Frugal Living

Writing a Garage Sale List

Twice a year, a master-planned community near my house has a neighborhood garage sale.

I like being able to go to several sales in a short period of time.

I make it a plan to take a list with me. I go to this semi-annual sale with my mom, so I take 3 copies of my list: one for me, one for her, and one to hand to the person having the sale. I don’t always use the third one, but if someone asks if I’m looking for something in particular and they have several things for sale, I’ll hand them that copy of the list. This has helped me several times. Once, a woman said, “Oh, I had one of those out at my last garage sale and forgot to put it out this time! I’ll go get it!” which resulted in this:

 

A beautiful metal embroidery hoop, with a date on it of 1917. This is definitely my oldest embroidery hoop. I paid $1.50, and it was in a bag with several other vintage items for that price. It’s my favorite hoop now (it’s actually much smaller than you see here; I love the small size as it prevents my hand my cramping).

Another time a woman noticed I was looking for sidewalk chalk. She had a large coffee can full of it, which I most likely would not have seen has I not given her the list. When I asked how much, she said I could have it for free!

My list does a lot more for me than that, however. I use my list to specifically shop for clothes and gifts for my family.

I write down each person’s name in the family, along with what clothing items they need, and the number of items that they need. For the children, I write down anything they need next year and the following year (the next two sizes up). If they still need anything for this year I will include that as well, but in general, I am shopping ahead for them. By shopping for the next two sizes, I am better prepared for sudden growth spurts. It also is important because sometimes it is difficult to find anything in the sizes I need; having two years to find something helps a lot.

For example, one person on my list might look like this:

Cyrus (age 10 1/2)

4 short-sleeved shirts size 14
6 long-sleeved shirts size 14
3 pairs shorts size 14
1 pair dress pants size 14
2 pairs jeans size 14
3 pairs long pants/corduroys size 14
1 tie

7 short-sleeved shirts size 16
6 long-sleeved shirts size 16

By having a specific number of items, I can be certain not to overbuy. I purchase enough for a week’s worth of clothing (including church clothes) for both hot weather and cold weather.

I aim to pay 50 cents to a dollar for clothing items. I will occasionally pay more ($4 for a coat, for example), or $2 for a new items with tags on it, but in general, most items I buy are in the $0.50 to $1 range. This means that, in the example above, for a year’s worth of clothing in one size, I am out the same price as one brand-new shirt at Target.

(This does not not count socks, underwear, pajamas, or shoes–just other items of clothing. I purchase socks and underwear on back to school sales. I make pajamas, usually repurposing sheets for these. I look for sales on shoes).

Most of my boys’ clothing is used, from garage sales as well as hand-me-downs from friends. I like preppy, vintage clothes, and for the boys, it is usually quite possible to find button-down shirts and polo shirts in like-new condition, as these items are worn less often than t-shirts.  I find it harder to buy my girls clothing that I like, but I do find things for them on occasion (especially cardigans and jeans). I love vintage-style dresses, so I tend to make those, but I have found several jumpers and occasionally a few dresses.

Besides clothing, I have other items on the list.

 

 

I have listed both types of books as well as certain books that we are wanting. I have often found specific books that we wanted. I use these for the whole family or for individual children. If I plan on keeping it for a birthday gift or a Christmas gift, I put it up until that time. I pay .25 to $1 for most books. (I did buy a few last year for $2 each, that were hardcover books in like-new condition–and they were books on my list).  I will also pick up books in like-new condition for us to give as gifts to friends; these are often books that we already own and my children love, so I know their friends will like them as well. I put those in my gift box.

My list includes items that I know the children would like for birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes I find those items and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I find items that I know they will love that aren’t on my list; that’s okay, too, of course! (A couple of weeks ago a neighbor on my street was having a garage sale that included several like-new games, all marked $1 each. One was Harry Potter Uno. I’ve seen that on Amazon–for $53! I bought it and put it aside for Cyrus’ 11th birthday later this year).

 

This vintage Ball jar was a garage sale purchase.

If there is anything I need in the kitchen, I’ll put that on my list. Right now, for example, I’m looking for a metal pie server. I have one, but I would like another one for when we have several kinds of pie at once. I have an idea of the style I would like. I’m not in a hurry, but it’s an item I would like to have, so I’ll look for it.

Any other needs I have are also on there. This year, I am looking for a few bicycle helmets.

I have a few items on my list that I would like for sewing; I am looking for some specific shades of velvet and wool. Often these two items can be repurposed clothing items, so I look for pieces in good enough shape to cut up for those projects (a velvet skirt can offer plenty of fabric to make a girl’s dress bodice). I aim to pay $1 for these. Garage sales are also a great place to look for sheets (to use for sewing) and blankets (to use as-is).

The white quilt on my bed was a garage sale find for $15. I have purchased blankets for the children at garage sales, too.

I usually take $35 to $45 with me. Most times, this is money that I’ve made from my own garage sale. I plan to go to this neighborhood sale in April and October; I might go to one other sale a year (this year I went to three already, as two were on my street and one was two streets over).

My list has also served another purpose for me for the past several years. A friend of my mother’s (a woman whose children are long-grown) goes to Oregon and Washington each summer. She loves garage sale shopping while she is there, and she offered to look for things for me before if I would give her a list. She brings back several bags of clothing (usually including a few costumes), along with a list of what she paid for each item. She looks for items in the same price range as I do (most items she picks up for 50 cents each). I email my list to her.

I’ll be going garage sale shopping at the community garage sale this Saturday. I’m looking forward to it!

Have you ever written a garage sale list? Do you use garage sales to buy the bulk of your family’s clothing?

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30 Comments

  1. Making an offer is always good. I had a man offer me $25 for all of the children’s clothes I had left one year (about 10:30 am). My mom said to me, “Take it”–even though it was less than I had everything priced individually. Otherwise, I would be left with lots of clothes. She was right. Her opinions is to take all reasonable offers. At least that way you have sold it; it’s not taking up space in your house anymore and you have made money off the item.

  2. They call them rummage sales here. A lot of folks from Chuch are accomplished rummagers, I am not. I always made my girls dresses; now they sew for themselves. We have a twice yearly clothing exchange at church that I frequented more when the children were younger. We traded clothes a lot between cousins with my children as I did with my cousins growing up. I think I am at the point in life where not really adding things as I am blessed to have sufficient as is.

  3. We also have frequent estate sales, in this area. They are wonderful fun to look at, and I have found many things I really like. I don’t care to go to the fanciest houses in town, but the more ordinary, middle class houses often have really desirable items for very reasonable prices. I buy serving spoons, measuring cups, pie servers, and things like that simply because they are well designed or I just like them. If I had a pickup truck I could furnish houses right and left, but I really don’t have too many furniture needs at this point in my life. A wonderful source for mixed bags of fabric, craft items, quilting supplies, etc. I bought a big box of fabric at one place and it had yards and yards of linen dish toweling. I sewed hems on two sides and gave a few to everyone I knew. I’m still using mine, and it has to be at least 12 years ago now. When you think of the cost of sewing notions in the stores, you can really make a killing by picking such finds up at sales. I’m sure I won’t use all the fabric I now own in my lifetime, and my surviving daughter is not the one who liked to sew and cook. We are “use it up” people too–my husband just re-decorated a bird house which was “for show” and is now to be used by birds. It was in my Mom’s house and she never used it. Dh and I have been married 52 years, and have never had a “new” bedroom set. We are still using two sets that belonged to his parents, and prior to that had one that my parents bought. We did have one set refinished—at the local sheltered workshop. They do a great job, but are quite slow. We were redecorating the room and could go without the set for 3-4 months without a problem. Now it’s our lovely guest room. Many of our dishes and serving pieces belonged to his parents or grandparents!! I enjoy using them, and feel sad if something breaks, but it happens.

  4. I have never written a garage sale list, but it is a great idea. I walked past 2 or 3 today on my way to the farmer’s market, and I just noticed that my 8 year old is growing out of his pants. He’s small, so he’s still in size 5.However, I have noticed, at his age, not a lot of clothing at garage sales. I see a LOT of girls clothing. Boys after the age of 4 seem to be SO hard on clothing that pants, in particular, don’t survive. We did successfully get a bunch of hand me down t-shirts last year, but were unable to pass them on to others (who’d have thought that a 7/8 year old would chew on his shirts when getting his adult teeth??)I think this is a great idea though. My almost 2-year old’s hand me downs are starting to dry up (he’s catching up to the source in age/ size). Sadly, garage sales and thrift store prices are very expensive here in California. Along the lines of $3-7 an item.

  5. I went to a church rummage sale and yard sale today. For $5.50 I got 2 pair of jeans and 6 tank tops for me. That is better than thrift store prices in my area. Other than underwear I have not bought new clothes in 2 years for me.

  6. I had a wonderful day at the local Salvation Army thrift. I got 4 new, with label still on them Rubber Maid divided plates with lids. These make wonderful containers for my husband’s lunch. The one we have now is a cheap Ziploc kind and is so warped it leaks. These new ones cost me $1.00 each. I also go several flannel baby blankets. I collect these when I find good one for the fabric. I like to make like weight quilts, (we live in Texas, we don’t need heavy blankets) these blankest cost 30 cents each. I got all they had. All were like new. They are about 30″ square so almost a yard of fabric for 30 cents. That is a good price. I also got a real leather wallet for myself. It was $1.00 too. What a fine day for deals.

  7. It must be great to live in a place that has garage sales year round. In Canada, garage sale season is from the end of May until about the end of August. It is harder to find clothes as most people are told that clothing doesn’t sell well, and so don’t put it out. I usually end up at thrift stores or Old Navy for clothes for my son. My daughter loves vintage clothes, so thrift stores are usually where she shops. She refuses to wear name brand anything 🙂 Love it!!

  8. We have never been garage sale people. When we were working, those leisurely cozy Saturday mornings at home together were too precious to waste getting out of bed early to go to garage sales. We’ve never had a sale, either, partly for the same reason. We’ve never wanted a ton of strangers at our house at the crack dawn.We get rid of things a lot of times by donating them to a homeless rescue mission that uses proceeds from their own sales to buy part of what they need, and to help the working poor who live nearby them. Other times, we run a free bargain column ad in the newspaper for items worth no more than $100. That way, we just deal with one person coming at a time, at an agreed upon time. I HAVE bought a few things from other individuals through the bargain column. A while back I bought several still in the box bras that retail for at least $25 for $10 each. The woman who sold them found them when clearing out her late sister’s house. Sometimes you can get an excellent piece of furniture this way.I can surely understand why people with rapidly growing children garage sale for clothing, but it just isn’t for me. (I confess to something of a squeamish factor, too.) Most all our clothes are bought on very good sales. When you buy good quality classic style clothing and take care of it, it lasts for so many years that the cost per wearing is almost too low to calculate. Right now, my dress clothes are mostly career separates I bought when I was an office manager fourteen years ago. My every day clothes are mostly several years old. When I find things that are perfect for me, I buy in multiples, but that makes them last a lot longer than wearing the same ones over and over.

  9. I have my list, I also call my grown children and ask if they are in need of anything. One right now is out of work (company closed) and she can get things for the kids like clothes and stuff but no one thinks of dish towels, bath rowels, curtains etc for running her own.Mom and Pop used to haul away storage units that didn’t sell at auction…tons of household and clothes in those.

  10. Paula, I have done the same for clothing for myself (most of my clothes were bought 11 years ago and I bought in multiples, too) and I hand down clothes for children, but I do have to buy things for the oldest children (and occasionally a few items for younger children). Whether the time is spent shopping at a store, shopping online, or shopping at a garage sale, time is still spent shopping for needed items. I don’t have sales myself all the time (usually one a year), but making several hundred dollars selling items I no longer need is worth the time to me. We do the sale on our driveway with the garage closed.Of course, I’ve also invited readers into my house and my backyard to see our garden, so I’ve definitely had strangers in my home!

  11. Also, I have been able to buy quality clothing at garage sales, including Lands’ End and Rothschild coats. Paying $4-$6 for these coats (the wool coats can be over $100 new) is also totally worth it to me.

  12. My husband loves garage sales and our youngest daughter loves to go with him. Because we live so far out in the country, and we drive to get everywhere, he can often find sales on his way to wherever his is headed so there’s no extra gas involved. He buys very few items. A few things he re-sells, but mostly he will get clothes for the kids if there are any that are inexpensive and fit. They just love doing it. I don’t, so I leave it in their capable hands.The clothes I get for myself are almost all from gift cards my relatives give me for birthdays and Christmas. My aunt will occasionally give me some clothes she doesn’t wear anymore. My husband wears a big and tall size that is very hard to find at yard sales. The Goodwill store is outrageous around here–$5 or more (way more) per item of clothing.We find that in the towns nearby, Friday is the better day for yard/garage sales. In one nearby town, Thursday is also becomming a good day. Like one friend commented to me, “Doesn’t anyone work M-F anymore?” She was surprised because she sold more on Friday than Saturday at her sale she just finished yesterday. She made several hundred dollars. They plan to buy a play structure for their daughter who is getting a little older and needs a larger structure and they earned more than enough for that.We plan to have a sale in 2 weeks. It is worth it to us to pack our stuff in boxes and go to Rob’s mom’s house to sell the stuff. It’s more work, but we get many more customers in town then we do out here in the country. At this point in life, after 31 years of marriage, we actually are trying to send more out the door than comes in. I keep reminding myself there aren’t so many kids at home anymore (only 3) so I don’t need as much stuff. When we price items, we also are of the mindset that we want to clear out the house. If we get lots of $, it’s a really nice bonus, but we want it gone! So, we sell it for low prices. It is also a blessing to those who buy it when they can get things they need for low prices. The leftover things go to a local thrift store in town, or we save it for the 4-H garage sale. We make a pretty good chunk of change each year for our 4-H club having a sale (again in town), and use that money to make the club meetings better and for community service projects.

  13. I’m certainly not above taking freebies off the street – I’ve just never had much luck!I remember a funny story I heard on the radio a few years ago – This woman and her family were moving into a new home. As I recall due to parking restrictions they had to park the van across the street. They would unload several items from their moving van, and then take a few loads to get them in the house. During this process their dining room table was taken. They were furious – How could someone be so rude as to just nick off with their dining room table in the middle of moving?Several months later she was visiting with her next door neighbour, who recounted the story of how she’d found this gorgeous dining room table, just sitting on the curb, and was so excited to bring it into her home and claim it as her own. She couldn’t understand why anyone would get rid of such a lovely piece of furniture!Yep. One and the same. The dining room table was returned to its rightful owner and there was much embarassment from the (unintentionally) thieving party.

  14. What an excellent article, Brandy! I have read your blog for a long time. You never cease to amaze me at your resourcefulness and wisdom. It’s also great to learn from your readers. I don’t do much garage sale shopping, but we have been blessed and don’t really need much now by way of clothing or household items. This is a great article for future reference, though.

  15. I don’t take a list. But I also do not go to rummage sales terribly often. When I do, I never feel the need to purchase “something”, which I have found my mother feels she should. If there’s nothing I need or want, I just say “thank you” as I walk away. However, my kids are now 20 and 16, and it seems most sales I’ve found typically have baby and small childrens’ items. As my son’s grown up I have noticed that it’s near impossible to find boys’ clothes. Most of their clothing has come from clearance racks or end of season sales, sometimes bought new with great coupon codes combined with sales, such as at Kohl’s site. But I do like to go and take a gander now and then, just in case someone’s got something that I could use and never gave much thought to.

  16. I don’t live in a very affluent area as you do. My community is down-trodden, a victim of the poor economy, if you will, with many of our residents receiving government assistance for generations. So when I do see yard/garage sales, the clothes there aren’t very well maintained and reek of cigarette smoke and stained. Needless to say, I rarely shop at yard sales in my community. The large yard sales in the well-to-do communities in my area are so well-attended that the ‘good stuff’ is usually picked over by the time I get there, too high priced. The sellers think that people are gonna pay $5 for a piece of used clothing at a yard sale! C’mon now!! Nowhere to park….so basically, it’s not worth my time. I’m hard to fit. My son, even though he is almost 10, wears an adult man’s size M shirt and an adult man’s size 9 shoe! Clothing is one area where I don’t need to be frugal. I also dislike shopping for clothes as I despise trying them on!

  17. We have done that as well…put large items out on the tree-lawn with a free sign on it. Gotten rid of an old exercise bike, an old push mower and my son’s old bike that way.

  18. Kelly, sometimes garage sales have been “picked”. I have a friend who has a sale once or twice a year and sells really nice things. There are two women who were regulars at her sales for a few years and then asked if they could have first chance at her sales the night before, which she allows.

  19. I do make a list each year of things I’m looking for during that year. Try to think of all occasions I will need things for. The oddest thing on my list right now is the bottom rectangle type tray of a butter dish! We use real butter, and keep two sticks out all the time. One of my butter dishes was mysteriously broken while sitting on the kitchen counter. I kept the lid, and just know one day I ‘ll find another bottom.

  20. I kept the glass cover to a Corning ware French white 2 qt casserole for 5 years after someone broke the bottom. Browsing the goodwill and found a replacement last year. HandP, hold out hope….it could happen.

  21. I keep a running list of things we need–either clothing that has been outgrown or worn out and needs to be replaced or appliances that have broken–my Crockpot cracked several weeks ago and I’m dying to replace it but I don’t want to pay full price. But, I’ve never created a garage sale list before, that’s really a great idea. I usually stop when I see one but I’m never at one with a purpose.

  22. I only keep a list of books that I need. I keep a spreadsheet in Excel of different series that my kids are reading – such as Magic Tree House or Encyclopedia Brown. The rows are the different series and the columns are the number in the series. I put an “X” in the cell that I already own. This way when I shop at thrift stores or yard sales I don’t buy duplicates. I learned the hard way! But I donate the copies to friends or our school if I mess up.

  23. I mostly do thrift stores. My favorite one supports a food bank, so I try to go weekly if I have needs and I am in that area.
    I always keep a list of things I am looking to buy. I buy almost anything I can clean like clothing and accessories, linens, costume jewelry, camping gear, tools, vintage kitchen tools and items like Texas ware, tupperware, corningware, etc. Everything in my kitchen is old, lol. I love it.
    I recently updated my makeup stash off eBay, new Mary Kay items cleared out by someone who is no longer selling it. I also just finished adding a few things to my winter work wardrobe as I have lost a little weight by walking on my lunch break. My boss allowed me to add a shower when we updated the bathrooms, so I was able to walk all summer! I have to look a certain way, so this was a need, plus it encourages me to keep the weight off as I donated the larger items to the church clothing drive. By knowing exactly what I need to make outfits, I don’t waste my money.
    Right now I am looking for a lightweight hanging bag for nice off season clothing in my closet and some bags to store shoes in. My husband always loves when I find long sleeved black under armor shirts, so that is always on my list. He was homeless as a teen so he tends to hoard clothing, but I still buy those shirts he loves as it is not a hardship to buy them used.
    Second hand saves so much money and so much waste! I love it.

  24. I LOVE this! I usually tend to stay away from garage sales because things are such a good price, I tend to get myself in trouble. I never thought about writing a list but am so glad I came across this post. I will be writing a list from now on. My greatest yard sale find was a really nice, only worn twice suit for my husband. He loves to wear suits to church ( I never taken anything to be dry cleaned until he came along) so I ended up buying it for $2.50, knowing that if it was to big, it would be worth it to have taken in. I looked it up later and found out it was originally priced around/over $200! I about passed it, I was so thrilled! 😀

  25. You could try estate sales, depending on the area, they can be quite amazing! I used to work with some gals who did them in Aurora, CO. Up until then I had never even heard of them, but now, I love them!

  26. I have always used a list!! I thought I was the only one! My mother in law was a dedicated garage sale shopper and taught me a few things but she never made a list. She thought I was nuts. She passed away 14 years ago and I have rarely gone since….it’s just not as much fun. I am much more frugal than she was, keeping mostly to the same price range as you do. I found a lovely dress for my toddler daughter, who is now 25, for a nickle. It had a huge stain on the front. I figured that a nickle wasn’t a big risk and I would see what I could do with it. Stain came right out and she wore it for quite a while before we handed it down to another family. She was my only girl and last child, so I didn’t keep it. I have always dressed her from garage sale, thrift stores and DI being careful to select well made classic pieces….nothing “shop worn”. She was always among the best dressed girls in school…if they only knew! She worked at Banana Republic all through high school and bought the things on the very lowest mark down. Coupled with her employee discount, she bought many fine pieces for next to nothing. She still wears them. I just recently bought two new shirts for her husband to wear to work at DI. My daughter is putting her husband through school. He gladly accepts DI, etc which is nice because he was born with a VERY large silver spoon in his mouth! 😉

    For your pie server, have you tried DI? I have found that many times adult children will often “dump” mom and dads stuff there when closing down their home. You have to dig, go often, refrain from buying what you don’t need and get lucky, but I have found several treasures for next to nothing. My vintage ice cream scoop is my current favorite. Nothing works like the old ones!

    I have stocked up what was missing from my own pantry with our case lot sales. I am really grateful. Smith’s is first followed by others here in the area, so it spreads out over a month or so. This is nice as it fits right into my budget. I save Winco for last as I usually find my bulk items there. I was hoping to treat myself to some gamma lids this year as I am tired of prying off the white bucket lids. Even with the tool, it is hard. Gamma lids on my most used bulk items would be nice.

    Thank you so much for the years of inspiration that you have given me and many others. I am grateful for the hints, recipes and sometimes the needed kick of encouragement to keep going!

  27. I tend to shop estate sales over garage sales because it’s true, you can’t take it with you. I always look for clothes baskets, in wicker they hold a person’s Christmas gifts, throws to nap under or the things I’m accumulating to donate to the thrift store. If plastic we use them to bring firewood in the house. One will hold a day’s worth of wood, contain the bits and bark that fall off and I rarely pay more than a dollar for them. And I use 4 for laundry, dirty clothes get sorted into reds/darks/whites and when a basket is full I do a load of laundry, the 4th basket hauls it out to the clothes line to dry. I’m always surprised anyone would sell a thing as useful as a laundry basket.
    Most of my kitchen utensils came from estate sales. My dishes were a popular pattern a decade or two ago and several times a year I find serving pieces in my pattern. I have service for 12+ so I’m insured against breakage and I’m now getting pretty choosy of what I buy because I’ve filled the china cupboard.
    Having an extra copy of your list is a great idea.

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