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The Biggest Garage Sale Mistakes That Will Cost You Money

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Who doesn't love a good garage sale? Seeking them out for weekend shopping is a fun (and often rewarding!) hobby or activity. But having a garage sale? While also entertaining, it's a lot of work.

If you are going to all the effort of purging, cleaning, pricing, setting up, advertising, and running a yard sale you want everything to go great. Well, let's be honest. By "have a great garage sale" you really mean "have a profitable garage sale."

So avoid these mistakes and make your next garage sale worthwhile!

A Late Start

Be open by 9:00 AM, if at all possible. Why? This is the hour by which many regular garage sale shoppers (and the ones most likely to spend time and money at your sale) are out and about at their first stop of the day. Many people even plan a garage sale route and your house might get skipped if it doesn't start until much later than the surrounding area's other sales.

But if you do find yourself in need of a later-than-average start time, be sure to post it. Mark your hours on any signage you set up and include the times in your social media listings.

Poor Timing (AKA the Wrong Season)

No one can control the weather. A rainy day that makes you close up shop is unfortunate. I wish you the best of luck against mother nature! What you can steer clear of is having a sale during the wrong time of year. Of course the "best" garage sale seasons may be determined by your region.

Personally I am most familiar with the mid-west, where "too early" = "too cold." On the other hand, if you wait too late in the yard sale year then you might find the rush has worn off for many shoppers. Often by late August people are no longer as interested in coming out in the heat to trek across lawns for cheap merchandise, not after having already spent the summer and late spring doing so. The people become pickier, more likely to haggle, and less easily impressed (meaning the smaller your sale, the less people will actually get out of their cars when driving by your yard).


A (Too) Small Starting Bank

When hosting a garage sale, be sure to have the proper change by the evening beforehand. You may not be able to get to the bank the morning your sale starts or your bank may not open until 9:00 AM (and you'll be open then, right?).

You absolutely will need change at the start. These morning hours are usually the busy ones, after all! Not to mention because it's early in the day, people often still have larger bills such as tens and twenties. You'll be handing a lot of cash back. Oh, and don't forget the coins!

A note on "large" bills: remember not only the possibility of scams but also your limited change (no matter how much you started with). You are not a bank and cannot be expected to safely accept a one hundred dollar bill or to break a fifty for a $2 stuffed animal. Don't be afraid to say no - often people will miraculously come up with a smaller bill after the big one is turned down!

Avoid Fake Money at Your Yard Sale

Worried about scam artists slipping you a fake bill at your garage sale? Simply buy a counterfeit detection pen. It will only cost you a few dollars and can be purchased at a basic office supply store.

Expecting Collectors' Prices

It's always good to know the value of what you're selling at a yard sale. Sites such as eBay and Amazon can be valuable tools in pricing fairly without losing out. Perhaps you can get $5 for that old toy instead of the 50 cents you had assumed!

That said, don't expect to successfully sell your old stuff at internet prices. This means no charging what the item "sells for on eBay." Garage sales are typically for bargain hunters, not collectors able and willing to pay top dollar.

A note on eBay print-outs: If you'd like to show browsers how much something is worth on eBay, thereby illustrating your excellent price, be sure to showcase a range of prices it clearly sold for (not simply asking prices, in other words).

No Price Tags

As a garage sale frequenter myself, I can tell you nothing turns me off from a potential purchase more than having to ask the price on everything. Not only is it inconvenient and time-consuming, it's awkward. Suppose I don't like your price? Now I have to admit it to your face.

Unless really wanting something from your sale, many will simply walk away. The extra minutes involved in looking for a price tag, considering whether or not to ask, deciding on how much is too much for me to spend, then actually getting your attention takes enough time to halt an impulse purchase (which relies on split-second desire).

The no-tags, no-signs, "make an offer" approach to yard sales is also going to create extra hassle for you when multiple people are rummaging around and throwing out questions.

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Dirty Merchandise

No reasonable person expects a sparkling clean garage or dirt-free lawn at a yard sale. But do put some effort into clearing and cleaning the worst of the mess - especially on the stuff you're selling! No one wants a doll that they have to clean old bits of food off of or a Christmas ornament with sticky-from-candy finger smudges. Dust the antiques, wash the clothes, and scrub down the dirt-covered playhouse.

Keep in mind the issue of cigarette smoke and pet hair as well. If the clothes reek after you've done your best to remedy the issue, best not to bother trying to pass them off to others. If a book is mildewing? Trash time. For those toys with broken parts that a little kid might still play with: free box.

Too Little Organization, Too Much Clutter

You don't have to lay out your garage sale like a fashionable boutique in order to increase your sales. Just avoid a few messy trends:

  • Giant boxes full of everything from Happy Meal toys to cookware to an old dog leash. Separate unrelated items if shoppers will need to dig through a box to see what you have. That way they can bypass the toy box, if they don't have young kids, and get on to pulling cups out of the dishware box. Don't forget, you can always make small, random items "related" by giving them the same cheap pricing. For example, a box in which every item is a quarter. A little organization, whatever the shape it takes, goes a long way.
  • Not having themed sections. Your customers will have a much easier time finding things they are actually interested in if, say, books are in one section while Christmas items are all spread at the end of one table.
  • Inconvenient setup. It's probably not a great idea to put stuffed animals behind (very breakable) porcelain dolls. And if you really want to move those boxes full of books then consider (if at all possible) setting the books up high enough that shoppers don't have to bend in half or crouch on the ground to browse - most people won't bother for more than a minute, max.

Your Dog is an Adorable Nuisance

I strongly suggest leashing your dog or putting him/her in the backyard. No one wants to be told what to do (or not do) on their own property, but it's simply a reality that the general public does not love your precious pup the way you do. I see a lot of tight smiles and mumbled "That's okay..." at garage sales where Fido is running up to people at full speed or yapping at their ankles, with only a halfhearted "No" from the owner.

The point being that potential customers are more likely to linger and focus on what you're selling if not being followed or otherwise pestered by the family pet. Keep in mind that garage sales are often tight spaces with multiple people and lots of objects scattered about. You don't want anyone to trip over a curious dog who is just being friendly.

Make your garage sale sign easy to read from the road.

Make your garage sale sign easy to read from the road.

No Advertising

Thankfully the options for garage sale advertisement are numerous and essentially free nowadays. If you're going to pay money to promote your garage sale then be sure it's a reliable service - not only trustworthy with consumers' money but does a good job with it as well. In addition to newspaper ads and other paid advertisement options, check out free sources for garage sale promotion such as specially designed yard sale finder apps, Craigslist (still relevant for yard sale postings), and particularly local Facebook groups. Utilize at least two sources. If possible, include pictures!

Poor Signage

It goes without saying that yard sale signs are a must. If you live in a location that doesn't allow the posting of any directional signs, even on your own mailbox, then... well... you may be out of garage sale luck, I'm forced to say. If you'd like to give a garage sale a try anyway, post in your ad the lack of signs so that people will be aware and not simply drive past you. Consider whether something such as balloons or a yard inflatable would be allowed to attract attention.

One last note: don't forget to have fun. Seriously! You may not make a killing at this year's sale and even if the cash never stops flowing you will likely - at some point - feel as if it was all too much effort. So focus on the happy aspects of yard sales: meeting new people, chatting, spending a day outdoors, getting a chance to sit down and read (while supervising the sale in between customers), the opportunity for your kids to sell lemonade, and a general feeling of classic summertime.

What are your personal garage sale tips? What bad yard sale habits drive you nuts? Comment with your own garage sale "dos and don'ts."


Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on May 12, 2020:

Great hub :) I always say dont follow people around at your Yard Sale or they may leave. If they are interested they will come to you. I love yard sales :) Its like having your own business for a day or two :)

Diana Abrahamson on August 08, 2016:

Thanks for your useful info.. Agree ..not enough change can be embarrassing!

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on June 18, 2016:

Everybody loves garage sales. I think the best advice is to clean the items before you try to sell them. Otherwise, go see a haunted house movie instead. Bye!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 02, 2015:

Shopping is not my favorite thing, but garage sales are very interesting.

Great ideas here.

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on April 02, 2015:

Some good ideas here. Everybody loves a garage sale, don't they? I'd like to visit one right now. Later!

Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on April 21, 2014:

Silva Hayes: What a great idea!

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on April 20, 2014:

Hi, great Hub. Here's a tip for garage sale signs. Instead of the hassle of driving stakes and staples to the poles, etc., place your signs on the sides of medium-size boxes. Set the boxes at the intersections where you want your signs to be. Place a large heavy rock inside each box to keep it from shifting about or blowing away. When the sale is over, just drive around and easily retrieve the boxes.

Eiddwen from Wales on March 19, 2014:

A great hub which will benefit many. Now looking forward to many more.


John R Wilsdon from Superior, Arizona on March 17, 2014:

timing of a garage sale is critical. Of course, timing always depends on location. good hub. Voted up!

dearabbysmom from Indiana on March 17, 2014:

I'm having a garage sale in about a month, so this is a timely refresher on the i's to dot and t's to cross. T hank you for sharing!

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