Tips for having a Great Garage Sale!

How many garage sale enthusiasts do we have out there? Spring, summer, and early fall, signs advertise them everywhere. Like a lot of folks, I enjoy finding a useful bargain among another individual’s discarded treasures. Take the morning when I snagged a really good deal on a Black & Decker hedge trimmer. No more 20-year-old manual clippers for me.

The friendly gray-haired gentlemen who sold me the bright orange trimmers even gave me a brief tutorial on how to not dismember my digits (cut my fingers off) before I handed him my $10 bill. Honestly though, I thought the electric cord came with them so I was a little dismayed when he unplugged the trimmers and detached the cord after my lesson. I mildly protested but no way was he throwing it in.

As for electrical items, as a buyer, it’s always the best policy to test them before you purchase. I know as a seller, you are probably being impeccably honest when you say you just used your toaster, blow dryer, or TV set lately, and that it works great. Yet sadly, there are unscrupulous people who deceive naïve shoppers everyday. Once this happens, you usually learn to ask to see the electrical item at work. After all, there are no return policies on second-hand bargains.

As for having a garage sale, you can host a successful sale which requires a bit of work, or you can just muddle through. For example, most of us yard sale fanatics really appreciate order and stated prices. When we enter a garage filled with stuff haphazardly heaped on tables or strewn all over the floor without price tags, often we leave without buying much.

Tip #1  It’s too much work to dig through a pile of junk when one has no idea what’s in that pile or how much the stuff costs. Now, if you make everything one price and group clothing in somewhat of a semblance of size and gender that really helps. Although quality apparel needs to be hung with specific price tags, which will garner a higher price. Even though it takes a lot of time, pricing really is the ticket (pun intended) if you want to sell your discarded treasures. That is unless your prices are too high. No matter how much you paid for something, remember it’s used, and you no longer want it. Depreciation can be well over 90 percent or more, especially on clothing articles.

Tip #2 Some garage sale enthusiasts like to barter a bit. Don’t get angry with them for trying to get the best deal, that’s all part of the game. Other individuals might be too timid to ask if you are willing to take less. So, if you see someone who seems interested in something, you might want to casually say, “We are willing to take offers.” Of course, everyone at your sale at that moment will no longer want to pay full price either, so be prepared.

Tip #3 Then there is the importance of advertising. Since I am a freelance newspaper columnist, it might sound like a self-promoting plug to suggest spending a few bucks on a classified ad in your local newspaper. But without marketing your sale will have little chance of success. Those signs that you see posted on street corners are of paramount importance, too. Place as many out there as possible leading to your sale, especially if your address is difficult to find. Listing on Craigslist is a really good idea, but no substitute for a newspaper ad, since many newspapers advertise sales online and with geographic maps.

My subdivision had a community sale this past May, and I enjoyed being part of it even though the temperatures were unseasonably chilly. I didn’t have a lot of items, which is usually best for having a profitable event, but I did have some nice stuff that needed a new home. During those long hours in my garage, it was fun meeting new people who are yard sale fans like me.

Tip #4 After it was all over, there were still some great items left behind by the numerous pickers. These overlooked possessions can make worthwhile contributions to the community non-profit of your choice. There are local organizations like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or local church clothing ministries, etc. who really appreciate donations. But a word of caution, if you think an item may be junk, it probably is, and needs to be pitched, not donated. At the end, I was a couple hundred dollars richer. Not a bad way, to clean out the closets.

America’s Favorite Four-Letter Word

What’s a four-letter word that is music to the ears of the hearer, and brings happiness to the heart of the reader? Clue: the number one definition on is, “Not imprisoned or enslaved,” while the more appropriate number seven meaning is, “Costing nothing, [or] gratuitous.” A crossword buff probably guessed by now, it’s the word, “free.”

Our society loves this term that conjures up the thought of getting something for nothing. In confirmation, when one googles this famous four-letter word, instantly you are confronted with more than 3,290,000,000 references. That’s billions, not millions of related searches including: “free products, free games, totally free stuff, free samples, free translations….” etc. Marketers know what suckers we all are for advertising that professes to give something away.

I learned a lot about this type of marketing years ago, when I was employed as a corporate representative for a large manufacturer that supplied products to supermarkets. Occasionally, on a Friday afternoon when the grocery store was packed, I would stand in a product aisle offering shoppers a generous coupon to buy a comparable item to the one they normally purchased. It was amazing how often brand loyalty could be bought for a couple of bucks. In fairness, there were also those die-hard loyalists who refused to switch no matter how large the coupon.

A column devoted solely to consumer coupon behavior would take on a life of its own, but let’s get back to marketing strategies touting free products. Because even better than a coupon savings of a few dollars, is getting an item absolutely free. Whether, it’s a free gift with purchase, a buy one get one free, a free trial, or free information; buyers often forget that the seller almost always has an ulterior motive.

Most of our parents warned us that there are no free lunches in life. Apparently, not everyone knows this, because an individual named Fidora emailed Yahoo! Answers at asking, “What is the meaning of this quote, ‘There is no free lunch?’” The consensus of the 10 answers offered was that somewhere down the line there is a cost for everything.

Therein lies the problem. If you don’t think you are paying for something you aren’t too concerned about whether it’s a good deal, or not. To implement the age-old philosophy of Caveat Emptor which is a Latin term for, “Let the buyer beware,” you have to possess a purchaser’s mentality. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language explains that Caveat Emptor is, “The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.”

After all, like most astute consumers when spending your hard earned cash on an item you want the biggest bang for your buck. But if it’s free, you aren’t worried about a product’s quality. There are naïve buyers born every minute who are enticed by this type of “bait and switch” advertising. Take me, for example. I didn’t think I could lose when I eagerly requested the “free” designer scarf, which accompanied a magazine subscription that I didn’t really need. I could hardly believe my good fortune, until the scarf arrived in the mail about a week ago. It was paper thin and barely fit around my neck. My husband laughed out loud when I showed it to him.

This is just one account of my getting free stuff, which has robbed my budget in the long run. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have purchased the magazine had there not been a free gift incentive. In my defense, I’m not alone in this behavior, or the word, “free” wouldn’t be everywhere. Yet there are free products that can be helpful. Like a buy one get one free dinner to a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try, or frequently visit. Even then, watch that you don’t spend more on a higher-priced meal, beverages, or desserts than you normally would, while celebrating your free meal.

In closing, I hope it’s ok to share the wisdom that I’ve learned along life’s path.  Remember the old saying, “If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.” Most free offers are in the too good to be true category. Now, you can take that free advice all the way to the bank.

This blog post originally appeared in The Lima News, and in the Troy Daily News.