The big treasures at sales often go quickly, and since most yard sales are on weekends, starting first thing in the morning will give you an advantage over other shoppers who intend to sleep in, so fire up that coffeemaker. It also helps to show up on the very first day of the sale.
This helps with avoiding impulse buys (yes, yard sales are just as rife with impulse buys as the mall) and with mentally parsing through the clutter of sales to get down to what you really want. Think about what your home or closet really needs before you head out to shop, and write them down if necessary. If you're on a tight budget, refer to the list each time you're considering something you hadn't planned to purchase and resolve only to buy what you need.
Just like it's helpful to plan what you'll buy, it's also a great idea to plan where you'll buy. Check Craigslist or your local paper for listings of that weekend's sales and map out how you'll get to each, then fill up that gas tank. If you've got a whole morning, leave in wiggle room in between for finding sales the good old-fashioned way: scouting out signs as you drive.
Keep lots of cash on you, and don't be surprised if a seller isn't game to bargain early in the morning. It's still worth it to arrive at sales early before the best offerings sell, but keep in mind that sellers will be far more likely to want to give you a deal later in the afternoon when they're closer to closing up shop for the day. If the seller doesn't go for your best offer and you're willing to risk losing out on the item for a deal, plan to come back in the afternoon, and if it hasn't sold by then, you'll be more likely to get yourself that deal.
Be friendly to the sellers and fellow shoppers. Besides the fact that kindness is just great karma (which is reason enough), it also can get you some shopping rewards and extra help. You may even make a new friend! If there's something specific you're looking to buy that the seller doesn't have out, mention it to them anyway. They may know someone nearby who's selling what you want or may know where to buy it new affordably.
A pal can help you scope out your driving route and keep her eyes peeled for yard sale signs you may not notice from the driver's seat. She can also be your voice of reason on questionable purchases.
Research whatever product you're looking for before heading out so you know how to quickly size up whether anything you find for sale is worth your money. Obviously, yard sales are an "as-is" experience, and you're less likely to find something brand new, but being able to gauge the level of wear and tear on the gorgeous picture frame or dress you've spotted may save you a lot of effort post-purchase. Are you willing and able to make any repairs it may need or is saving that time worth the extra price of buying the product brand new? Are you able to tell how many years of use it may have left before giving out?
Products like mattresses, car seats, stuffed animals, certain types of couches and anything else that could be unsafe or a breeding ground for bed bugs and bodily fluids may be worth avoiding. Even clothing purchases should be stored separately from your other clothes until you're able to run them through the wash in hot water and dry them at high heat to protect from any bed bug infestations.
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