Please don't call me cheap. I prefer thrifty.
Any given Saturday I prowl neighborhood streets for yard sales, cruise driveways laden with strangers' junk and make their trash my treasure. How devoted? Sometimes I carry a flashlight on a cord for sellers who don't mind early birds sifting through boxes while they're still setting up. I can drive by and assess in seconds whether it's worth the stop.
And could there be a better time for bargains?
Scoff if you like, but then check out my like-new mission style Pottery Barn coffee table ($20), the flawless Lenox vase ($2), my still-in-the-box-with-price tags-attached leather Fossil wristlet ($2). Check out a $3 ladder, a beautifully weathered $50 set of teak lawn furniture and my perpetually changing stack of books — hardbacks $1, paperbacks 50 cents.
True story: My nephew was 6 when he spent a dollar on a silver bracelet for me at a garage sale. (I had him in training.) Stamped inside: Tiffany & Co.
Which is not to say you don't have to dig through a lot of holey Jimmy Buffett T-shirts and bent silverware to get to the good stuff. But hey, that's half the fun.
Having a sale yourself purges cupboards and closets and makes you some coin. Cruising them saves bucks, and it's a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning with like-minded scavengers.
So, some basics:
Hints for having a great sale
1. Signage, signage, signage. Big, clear, easy to read. Post signs the night before or very early on nearby major roads and at logical turns, like bread crumbs to your house. Extra points for big arrows. Addresses larger than numbers on a dime: priceless.
2. Be brutally objective and realistic in pricing your items. What to you may be a precious memory of Nana and her famous peanut butter snickerdoodles is to everyone else a battered, blackened cookie sheet. Remember that people did not come to your yard for Macy's or Target prices. Think: Seriously, what would I pay for this at a yard sale? If you still need help, check out www.garagesalesource.com/articles/garage_sale_pricing/.
And for the love of sanity, invest in price stickers and spend a half-hour beforehand filling them out.
3. Launder the launderable, wipe down the wipable. Clean sells. Organize your stuff so people can walk around it easily.
4. Allow for dickering, embrace haggling, and be prepared to counter the inevitable savvy lowballers. It's fun, particularly when you meet at a price and everyone's happy.
5. Have plenty of change. Keep quarters, singles, fives and tens in an apron pocket or cigar box monitored by one responsible adult. Three customers in a row with twenties can take down a badly planned sale.
6. Kids selling canned drinks and waters from an icy cooler are always a plus. And don't forget the diet drinks.
7. Start early. Seven to 9 a.m. is prime time. After that, it's dregs.
8. Be prepared to haul those dregs to a church thrift store or Goodwill when it's over (by 11 a.m.). Wasn't purging the point?
Tips for rummaging
1. Do your homework. Find neighborhoods known for sales. Check the classifieds. Start scouting signs on Fridays.
2. Grab a go-cup and get out early. I once arrived at a 7 a.m. sale at 7:15 to see the couch of my dreams riding away on the back of a pickup. I think of it still …
3. Bring singles and change. And bigger bucks if you're looking for furniture and higher-end items.
4. If the price is high, make an offer. Don't be shy. Most times, the seller will work with you.
5. Park so it's convenient to exit. A few doors down if need be. A busy sale can set you back valuable prime time when there's a mini traffic jam or a single rude parker.
6. On Saturday, avoid sales that started Friday. Can you say picked over?
7. Ask to plug in appliances. No refunds in yard sale world.
8. Buy soda or lemonade from enterprising kids. Even if it's undrinkable. It encourages entrepreneurship, and hey, it's good garage sale karma.
1. Tools, hoses, ladders
2. DVDs and books
4. Furniture, indoor and out
5. Kids' clothes and toys, particularly the hard plastic kind that drool and other substances have not permeated
6. A million unimaginable finds: a monkey lamp, vintage Barbies, a trike for a granddaughter, beading supplies, a lawn mower, a Three Stooges garbage can, a minifridge … It's out there, somewhere.