Anyone who thrives on buying second-hand, and I'm part of that club, has her own bag of tricks. Here are my favorite ways to find bargains at garage sales.

Practice small talk

I always try to immediately befriend the seller. 

Smile. Chit-chat about the weather and about how many people have come by. 

Compliment the merchandise. Never mutter criticisms to your companions. Very often how friendly the seller thinks you are is in direct proportion to how flexible prices will be.

Approach correctly

Scope out everything immediately upon arrival. 

Zero in on the good stuff and don't get distracted. Don't knock anyone over getting to a prize piece on the opposite side of a driveway, but don't dally over the blankets when what you really want is books.

Be ready to grab 

Who among us hasn't hesitated, and then watched someone else walk off with a coveted treasure? Most garage sale items are one of a kind. This ain't retail, folks.

Asking the seller to set something aside doesn't work. It's still easy for someone else to not know it's "reserved." Often there is more than one seller, and I've seen arguments spring up about which buyer had dibs on an item.

Understand the demographics 

Buy from little old ladies, and I can say this because I am a little old lady. I'm not endorsing exploitation of the elderly. I'm saying that older people are often happy to downsize, and they usually have the kind of things that were made (in America!) before manufacturers realized how flimsy they could make things that people would still buy.

Don't confine your garage sale shopping to the better neighborhoods, on the theory that people with money have more taste or better stuff. Wrong. Not only is the merchandise sometimes crapola, but it's usually overpriced.

Originally beat up and painted an institutional green,
I stripped the paint from this $15 
dresser, and patched the places where wood veneers
had de-laminated. Then I faux finished what needed it,
imitating a birdseye maple 
on the drawer fronts, and marble on the top. It's a keeper!


Don't ignore middle-class neighborhoods, and even parts of town where there are older homes and people who need money. My favorite table lamp, above, is an example. I paid $2 after I found it in the corner of a dirt-floor garage that smelled like pee.

Drive the right vehicle 

Don't drive an expensive car. Buddy up with someone who drives an old pickup. We owned a Jaguar a few years ago (before we realized how expensive repairs were). I told Mr. Lucky, "I can't drive that car to a yard sale. I lose all my negotiating power. Leave me the work van, honey."

Sellers will judge your ability to pay by what you drive. Look like one of the people, not a wealthy cheapskate.

When I wanted to buy just one of these frosted pink glasses
(silly me!), the owner insisted I take the pair.
So glad I did, because they are perfect not only for
centerpieces and mantel decor but for ice cream sundaes
as well, which as we all know, one should 

never enjoy alone! My gardenias and roses scented the entire room

Arriving in a car that's not fancy or new also means you can transport things worry-free. You don't want that wrought iron trellis poking a hole in your leather seats. You want a truck bed that will accommodate a dining table if that's what you're hunting.

Dress the part 

There is a way to dress for yard sale shopping. 

You want shoes that don't absorb the dew that is still on the grass early in the day. Forget cutesy shoes that don't give you the comfort required to last the morning.

Look poor. Get your old sneaks out. Dress for functionality. The latest styles will only hamper your bargaining power.

Wear pants or a jacket with pockets for money. Don't carry a purse because you need both hands free to rummage.

What I fell in love with is the size of this demitasse
(that's a penny on the right), and the lovely
handle, and, of course, the pink transferware pattern.
I don't use it for anything, but I still like to

 keep it in sight, along with my other pink transferware.
If I ever start drinking espresso, 
I'll be all set. It cost all of one dollar. 

Game the schedule 

Get there early or get there late. Everyone knows this. Have a plan. If you have addresses, use your phone to plan the most efficient travel loop.

Don't be so early that you risk annoying the seller. Some professional pickers may differ with me on this point, arguing that arriving while it's still dark, and the harried sellers are just setting up tables, is okay because you are a serious buyer. Do what you're comfortable with, but I don't think sellers like the idea of selling to people who are making a profit. Don't act like a pro. Even if you are.

Learn to look

Train your eye to isolate objects. In the row of junk vases there may be a genuine Roseville. Don't be influenced by surroundings. Instead, envision the lamp or chair the way you will use it. Maybe you'll be faux finishing that ugly flower pot, or changing the hardware on an old dresser.

Last month my friend Julie found a signed crystal bowl at a yard sale that she bought for $5. She sold it on eBay for $3,000. True story. She's also found diamond rings and sterling place settings for pennies on the dollar. She's educated herself about what's valuable.

Have correct currency 

Have cash, and have it in small change and small bills. Sellers are wanting to see profits. Some even have set a monetary goal for the day. Make it easy for them, and yourself, by having exact amounts. Checks sometimes are acceptable (life in a small town, ahhhhhh), but usually, cash is king.

I recently bought this original painting at a yard sale.
 It's one of the first things I see every morning, and I
never tire of studying its play of light. It cost me
three dollars. It's signed on the front. On the back,
it's titled Approach to the Mountain, and dated 1984.
The artist even pasted his printed address sticker on the 
 back. Thank you, Mr. Sumner in Keene, New Hampshire.

Here is one trick I have seen work wonders. Know what you will pay for a piece. Have the cash in your hand. Make your offer, and extend your fistful of dollars. You can even put it on the table in front of the seller, or start counting it out. If the seller refuses your offer, put the money back in your pocket. Usually, she'll agree, or start negotiating, because she saw the money, started spending it in her head, then watched the money disappear. Try it. I once bought an expensive bike for my son this way, paying only a few bucks.

Expand your hunting grounds 

I know that many bargain hunters shop flea markets, thrift stores, and consignment shops while on vacation, but have you looked for yard sales when you're away from home? 

Vacation shopping in souvenir shops, gift stores, and outlet malls bores me, but show me a yard sale sign and I'm gonna follow that arrow. Besides prices being a plus, my chances of finding something with local color, something not common back home, are going to be pretty darn good. I still have the bamboo furniture I bought cheap while visiting the Florida Panhandle ten years ago.

These chair cushions have been re-covered numerous times, 

and I think it's time for me to sew a fresh set. 

I'm always attracted to the laid-back, tropical feel of bamboo, wicker, 

and rattan furniture. I don't remember what I gave that woman in 

Panama City Beach for her chairs and tables, but I know they've 

easily paid for themselves many times over in comfort and versatility

I suspect that each of you will have your own tips for finding great deals at yard sales. If you liked my bargain-hunting ideas, download my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, where you'll find plenty of pointers for thrifty buying at secondhand stores and decorating, whether you are presently staging a home, just doing some redecorating, or out having a fun Saturday morning with friends.