Trash to Treasure: 10 Yard Sale Tips to Make the Most Money

garage sale sign

A sign advertises a garage sale. | iStock.com

Americans hold 165,000 garage sales every week, which generate more than $4.2 million in profit. But not every sale is a home run.

The average garage sale items sells for just 85 cents. You can price things higher, but hawkish buyers expect to negotiate, driving down profits. By the time you’ve gone to the trouble of sorting, pricing, and setting everything up, any money you make might not really seem worth it, especially if you had to give up a beautiful spring morning in exchange.

So should you just toss everything in a bin for Goodwill rather than trying to sell it? Not necessarily. A tag sale can be a worthwhile endeavor but only if you’re smart about how you do it. Making your sale appealing to picky buyers is essential if you don’t want to end up with a yard full of stuff you have to haul back into the house at the end of the day.

“A good sale from the buyer’s perspective is two-fold: a sale with clean, organized items and a seller ready to sell,” Vanessa Lumby, of Cash Cow Couple and a yard sale devotee, told The Cheat Sheet. “Nothing is worse than pulling up to a sale full of broken, dirty junk. Equally bad is dealing with a seller that has prices set high and is unwilling to bargain. The magic happens when a sale is well organized and clean, with a seller who is friendly and truly wants to get rid of their things for a reasonable price.”

Having saleable items and being flexible on price are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to garage sale success. Read on for our 10 yard sale tips to make the most money.

1. Advertise, advertise, advertise

garage sale sign

Bad marketing means a less-successful garage sale. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

You can’t have a successful yard sale without buyers. Hanging eye-catching signs around the neighborhood will pull in shoppers, but these days, posters alone might not generate the traffic you want. Online ads have a wide reach and give you a chance to show off your goods in advance.

“The best way to advertise your sale is on Craigslist,” Lumby said. “Avid yard sale buyers know to look online to scout out the best sales ahead of time. In the ad, promote the big-ticket items you think will attract the most customers. This can range from working electronics to furniture and appliances. Then, in the description of your sale you can add details about what else you have for sale, like clothing, kitchenware, and sporting goods.”

2. Brand your sale

People visiting a yard sale at a home

People visit a yard sale. | iStock.com/csfotoimages

Kids clothes. Random housewares. A box full of bestselling books from 10 years ago. The merchandise at most garage sales is pretty pedestrian. To lure people in — and potentially make more money — you need to stand out. If you’re offering anything unusual or special, highlight it in your advertising.

J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly hosted a “geek garage sale” where he sold his graphic novels, board games, and computer stuff. Highlighting unique items brought in more buyers who were eager to buy the specific things he was selling. If you let people know you’re unloading your old sports equipment or getting rid of grandma’s midcentury furnishings, some extra-excited buyers could show up.

3. Price appropriately

yard sale shoppers

People shop at a yard sale. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sure, you only wore those $100 shoes once, and they’re in near-perfect condition. But don’t even think about slapping an $80 price tag on your secondhand high heels because the person perusing your castoffs is not going to give you anything close to what you paid for them. Yard sale shoppers are deal hunters. To get them to open their wallets, you’re going to have to let go of what you think an item is worth. Pricing items at 10% to 20% of their original retail value is a good rule of thumb.

4. Sell the valuable stuff elsewhere

eBay sign in california

EBay is a good site for valuable items. | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

If you have a valuable item you’re not willing to let go for a bargain price, your garage sale isn’t the place to sell it. Instead, look to eBay, consignment shops, and other venues.

“If your item is in good enough condition to sell for a high price, try selling it on Craigslist or to a friend or family member instead,” Lumby said. “Yard sale buyers are looking for a bargain. The best way to make sure you don’t sell anything and waste your entire day is to price items too high.”

5. Have enough stuff

overfilled garage

Clean out your garage clutter to make sure you have enough stuff for your sale. | iStock.com

Because you probably won’t be making a ton of money on individual items, the key to making money at your yard sale is to have stuff — and lots of it. Plus, a big sale attracts more buyers.

“When it comes to yard sales, it’s about quantity, not quality,” Lumby said. “Price your items to make your buyers feel like they are getting a deal, and at the end of the day you’ll have exchanged all your junk for a tidy sum of cash.”

6. Organize your merchandise

Will Ferrell in Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell in Everything Must Go | Everything Must Go via Facebook

A bunch of random stuff spread on a blanket on your front lawn doesn’t make for a very inviting shopping experience. Plus, if you treat your stuff like junk, people will offer you junk prices. Instead, take a cue from professional retailers and do a little merchandising.

Group similar items together on tables (cover tables with plastic tablecloths to make them look nicer), hang clothes on racks, and put books on shelves (if you have them). Use signs to draw attention to certain items, and set up a canopy if you have one to provide shade. Selling bottled water or soda is a nice touch, too, especially if the weather is hot. And it can bring in some extra cash too.

7. Pick the right day

bills

Schedule your garage sale close to payday to boost sales. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

You can’t predict the weather, but you can predict when people will have money in their pockets.

“The most underutilized yard sale technique is the date you choose for your sale,” Lumby said. “You’ll want to choose a Saturday following payday. Do a quick online search of the biggest employers in your area, find out their payday schedule, and plan your sale accordingly. This is when yard sale buyers have the most cash, and are most anxious to spend it.”

8. Offer another way to pay

woman choose one credit card from many

Accepting credit cards at your garage sale could boost sales. | iStock.com/BernardaSv

Yard sales are typically a cash-only affair, but if you’re trying to move some more expensive items, such as lawn care equipment or furniture, consider getting a Square credit card reader. Most buyers will have $10s and $20s in their pockets, but if someone doesn’t have enough cash, you can take their card. Plus, card buyers might buy more than they would if they were paying with cash. Square will take 2.75% of the total transaction, but if you can sell more stuff by offering a credit card payment option, it might be worth it.

9. Get with a group

rummage sale

People shop at a rummage sale. | Remy Gabalda/AFP/GettyImages

A multi-family garage sale is more exciting for buyers than a single-family one. If your neighbors are game, have several families on your block host sales on the same day. Shoppers will appreciate being able to browse multiple sales without getting back in their car. Or have your friends, parents, or siblings contribute items to the sale, as well.

That trick helped Cassie Johnston of Wholefully make $1,549 from her yard sale. “Partner up with another family or two to help share the work load, but also to help with your marketing,” she wrote on her blog.

10. Watch out for scams

wallet full of money

Keep a close eye on your cash at a yard sale to deter thieves. | iStock.com

The vast majority of yard sale shoppers are honest folks looking for a good deal. But occasionally you’ll encounter a bad apple. Thieves might swap price tags, shoplift, claim you haven’t given them the correct change, and pull other tricks to get stuff for free. The most brazen might try to get into your house. To stay safe, always have multiple people working at the sale, and keep a close eye on cash, the Yard Sale Queen advised.

Sometimes, scammers will even pass counterfeit bills. To protect yourself, check bills with a counterfeit pen, which you can pick up for a few bucks at office supply stores.

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