Makevoer Monday: Turning Junk into Cash

I’ve always loved garage sales. Besides the cost savings, I get to meet new people and rummage through interesting (and sometimes weird) stuff.

Almost as interesting as going to garage sales is having one. I say ‘almost’ because having a sale takes quite a bit of work. If you want to do it right, that is. I’m always amazed at the people who will simply toss some dusty old junk on their driveways (after grossly over-pricing it), slap up a teensy sign on the corner, and then wonder why “people just aren’t buying.”

Since I’m seriously considering having a sale in the next couple of weeks, I thought I’d share my garage sale hostessing methods with you, imperfect as they are. I realize that it’s highly unlikely that anyone here would need the assist (you seem like such orderly folks), but just in case…

Note: These tips are based on local (Memphis, TN) experience. Customs in your area may be different. Feel free to chime in if they are.

Before the Sale
Most of the real work for a garage sale occurs before the actual sale date.

Pick the date and time. Well duh. That seems a little obvious, but there are some dates that are more lucrative (potentially) than others. Saturdays seem to have the biggest draw, and those that occur around the 1st or 15th of the month (traditional U.S. paydays) are especially busy.

As for time, know that garage sale people are notorious for showing up on your doorstep at 5:00 a.m. No kidding. At our last neighborhood sale, I had to chase away shoppers from my neighbor’s house. They had pulled into her driveway and were using their car headlights to poke around her sale items, which were covered with a tarp! Sheesh. If you don’t want folks showing up early, you’ll want to say so in any advertisements. Which leads us nicely to our next tip…

Choose your advertising. Local newspapers are a good bet, but the ad will cost you. (I doubt I’ll be using our local paper this time around, because the ad costs almost $30. That would significantly eat into my profits. They have an online-only option for $8 that allows pictures. I might use that, but another option is craigslist, which is free!) Be sure to include your sale date, address (you’d be amazed at how many people forget that), the start and completion times of the sale, and any ‘rainy day’ plans. You might also list any major items you have to draw shoppers in. Something I always include is an ‘early birds pay double’ warning, or simply ‘no early birds, please’.

Another type of advertising is signs. Use lots and lots of signs. Cover every nearby major intersection and post them along the route through your subdivision. (Be sure to ask permission of homeowners and businesses first!) If you choose a single color (lime green, hot pink, day-glo yellow) for all your signs, shoppers can more easily find their way to YOUR sale. (And they’ll really, really appreciate your efforts!)

One last word about signs: please–PLEASE–write in large block letters with a marker. I’m sorry if your address is really long, but let that factor into the size poster board you buy. I’m not getting out of my car, crossing six lanes of traffic, and pulling your sign up off the ground so that
I can read your address. I’m not! Also, if you live in a humid area (hello, fellow Memphians!), buy foam core boards, not plain poster board. The poster variety will do nothing but curl up and hide all your info. Also, you’ll want to wait until the morning of the sale to put out your signs.
(See previous warnings about early birds.)

Assemble your sale items. Go through every place you can think of to gather items for the sale and collect them in a common area. Then go through those spaces again. And again, if you need it. You want to avoid that mad midnight-dash on the eve of the sale as you spot more things to be sold.

Clean your sale items. Please don’t take something layered in 15 years of attic dust and plop it on a table. People don’t want to leave your sale feeling like they need a shower. Or maybe that’s just me. One thing’s for certain, you’ll stand a better chance of attracting buyers and getting top dollar if your items are clean.

Price your items. Please. I know it’s tedious, but nothing is more frustrating than having to ask a price for every single item. (I usually leave those sales right away.) You should plan to mark each item, although you can group items like books and CDs and put up a single sign for those.

A good rule of thumb to start is 25% of what it sells for retail if–and this is a big IF–the item is in pristine condition. It’s more likely that you’ll end up getting somewhere between 10-20%. If things aren’t selling, you can always put up a 50% off everything. (That’s especially useful as the sale winds to a close.)

Map out your sale space. How many tables will you need? Where can you get them? How can you improvise? I’m lucky in that I have access to several banquet tables and card tables, but I’ve also used two kitchen chairs with a board between them for shoes and handbags. I’ve also used empty moving boxes turned upside down to hold luggage. I try to keep as much off the ground as possible, although if I had a bunch of kids’ toys, the ground is exactly where I’d put them! :)

It’s also a good idea to rig a way to hang up your clothes, especially any of your “nicer” items. Collect all of these display tools and have them ready before the sale.

Save bags and boxes. This is tougher to do these days with so many of us using canvas for our shopping needs, but it’s helpful to have a few plastic or paper bags and a few extra boxes on hand for large purchases.

Get change. You’re going to need to make change for all the big bills you’re bringing in, so make a trip to the bank in the days before the sale. I usually get about $100 in smaller bills, mostly $1’s and $5’s, and a roll of quarters. That seems to work well, but be ye warned that you will get some bozo (or bozette) in there at 6:00 a.m. who will smile as she hands you a twenty and holds up a 25-cent item. I decline those sales, but I smile sweetly as I do so and offer to hold it for an hour if she wants to get some change elsewhere. Later in the day, it’s a different story, but anyone out shopping that early is probably a garage sale hound and should have known better.

Assemble the tools of the trade: a measuring tape for measuring furniture and such, an extension cord for testing appliances, your change box (or a carpenter’s apron, which is what I use), a calculator if you’re not math-handy, and a notebook and pen just in case.

Get breakfast. Seriously. Plan for whatever it is you’re going to have for breakfast the night before. That way you won’t be caught off-guard by early
birds and find yourself famished at 9 a.m.

Day of the sale

Get up early and get moving! Enough said. (Oh, remember the breakfast thing.) Set up tables and put out previously-priced items. Group like items together (housewares, tools, books, etc.) Consider putting a “eye-catcher” item near the curb to draw people in.

Put out your signs.

Take a deep breath and smile a lot. Be open to meeting your neighbors, as well as a few folks you hope forget they ever saw your neighborhood.


After the sale

For any usable items, the Goodwill or other donation centers will appreciate your donations. For things not in working order, consider placing them at your curb with a ‘free to good home’ sign.

Put your feet up and congratulate yourself for a job well done!

Your turn!
Any savvy sellers out there who can help us out here? I’m sure I’ve left out a lot.