Used Or Pre-Loved?

We all have favorite ways we make our family budgets stretch as far as we can. Some of us are expert deal hunters. Some of us are coupon clippers. Some of us are amazing negotiators. And some of us comb garage sales for some fabulous deals. More than once I've given a gift that has elicited the response, "I love it - it's perfect! Wherever did you find it!?" (I do not, however, let on that the item was a garage sale discovery. I just say, "I have my sources.")

Garage Sale Sign with Shoppers

Garage sales have long been a great way to save money on everything from clothing to household decor to collectibles to furniture. But not all garage sales are equal. It may be hit or miss to a certain extent, you can increase the odds of a hit with some prior research and planning. As with any other kinds of shopping, have a strategy ready before you go - it's just a different kind of strategy when it's a garage sale.

Plot and plan

Rather than burn through a whole Saturday morning by hitting every possible garage sale in my area, I go out of my area and focus on a couple or several garage sales in, well, the "high-rent" area of my town and/or surrounding towns. The neighborhoods where the homes are a little (or a lot) bigger, and so are the family budgets. (Or were bigger - everything has really changed in the last year or so!) Granted, garage sales happen less frequently in these neighborhoods (and garage sales in my neighborhood can be great, too), but when they do happen, there are usually pretty darn good.

I've found barely worn children's clothes from high-end manufacturers, barely used small kitchen appliances, amazing decorative accessories and expensive toys. My friend, however, once managed to swing probably the best deal I've ever heard of: a three year old sectional couch in a gorgeous mocha velvet for... wait for it... $50. Having it professionally cleaned cost far more - and it was still an amazing deal (and is gorgeous in her living room!).

On the boards: Readers share garage sale tips & tricks

While not all deals will be so spectacular, they do happen. You just have to know where to look and be ready for them. Don't just look through the garage sale listings in the local paper, plot them using an Internet mapping service. Or, troll a desired neighborhood on Friday afternoon looking for signs. Before you head out, know exactly where you want to go, and your route between sales.

Don't take the kids, do take cash

When I head out on garage sale excursions, I don't take the kids. I take just me - or a girlfriend. If I took the kids, I'd be bogged down with "Oh, Mommy! Look at this! I just have to have this!" or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, price tag"Another stop! I'm so bored!" If my husband isn't home to keep an eye on the kids, I don't go garage sale shopping. While I may miss some deals, so be it. It's not an enjoyable process if I'm being pulled and pestered.

Also, I take cash - preferably smaller bills. This way, I can keep to a budget for what I do find. If I find a deal that costs a little more, the sellers usually are willing to negotiate and hold an item with a certain amount "down."

You don't have to buy anything

As with regular shopping, you don't have to buy anything. Just because it's a good deal doesn't mean you have to take it. While you should be open to possibilities, don't let the "deal" rule the day. Only purchase what you are absolutely sure of - and would purchase at a higher price.

Whatever you bring home, you likely need to clean it before you use it - especially if it's clothing or a textile. If you need to, factor cleaning into your cost for the item to help you make your decision.

Garage sales can be a great way to get some great deals. You just have to know where - and how - to look!

Find out more:

10 tips for a successful day of yard sale shopping

Video: How to have a successful garage sale

Tags: garage sale yard sale

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