Yard sale shopping tips


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Getty Images

Trystan L. Bass
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When the weather's clear, yard sales and garage sales spring up around most neighborhoods like weeds. Bargain hunters and fans of reusing and recycling know that these sales are great places to shop for kids' clothes, furniture that can be repainted or restyled, paperback books, and even collectibles which may be diamonds in the rough.

But you have to shop savvy to get the most out of yard sales. They're not as predictable as the mall, so you need to plan ahead.

Start by searching Craigslist.org, newspaper classifieds, and signs around town to find the sales. Then map an efficient route for the places you want to visit.

These tips can help you find bargains on things you can really use...

Prepare for a day of shopping:

  • Be prepared by bringing: cash in small denominations, a tape measure to get the right sizes of clothing and home decor items, and batteries to test gadgets.

  • Don't drive a really fancy car or wear designer clothes or expensive jewelry when you go to these sales. It's harder to bargain if you look like you're made of money.

  • You can find the best selection right when a sale opens, so go early. But if you see something and can't get the price you want, ask when the sale is ending and come back later. If the item is still around, you might get a lower price then.

  • Stay cool and comfortable by wearing a hat and sunscreen and bringing a refillable bottle with water, plus snacks for the day.

  • Looking for children's clothes, toys, or electronics? Head to newer neighborhoods because the more recent residents there tend to buy (and thus throw out) newer things.

  • Looking for antiques, collectibles, or furniture? Head to older neighborhoods because the longer-term residents are usually cleaning out attics and basements of older things.

What to buy and not buy:

  • Avoid buying baby or toddler equipment like car seats, cribs, playpens, and safety gates as models may get recalled and safety requirements change. And carefully inspect toys for small children to make sure there are no loose or broken parts.

  • Don't buy used helmets of any kind (you never know if they were in an accident!), and inspect used sporting equipment thoroughly.

  • Always look inside boxes and cases. DVDs and CDs can easily get mixed up, and games may be missing pieces.

  • Know brand names and genuine values. Brands made for Wal-Mart and Target (especially clothing) aren't great deals second-hand because the items won't have much life left in them. But high-end labels and designer goods can last for years more. Also, if you are a collector, know the value of your favorite items so you can spot a real deal.

Bargain like a pro:

  • Start by complimenting the item, no matter how beat-up it is. Never talk down what you're trying to buy -- the seller may have bought and loved that thing at one time.

  • Don't go too low. If an item is marked $20, don't offer $5. Try $15 or maybe $10 if the original price seems wildly inaccurate.

  • Ask if you can combine purchases for a better price. For example, if you want a $5 item and a $7 item, ask if the seller will take $10 for both. Or if you're buying a large number of items, ask if the seller will throw in another small item for free.

  • Know what you'll do if your offer is rejected. Will you walk away or pay the full price? Plan ahead, and stick with your plan.

These tips should help you shop savvy at yard sales and garage sales around town. Have more suggestions? Post them in the comments. Or share your favorite deals from sales you've been to.

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