your neighborhood association.

    • Look beyond household Stuff as your merchandise. I have dozens of small euphorbiaplant starts that have volunteered in my front yard, as well as uninvited Lady’s Mantle. I will pot these up and sell them for 50¢ to $1 apiece. I also have some landscaping stone leftover from our stone wall project and will put that out as well.

    • Place individual Craigslist ads for your more desirable or bigger ticket items. I did this with our last garage sale two years ago and every single one of these items sold. I placed them as regular listings, but then wrote that they could be seen at my garage sale, with all the pertinent info. I also made sure to delete each of these listings as soon as they left the property. This may sound like a pain in the tuchus, but you can assemble the listing ahead of time, and then wait to approve them until the evening before.

    • Have a box of free stuff. Nothing is more fun than finding something for nothing, so I’ll be placing a large, well marked “FREE” box close to the curb. I’ll also mention the free box on the main Craigslist ad and place an individual Craigslist listing in the Free category.

    • Don’t price your stuff too low. People like to bargain, so allow some wiggle room. Also, you want to make money. You can always have a 50%-off sale over the last couple hours.

    • Price every item. If there’s no price on something, customers have no idea what a bargain it is.

    • Offer free lemonade or even just ice water. Most garage sales are held on hot days (except here in Portland, where everything is done in the rain), so a jug of watery lemonade or refreshing ice water is a nice gift to your customers.

    • Price items like a store would. I drink a lot of Red Rose tea, which comes with a tiny ceramic doo-dad in every box. I put these out at my last garage sale at “50¢ apiece or three-for-a-dollar,” and everyone, adults and children alike went nuts for them. And no one bought less than three.

    • Be friendly — but not too friendly. This may sound like odd advice, but I know that I mostly just want to be left to myself when I’m shopping, and doubt that I’m alone in this preference. I hate it when store clerks are too pushy, and garage sales are no different. Greet the person and then allow them to quietly peruse your crap.

    • Don’t base what you put out on what you would buy. I’ve been extremely surprised by what sells and what doesn’t at my garage sales. You never know if someone likes to fix broken things or is looking for materials for an art project. If it’s something you don’t want and it’s safe, put it in your garage sale.

    • Put up easy to read garage sale signs. Keep in mind that many of your potential customers are passing your sign at 35 miles per hour. Make the address and hours big and legible. You can always write some of the more juicy details in small script, but no one will come if they don’t know where you’re located. And when your garage sale is over, take your signs down! Otherwise it’s just graffiti and disrespectful to your neighborhood. It goes without saying, the best places for your signs are at intersections where cars have to stop anyway.

    • Place more exciting items closer to the curb. Got a ton of old magazines? Great, but don’t have that be what passerby see first. Put the awesome cool stuff out front and you’ll have more people stop by.

    • Make sure to have lots of small bills and change. Also bags. Nothing is more frustrating for customers than trying to pay and having it be a problem.

    • Keep the money somewhere safe. A lock box is great, but if you’re unable to constantly guard it, it’s worthless. I wear an apron with a big front pocket. Not only can I keep the money right on me, but it helps clarify who the seller is.

    • If you have the original box, keep it. Even if an item has been used, it’s somehow more appealing in the box.

    • Make yourself comfortable. You are going to have both busy and slow times, so put out a chair for yourself, slather on the sunscreen and wear a hat. Plan what you’re going to eat that day, and keep a bottle of tap water by your side.

    • Have a plan for what you’ll do with your unsold merchandise. Some non-profits will come pick up unsold garage sale Stuff, so research this ahead of time.

I ended up making $450 from my one-day garage sale last weekend. With the exception of a bicycle, this was all from low-priced items. The money now sits in a “Vacation Fund” savings account. Money in, crap out — what’s not to love?!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily L June 25, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Completely agree with greeting people and then letting them shop. It’s annoying to try to look at a sale with the owner pointing out what they have and why it’s a great buy. Or their kids enthusiastically following you around and asking what exactly you’re looking for.

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Isabelle June 26, 2018 at 3:30 am

If I can also suggest: don’t annoy the customers by starting every sentence with :” well, since I paid X for this….”. We-Don’t-Care! I don’t care that you paid 100$ for it so now you are trying to sell it for 50$ when, because it’s a garage sale, it should actually be priced 10$! Sorry, big pet peeve of mine. When I hear :”Well, I’ve paid….”, I actually stop listening and feel like leaving.

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Alexandra @ Ihearttightwads.com June 26, 2018 at 3:47 am

1. If you are selling clothing, post sizes. I saw one yard sale that had a lot of clothes and they had put up a sign big enough for the drive bys to see, that said “women’s clothes sized 12-14”. SO helpful on deciding if stopping or not. Also post sizes on Craigslist or anywhere you are posting online. Buying clothes from yard sales is a lot of work already. Helping your buyers find you is smart.
2. Be ready for the early birds as they will buy! We had a sale slated to start at 8am for a rental property full of abandoned property. We were hauling stuff out at 6am and buyers were showing up. A lot of folks say “no early birds”. Silly, they are ready with cash! We kept all prices low and were sold out by 8:30am.
3. “don’t put out based on what YOU would buy”. Amen. I am flabbergasted at what does sell and what doesn’t. You never know what people are looking for.

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Mary in VA June 27, 2018 at 8:38 am

Amen to Alexandra’s #1. What I really like to see, though, is clothing that’s not in boxes on the ground (or worse, just piled on the ground). Some of us have a hard time crouching down to check things out! I love it when the clothing is on a table or higher surface.

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ouvickie June 26, 2018 at 7:00 am

I’m not fond of doing garage sales, but I’ve helped my daughter with hers.
I agree about pricing items and making certain the price takes into account it’s a garage sale and not a consignment store – people garage sale because they are looking for bargains.
The way I see it, people are paying you to haul your junk off!

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Mary Beth Danielson June 26, 2018 at 1:38 pm

I held one garage sale in 1998, made maybe $150, my kids LOVED playing store all day with potholders they had made – and it was so much work I never did it again. I love donating to established charities and getting that little receipt for taxes. Though I bet they just threw that deduction away, didn’t they …

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Lisa M. June 26, 2018 at 6:24 pm

*GS Musings

As a 10 year veteran of annual garage sales, I can attest to the truth of every piece of advice in Katy’s column, as well as readers’ comments. It is a horrible, dreaded task but one that has saved my sanity. Living in a small townhome with a child would have been impossible without a yearly purge of unwanted items, especially child-related. We began with large infant/toddler items, then toys/books, then misc. girly stuff, with a gradual shift to more apparel. DH and I were able to add household items along the way. With DD leaving the nest in the not-so-distant-future, I plan to continue sales in conjunction with my neighbors but hope to start decluttering my possessions in a more aggressive manner. Being a staunch NCA and frugalist, it is worth the effort to me to sell items (even at extremely low prices) and return the proceeds to DD’s college fund rather than simply giving them away. In fact, I have an inventory of previously priced items stored in a dead space in my garage (and yes, still able to park 2 vehicles in a 2-car garage) because it is 100% true that what doesn’t sell one year, may go like hotcakes the next year. That is the inventory that I begin with each year and then add newly discarded/priced items. Garage sales may not be for everyone and yes, they are an exhausting amount of work but there is no other domestic activity that I find to be even remotely as satisfying.

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Ruby June 27, 2018 at 11:28 am

Great post. The Mister and I have not had a yard sale in several years, as we moved to an area that requires getting a permit to hold one. But at our old home, we had a couple of good ones, enough to help fund a new washer and a lawn mower.

I did not have racks for clothes, but strung up nylon rope along the poles holding up our carport and it made for a pretty good clothes display. The only stuff we ever displayed on the ground was furniture and wheeled toys. I borrowed tables from a church and the Mister used some saw horses and scrap plywood to create a few more.

We did have to have a prohibition against early birds and enforced it because of a woman from a local rather weird religious sect who would show up and pound on doors before the sun was up.

One year I tolerated her and swore to never do it again because she tried to dicker us down on prices that were already very reasonable — $1 each for working window fans and she wanted to pay 50 cents!– and she yelled at my son and demanded that he load up her car. After that, we’d rope off the driveway so no one could come in until the start time.

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DC June 29, 2018 at 3:45 am

Price things in increments of .25, .50, 1.00 and so on. This is two fold: one it is easy to add things up quickly and two so much easier to make change (not having to deal with dimes and nickels).

If people offer a dime for a items priced at a quarter, I tell politely them No it is a quarter. I have only had two people refuse to by the item in about a doxen yard sales.

Also, make sure you have enough money on hand to make change during the day. I suggest having 100 dollars to start 50 in ones, 30, in fives, a ten, and a roll of quarters. This combo has never failed me and has worked out great,

I have since sworn off garage sales (next one will only be when I actually move). I found over the last several that people were nasty offering 1 dollar for a 20 dollar item and then being mad and rude when I declined, people who stop by and offer me “I give you 25 dollars for all of your junk!” Several people actually stole items, literally stopped by wandered around a couple of minutes picked up several items and then just got in their car and left.

I have met some very nice people, had some great conversations, and made some money while clearing out my “junk” but I just find it easier to put stuff in a box now and when the box is full drop it off to the donation center.

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Norma June 29, 2018 at 11:48 am

Exactly why my husband refuses to have yard sales.

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Christine June 29, 2018 at 2:01 pm

We have an annual yard sale at our church and have had items stolen. Once a $100 bill was stolen from a raffle basket.(We have since converted that to a fake $100 bill). Discouraging…I mean who would steal a used items or money from anyone, let alone a church? I guess it takes all kinds.

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Christine June 29, 2018 at 2:03 pm

We do replace the fake 100 with a real one once the winning number is called!

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Lisa M. June 29, 2018 at 2:05 pm

I agree with you DC, there are those customers who essentially make an offer of about 25% of the asking price for everything- even if the price is 50 cents or $1. If my prices are rock bottom (i.e. most of my items are 25 cents – $1, very few at $2, rare $5), it is insulting when they might offer a dime or a quarter. Therefore, I will usually come down 25% but not 75%.

As my neighbor points out, the actual sale time is a small part of the actual time involved. There is the prep time – gathering and pricing, advertising – signs up and down and Craiglist/NextDoor postings, clean-up/packing.

And yes, there are people who steal from garage sales so it requires constant supervision. I always have snacks available, coffee hot to grab and a sandwich in the fridge. I will ask anyone available that I know to help with bathroom breaks. If I am alone and must run in for 1 minute (bathroom by back door), I put my cash box inside and leave the garage door ajar.

Since I do 99.9% of all household duties and 100% of the garage sale work, DH does not participate in the GS decision. He would love to go the “easy” route and just box everything up and donate. Because it is my time and hard labor that goes into the sale, I retain 100% decision making which I believe is fair. His total contribution consists of picking up fast food on Saturday sale days.

Not only do we get a small return on our belongings that goes to DD’s college fund, items are channeled to frugalists but also to people who really need items for minimal outlay. I have many struggling customers who have thanked me profusely and several have mentioned that my sale was actually a community service -customers paying very little but yet retaining pride as opposed to receiving charity handouts which is demeaning. As a master’s level social worker, I am very aware of the dualities of having a garage sale with benefits to me with help decluttering, to DD for her college fund and to some customers in very real need. So as long as I have neighbors willing to participate, I will continue garage sales despite the challenges involved.

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Stephanie June 30, 2018 at 7:42 pm

Great list. I use a muffin tin for spare change. I keep it organized that way. I don’t do them anymore here. They just do not go over well at all. Where I used to live, it was awesome.

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