Why Garage Sales are Better than Department Stores

Are you getting the best deals on the things you buy?

One of the most important attributes of living a frugal life is finding great deals. Sure, there’s couponing, BOGOs, clearance sales, holiday sales, Black Friday, and a bunch of other types of discounted events at stores. However, the best discounts by far, are always going to be when there’s a one-to-one interaction with another person. One of the best places to do this, is right at their own house when they hold a garage sale! I truly love looking for community garage sales. That’s when a whole subdivision or neighborhood participates, and sometimes you get to go to 40 different garage sales in one day. This is a pretty big thing here in Florida.


What’s so special about garage sales?

Garage sales are better, but of course this depends on what you’re looking for. Obviously, you’re not going food shopping. The things you look for and find at garage sales pertain more to your lifestyle and your hobbies.
Here are some general things you might find at a garage sale. Very general. Really, the list is endless!

Clothing and accessories (e.g., jackets, hats, jewelry, purses, shoes, etc.)
Furniture (e.g., chairs, couches, tables, etc.)
Kitchenware (e.g., dishes, pots and pans, silverware, etc.)
Electronics (e.g., TVs, DVD players, video game consoles, etc.)
Sporting goods (e.g., bicycles, golf clubs, tennis rackets, etc.)
Books, magazines, and other printed materials
Toys and games (e.g., board games,  video games, action figures, stuffed animals, etc.)
Artwork and home decor (e.g., paintings, sculptures, picture frames, etc.)
Collectibles and antiques (e.g., coins, stamps, Pokemon cards, baseball cards, vintage items, etc.)

And, my personal favorites..
Tools and hardware (e.g., power tools, hammers, screwdrivers, saws, table saws, drill presses, miscellaneous tools, etc.)

What if they don’t have what I need?

Have patience. I know that’s not what you want to hear, and it doesn’t sound too sexy, but it’s one of the greatest things to have in your arsenal of, “self-improvement tools.” I’m a living testament that patience can lead up to a great deal of good things when it comes to shopping! The problem is that culture has brainwashed us into thinking we need things right here, and right now.
You’ve heard the car salesmen spiel – “You will never see this deal again! It’s the deal of a lifetime! If you walk out those doors, you’ll regret it!” That’s what we call a lacking mentality, which basically means you’ve been taught to think that there’s not enough of something. But, if you change your mindset to an abundant mentality, you’ll know there’s always a better deal, and if you have patience, what you want will find you.

Finding my dream mattress

Here’s an example. We went to a furniture store because we were thinking about buying a new bed frame and mattress. I wanted something more comfortable because my back and neck had been hurting lately (secretly, I was really just tired of the same old mattress we’ve had for years.) What I had in mind was one of the newer memory foam mattresses, with an adjustable electronic base so we could move it up and down at the push of a button – kind of like the hospital beds. This way we can adjust it to lessen the stress on our backs, read our books in bed at the perfect angle, or use a laptop more comfortably (or just press up and down like a kid and play with a fancy bed.) When we found out the price would be between $5k-$7k, the wife and I decided that our bed wasn’t that horrible. Sure, my dreams of owning one of those fancy beds with buttons that make it go up and down were crushed, but at least we still had $7000 we could use on our mortgage for the next several months.

Why waiting is worth it

Several months later, we were out early on a Saturday morning in April. You guessed it! A community garage sale! We were an upscale neighborhood, which is the best place to go for garage sales because you actually find people that want to get rid of their stuff, and not so much interested in making a profit. The first house we see is a couple setting out two mattresses on their driveway – they were twin XL mattresses, which when put together equal a king size mattress – exactly what we were looking for months earlier. And get this, they were Tempur-Pedic mattresses, which if you know anything about mattresses, these are like the Rolls Royce of mattresses.

Now, I know what you’re thinking –  Eww, a secondhand mattress. From strangers! Gross! Well, we inspected these mattresses closely, and they were obviously very well maintained, with absolutely no stains, no bedbugs, or anything that would indicate that they were in anything less than great condition. They even had removable covers. Plus, we’re not that prideful that we couldn’t see how great of a deal this was. The owners wanted $100 for both mattresses. The original price on these was $4000! Why were they getting rid of them though? They purchased new ones they felt were more comfortable, so they didn’t want these anymore. These were coming home with us!

But wait! There’s more!

The next week we went garage sale shopping again (community garage sales run all through Spring around here.) Wouldn’t you know it, I spotted two separate bases for twin XL mattresses. Yes, like the ones in the hospital that go up and down. I could already picture myself in my new bed, making it go up and down with the simple push of a button. Dreams do come true!
The owner said one worked, and the other one didn’t. I didn’t have enough space in my Tacoma because I already had other treasures I’d found earlier, and I didn’t really want to take them if they both didn’t work. Things like this never really deter me though. I like fixing things, and by golly, I was going to have my dream bed! She agreed to me calling her later that day to let me know if she had sold them or not, so that I could come back and try and get the second one to work.  I ended up coming back three days later, and found out the remote control wasn’t synced, so I fixed it. She sold both bases to me for a total of $75. I looked up the price online later and found out they usually go for $600 each.

The pay off!

We now had the two mattresses, and the two bases, all for $175. After buying twin XL fitted sheets for both mattresses which cost us $10 each at Walmart, the total went up to $195.  We could’ve spent up to $7000 at the furniture store, but instead, we now have a fully functioning adjustable split king-sized bed and we spent less than $200! What was that? Black Friday? Labor Day weekend sale? Nah. Garage sales are better! 

This is just one story of how we saved a ton of money. We can’t take full credit for finding these great deals though. Grace has a huge hand in everything that happens; that’s, grace as in – things that happen to us even though we don’t always deserve it – type grace. Yes, the grace of God. It’s not to say we don’t go out there to find things, but it’s funny how the things we’re looking for tend to show up.


How do I get the best price in a garage sale?

Another great reason why garage sales are better, is because more often than not, you can negotiate how much you pay for something. Now, you have to learn to identify when someone is willing to negotiate, and when they’re not. You can look for clues – for instance, what type of community are you in? If you’re in a low-income community, there’s a good chance that at many of the places you stop, vendors are hoping to come out on top and make as much money as possible. Now, if you’re shopping around in a high-income neighborhood, chances are they’re just looking to clear the clutter from their home, and just want to part ways with their stuff. However, this is not exclusive to everyone.

Know who you can haggle with

Once, I was running some errands, and I happened to be in a rural area, where I stumbled onto a yard sale. The owner was an older gentleman selling his tools. Now, I love finding tools! My eyes light up every time I come across someone that has tools to sell. And this guy had a lot of tools and hardware for sale. It looked almost as if he was exclusively selling tools. This was my first red flag that he probably did this often. For him, selling these tools wasn’t just about getting rid of them, but more to make a profit. This was supplemental income for him.
I ended up spending $5 on two items, a packaging tape dispenser, and a small belt attachment for tools. There was a bit of haggling involved and got $1 off. Haha! Take that old-timer!  Just kidding. He had other things I was interested in, but the prices were not something I was willing to pay. Also, when I got him to take that $1 off, he didn’t seem too happy with it, so I decided I wasn’t going for round two. Not my type of joint.

How do I know how much money to spend?

This is somewhat subjective, because I probably won’t spend the same on something that you will. That’s because we all have different interests, and different thresholds on how much we’re willing to fork over on an item we want. I usually go by my gut feeling on whether I think I’m getting a good deal or not. If it’s a higher ticket item, let’s say a Tempur-Pedic mattress, then I probably already did the research and know what I’m looking for. You can also take your smartphone and do the research right then and there. Usually I just go to Google, or search for the item on Amazon (which is where Google usually sends me anyway.)

Honestly, the best way is just to ask yourself how much something is really worth to you. One time I bought a waffle maker that was priced at $10. To me, it wasn’t worth $10, and I really didn’t even care much for it, but my wife wanted one. I called her up, and said she really only wanted to spend $5 on something used.

Me: “How much is the waffle maker?”
Vendor: “$10”
Me: “Hm, that thing looks really big, it takes up a good deal of space.”
Vendor: “Yeah, we don’t really use it anymore.”
Me: “How about $5?”
Vendor: “Sure, that works”

I didn’t really know much about waffle makers, but later I found out that the reason it was so big was because it was a commercial waffle maker, like those you see at restaurants or hotels. The original value of it was around $400! We’ve used this waffle maker a lot, and it makes great big, tasty waffles. Score!

What if they’re not willing to lower the price?

Adversely, if the vendor is looking to sell something that I like, but my value on it is way off, and they’re not willing to negotiate, then I just won’t buy it. In my mind, I know that there’s something down the road that’s a better deal, sometimes literally. Check this out – at another wonderful garage sale experience, someone was selling a bench grinder. They’re great to sharpen knives, garden tools, shovels, etc. It was pretty much brand new, and I was definitely interested. He had a printed paper taped on with a picture of the item, and the price he paid on Amazon for it, which was about $60. He was selling it for $50. It seemed like a good deal, but still more than I wanted to pay.

Me: “Would you take $25 for it?”
Vendor: “Well, it’s brand new, I won’t go lower than $45.”

That was really the end of the conversation, because I really didn’t want to pay more than $25 for it, and I had other garage sales to go to. I must admit, I left a bit disappointed that I didn’t get it. I really liked it!

Once more, grace in action!

As you already read earlier, I know the power of grace, and how it’s worked in my life. I can’t make this up guys. Less than half an hour later, about two or three garage sales in, I found another bench grinder! Given, this one wasn’t brand new, and it had seen better days, but the vendor was only asking $20 for it. I asked if he could plug it in to test it out. It worked like a charm! With a bit of cleaning up, I could make it look new.

Me: “Ok, will you take $10 for it?”
Vendor: “How about $11.”
Me: “Sure! I can do that!”

I thought it was strange that he would ask for one more dollar, but whatever, I wasn’t going to haggle over $1 for a $10 item.
Essentially, I waited about 30 minutes, and my bench grinder showed up. Some people might want to call this coincidence, but I call it grace.

I’ve used this bench grinder many times already to sharpen knives, my lawnmower blade, garden shears, and many other items. Great find!


Where else can I get good cheap stuff?

Garage sales are better but aren’t the only way to shop on a budget. Thrift stores are also a great choice. You can even shop cheap online! There’s Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and several other sites where you can find really great deals, and in many cases negotiate the price. I personally use OfferUp, and use the same tactics I use at garage sales. 

At this point in our lives (it wasn’t always so,) we could technically afford to pay full price for the things we want; but why would we want to if we know there’s a better way? If we did pay full price for everything, we wouldn’t have the money that we’ve saved, or invested, or that we’re using to become financially independent and build an early retirement.
That’s not to say that we don’t buy things for full price. There are certain items that we do. For instance, our leather sectional in our family room. We did a lot of research, and wanted to find something that looked good, was of good quality, and lasted a really long time. Haverty’s, not a garage sale, had what we were looking for this time. Plus, they let us finance with zero interest for five years. These types of purchases are far and few but do happen from time to time. Most of the things we get are much more heavily discounted second-hand items. 

What it boils down to

The basic idea is to look for vendors that are selling because they want to get rid of items, not because they want to make a profit. However, if you’re at garage sales because you’re looking to resell stuff for a profit, that’s a whole other ballgame, so you’ll have a different mindset. Regardless of the reason you’re there, garage sales are better and have a ton more flexibility on prices than a department store ever will. Also, you don’t have to be a master negotiator. Most vendors aren’t master negotiators either. If you’re interested in something, and you have a price in mind, just ask! The worst they could say is no.

Hopefully I’ve created a bit of an excitement to go out there and find the things you want cheap, but you should still stick to the same frugal rules I covered in my post about what to do when living paycheck to paycheck. You shouldn’t be spending money on things if your living expenses don’t allow for it. If you really, really want something, save up for it, or do what I do – wait for grace to kick in, and your wants will find you. Just remember the most important rule of all – stay frugal!

Check out our post on How to STOP Living Paycheck To Paycheck

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