Garage sales: The Good, the Bad, and the Get The Hell Away From Me


Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me. It’s about seven miles from my house, to be exact — the affluent suburb of Naperville, IL. Or, you know, wherever there happens to be a garage sale. But Naperville specifically is loaded with rich people who have way too much stuff to sell — name brands, in pretty good condition.

That’s where I come in.

(How much fun is this song, by the way? I must have listened to this song on repeat for the entire seventh grade. I’ve never sailed in my life — except for garage ‘sailing’, duh — but the song sounded romantic and dreamy and was like gasoline to the fire of my hyper-hormonal teenage daydreams. I LOVE YOU LANCE.)


This morning, Lou and I loaded up the car (prepared with individual snacks and drinks for both the kids) and headed to an affluent area that was having their annual subdivision garage sale. They did not disappoint. Well, some of them disappointed. But we got exactly what we came for: 18-24 month clothes for Henry, and crafts for June.



BRAND NEW craft supplies I snagged for June — modeling clay, sidewalk chalk, and beads. Hours of learning for only $5!

My glorious bounty, most of which still had tags on: A halloween costume, 8 pairs of pajamas, a BRAND NEW pair of Nikes for Henry, 13 shirts, 7 onesies, 2 shorts, 1 sweater, 3 pairs of pants, and a vest -- all for $20.

My glorious bounty, most of which still had tags on: A halloween costume, 8 pairs of pajamas, a BRAND NEW pair of Nikes for Henry, 14 shirts, 7 onesies, 3 shorts, 1 sweater, 3 pairs of pants, and a vest — all for $20.


A handsome man wearing shorts and shirts (not pictured above, but part of the $20 bounty). Both the shirt AND the shorts had the original price tags on them.

A handsome man wearing shorts and shirts (not pictured above, but part of the $20 bounty). Both the shirt AND the shorts had the original price tags on them.


Obviously, this is my favorite way to purchase children’s clothes. Not only is it ridiculously cheap (I paid an average of $0.52 per item of clothing!) but getting such a good deal gives you an incredible high that leaves you floating for days. Just call me the Yard Sale Junkie (don’t call me that).


“Buy used and save the difference!” Those Duggars know what’s up.

The ideal garage sale for me isn’t actually a rich neighborhood — rich people tend to hold onto their stuff much more tightly than someone would in a modest neighborhood. Rich people (I’m generalizing, obviously, but it’s been my experience as far as garage sales go) tend to overcharge for their items and are less likely to negotiate. On the other hand, their stuff tends to be in better condition and there tends to be much more of it. So, it’s a trade-off. But rich people garage sales are only worth for me it if the seller is willing to come down in price. Or if the seller is welcoming and appropriately social, and not a total dick.

In fact, there are a few criteria that yard sales have to meet before we even get out of the car — at a glance, it has to have what we’re looking for (bins full of children’s clothes is a good sign), and before we make a purchase, they have to be willing to negotiate.

We’ve learned that a good garage sale has those qualities — people are friendly, they don’t crowd you when you’re shopping, and they genuinely want to get rid of their stuff. But there are a few people we encountered today that are a prime example of yard sales we typically stay away from. For example:

“That table is fifty percent off, and anything inside the garage is buy two, get one free.” 

Newsflash — we’re in your garage, not a Neiman Marcus department store. You’re not a cashier, and your sales tags are just suggestions. A good way to get deals at these kinds of sales (or at any sales, really, but especially these) is to bundle: Scoop up a ton of clothes, and tell the seller what you’d like to pay for it. Rarely if ever do I pay more than $2-$3 for kids clothes — even nice outfits or fancy dresses. If the seller’s price is too high or they’re not willing to work with you, walk away (respectfully!).

“Oooh, yeah, I bought that for $30 and Preslynne only wore it once. So we’re selling it for $25 and that’s the final price.” 

I’m sorry, is this Petit Tresor? No? Then I’m not paying $25 for a pair of Baby Uggs. ANYONE who tells you what they paid for it is trying to get some of their money back — and if that’s the case, why not take it to a consignment store? Why not sell it on eBay? In my opinion, anyone who sets out to make a profit violates the spirit of the garage sale, and I’m not down for that. Neither should you be. Put down the item, smile politely, and try not to damage any of their expensive shit as you sprint back to your car.

“This is SUCH a good deal — it sells for twice as much in the store!” 

Is it, though? Is it really? Yes, I know that this thing retails for $40 and you’ve only used it a handful of times. But if it’s as new as you say, maybe you should just return it to the store? Again, we’re in your yard. And it’s impossible for me to verify how much you’ve really used this item. You could have taken a dump in this high-chair for all I know, and the drop in price is an acknowledgment of that. There’s no recourse for me if I spent a bunch of money and the item turns out to be crap, so I’m really not looking to pay more than a couple bucks.

 “I can’t come down in price. The sales tag already says $8.” 

Oh, right, the sales tag. The price that you made up arbitrarily and stuck on there yourself. You’re powerless to change it. It’s out of your control. Someone actually said this to me today. Luckily, I still got a deal by lumping a bunch of items in together and bargaining with her. But anyone who won’t work with you on price is usually just someone you want to walk away from.

Actual phrases I’ve used to help me land a deal include:

“What’s the lowest you’ll go on all this stuff?” [As it turned out, pretty darn low. Lower than what I would have paid. Which is why it never hurts to ask.]

“Can you cut me a deal if I buy these clothes as a lot?” 

[when some douchebro refused to come down on the price AT ALL for his daughter’s used clothes. You could tell he was a douchebro because he wore his sunglasses on the BACK OF HIS HEAD LIKE GUY FIERI and barely looked up from his iPhone]: “Aww, bro, don’t tell me I dug through all these clothes for nothing!” [He quickly relented, and I got a ton of clothes for like five dolla.]

“Well, the price tag says $5, but I’m sure that’s a mistake. Would you take $1 for it?” [She did.]

[After some mom started going on about how she paid $50 for some outfit that she was selling for $25] “I understand. You probably want to keep this for the memories anyway.” [Turns out, she didn’t!]

“Would you take $3 for both?” [Or insert any price here. So many times I’ve grabbed a bundle of stuff and just threw out a figure. Many, many times, people genuinely just want to get rid of their stuff. They don’t want to add up all the items you want to buy and cross-check that with what you’re offering. And to be perfectly honest, most (American) people aren’t used to haggling and it makes them uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s unethical to use all of those things to your advantage. Throw out an offer and see what they do. This is the phrase I use most often and it works ninety percent of the time.]

My best and often fool-proof strategy for ‘sailing is to have a good idea of what you’d like to pay for each item ($2 max per baby outfit is one of my yardsticks), be upfront about what you want to spend, and always be polite. Watch for the warning signs, and don’t be afraid to walk away.

Don’t be afraid to stay and bargain your way to a sweet deal, either.

I can’t wait to go next weekend.

Just a dream and a Honda Pilot to carry me, and soon I will be free. 


9 thoughts on “Garage sales: The Good, the Bad, and the Get The Hell Away From Me

  1. Is that a DUMBO costume?!?! No no no no that will just be too adorable on Henry! I can’t. I just can’t. PICTURES NOW, WOMAN! NOW! (Please.)

      • Wait, it’s June sized! So she gets to look adorable in it and then Henry can inherit it, SO BOTH OF YOUR KIDS CAN WEAR THIS ADORABLENESS?!?! Please share all the pictures.

  2. Can I just say that I love the animated GIFs you find? (Sorry, I’m still on my 1st cup of coffee – not much else to contribute!)

  3. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah! There are so many things I Iove about this post.
    1. That N’Sync song/album is what I listened to all the time in 9th grade. And Lance was my favorite too!

    2. Now that song will be in my head all through mass today 🙂

    3. I have the same garage sale theories but your tips are excellent and funny!

    4. The tips along with the gifs put me in a much better mood than I was in this morning.

    5. So yesterday I went to a church yard sale and they had nothing! I was so disgusted but now I’m thinking I need to scour the neighborhoods on Saturdays and investigate different garage sales. I only buy used for the kids but it’s mostly from consignment stores although I got an amazing, brand new first communion dress for the girls at a garage sale last year. First communion still being years away!

    Have you gone to flea markets? We have a couple of huge ones here but I haven’t been since I was a kid. All this to say: We are kindreds, separated by a few states. I knew the husband and I should have moved to Chicago years ago!

    • It’s never too late to move.. 🙂 I haven’t had a ton of luck at consignment stores, although consignment SALES for some reason (like at churches or whatever) have netted me some AWESOME deals. Way to score that communion dress!!

      Have you checked out for garage sales near your area? I sound like a commercial, lol, but that’s the site that helps me know where to shop!

  4. Oh my goodness gracious … Henry’s little toes in that photo. I’m dying of cuteness overload, and I want to gobble them up.

    Also, I’m so jealous of your sailing adventures. It’s by far one of my favorite things about spring, and there are NONE near me 😦

  5. I have a garage sale every year and price things cheaply to get rid of them and don’t mind some negotiation, but some people are ridiculous. I price children’s paperbacks at a quarter each and hardbacks between fifty cents and a dollar. Inevitably someone comes up five minutes after I open and wants five paperbacks for a dollar or six $1.00 books for $5.00. No. If you can’t afford a quarter for a book for your kids of grandkids, you should be home in bed.

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