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Why I yard sale: A Susquehanna employee’s weekly hunt for hidden treasures

Yard sale pictureIt’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday in May and there’s a chill in the air.  I dress for comfort and fill my travel mug to the brim with caramel swirl coffee.  Baseball cap … check.  Survival kit … check.  My GPS is programmed.  My gas tank is full.  I’m ready to go … yard sale-ing!

Yard sales, garage sales, porch sales, tag sales – whatever you call them, they are extremely popular and I am hooked.  In an average week in the United States,, 690,000 shoppers will purchase 4,967,500 items at 165,000 yard sales, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute.

Whoever said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” knew what they were talking about!  I yard sale (is that a verb?) just about every Saturday morning, from early April until the sale supply runs dry. I began this tradition when my children were young and money was tight, and I still feel a little giddy when I come home with a bagful of great stuff for less than $20.

I’ve been a seller as well, scouring closets, nooks and crannies for items that someone else cannot live without.  Here are a few tips for maximizing your yard sale experience.

For the shopper:

  • My yard sale survival kit:
    • BYOB – Bring your own bag for carrying purchases. Some sellers provide plastic bags but tossing purchases into a cloth bag is environmentally friendly and makes them easy to carry.
    • Wallet filled with small bills and change. Handing a seller a $20 bill for a 25-cent purchase at 7 a.m. is not cool!
    • Phone for communicating with/sending photos to the home front.  “Is this the kind of power saw you were looking for?”
    • Tissues.
    • Anti-bacterial hand cleaner for cleaning my hands after consuming my traditional yard sale breakfast – a hot dog with sauerkraut, or an egg roll from one of the stands that has become a staple at Lancaster County sales.
    • A baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my head.  I avoid sunglasses. If a yard sale takes me into a garage, it’s sometimes difficult to see the goods.
    • Sunscreen.
  • Early in the week, scout local newspapers, especially the Merchandisers/Penny Savers, for yard sale listings.  Craigslist also previews sales and sometimes features photos of key items.  Plan your strategy, based on sale dates, times and geography.
  • Note the sale dates!  Most ads are placed the week immediately preceding the sale, but some appear two or more weeks ahead.
  • Note the start time! 8 a.m. used to be the usual, but more sellers are moving to 7 a.m.
    • If a sale is set for both Friday and Saturday, I may skip that one unless the ad states ‘new items for Saturday.’
  • Arrive early for the best selection!  At first glance, that might mean showing up at start time, but early birds know better.
  • What is an early bird? This buyer arrives an hour or more before a sale begins, wanting first dibs on the good stuff.  A seller once told me that they witnessed early birds shining flashlights into driveways at 5:30 a.m. on the morning of a 7 a.m. sale.
      • If the ad says no early birds, respect that request.
      • It is bad form to ring someone’s doorbell one hour prior to sale time and ask if you can buy that roll of wire fencing sitting in the driveway.  This happened to me once.  I was still in my bathrobe, holding a baby and my first cup of coffee. I did not sell her the fencing.
  • I focus on neighborhood and community sales, visiting individual sales if they happen to be on the way.  Less driving and great exercise walking from house to house.
  • Remember where you park your car!  I sometimes take a photo of the nearest street sign.  More often than I care to admit I have wandered through an unfamiliar development, trying to remember if I parked on Willow Hill Road or Weeping Willow Avenue!
  • Drivers – slow down and keep your eyes on the road.
  • Pedestrians – watch where you’re going and look both ways before crossing the street.  It amazes me that there are not more accidents at yard sales.
  • Keep an eye on your children.
  • Be cautious when buying baby gear, including high chairs, car seats, strollers, cribs, etc.  Safety should not take a back seat to snagging a bargain.  Do some research on recalled items and new safety standards.
  • Want to buy a large item but the car is down the street?  Ask the homeowner to place a SOLD sign on it while you run to get your car. Remember the address of the house where the item is located.   If it’s a VERY large item and you need a bigger vehicle, exchange contact information and arrange for pick-up later
  • I always try to patronize the budding small business owners who are selling lemonade and cookies at their significant grownups’ yard sales.  Customers make them so happy! I rarely drink the lemonade I buy.
  • Bargaining can be fun.  Offer a lower price for an item, or for a quantity-purchase, such as 6 $1 DVDs for $5. If the seller turns down your offer, please don’t be rude and tell them that they will never get what they are asking.  This is a yard sale, not a retail store.  Trying to return a purchase is also tacky.
      • I never haggle if the sale is benefitting a charity.  In fact, I will often pay a little more for an item.
  • Smile!  Say good morning!  Compliment the homeowner on their landscaping.  This is fun!

For the seller:

  • If you don’t live in a neighborhood, try to schedule your sale when a larger community sale is taking place nearby.  This will increase traffic to your location.
  • Spread the word using newspapers, Craigslist , flyers and social media.  Team up with others in your neighborhood to share the cost of advertising.
  • Price to sell.  It doesn’t matter what you paid for it.  What matters is what others will pay YOU for it. Ten to 20 percent  of the original price is a good starting point.  If you are not familiar with yard sale pricing in your area, visit a sale or two before opening for business.
  • Start-up money – Have an ample supply of small bills and change to start the day.  Keep in mind  your first sale of the day may be a 25-cent purchase made with a $20 bill.
  • Hide or clearly label items that are not for sale.  People will try to buy the power tools right off your garage wall if you’re not careful!
  • Take the time to price and display your items to entice shoppers.  To streamline the pricing process, gather items according to price and label the table, rack or box “$1 each” (or 25 cents or 50 cents, etc.)
  • Check local ordinances before hanging signs to direct shoppers to your sale.  If they are permitted, black marker on brightly colored poster board works well.  Remember, people are reading these signs while they’re driving so go with large print, few details and arrows.  Important: in many cases it is illegal to use staples, nails or tacks to attach signs to telephone poles.  Use packing tape instead and remove the signs promptly when the sale is over.
  • Decorate your mailbox with balloons on sale day.
  • Smile! Say good morning.  Be respectful.  Use this as an opportunity to get to know your neighbors.

The photo accompanying this post features the items I bought at a recent community yard sale.  Two dresses, two pairs of shoes, five CDs, two children’s books, a nightie for my mother-in-law, a purse, a necklace, a collection of decorative soaps, four Advent wreath candles and 6 tickets for a chance to win $15,000 – all for $16.50!  Through my purchases, I supported a mission trip to Guatemala, an outreach program in Ecuador, a local Boy Scout troop and a group of Marines running programs for veterans and children.

And that is why I yard sale.

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Posted in Financial Education.

One Response to Why I yard sale: A Susquehanna employee’s weekly hunt for hidden treasures

  1. C Martin says:

    What a fun and informative article. The etiquette tips are especially useful!

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