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Frugal Living
Yard Sale Etiquette
By Nancy Twigg 
May 17, 2005, 18:10

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Just call me the Miss Manners of garage sales.

You see, I believe there's a certain moral and ethical code governing the sacred act of selling and buying secondhand stuff. Contrary to popular belief, a yard sale is not an anything-goes, no-etiquette-needed free-for-all. As in any social situation, there are certain things you do or avoid doing in order to be polite.

Being avid yard sale shoppers, my husband, Michael and I often run across examples of bad manners, both by shoppers and by sellers. Here are a few of the faux pas we've seen that could have been easily avoided by the simple practice of good yard sale etiquette.

Buyers' Blunders
* Being an "Early Bird" - If the paper says the sale starts at 7a.m., don't show up at 6 or don't drive by the night before in hopes beating the other shoppers to the bargains. Yard sale shoppers who peer in garage windows with flashlights or knock on doors at 5:30 a.m. give the rest of us shoppers a bad name.

* Not Respecting the Seller's Property - Walking unnecessarily through the yard, stepping in flowerbeds, and blocking neighbors' driveways are definitely in poor taste. If your children accompany you, see to it that they respect the seller's property as well.

* Carrying Only Large Bills - While it is the seller's responsibility to have adequate change, producing a $20 bill for a 25-cent purchase is extremely inconsiderate. Save small bills and change throughout the week for your Saturday yard sale trip.

* Loud or Obnoxious Behavior - Just because the seller is up early doesn't mean his neighbors are. Driving a noisy vehicle or speaking and laughing loudly will not endear you to the seller. Aggressive haggling or obnoxious negotiating tactics aren't welcome, either.

* Not Respecting Other Buyers - If you want to buy a large item or more items than you can carry, ask the proprietor to mark the item or start a "pile" for you in an out-of-the-way place. It is rude to claim items as yours while you continue shopping if you haven't made any effort to let the proprietor and other shoppers know you intend to purchase them.

Sellers' Slips
* Not Pricing Items Clearly - I don't know which is worse: not pricing items in a way that is easily understandable or not pricing items at all. Buyers shouldn't have to work at figuring out the prices. If your pricing system is too confusing, some shoppers will get frustrated and leave without making purchases.

* Accommodating Early Birds - Allowing early shoppers to get the bargains is unfair to the shoppers who respect your wishes. When sellers accommodate early birds, they only provide positive reinforcement to this inconsiderate behavior. Politely but firmly tell early birds that the sale is not open for business yet.

* Trying to Sell Used Stuff at "New" Prices - If your stuff means that much to you, take it to a consignment store or sell it through a classified ad or on eBay. Yard sale shoppers are looking for bargains, not prices barely below what you'd find at a discount store.

* Being Careless with Yard Sale Preparations - For the buyer who thinks she has found the item of her dreams, there is nothing worse than hearing, "That's not for sale!" Remove things you do not want to sell from the sale area (lawnmowers, bicycles, wagons, etc.). If that is not possible, cover them with an old sheet or dropcloth, or use masking tape to rope off areas that are not part of the sale.

* Not Taking Down Old Signs - After the yard sale is over, your yard sale signs are litter that should be disposed of just like any other garbage. Carelessly leaving old signs up ad infinitum is extremely inconsiderate to both shoppers and neighbors who must look at your weather-beaten signs for months to come.

If you have ever violated any of these social graces (as either a seller or buyer), take heart. Yard sale fanatics are a forgiving bunch. Just make a silent vow that in the future, you will always be on your best bargaining behavior.

Nancy Twigg is the editor of Counting the Cost, a free twice-a-month e-zine devoted about simple, frugal and abundant living. She is also a popular conference and retreat speaker as well as the author of two books. To learn more about Nancy's work, visit

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