making a motza at your next garage sale

dreamstimefree_1974093We held our very first garage sale last weekend. The event was to raise money for plane tickets to England (and my brother’s wedding) but as I mentioned the other day, our toilet leaked into the living room below that same night and we spent a lot more than we earned.

Of course, it could have been worse. We could have earned nothing with which to fix the loo.

Our garage sale was from 7am to 12pm. The thunder began rolling at 9am and by 9:30 the heavens had opened and torrential rain was flooding the driveway. It wasn’t just a storm, it was a full-on tropical storm that lasted for over two hours.

And by 1pm, there was not a cloud in the sky.

Despite the rain, we made exactly $451, which is, as they say, better than a slap in the face with a wet fish. It cost us $50 for the advert in the local paper (yes, you read that right, highway robbery in my opinion, but anyway…), making our profit $401.

We made some interesting sales, but the one that stood out was the lovely ‘little old lady’ who walked out with 30 X-Men comics. Of all the people who wandered into our garage that day, she would have been the last one we would have guessed would buy the comics.

Below are the tips we learned from holding our garage sale.

Before the big day

1. Declutter

Before you can sell your stuff, you need to uncover it, which of course means decluttering. We went through all of our personal possessions over a period of two months, setting aside boxes for the garage sale as well as stuff we didn’t think would sell (mostly clothing, which went straight to the Salvos instead).

2. Clean

The next thing you need to do is clean anything that needs cleaning. There’s nothing more off-putting than layers of someone else’s grime. Clean clothes and give them a quick iron, clean wash crockery and glassware, wipe over appliances.

3. Price

As you clean things, give them a price (we used masking tape and a sharpie for the most part). Make sure you price everything that you sell. I have walked out of garage sales without buying because the things I was interested in didn’t have a price. Having said that, you don’t need to price everything individually. We also had signs that read: ‘All DVDs $3’ or ‘All magazines 50c each or 3 for $1’. We made up swing tags for the clothing with string, cardboard and a safety pin.


4. If in doubt…

A final note is that if you’re not sure it will sell, put it out anyway, you don’t have anything to lose (unless it’s old, faulty appliances, of course). I put out a set of old steak knives (one missing) and a teenager convinced her mum to buy them because they matched the ones they already had they were always complaining that they didn’t have enough.

Also, think about packaging things up and selling them as a set. I packed old and unused stationery sets up so that they could make a nice gift. We sold a PlayStation 2 with 15 games included and added a cookbook to the fondue set.

Setting out your wares

I’ve been to garage sales where people have put down a tarp and dumped a whole pile of clothes on it, expecting buyers to rummage through the crumpled pile. That’s pretty unappealing.

I’ve also been to garage sales where everything is in boxes on the ground. Only the most enthusiastic buyers are going to spend Saturday morning on their haunches trying to find a bargain.

Instead, you want to make buying as easy as possible so that you maximise sales. A item displayed prominently on a table is much more likely to sell than it would hidden under rubble in a box.

1. Prepare the night before

It will be so much easier if you have everything set out the night before. DH happened to have an RDO on the Friday before hand, and we spent the day doing last minute cleaning, pricing and decluttering before setting everything out that night after the little fella had gone to bed. Because we had done most of the leg work over the course of two months, it only took us about an hour to set up our garage sale.

2. Clear out your garage

Before setting up your garage sale, clear anything out of your garage that you don’t want to sell. We left a couple of clamps hanging at the back of the garage and got several offers for them. People also wanted to buy our clothes airers and even the tables that displayed our goods. Avoid confusion by clearing out as many non-sale items as is practical or cordon them off to make it clear they are not for sale.

2. Eye level is buy level

Try to use as many tables as you can to display your goods. We borrowed tables from friends and family to do this. Display the larger items at the back and the smaller ones at the front. Lay your ‘good’ books flat to let their covers grab attention.

We did use boxes to container certain items. For instance, we stood all our magazines up in a single box and put the price on the box. To display small items like earrings, I put them in an ice cube tray with the price of 50c each on the tray.

The clothes we hung up so that they could be easily inspected. Details like size were written on the price tag, again to make it easier to buy them.

2. Plan for wet weather

While it’s great to display your goods out on the driveway or front yard, have a back up plan in case it rains. We kept all of our goods inside our garage, so it didn’t matter that it rained.

As a side note, because it rained all of our cardboard signs directing people to our sale ripped and blew away. Just something to keep in mind when hanging signs for your sale.

Pictures of our sale, the night before…




Drawing in buyers

When it comes to buyers, be aware that there will be ‘traders’, people who buy stuff cheap and sell it on eBay. These traders are great customers (after all it’s the sales that we want) but will often be the ones who haggle, and they will also be the ones who turn up an hour early to make sure they get pick of the goods. We had people driving in at 6am, while I was still running around in my underwear and trying to get breakfast for the little fella.

If you don’t want people turning up early, put your street name only in your advert, not your street number, and put out your signs when you’re ready for buyers. They will know which street to go to and will then be able to follow your signs. We live in a townhouse, so we included our street number but not our unit number, to deter early-birds.

1. Advertise

One of the best ways to get buyers (especially seasoned garage sale attendees) is to advertise in your local paper. List as many items as you can in the ad so that people who are looking for something specific will know to come to your garage sale.

2. Signage

Signage is not only important to direct people to your sale, but to entice passers-by. For this reason, place your signs in strategic places to grab attention. If you live in a back street, you might consider placing signs on a main road and then at strategic intersections to direct people to your sale.

Make you signs eye-catching and easy to read from a distance, use arrows as necessary and include the time and date as well as your address (or street name).

Ensure you make note of where you put your signs so that you can take them down after the sale.

3. Going the extra mile

Some sellers hold sausage sizzles, which can be a nice way to make a few extra dollars, but be aware that some people might feel awkward hanging around a stranger’s house eating. I have to admit though, I wished I had some (free) biscuits to offer while people were waiting for the rain to ease.

Customer service with a smile

Here are a few things you will need to run a successful garage sale:

1. A float

Be prepared for large notes by having lots of change. There will always be people who bargain you down to $1 and then pay with a $50 note.  We had a $300 float, and made sure we had more $5 notes than $10 and more $1 coins than $2, for instance.

We used an old formula tin to keep the coins in and our pockets for the notes (one pocket for the $5 notes, one for the $10 notes etc.). A ‘bum bag’ also works well.

2. Bags and boxes for people to carry their items home in

We collected old grocery bags from family and friends to use. If you are selling a lot of breakable items like glassware, you might also consider some newspaper to wrap them in.

3. An extension cord

And a power point, for people to test electrical appliances.

4. The lowest price you’re willing to accept

Have an idea of what you will take for items when people haggle so that you can make a sale with confidence. It’s ok to say no if the price offered is too low.

The aftermath

What will you do with the things that don’t sell? Will you keep them and try again? Will you put your ‘clutter’ back in your home? Will you send it all off to the charity store?

We kept a few things we thought we might be able to sell on eBay and the rest went straight to the Salvos. That afternoon. It was cathartic to have all that stuff (which has been in boxes stacked in the hallway and on the dining table for nearly two months) gone and out of the house. We returned tables, swept the floor, replaced the misplaced…and then called the plumber.

But that’s another story.

What are your tips for holding a garage sale?

Subscribe to the Frugal and Thriving Newsletter


  1. Jack says

    If you are looking to declutter, but not so worried about the money, then freecycle is your friend.

    Lots of people around here have their garage sale, but set an specific end time (like you 1pm). They then advertise on freecycle that there will be a free garage sale beginning as say 2pm. The break gives you a bit of time to clear out the stragglers and then remove the potential eBayable items.

    You’ll then have a gaggle of about 20 people waiting for you at 2pm to help you declutter. It unlikely you’ll get rid of everything (some things people don’t want, even if they are free!). What it will do is dramatically reduce the amount of clutter you need to deal with at the end of the garage sale.

    It gives you another chance to get rid of that old mattress, old electrical items, etc that the Salvos won’t accept. In the end giving those types of items away can actually save you in the garbage tip fees it would otherwise cost you!

  2. says

    Great tip Jack!

    @ Carla, I would definitly do it again. I felt it was worth the effort, and I daresay we could have done a little ‘better’ if it hadn’t rained.