Money Talks, So Should You

8 tips for holding a successful garage sale

Marie Gentile
by Marie Gentile, Staff Writer (@dimespring)

With spring cleaning (hopefully) over and done, the season of the garage sale is upon us. It’s time to clear out the clutter, make some extra cash and pass your junk onto someone who might actually use it. After all, one man’s “Buns of Steel” VHS tape is another man’s … nevermind, just throw that thing out.

Garage sales can be a lot of work, but they’re also a great way to get organized. Before turning your house into a depot of deals, consider these seven savvy garage sale strategies.

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1. Go in with the right mindset

Let’s be honest: while it may provide a little extra spending money, a garage sale is never going to make you rich. The ultimate goal of the sale should always be to clear out clutter and get rid of stuff you no longer need or use. That’s it. If you’re going in with a monetary goal you will inevitably end up pricing your items too high, being unwilling to haggle (a garage sale tradition), and putting off customers with a business-like attitude.

Think of a garage sale as a chance to make a (very) little bit of money on things you were probably going to throw away or donate. If you want to get rid of something that you believe is still worth a lot of money, a garage sale probably isn’t the right venue for it. Consider listing it online on eBay or Craigslist, where you can probably fetch a higher price.

2. Advertise strategically

For the best results, utilize a combination of old- and new-school methods to advertise your garage sale. Try posting an ad on Craigslist with pictures of some of the better, more photogenic items from your sale. If your neighborhood has a Yahoo or Facebook group or an email list, post a message with the sale info and a few photos. You can also try posting an ad with your local newspaper, either in the print edition or on their website (though that may cost money).

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While online promotions can work wonders, don’t abandon traditional signs. Post large, colorful signs with the sale information in clear, bold writing. Instead of including your address, which may be difficult for customers to read or find, consider simply putting an arrow in the direction of your house. Just periodically check to make sure the signs don’t accidentally get turned around, especially on a windy day.

3. Set reasonable prices

Items should be priced to sell. Abandon any sentimental attachments you feel for the items you’re selling and forget about how much you originally paid for the item. If the item really meant something to you or was worth a good deal, you probably wouldn’t be selling it in the first place. Price items extremely low and remember that if they don’t sell during the sale they’ll probably end up at Goodwill, in which case the only thing you’ll get for them is a tax deduction. Even getting just a quarter or a dollar for an item is better than nothing.

If items aren’t selling after the first few hours, consider lowering your prices. Have the mindset that nothing on display at the garage sale is coming back in the house; that way you’ll be more focused on getting rid of junk than making a major profit.

Also, make sure that every single item has a pricetag on it. Even if you have a sign saying “All Books $1” you should still put a price sticker on each individual book. People may not see the sign, and they’re more likely to put an item back than ask how much it costs.

Finally, be sure to stock up on cash and coins so you can make change.

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4. Keep it clean

Your garage sale may be crowded, but it doesn’t have to be chaotic. A messy, unorganized sale will confuse customers and may even discourage them from buying. Keeping things neat and tidy will also help items appear clean, which can be a concern for garage sale buyers.

Before setting up, make sure to clean out your garage. Clear away or section off items that aren’t for sale (lawnmowers, bikes, tools, etc.) and sweep out the garage floor. Be sure to move your garbage cans to the side of the house or a neighbor’s garage. No one wants to purchase an item placed next to a smelly trash can.

5. Think about layout

Set up is key to garage sale success. Many potential customers drive by a sale first to determine whether it’s worth their time. Place your best and largest items out front so those drivers are more likely to consider stopping in. Also, if you’re going to have a free pile, place it near the end of your driveway with a large sign to further entice passersby.

Make things easier for shoppers by grouping like items together on tables or shelves. Separate clothes, toys, kitchen items, home goods, etc. into their own areas. To make things even easier for the shopper, group sets or like items together in plastic bags and sell as a single item.

6. Buddy up

The bigger the sale, the more customers you’re likely to get. If you don’t have enough stuff to draw a large crowd (which is probably a good thing!), consider making it a neighborhood affair. Ask your friends or neighbors if they’re interested in joining forces and adding their own stuff to your sale. They can also help you work the sale itself so you don’t have to work uninterrupted eight-hour shifts all alone.

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If you do team up with one or more neighbors, make sure to take extra precautions with labeling items so you’ll know how much money each person has earned. Try using a different color price sticker for each person’s items and sticking each sold item’s sticker in a notebook. Add up each person’s sticker amount at the end of the sale and divide the money accordingly.

7. Set boundaries

We don’t want to worry you about stranger danger, but the fact is most of the customers at your sale will be people you don’t know, so think about what’s best for your home and family beforehand. You may have people ask to use your bathroom or try on articles of clothing inside your house. Decide what you’re comfortable with and don’t let anyone break your boundaries. What will you do if you see someone trying to steal? (It happens.) It’s probably not worth confronting them over a $1 item, but what if they try to steal something more expensive? What if they steal something that’s not for sale? These are unlikely scenarios, but you should be ready for them nonetheless.

8. Take care of the leftovers

You will likely have a lot of leftovers after your garage sale. If you’ve tried to sell these items, it means you no longer need or want them, so don’t bring them back inside the house. Instead, try donating to a resale shop or local charity branch like the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

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These organizations often have standards for what they will and won’t accept. Check the organization’s website or stop in to see what they will take. Also look online to see which locations accept donations and on which days you can stop by. Some charities will offer to pick up larger donations from your house for free. To see which organizations will pick up in your area, look on

Donating items to charitable organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army can also earn you a tax deduction. If you want a tax deduction, keep record of all your items before you donate them, and take photos of any high-value items. Goodwill and the Salvation Army both have charts listing the fair market value of various items, so keep track of that in your list as well. When you drop off the items, make sure to ask for a donation receipt.

Record the donations on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040. Those donating more than $500 worth of items must also fill out Section A of Form 8283. If you’re donating more than $5,000 in goods, get the items appraised first and have the appraiser fill out Form 8283 Section B. The appraiser should also fill out Part II, “Declaration of Appraiser.” Include all relevant forms, receipts and your personal records with your yearly tax return. The tax deduction is only possible for those itemizing their taxes.


Marie Gentile is a personal finance reporter and content producer at Dimespring. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Marquette University. A native Midwesterner, Marie is now living in Atlanta and adjusting to life below the Mason-Dixon.