We’ve written this Garage Sale Guide to help you turn your unwanted treasures into cash. There are dozens of ideas presented on this page to help you run an efficient and profitable yard sale at your home. Or to host a rummage sale for a charitable organization where you volunteer.
Garage Sale Guide Starting Place
Have you ever wondered how to host a great and profitable garage sale? We’ve hosted dozens of yard or garage sales for us and for several non-profits we’ve been associated with.
It’s summertime and every weekend you’ll see the signs—“Huge Garage Sale,” “Monster Yard Sale,” “Moving Sale” or simply just “SALE” scrawled across neon-colored poster board. More than 60 million of us shop at garage sales, spending close to $1 billion each year. We’ve hosted sales that included single-families, multiple families, and huge fund-raiser sales. Each time, we’ve fine-tuned our strategies and improved our execution. You can make money, but without careful planning and preparation, you’ll spend more than you’d like to pay physically, emotionally and financially.
Why should you do a Garage Sale?
Many people would rather donate their unused stuff than deal with the “hassle” of organizing a sale. While donating your items may be quicker and easier, holding a garage sale each year has many benefits.
• It helps you to continually purge unnecessary items from your home
• You get cash for your unused stuff—a real bonus if you’re digging your way out of debt (read this article in our member archive).
• Your kids earn money while learning to eliminate unused things.
• Your family gets to work together toward a common goal—like earning money for a special vacation or event. This is how we paid for much of our 18-day mega-vacation to Washington, D.C (read about it here).
• Local families can stretch their dollars at your sale.
• You can meet more people from your neighborhood.
Garage Sales with Others are Better
We won’t lie to you—hosting a garage sale takes a lot of work. But we can minimize our work and maximize the power of our selling with a multi-family sale. Some folks don’t have enough stuff for their own sale, but combining it with others can produce great results. We share the cost of advertising, and the work of putting up signs, setting up tables and tearing down afterward. We all get to laugh and spend time together. Plus, having more people involved provides more options for a better sale location. The easier the access to the sale, the more traffic you’ll have and the more you’ll sell.
We’ve seen entire streets, even gated communities, set aside specific weekends when sales are held each year. These types of events are magnets for crowds of buyers. We think multi-family is the only way to go!
Garage Sale Guide Group Rules
We do have a few rules for participating in our multi-family sales:
• Must Be Present We don’t sell stuff for other people. They must be there to agree to the final price. Misunderstandings over money put too much pressure on relationships.
• Colored Dots We assign each family or person a different-colored price tag / sticky dot. This helps us keep track of whose stuff is whose, and makes dividing the booty much easier.
• Set Up / Take Down Everyone must help with some aspect of the preparation and clean-up of the sale, and contribute to the advertising costs (usually taken from the final proceeds of the sale).
• Bring Tables We ask all participants to bring anything they have to help display more items. The less cluttered and off the ground, the more we sell.
A Garage Sale Guide – Our Top Tips for Success
How to Promote Your Garage Sale
Talk it Up
Get the word out to friends and neighbors who may want to participate or donate items for you to sell.
Setting up Signs
Use brightly colored poster board—all the same color—and broad-tipped black markers. Write neatly. We use 4-foot wooden stakes and staple 2-sided signs to each stake. More signs equal more traffic. We’ve surveyed people and found that half come because of the signs and half come because of the newspaper ad. Save your signs for next year. Include the words “HUGE SALE,” the address and time.
• Sign Quantity We put up a minimum of 20 signs. It’s a lot of work but it generates traffic. Many cities have restrictions on posting signs on telephone or power poles.
• Use a Map We make a copy of a city map in our area and pinpoint the intersections where we will put the signs. This map makes retrieving the signs easier, too.
• Go in Twos Send out pairs of people to put up signs the night before the sale. It’s safer and the work goes faster.
Garage Sale Guide for Advertising
Write a brief description to advertise your sale. Include “multi-family,” “huge” or the number of tables you’ll have out to give readers an idea of the size of the sale. Also, list big-ticket items. TVs always attract buyers; so do appliances, bicycles, bunk beds, and furniture. Be sure to include the starting time. We usually start at 7 A.M. and specify, “No Early Birds.” If we don’t set a specific start time, people show up as early as 5:30 A.M. knocking on our door.
• Newspaper If you are doing a large fundraiser garage sale, consider buying an ad in the largest local newspaper in your area. Don’t skimp—spend the money for more ad lines to promote those high-dollar items.
• E-mail E-mail your local friends and ask them to help promote your sale. Be sure to include the date, location, and several key items.
Location If you have your choice of several, pick one with easy access and lots of cars driving by. Also, consider ease of parking, and controlling foot traffic in and out of the site to prevent shop-lifting.
Which Days Most hard-core garage salers will come out on Friday. Fridays and Saturdays are the most productive days. Plan the date months in advance. Avoid holiday weekends when many families travel.
How to Prepare for your Yard Sale
Tables / Displays Gather as many tables as you can. Use sawhorses with doors or pieces of plywood if you have to. You’ll sell more if what you display isn’t super-cluttered. We even build a rack for shoes out of wood scraps and put mini-shelves in the middle of tables to give us more space on the tables.
Gather Items In our garage we keep a Garage Sale Pile. Everything unwanted or unneeded is stored in boxes or stacked neatly there waiting for the next sale.
Pricing Price everything you can. Use your colored stickers and, as a safeguard, use a china marker to price the item in a second place. Price tags have a mysterious way of disappearing.
Zippered Bags Put items with multiple parts in zippered bags and staple the price sticker above the zipper to secure the bag.
Hangers Ask a local dry cleaner for free hangers (ones they cannot reuse).
Hang Clothes Clothing stays neater and sells much better when hung up. Refolding piles of pawed-through clothes is a real pain! We drape a long series of swing-set-type chains attached diagonally between two block walls to display our clothes.
Price Clothes Rather than pricing each individual clothing item, we post a sign: Pants $X, Shirts $X, Jackets $X. It minimizes confusion and lost tags.
Similar Items Group housewares, electronics, toys, linens, books, etc. Think in retail terms to make it easier for people to shop.
Tables We set up tables in our garage and on our patio the week before the sale and start categorizing items. We’re able to price, organize and plan better than we could on the day of the sale. Line up tables in aisles with access from both sides if possible. And you can butt tables together to prevent access to other areas of your yard.
Lock It Up Lock your house and don’t invite people inside. If someone desperately needs to use a bathroom, have an adult escort him inside and wait outside the door until he’s done.
Rain or Shine We put up tarps, EZ Shades, anything to keep the heat down or rain off and comfort up. The colored tarps also add to the festive atmosphere.
Set-up Because of the configuration of our long driveway, we set up all of our tables the night before and block the driveway with our van. One of our older kids sleeps in the van with our German shepherd. We’ve never had a problem. This allows us to sleep in a bit later—about 6 A.M.—and minimizes the early morning set-up.
Language Barrier If you have a large number of migrant workers or non-English speakers attending your sales, try to have someone in your group who speaks their language. It aids negotiations and helps keep everyone honest.
Item Placement We put our largest items—furniture, TVs, microwaves—near the front of the sale and place toys in the back.
Call a Charity Arrange for a truck to show up at the end of your sale or a couple of days later. It provides motivation to box up and eliminate things that didn’t sell. We divide remaining items into two piles: Donate and Save to Sell Again.
How to Sell more and Sell Smarter
Greeters Do it like Wal-Mart and greet everyone. It makes for a friendlier sale and minimizes shop-lifting. We also wander around the sale neatening things and availing ourselves for questions.
Power Have an extension cord/power strip available for testing electronic items.
Concessions We make $50 to $100 by selling home-baked goodies. It’s always amusing to have someone haggle over a 25-cent item then spend several dollars for hot cinnamon rolls ($1), muffins ($.25) and coffee ($.25). Keep your prices modest. We break out grilled hot dogs ($1) with soda or lemonade ($.50) around 10 A.M. and sell cookies and Rice Krispies© treats. The aroma helps sell, so cook it up.
Music We always bring out a boom box and play happy music—patriotic, Disney songs or swing. Many garage salers are retired and appreciate Glenn Miller and other big bands from that era (so do we, for that matter!)
Rope It Off If you’re doing a multi-day sale, hang a rope or chain across the entrance at the end of the day. Attach a sign for those who drive by later: “Sorry, We’re Closed—Open Again at 7 A.M.” Then go inside and take a well-deserved nap.
How to Deal with the Money
Access Control We control access to the sale by grouping large items at the end of our driveway to direct traffic past our “check-out” table where our cashier sits. There is only one way in and out of our sales, and it’s always past the cashier. Everyone is greeted arriving and is seen departing. It discourages shoplifting.
Cash Box or Waist Pouch Protect the money you earn. If you have a cash box, assign one person (or rotate people) to sit at the cashier’s table at all times. We always assign one of our kids and an adult to this task. Annette and Steve walk around during the sale and answer questions and negotiate prices. If it’s a really big sale, after we’ve negotiated a price, we hand the buyer a slip of paper with the final pricing details on it for the cashier to see.
Cash Drops When the amount in the cash box is over $100, we take most of it inside and stash it in an obscure location. This minimizes our exposure to loss.
No Checks They’re just not smart. If someone is out of cash, refer him to the nearest grocer where he can buy a pack of gum and get cash back.
Count It Out Be careful when you receive money. As you count out change, leave the bills the customer gives you on the table where they can be seen. Say something like, “Here’s the change from your twenty (or ten, etc.).” We’ve had a few people attempt quick-change tricks and have become much more prudent in this area.
Tally Sheet We keep a large poster board at the cashier’s table for tracking the earnings of each family or individual. Based on the colored tags and the final negotiated price, we write the amount of each transaction. So if a person is buying, say, five things for $27—two from us for $5, one from family A for $10 and two from family B for $12—each family is credited with the exact amount. At the end of the day, we total what each family earned and divide the money—subtracting any fixed expenses, such as advertising. It never balances exactly, but we get close and everyone is happy.
If you host a sale regularly, you’ll come up with your own systems and enjoy the process. For us, it’s a discipline to help rid us of clutter and unnecessary items. But the benefits of meeting neighbors, socializing with our selling buddies and helping others clear out their stuff are worth far more than the money we make.