When my kids were younger, between hand-me-downs and yard sale clothing, I never spent more than $50 a year keeping all six well-dressed. In the 18 years since my first child was born, I've only purchased one new winter coat; the rest cost me between $3 and $5, and that's for name-brand wear.
How did I do it? Patience, organization and many, many Saturday mornings spent at yard sales. I'm one of those people who loves looking through other people's stuff, so for me yard saling is a fun sport. It's all about the hunt. To become an effective bargain hunter at yard sales, there are a few things you can do to make it easier.
Go through all of your household needs and keep a running list in a small notebook that you can take with you. For example, if I know that one of my daughters will need winter boots next season, I enter “Boots” and the anticipated size (1 to 1.5 sizes up from last season) as a reminder for me to keep an eye out for them. If my husband has asked me to look for a camera tripod, it's in my notebook. I also include a section for items that I know I'll always need. Towels for the pool (they always seem to be left behind at swim meets) are a big one that with a large family we never seem to have enough of.
In this notebook, write down the current clothing and shoe sizes for each of your children. That will help you when you are looking at a great winter coat but can't remember if it is the right size or not. Keep track of how many items (things like sweat shirts, long sleeved shirts, etc) the kids currently have to let you know if you need to find more before the next season arrives. Any item that you can take your time looking for should be entered.
Collectibles reference book
If you are planning on getting items at yard sales to sell on an auction site such as eBay, it would be well worth your money to get a copy of my favorite reference book; The Garage Sale & Flea Market Annual. A student from my eBay class who now keeps a copy in his truck told me he was at a yard sale and saw a piece of pottery, but he couldn't remember if it was a good auction item or not. He went to his truck, looked it up and went back and purchased it. He ended up making a pretty penny on it at online auction.
If you are going to try to sell items on auction, it's a good idea to see what is collectible and what isn't. Take a trip to a local antique store to acquaint yourself with what sells and their relative prices.
If it's a good weekend, you can potentially be out yard saling for hours. I have a kit that I throw into my car first thing. Items include:
Water – You are going to get thirsty A snack – Likewise, you might end up getting a little hungry Large canvas bag – Store the small items you buy so they don't get lost in your car Hand wipes – After some yard sales you just feel like you have to wash your hands Reference book – Gives you a good idea of what sells well at auction Phone – Let’s you keep in touch with your family who may, late in the morning, think you are MIA Quarters – it's my personal philosophy that you shouldn't pass by any lemonade stand run by a child without buying a cup. This doesn't mean that you necessarily have to eat the cookies or drink that super sweet lemonade (many is the time I dump it out on the road before getting into my car) but you should always encourage a child's entrepreneurial initiative.
Prices and the art of haggling
For some reason, most people are too embarrassed to try to haggle with someone about a price. Not me. Unless there is a piece of clothing that is just too good to pass up (sparkly dresses come to mind for my daughter who still wants to be a princess) I won't pay much more than 25 to 50 cents for a shirt or shorts. Pants, depending on the condition, I might go up to $1; coats $5 or less. Before I pay though, I always try to talk the price down. It's part of the yard sale game.
If there is a yard sale where you've hit the mother load with regard to sizes for your child, ask if they will come down in price if you buy many pieces. I've never had someone say no to that request. After all, their goal is usually to “just get rid of the stuff.” By being just a bit savvy, you can get an entire wardrobe for pennies.
Another method that often works to lower payment is to simply ask “Would you consider less?” Most often they do, sometimes they don't – the bottom line is that you won't know if you don't ask.
One note on the clothing: I tend to buy in bulk, especially for the girls. When I come home from yard saling, I make them do a fashion show for me in which they try on every item I've purchased. Each piece that doesn't fit goes right into a bag intended for donations and never even enters the bedrooms.
Although I tend to stop at every yard sale (you just never know what you might find), in general you can find the following items at these types of sales. This is helpful to keep in mind if you are looking for specific items like extra slow cookers for an upcoming party.
Family sales Children's clothing Toys Games Baby supplies
Retirement community sales Antiques Vintage Toiletries (soaps, items gotten on sale, etc) Adult clothing Gifts
Yard sales can be a great tool to help you meet your household budget, but it's how you view it. Some people don't like the idea of wearing and using someone else's clothing and supplies. I once wrote about buying sheets at a yard sale and a reader let me know she thought that it was disgusting to sleep on used sheets. I asked her if she had ever slept in a hotel and guess what, I never heard back.
As for me? I don't mind spending money on my kids and my household, but if I can buy it for less at a yard sale, that's what I'm going to do. If buying at yard sales frees up money to be used else where, I'm all for it. See you on Saturdays.
Wendy Thomas lives in Merrimack with her husband and six children, and has been published in various regional magazines and newspapers. Check out her blog, Simple Thrift-Creative Living on Less, at http://simplethrift.wordpress.com.