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Frugal Living
Cha-Ching! Tips for a Successful Day of Yard Sale Shopping
By Nancy Twigg 
Jun 6, 2006, 00:00

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Yard sale season is now in full swing. For those of you who truly want to save money on your family’s expenses, yard sale shopping is a great way to find gently-used clothes, toys and household items for pennies on the dollar. Here are some tips for making your yard sale shopping trip as fun and profitable as possible.

If you don’t subscribe to the newspaper, buy or borrow one the day before your shopping trip. Or, if your local newspaper lists all garage sale ads online, save yourself a little money and get the yard sale listings there. Just make sure that the paper’s online listing is complete. Some newspapers charge advertisers extra to have their ads posted online. A quick call to the newspaper’s advertising department can confirm if the newspaper’s website contains all the yard sale ads or not.

On the day of your shopping trip, you want to spend the majority of your time actually finding bargains, not driving all over town. Before you leave home, use the classified ads and a map to locate areas that have the most sales. To save time and gas, concentrate on hitting all the sales in those areas.

Once you know the general area to which you are headed, take some time to map out your exact route. A map-making computer program such as Rand McNally’s StreetFinder comes in very handy for this. Or simply use a city map or Yahoo Maps online at to locate sales and get directions.

Your yard sale shopping experience will be more pleasant if you—and any family members who go with you—are comfortable. Make sure everyone wears weather-appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes. Sunscreen and hats are also helpful if your crew will be out in the sun for long periods. Don’t forget to make sure everyone hits the bathroom before you leave the house!

To keep you and your young yard sale shoppers’ hunger and thirst at bay, take along a small cooler with easy-to-handle snacks and drinks. Of course you could stop for fast-food when stomachs start to growl, but doing so would take time away from bargain-hunting.

Rather than carrying your purse, you may want to carry your money and any essentials in a fannypack or small change purse you can put in your pocket. This leaves your hands free to inspect the merchandise and also frees you from worrying that your purse being stolen.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge a yard sale by your first impressions, either. You never know what kinds of bargains lurk in the seller’s garage. Sometimes you find the best deals at the sales that are least organized because the sellers just want to get rid of their stuff.

If your kids shop with you, save yourself a lot of hassles by making sure they each have their own money to spend. Give them a pre-determined amount to spend before you leave the house, or have them bring their allowance money. This saves you from being the bad guy when the kids ask for things you don’t want to buy. Many times they decide they don’t want the items bad enough to spend their own money.

Negotiating is the name of the game. Most sellers are willing to deal as long as you are fair with them. Asking the seller to take $2 for an item marked $20 is pushing your luck. The seller may be more than willing to sell the item for $15 or even $10, depending how late in the day it is. Remember too that yard sales provide an excellent opportunity to teach children about negotiating. For the young or shy shopper, you may have to help out a bit by saying something like, "My son wondered if you’d take $1.00 for this game." Eventually your child will learn to make these requests on his own.

Going to yard sales early in the day (as soon as the sales open) has the advantage of getting the best selection. If you are looking for a big-ticket item such as furniture or electronics, you’ll probably have to go early. Going later in the day has its advantages, too. Sometimes sellers are willing to practically give their stuff away rather than have to pack it up and carry it back in their homes.

Be sure to carry lots of change and small bills. Of course it is the seller’s responsibility to have change, but wiping out the seller’s entire change supply with a $20 for a $1 sale is inconsiderate. Save your change throughout the week to use for your Saturday yard sale trip.

If your time for shopping is short, you may want to concentrate only on one-day sales. If a sale runs on both Friday and Saturday, there is usually little left by the time Saturday rolls around. To get the biggest return on your time investment, visit the one-day sales first; then if you have extra time, you can stop by any sales that have been running for two days.

If you try to negotiate with the seller on a large item but the seller won’t budge, leave your name and phone number along with the price you are willing to pay. Tell the proprietor to give you a call if the item doesn’t sell and she decides she accept your offer.

Nancy Twigg is the editor of Counting the Cost, a free email newsletter about simple and frugal living. Visit Nancy online at or at her newest site,

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