I have made several thousand dollars during each garage sale that I’ve had. And all of them were held for one day only. I am going to share my secrets so that you too can end your sale with a shoe box full of money.
I use the measurement of a shoe box because that’s where I’ve always stored the money during the sale. Usually, there is no time to count or fold the money so I would just throw it into a shoe box. The best part of each garage sale was counting all the money at the end. Wow, was that fun! My memories of it as I write this are giving me the same feelings of exhilaration that I felt then.
Having an extensive background in marketing, I applied this knowledge to various aspects of the garage sale, as you will see. If you follow each of the steps that I will present, you will be successful too. Cut corners and your results will be reduced accordingly.
Here are the benefits of having a garage sale.
- Make money and have fun doing it.
- Clear out unused, obsolete, and ill-fitting stuff.
- Free up space to accommodate other things and get organized.
- Sell old appliances and gadgets and use the money to buy new ones.
- Make money to pay bills, purchase needed items, or go on vacation.
Important Note: This article is very long: 5,829 words. It covers everything you need to know for a successful sale. If you don’t have time to read it all now, I suggest you either bookmark it or send it to yourself using one of the share tools below the article.
Pre-Garage Sale Activities
Set the Date, Get Permits, and Follow the Rules
Set a date for your sale that is at least a month or more in the future. Select a date that you expect good weather, not on a holiday or special event weekend, and fits the schedule of all participants. Saturday is the best day for a garage sale followed by Sunday. Weekdays (workdays) are a waste of time.
Most cities require a garage sale permit. The cost is usually small. In cities where I held garage sales, they have code violation officers who patrol neighborhoods and issue citations if you do not have a permit or are not following the rules.
Rules typically center on the starting time, usually, 7 or 8 am, and the number and placement of signs. They also have restrictions on the number of garage sales that you can conduct each year. All of the rules were established to protect neighbors from all the traffic and noise that a garage sale can generate. In your particular case, if you follow these tips, the traffic will be huge!
Identify and Collect Your Inventory
The first obvious place to look for inventory is in your garage and other “storage” areas. The items in those locations represent only a small portion of your potential inventory, however. What you need to do is go through every room, cabinet, closet, and drawer in your entire house, garage, office, storage unit, and any other property you own and look for potential merchandise. Go through this activity with these considerations in mind.
- Most everything is sellable if it’s not broken, cracked, scratched, or otherwise damaged in some significant way. Look at each item in terms of how you could clean it up for sale.
- Individually, things might not appear to be of much value, but when you put them together, they become more significant. For example, if you have a desk full of unused pens and pencils, they would be more attractive to a customer if you bundle them together with a rubber band in groups of 10 or more.
- Consider all the items in your kitchen. Would it be worth it to you to sell all the stuff you rarely use, that’s a little worn out, or that no longer appeals to you so that you could get more organized and maybe buy a few replacement items that would enhance your kitchen?
- Look at more expensive items like appliances, televisions, stereos, computers, and phones and consider if you sold these items along with some other things would you have enough money to replace a couple of them with the newest model?
- Lean toward getting rid of your old stuff, freeing up space, and getting organized over saving, hoarding, and “I might need, use, or wear this someday” thinking.
Gather Display Tables
You’ll need as many tables as you can get to display your merchandise. The easier you make it for customers to view your merchandise the more that they will buy. Tables also make it easier for you to move your merchandise from your garage or backyard to a more visible and accessible location, like your driveway on the day of the sale.
The kinds of tables that I am talking about are picnic, patio, card, and fold-up tables. See how many you can borrow from family, friends, and neighbors. The more, the better.
Prepare Your Merchandise for Sale
You can significantly increase the selling price of your merchandise by simply cleaning it up, organizing it, and displaying it attractively. If customers see piles of dirty and poorly organized junk, they’ll just leave quickly without buying a thing. On the other hand, if they see clean, well-presented merchandise they will stay and search for items to buy.
Every item should be made to look its best — like new or near new. Making sure that each item is as clean as possible is the best way to increase the perceived value followed by organization and presentation. To organize merchandise, roll up electrical cords with a rubber band, put similar items in the same area, place small related items in a box, and reserve tables and/or spaces for identified categories. Your categories might include kitchen, appliances, electronics, linen, furniture, books, music CDs, office, furniture, and so on.
You can also increase the value of items by displaying them with their instruction manuals, accessories, and original boxes if you have them.
Your objective in preparing your merchandise is to sell expensive things at the highest price possible, the bulk of your items for a few dollars each, and the rest of it as a package deal or for whatever price you can get.
Pricing, Tagging, and Adjusting
Pricing is a crucial part of making your sale a success. To determine the appropriate price for each item I suggest the following.
- On expensive items, determine the original or current selling price. Do this by memory (if truly possible), newspaper ads, Internet search, or by calling the store where you purchased it.
- Once you have a fairly accurate original or current selling price, consider its age and condition. Then consider what the item would have to be priced at to entice you to buy it at a garage sale. My pricing strategy is simply this: Divide the purchase price of the item in half and then increase or decrease the amount based on its condition, age, and current popularity. For example, newer television types (technology) are more popular than old ones. If the price still didn’t feel right I’d divide it in half again.
- Keep in mind that your objective in your pricing is to offer buyers a price that they cannot resist so that you have zero inventory at the end of your sale. Any items not sold are lost profit opportunities and you have to hassle with what to do with them next.
- Being a garage sale and not a Macy’s sale, people expect a bargain. So don’t count on getting what you think or know something is worth on every item. This is especially true of things that you value personally. Price your merchandise aggressively based on what you think a customer would pay.
- Price items just below the dollar amount you want to get and any change in multiples of 25 cents. Using change amounts in multiples of 25 cents will make dealing with change much easier. For example, you might price items like this: $49, $29, $4.25, $3.50, or $2.75.
- A good pricing strategy when you have a large supply of certain items like jewelry, music CDs, movie DVDs, or books is to offer a certain number of them for one fixed price. For example, you might offer any five music CDs for $15. You might think that $3 apiece is too low, but unless they are the hottest CDs currently on the market, you may actually have them priced too high. In addition, be prepared to lower the price if you notice that you are not selling items offered in this manner.
Tagging each item with a price is crucial to your success as well. Here are the advantages of tagging each item with a price.
- It’s nearly impossible to come up with an accurate price when you’re under pressure to decide immediately. This is particularly true when you have six to 12 customers wanting a price from you at the same time.
- By determining the price of each item in advance, you can come up with a price that is fair to you and will sell the item.
- When all items are tagged with a price, customers can shop on their own while you attend to other matters.
Many different things can be used for tags. I just use masking tape. It’s easy to write on, it tears into pieces easily, and you can quickly remove it if you need to adjust a price. If you want to get fancy, you can get small 1” to 2″ multipurpose labels from an office supplies store.
Adjusting your prices is something that you’ll need to do as the sale progresses. Here’s how.
- If you notice that customers are quickly moving on after they look at the cost of a particular item, you probably need to lower the price. If it continues, lower it more. If you see a customer who shows a lot of interest in an item until they see the price, ask them what they think it’s worth.
- Most of your sales will occur during the early part of the day. Therefore, by 10 or 11 AM you should survey your inventory for possible price reductions. In the mid-afternoon and especially a couple of hours before you plan to end your sale, you should review your merchandise for possible price reductions again.
- Your objective with price reductions is to find the right price point that will entice customers to buy a particular item. Even if you paid a considerable amount originally for a particular item and it has sentimental value, it may not command much of a price at a garage sale.
If you want to get rid of everything by the end of the day, be aggressive in your pricing, clearly tag every item with a price, and continually adjust your prices as the day goes along. Your strategy should be sales volume and your objective should be to sell everything!
Arrange for Selling Assistants
I’ve always been amazed at how many customers showed up to each of my sales. If I didn’t have family members and friends helping me wait on customers I would have been overwhelmed and I would have missed a lot of sales.
Let me give you a word of caution in choosing selling assistants. Be sure that they know to handle customers and give change. Also, be sure that you trust them completely. It’s very easy for a person to hide some of the cash they get from customers during a garage sale.
Advertising & Promoting Your Garage Sale
I’ve never run an ad in a newspaper or paid for any advertising of any kind. Customers have told me that they depend on the signs they find on street corners and not on newspaper ads when they are looking for garage sales.
Since it’s free and easy, I’d recommend posting an ad about your sale on Craig’s List.com. If I had been more familiar with Craig’s List when I did my sales, I would have definitely posted a listing. I have no particular knowledge about garage sales listings, but I’ve had some amazing success selling other items on Craig’s List.
If you have the ability to post an ad on your community bulletin board or in its newsletter at no charge I’d do it. But don’t rely on either of these notices to draw much traffic. Good and abundant signage is what draws traffic.
Here are a couple of things to consider regarding whom you invite to “drop by” your sale. If you invite family members and/or friends, not only might you feel obligated to sell your best stuff to them at huge discounts that cut deeply into your profits, but they may also take you away from attending to the business of the garage sale. For these reasons, I would suggest that you do not invite them.
Create Garage Sale Signs and Plan Their Placement
If I were asked to pick the most important component for a successful garage sale it would be the signs. Good garage sale signs and arrow signs get people to your house. Here are the keys to great signs that will draw an avalanche of traffic to your location.
- Create the signs yourself so that they stand out from any others that may be present on the day of your sale. For this reason, I recommend that you do not buy garage sale signs from a store unless you plan to do something special to make them stand out.
- The best way to make your signs is with a publishing software like Microsoft Publisher. If you don’t have access to a computer you can paint the lettering with a brush, but it must be legible and brightly colored.
- There two different signs that you need to make — one that says “Garage Sale” and one that has a large “Arrow” on it for directions. You do not need to include your address on your signs. Most drivers will not be able to read this information nor will they need to if your sign is unique and an arrow sign accompanies it.
- If you’re creating your signs on a computer, which I highly recommend, make the words “Garage Sale” and the arrow symbol as large as can be printed on a standard 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of paper. I would suggest that you use a wide bold font like “Elephant.”
- Be sure to add the date(s) and hours of your sale in the bottom left corner of your signs. This will help prevent people from removing your signs to make room for their own because they carelessly believe your sale occurred on an earlier date.
Here are copies of the actual garage sale signs and arrow signs that I created for my sales. You are welcome to use any of them. They are in a PDF format. You’ll need Adobe Reader to view and make copies of them. To download a free copy of this software, go to Adobe.com.
Click on the appropriate links below to start the download and save them to your computer.
Garage Sale (GS) Sign Downloads
- GS Sign
- GS Sign – Large (4 pages that must be attached.)
- GS Arrow
- GS Directional – Left
- GS Directional – Right
Please report text & link errors here.
- To keep your signs rigid and easy to read, attach your signs using large glue sticks to cardboard that you cut up yourself using discarded cardboard boxes. You can find a plentiful supply of cardboard boxes behind your local grocery or drug store where their loading docks are located. A good size for your cardboard rectangles is 10” X 14”. You’ll also need some that are 20” X 25”. For the bigger signs, you can download the large sign above and paste it together or use paint to write the lettering.
- Post the larger signs at important intersections and street corners and in a highly visible location in front of your house. Make sure the paint you use shows up well on the cardboard. Black or bright fluorescent colors work well. Don’t use spray paint. And don’t use heavy paper or poster material as it does not stay flat in the wind making it impossible to read and it tears easily when you use nails to post the signs.
- You should make enough signs to place them in all four directions at all four major intersections around your home and all streets leading back to your house. This will take some planning, but I’d recommend that you make more than your calculations indicate. You’ll need about 40-50 10” X 14” garage sale signs, 6-8 20” X 25” garage sale signs, and 50-70 10” X 14” arrow signs. Make all the arrow signs the same. You can simply turn the sign so that it’s pointing in the direction that you want customers to go.
- In most cases, you will post a garage sale sign and an arrow sign together. But you may also post an arrow sign alone when appropriate to guide them along. Its unique appearance will tie it to your sale.
- Place your signs in locations where oncoming traffic can easily see them and have time to respond to the directions of your arrows. As mentioned above, place your signs in all four directions
- You can affix them to trees and wooden signposts with nails, and metal and concrete posts and poles with clear packing tape. Be sure to attach them securely so that the wind will not disturb them and they are clearly visible to oncoming traffic. The best way to do this on metal and concrete is to run the tape vertically over the sign first and then wrap the tape around the post or pole horizontally just above and below the sign. This way the sign remains flat.
- If you really want to make your signs stand out and draw attention, add the same color ribbon, aluminum streamers, or balloons to each of your signs as you post them.
- Make a mental note as to where you place each of your signs so that you can easily remove them later. In order to maintain a positive relationship with your neighbors, community, and city it is imperative that you remove ALL your signs including the nails and tape immediately after your sale ends. In other words, on the same day within a few hours of finishing things up and before you count your money or celebrate.
- Put your signs up on the morning of your garage sale 1-2 hours before it starts and NOT the night before. It’s best to do this for these reasons. There is a chance that sprinklers, rain, or severe wind might damage your signs. There is also the possibility that a person conducting a garage sale on another street may remove your signs and put up their own signs. Or they might gain better sign positioning on signposts and trees than your signs. People may remove your signs because they believe your garage sale occurred a day or week earlier or they do it maliciously. (Adding date(s) and hours to your signs will help prevent this.) I’ve had this happen to me. I did not discover it until I went to remove my signs after my garage sale ended. Fortunately, my sign placement was much more numerous than his so only a few signs were removed. I went to the guy’s house and confronted him. It turned out to be the owner’s teenage son who did it.
Get Change and Select a Money Storage Container (Shoe box)
Don’t rely on your customers for change. You can lose a lot of sales if you don’t have change.
Go to your bank and get a least $100 in change. The majority of it should be one-dollar bills followed by five-dollar bills. As I mentioned in the pricing section, items with change should be priced in multiples of 25 cents. Therefore, you’ll mostly need quarters but you should get a few dimes and nickels.
Note of caution. Do not accept checks or foreign currency, or anything else except cash.
Get Shopping Bags and Boxes for Customers to Haul Stuff Away
Making it easy for customers to haul stuff away will encourage them to buy more. Gather a good supply of plastic shopping bags and boxes from around your house or neighborhood store and have them handy for the day of your garage sale.
If you’re selling a lot of smaller valuable items like jewelry, food storage bags work well.
Having boxes on hand for fragile and breakable items makes it easier for a customer to make the decision to buy.
Advise Your Neighbors
A successful garage sale can create a record amount of traffic on your street along with a lot of noise. Knowing this it is important that you inform your neighbors about your upcoming garage sale.
You advise them several weeks in advance to confirm that you won’t be interfering with any plans that they may have. Asking them this question would be a good way to begin your conversation. Conclude by thanking them in advance for their patience.
If a neighbor asks to add a few items to your garage sale, I would suggest that you let them as an act of goodwill. I would not recommend that you ask neighbors to participate, however. Whether it be one neighbor or the entire block, additional participants will dilute or perhaps even damage many of the strategies that I am describing.
Plan an After Garage Sale Celebration
To bolster your motivation and drive, plan a specific reward for all garage sale participants for immediately after all aspects of the sale are complete. This means after you have removed ALL your signs throughout the neighborhood, cleaned up the sale area, stored unsold merchandise, and returned borrowed tables etc.
Your reward could range from a no limitations restaurant takeout meal that you eat at home to going to your favorite restaurant to taking a trip to an amusement park or resort.
Funds for your reward should come right off the top of your garage sale profits. In other words, it should be taken out before the money is split up.
Garage Sale Day Activities
Early Bird Catches the Worm
Your biggest sales come early so you need to be ready. But you also need to get ready quietly as noise carries in the early morning and you don’t want to disturb your neighbors on a Saturday or Sunday morning!
Most city ordinances for garage sales that I’ve seen allow you to start at 7 or 8 AM. If you consider that you’ll need to put up all your signs and stage all your merchandise before your start time, you’ll need to begin 3 hours ahead.
I am recommending 3 hours ahead because you need to be ready about an hour before your start time because there are a few hardcore garage sale buyers that always show up early. And they come in trucks with a wad of money! No kidding!
Setup your merchandise first, or get a good start on it, and then put up your signs. If you have enough helpers to split up the chores, I would recommend this strategy. Get work done that requires more than one person first like moving your display tables into place. Then you or some other highly reliable person should go put up the signs. Putting up signs in the number and way that I instructed will take about 1 1/2 hours or more depending on the way the streets in your community are situated.
Tip: Do not underestimate the importance of starting early and being fully prepared to do so. The majority of your sales and customers will come during the first 3 hours, with the first hour and a half having the most.
Stage Your Merchandise
Decide beforehand where you are going to position your tables and group your merchandise by category in your sales area. I would recommend that you actually draw a rough map for this purpose.
The best place to display your merchandise is NOT in your garage or backyard. The best place is toward the front of your driveway and front yard near the street and then back up your driveway to your garage.
Your objective is to have certain merchandise out front of your house so that customers can see it from down the street. Your tables should be positioned strategically around your driveway.
If you don’t have enough tables to accommodate all your merchandise, lay out some old but clean blankets, sheets, tablecloths, tarps, sheeting, or other material to display your merchandise on. Your merchandise will look more appealing this way than just sitting on concrete, asphalt, or grass.
Position your merchandise in groups with similar products. Some shoppers are only interested in one particular category. Others are drawn to several categories. So the best thing you can do to increase your sales is to group related merchandise together.
Layout your merchandise like you see it done at your favorite stores. Place your highest profit items in a place where customers can easily see them. Set taller items in the back and shorter items in the front. Put slower moving items in locations that are more visible.
As items are sold, continually re-position your merchandise so that your display area remains attractive and not looking like all the “good stuff” is already gone.
Use signs to make customers aware of any special sale arrangements, product categories, or merchandise display areas. For example, you might have signs that offer your books at 5 for $2.00, feature a price list of items in a particular category, or direct customers to merchandise in an adjacent area of your property like your backyard patio.
Tip: Clothing rarely sells well. So don’t depend on it for generating sales. If you do display clothing in your garage sale put it all in one area off to the side and rig up some poles to hang it up on. Do not feature it by putting it out front. If you do include it, be prepared to sell it at very low prices.
Setup Access to Electrical Outlets for Testing
You’re going to need to run an extension cord from your house and/or garage to where your electronic equipment and appliances are located. I am suggesting this so that if a customer asks you to turn on a television or some appliance you are prepared.
I do not recommend that you turn on televisions, stereos, appliances, or any other electric product for these reasons. (1) It encourages people to play with your merchandise, which can get it dirty or damaged; (2) television screens don’t look good outdoors in the bright sun; and (3) it does not help sell merchandise, it’s only a distraction and a nuisance.
Post Your Signs and Directional Arrows
Once you’re nearly done staging and positioning your merchandise, someone (preferably you) should post your signs while everyone else finishes up. This task will take up to 1 1/2 hours to do and it should be completed one hour before your start time.
Place your signs as described in the above section entitled, ”Create Garage Sale Signs and Plan Their Placement.” (Just use the “Back” button in your browser to return here.)
Consider the best location for each sign in terms of a person’s ability to see it from a moving vehicle and respond to it with a lane change or a turn. Use your garage sale signs and especially your arrow signs to lead them to your house in the easiest and most logical manner. Your objective is to make it as easy as possible for customers to find your garage sale.
Place your large signs at high-traffic intersections, street locations that lead to your home, and in front of your house facing down the street in both directions.
Attach an arrow sign directly below each of your garage sales signs including your large signs. You can also post arrow signs alone in strategic locations to help lead customers to your house. At places where the route to your house might get confusing because it crosses a major street or where a turn is required, post another garage sale sign and arrow sign together in a highly visible location.
Using the methods that I’ve described for making and posting signs, I have received countless words of praise from customers attending my garage sales. They would say things like, “Your signs are the best I’ve ever seen. They led me right to your house.” As I mentioned before, I believe that signage is the most important part in generating traffic. Not online ads, not newspaper ads, not bulletin board fliers, but signage.
Attend to Your Customers Graciously
Treat people who come to your sale like customers, but with a neighborly twist.
Your customers will be spending their hard-earned cash to buy stuff you no longer want. So be gracious, attentive, and respectful.
Don’t be pushy or sarcastic. Instead, be attentive, helpful, and informative. For example, if you see a customer looking at a CD player politely inform them that you have an extensive selection of music CDs on a nearby table if they’re interested. By the way, the music CDs should be located near your CD players.
Prepare to Negotiate and Haggle
You need to prepare yourself and your sales assistants to negotiate and haggle with your customers. Most of your customers will try to negotiate with you on your price. Their skill level will vary depending on the type of garage sale shopper they are.
There are two types of people who go to garage sales: casual garage sale shoppers and professional garage sale shoppers.
Casual garage sale shoppers are people who only occasionally go to garage sales. They usually don’t buy much. And their negotiations style is usually timid and neighborly if at all.
Professional garage sale shoppers are people who go to garage sales regularly, many weekly, looking for items for themselves or their business. These people know how to “work” a garage sale and they know how to negotiate and haggle. These people will be your first customers to arrive. Some of them will show up before the city’s allowable start time. Be prepared for these customers as they can represent up to 70% of your sales!
A third group that frequently falls into the professional garage sale category because of their superior negotiating skills are “recent immigrant” garage sale shoppers. I learned a lot about negotiating from them. They are good negotiators so you really need to be alert when they present you with offers. Here’s why.
Most US-born Americans have little experience in negotiating and haggling for things they buy or even sell. In many other countries throughout the world, negotiating and haggling is the normal way of buying everyday items. Because of this, they become very skilled in these areas.
People who immigrate to the U.S. from these countries use these skills when they buy things. A garage sale is an ideal environment for them to use these skills.
Immigrant garage sale shoppers are either buying for themselves, their families, or for their business in the US or their country of origin. They can represent your biggest sales, so be attentive, polite, and respectful.
Here are some tips for coming out on top when negotiating with customers.
- Have fun and be playful but stay on your toes.
- Keep a calculator, paper, and pencil in your pocket.
- Consider offers carefully, especially on expensive items and large quantity purchases. For example, you may have customers who will want to buy all your music CDs, televisions, or furniture.
- Do not respond to emotional appeals like: “Please!” or “Come on!” or “I don’t have much money.”
- When you get ridiculously low offers, and you’ll get a lot of them, politely counter with a reasonable discount near “your” original price.
- If someone asks, “What is your best price?” do not respond but rather ask them “What do you think it’s worth?” or “How much are you willing to pay?” There’s an old saying in the world of sales that says, “Whoever answers first loses.” The reason for this is that the buyer may have a higher price in mind than you. Whoever is put on the spot to respond first will usually offer a price that favors the other person. It doesn’t always work, but it does more often than not.
- Before giving your counteroffer, point out the value, usefulness, and/or positive experiences you’ve had with a particular item — when it’s true and appropriate.
- Consider how you might add other items as part of your negotiation. By doing this you can sell more stuff and make more money if increasing the price as part of the deal is appropriate.
- After you have reached an agreement and taken their money, thank them sincerely. If they feel that the deal was handled fairly and respectfully, they may stay and look for more stuff to buy.
Clean Up and Disposal of Remaining Merchandise
In order to stay on the good side of your neighbors and the city, remove ALL of your signs, including the nails and tape, throughout the neighborhood. This is especially important if you plan to have a garage sale in the future. After you count your money, I am sure that you’ll want to do it again.
There are three possibilities for remaining merchandise: (1) reconsider and keep particular items, (2) save it for a future garage sale, or (3) give it away to a non-profit charitable organization. If you give it away to a charitable organization, be sure to get a receipt for the total value of your donation for tax purposes.
Time for Counting and Celebrating
You’ve been planning and preparing for months and you’ve just finished your garage sale. It was hectic, exciting, and fun all at the same time. Now you’re a bit exhausted but looking forward to your rewards – counting the money and celebrating!
The best part of a garage sale is counting the money. I’ve always been amazed at how much money there was in my shoe box. Looking at all the dollar bills inside I always mentally estimated a total. I was way off every time. I was figuring in the hundreds but the total was always in the thousands.
The next best part is the celebration. Whatever you choose to do, remember to pull out all the stops and really enjoy yourselves. Conducting a successful garage sale is a lot of work. So be sure to celebrate!
You’ll find yourselves having many stories to share about the garage sale during your celebration. Participants will talk about how they negotiated the sale of this or that item. Or they will talk about their haggling experience with a particular customer. It will be a fun time.
A garage sale is a great way to clear out stuff that you no longer want and make a nice pile of cash in the process.