How to find crazy good deals at garage sales

A good day for vintage.

A lot of people have remarked on the insanely good deals I get at garage sales. I want to talk a little about how I do this. For the purposes of this post, I am considering only garage sales and other sales run by a person and not a company. My strategies are different when negotiating at a sale run by a company. So. Here are a couple of tactics I use as a buyer to get good deals.

1. Go to tons of garage sales.

This is the number one biggest secret to finding good stuff at sales. Most of the time, you're not going to go to one garage sale and find every piece of clothing you could possibly want for the next three months. Sometimes I go to 20 sales in one day and buy nothing. Sometimes I buy one thing here and there. Sometimes I luck into a sale with tons of desirable, reasonably priced stuff and clean them out. But if you don't go to tons and tons of them, you're not going to run into much that's right for you. And going to a lot of garage sales is also the best way to start learning what's right for you and what's a fair price in your area.

2. Always have the seller start the price negotiations.

This doesn't mean standing around looking like you need help, though that can sometimes be a useful tactic. It also doesn't mean stalling to the point of ridiculousness. It just means that you should always try to get the seller to throw out a number first. (And the seller may want to try to get you to throw out a number first, too.) If something is marked, ask if she can do better on the price. If something isn't marked, ask what she's looking for and then ask if she can do any better. The more times you ask the seller to come down before you even make an offer, the better you're going to do. Any seller with a brain will have left some cushion on her bottom price so you likely still have room to ask if she'd take $5 (or whatever) for it. THEN you can agreeably meet somewhere in the middle.

Jewelry ahoy.

3. Assess the conditions of the sale.

If some lady is still sitting on a pile of designer clothing and she's still asking high prices for it, she doesn't really want to give it up and you probably need to just move on. If you see designer shoes and the sale is being run by some schlubby but friendly man there's a good chance he just wants to make some sales and you can safely pick a bunch up and ask for prices. If there's a huge crowd of people all trying to get prices at once, the seller wants to get you priced and gone as quickly as possible so if you take it slow and try to negotiate, she may negotiate down faster to get you away. Be nice, but use this to your advantage.

4. Always take some time to "consider" the purchase.

If someone gives you a fair price, or even a shockingly low price, on something, always take a minute to consider the purchase. It's a good time to make sure you didn't miss a hole or stain. You don't want him to think his prices are too low and high ball you on anything else you want to buy and you don't want him to think the price is no big deal to you. If the price is shockingly low, it's a little chancy to ask for a lower one. It might be best to say "that sounds fair" and get your money out. You don't want to run the risk of making a belligerent seller, so use your judgment.

5. Maintain the position of power.

Always remember that there will be another sale so you can walk away from whatever one you're currently visiting. This garage sale is impermanent and the people need YOU, not the other way around. Obviously acting snotty about it won't get you anywhere but if you've been friendly and asked for some prices and they see you walking away, they're going to become motivated to get you to buy things. And that means price dropping.

Hey, look, my Escada pin!

6. Ask the seller about herself.

She doesn't care about your nana and she's going to think you're ripping her off if you act like you know everything there is to know about what you're buying but she'll be happy to talk about herself and the stuff she's selling and why she's selling it and all that good gravy. If you care about her and her stuff, she's going to want it to go to you. So at least pretend to care while you refrain from drooling all over those Gucci sunglasses.

7. Buy in large quantities whenever possible.

It's fair to expect that you will get a bigger price break on each item if you agree to buy a whole bunch of items at once. The goal of a sale is to clean things out and you're helping. So make sure you're rewarded.

Disagree? Have other tips? Please share!


  1. I think an important tip to remember is to never go out looking for something. If you go to a sale looking for scarves, for example, you might not find any and also might miss some great shoes. It is important to keep an open mind when pleaying the game.

    1. Or if you do have an exact thing, long play it. Like if you want a great raincoat, maybe get an okay raincoat and then always have an eye out and maybe in 2 years the perfect raincoat will come along?


Let's dance.