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A Thrifty Girl’s Guide to Garage-Sailing

Traci Taylor

I haven’t been garage sailing in the longest time, but when I was a kid, my grandma and I used to go out every Saturday and some of my most special memories are of those times with her.

If you’re planning to do some garage sailing this weekend, here are some tips I learned from years of shopping with my grandma:

  • Start by making a list of sales you want to go to by looking through the newspaper, online listings, signs you’ve seen on the side of the road and so forth.  Try to map out your travel route so that you go in a big loop from home to each of the sales then back home.  Trust me when I tell you that doing this will save time and gas.  If you’re using a GPS, pop the addresses in before you go so you’re not sitting in your car at each sale looking over your list of places to go to imputing addresses and wasting valuable treasure hunting time.
  • Be sure to wear comfy clothes and shoes.  Purses are awful when you’re garage sailing because they just get in the way.  Try to wear something with pockets so you can carry your car keys, money and phone and keep your hands free for while you’re shopping. I’m a big fan of wearing an over the shoulder handbag. It holds everything I need, but allows me use of both hands.
  • Pack water and snacks in your car.  Nothing derails garage sale shopping like having to stop for food.  Once you sit down and stop your momentum to eat you probably won’t feel like going back out. My grandma and I used to snack on string cheese. It was just enough to take the edge off, but didn’t fill us up and slow us down.
  • Put extra bags in your car so that if you go to a garage sale where they don’t have bags, you can pack your finds in the bags you brought with you.  This will keep stuff organized in your car and make carrying everything into the house so much easier.
  • If you’re buying clothes- inspect each article VERY carefully.  Unless you’re a master seamstress, nothing is worse than buying something with a broken zipper or a tear or missing button and finding out only after you’ve gotten home. Another clothes tip- if you’re at a “fill a bag” sale, you can fit more clothes into the bag if you take the time to roll each item tightly before putting them into the bag.
  • If you see something you think you might want, but are on the fence- pick it up and carry it around with you until you make up your mind.  There’s nothing worse than seeing something and thinking about wanting to buy it and leaving it on the table and then deciding you want it after all and going back to get it and it’s gone.
  • If you see something you really want to buy but the price is too high, don’t be afraid to ask the seller if they’ll take a lower price, but don’t be insulted if they say no.  It’s their property and their right to decide how much they want for it.
  • If you know exactly what you’re looking for- don’t announce it to the world.  When my grandma and I used to go to garage sales, we’d hunt for Depression glass.  But instead of yelling out to my grandma “Hey! Come look at this depression glass!” I’d calmly walk to her and ask “is this what you’re looking for?”  If you alert the seller to what you’re looking for and they don’t realize the value of it, they might try to jack up the price. If you show your hand- show your excitement- people will realize you’re onto something good and try to hone in on it. Think of garage-sailing as playing poker.  Don’t show your hand or emotions.  Cool, calm and collected wins in the long run.
  • If you buy something really big and don’t have room for it in your car, you’ll need to return to the sale with a vehicle large enough later on.  BEFORE you leave the sale, be sure that you get something on a piece of paper signed by the seller that clearly states that you bought the item and how much you paid and what time you expect to be back to pick up the item.  This way if you leave and go back and the item you already bought has been sold to somebody else by accident, you can get your money back.
  • Don’t feel like you need to buy something at every sale you go to.  Some sales will be duds.Save your money for the next sale where you might find just what you were looking for. The polite thing to do though is to say to the person whose sale you’re leaving empty handed is “thank you, have a nice day” and walk away.
  • Look under tables.  A lot of people skip over the boxes and piles under the tables, but sometimes this is where the best goodies are.
  • Unless you know them or they offer, don’t ask to enter the sellers house to try on clothing.  That’s just creepy.
  • Don’t be scared of things that are dirty. A little elbow grease and Dawn go a long way. I’ve also learned that the dishwasher is a really good way to clean things (as long as they won’t ruin with heat and water).
  • Don’t be afraid to dig through boxes.  Sometimes the best treasures are found inside the dustiest of boxes.  Keep sanitary wipes in your car just in case.
  • If you’re allergic to or don’t like the smell of smoke, assess your settings.  If you get out of the car and see the seller sitting down smoking in the driveway or hanging out on the side of the house puffing away, you might not want to stick around.

And the biggest piece of advice I can give is to follow your gut and have no remorse.  If you go with your gut and don’t buy something it was meant to be- no use in kicking yourself later for not getting it.  The best thing about garage sales is that there are always lots of them and other opportunities to re-find what you didn’t buy the next time.

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