Frugal Living 

The Best Things to Buy at Garage Sales (and What to Skip)

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Garage SaleSome people wait all winter for garage sale season to begin so they can start snapping up frugal treasures. States have actually turned garage sales into tourist attractions such as the 212 mile garage sale in Michigan every August and the Highway 127 Corridor Sale that sometimes stretches as far as 675 miles. There is no doubt that garage sales offer great bargains, if you know what to look for.

There are certain things that I always look for when I go to a garage sale and certain items I always skip. As a general rule, I stick with items that are durable and skip the ones that are not.

Best Things to Buy at Garage Sales

Baby gear—People “need” equipment and gear when baby arrives such as a bouncy seat, boppy pillow, baby swing, and activity center. While these items might be indispensible for several weeks or months, babies quickly outgrow them when the items are in generally good condition. Most of these items are also bulky, so parents want to unload them as quickly as possible. We found most of our baby gear for our first child at garage sales for as much as 90% off retail.

Kids’ clothes—Kids outgrow their clothes quickly and can often wear them for only one season. To compound that problem, many parents can’t resist buying their kids adorable clothes, often too many. Their spendthrift ways can benefit you. I have found great clothes for my daughters at garage sales. (Finding elementary size boys’ clothing, on the other hand, is more difficult because boys are rougher on their clothes.)

Kitchen equipment—People often want to buy the latest kitchen gadgets just to use them only a few times. I see Pampered Chef items at garage sales all the time, for a fraction of the regular price. Also, don’t overlook kitchen equipment that is older. Back in 1997, I bought a blender at a garage sale for $3. It was old then and was made of glass. Would you believe, now, in 2012, the blender has finally reached the point where it needs to be replaced? Older kitchen gear was meant to last.

Furniture—There are often couches and chairs out at garage sales, but most people don’t buy them because they don’t have a way to move them. Wait until the end of the day at a garage sale and get the furniture for a steal; most homeowners just want it out of their homes, and they are willing to slash prices to do so.

Exercise equipment—Just like furniture, most people don’t buy exercise equipment at garage sales, which is a mistake. People often buy treadmills or exercise bikes in January with good intentions but then don’t use it. You can pick up nearly new exercise equipment at a great price. (Make sure to plug it in and try it out before buying though.)

Books, CDs and DVDs. There is no better way to stock your child’s or your own library than a garage sale. Why pay full price for CDs or DVDs when you can buy them for 10% of the retail price?

What to Skip at Garage Sales

Car seats—There is usually no way to tell if these have ever been in an accident; if they have, you are putting your own child at risk if you use them. Plus, did you know car seats have expiration dates on them? This is one item you should always buy new.

Cribs—Keeping up with crib recalls is difficult, and many cribs may be missing parts. In addition, drop-sided cribs have been banned, so once again, it is best to buy a crib new.

Hats—Unless you can wash them in hot water and dry them on hot, don’t buy them. They could be filled with dried perspiration and hair products, or even worse, lice. At all costs, do not try on hats at the garage sale.

Swim suits & under garments—People routinely sell bathing suits and undergarments as well as lingerie. Skip these for personal hygiene reasons.

Whether you go to garage sales for sport or to save money, there are plenty of great buys. Then, with all of the money you save, buy those items you need to buy new such as cribs and car seats.

What are your best finds at garage sales? What do you always skip? Or look for?

(Photo: johnbeagle)

{ 16 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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16 Responses to “The Best Things to Buy at Garage Sales (and What to Skip)”

  1. Ray says:

    I’m not sold on not buying used car seats or cribs. Sure you can use these tips to haggle down the price, but avoiding on the off chance that they may be damaged? This just seems paranoid.

    If there’s no way to tell if they’ve been in an accident then they should be fine to use.

    To me, finding a recalled product would be like finding money. The company recalling the product reimburses you for everything (including shipping) and today you can typically search easily for recalls over the Internet.

    Also I’d make sure to double check furniture for bedbugs. A piece of furniture might be much more expensive than expected if it has bugs.

    • Matt M says:

      Yeah, even if a crib has been recalled it’s not going to kill a baby you put in it. There was probably a few deaths out of the millions of cribs produced.

      • Shirley says:

        I still wouldn’t take a chance on MY infant being one of those few.

      • ziglet19 says:

        I think it all boils down to personal preference. We used a 20 year old crib for my son that was used by my cousins and nephews. We inspected it closely to confirm that it was still in good condition, no loose pieces, etc. It has worked just fine for us, although I have several friends who would never in a million years use an old crib. To each their own, I guess.

    • keith says:

      Car seats now have expiration dates. Over time some won’t perform like they are supposed to.

      • Ray says:

        Right, cause the Super Sturdy Seats that protect your infants life spoil after a certain date.

        I get it now, its totally not because they don’t want them resold and thus eating into their margins.

        • Chris says:

          Been trying on hats at yardsales for years – so far so good. There is nothing to prevent a lice ridden consumer to try on all the hats in a retail store. Pretty much the only thing I won’t buy at a yardsale is a used toilet plunger – everything else is fair game.

          To follow up on a comment about buying DVDS, always check to make sure the right DVD is actually in the case and that the disk itself doesn’t look like it was run over by a truck.

        • Seth says:

          I thought that same thing until I read a little more about it. Sure, under normal conditions, the car seats should remain strong means of protection, BUT one thing to consider is the tempering of the plastic. In many/most places, the insides of cars go from very hot temperatures to well below freezing temps throughout the year. I don’t know much about the required temps for tempering of plastic, but I do know that it is claimed that this weakens the structure, which substantiates their expiration.

  2. Don says:

    Hey great stuff, just to add few things, I have always been a fan of buying DVDs from garage sales, specially the game DVDs as the new ones are very expensive. Moreover, I also like to buy Craft Supplies, Photo Frames, Gift wrap and unused greeting cards for the kids.


  3. Shirley says:

    Before you buy anything that uses electricity or batteries, test it. I once brought home a great buy on a mixer only to find that it didn’t work.

  4. Jack B says:

    I’m not sold on used furniture, bed bugs are making a comeback and well, excuse the pun but you may get more than you “bargained” for in that innocent looking loveseat…

  5. Jerry says:

    We’ve bought kids clothes for years at garage sales. They have been insurance for our budget and you can find some really nice items. It can lead to some fun afternoons, too, with the family exploring around.

  6. Bradley Wilson says:

    Definitely furniture, always buy furniture.

  7. Bobbi B says:

    Great article. A couple additional items and tips:

    1. You must develop a trained eye – but if you do, you can pick up new or almost new shoes. You have to look at the soles and the heels. Shoes that have been worn will show up in the heels. If the heels are perfectly flat (new) then the shoes are good to go for me. You can then give them a new spray with a shoe sanitizer. Of course – always say NO to used flip flops!

    2. Office supplies. These items have gotten very expensive. Estate sales are a great place to pick up office supplies. Older paper supplies are much better quality than are being sold now. They tend to be sold extremely cheaply at sales. Make sure if the item has an adhesive (envelopes, stickers, post-its) that it is still good. This is a great place to pick up file folders.

    3. Arts and Craft Supplies. Almost every yard sale has some sort of arts and craft supplies. Great for teachers, moms and the creative types. Make sure you test out markers (which can dry out) before buying.

    4. Tip on DVDs and CDs. After discovering a few too many times that I had purchased DVD and CD BOXES (because there was no disc inside) I now ALWAYS check to make sure the disc is there before buying.

    Happy Hunting!

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