How to price garage sale items

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garage sale
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Whether you’ve been bitten by the KonMari bug or you’re simply indulging in a classic spring cleaning session, now is the beginning of garage sale season.

Yes, garage sales are a lot of work, but done right they can prove quite profitable!

Garage sale pricing: How to get it right

First of all, you need to let go of thinking that you have a snowball’s chance of recouping the money you once paid for your stuff. These spending choices are in the past and are a sunk cost that’s already been incurred and can never be recovered. How much you spent on an item is now irrelevant to its garage sale value. You essentially drove it off the lot and took the financial hit. Get over it.

However, you can still rake in enough money to make hosting a garage sale worth your while!

The key is to set prices low enough for as many sales as possible. Yes, it’s painful, but it’s better to make a fast nickel than a slow dime. Or no dime. There’s zero profit in an unsold item.

Of course some items are better sold online rather than to garage sale buyers who are looking for amazing bargains. Examples include antique and vintage goods, as well as other high value items.

A quick look at “completed items” on eBay will give you a sense of how desirable your stuff is. We’ve got a guide on how to do that here. (Sadly, our guide may educate you on how little your stuff is worth rather than confirming that you’re sitting on a fortune.)

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How much to ask can be confusing, so I reached out to members of The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group to get a sense of how prices differ throughout the country.

Unfortunately, there was almost no consensus except that people vehemently hate unpriced “make me an offer” sales. “Nothing is worse ‘than make me an offer,'” one poster wrote. “I don’t even know where to begin if you don’t give me an asking price.”

So much much should you ask?

Rule of thumb varies from 10% to 30% of the initial price, and I’ve even heard to price at half of how much an item would sell in a local thrift store.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army publishes a donation value guide, which is quite handy. It provides prices on everything from ice skates ($3-$16) to bathing suits ($4-$12).

Salvation Army

Consider these pricing guidelines:

  • Books – Hardback books ($1), paperback books (50¢)
  • Clothing – Shirts ($1), pants ($2), shoes ($3), outerwear ($5)
  • Housewares – Dishes (50¢-$1), glassware (50¢), pots and pans ($4), linens ($2), small appliances ($5)
  • Toys – Large toys ($3), small toys (50¢), stuffed animals (50¢-$1)
  • Furniture – Chairs ($5), tables ($10-$20), rugs ($20), dressers ($30), lamps ($5-$10)
  • Collectibles – Records ($1), knick-knacks (50¢-$2)

If the thought of individually pricing your merchandise is overwhelming, consider setting blanket prices for certain categories.

Create easy-to-read signs and make it as easy as possible for potential buyers to understand your pricing structure. Maybe even set up a $1 table, a $2 table or similar.

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Of course, the key to getting people to pay your set prices is to physically get people to your sale, and for that you need advertising. And in today’s Internet era that means sites such as Craigslist, Facebook and Next Door. However, don’t discount the power of a straightforward hand-drawn cardboard sign, set up at nearby intersections. You’ll need traffic, lots of it.

Preparing for a successful garage sale requires supplies such as:

  • Price stickers – Can be as official as the pre-printed ones from an office supply company or ordinary pieces of painter’s tape.
  • Tables and clothing racks – Folding tables are ideal, but don’t hesitate to haul out a couple of traditional tables as many people lack the physical ability to crouch down.
  • Change – Small bills and coins. You’ll be making change and will need dollar bills and quarters.
  • Bags – These don’t need to be as professional and uniform as a standard retail store would supply, but you’ll still need a stash for customer convenience.
  • Snacks and drinks – You’ll be outside all day and need to plan what you’ll be eating and drinking throughout the day. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to leave your stuff unattended while cooking a meal from scratch.
  • A buddy – Whether or not you’re hosting a neighborhood garage sale, it’s still a good idea to recruit a buddy for both safety and sanity.
  • Sunscreen – Slather up people, skin cancer is a killer.

Bonus garage sale tips:

  • Move your cars to make it easier for potential shoppers. Maybe even ask if your neighbors are willing to do the same.
  • Price all items at 25¢ increments to simplify the math.
  • Set aside the notion that bargaining is rude. Give discounts when people are buying multiple items and remember that your goal is to have as few unsold items as possible.
  • Slash prices at the end of the day. Yes, you’ll hardly make any money on these items, but some money is better than no money.
  • Rearrange and tidy up your tables throughout the day so potential buyers don’t think the good stuff has already been sold.
  • Pay attention to the weather forecast. Nobody wants to buy a soggy book.

Cleaning up after the garage sale

Be sure to make a plan for unsold items. If you’ve gone through the mental anguish of deciding what to get rid of, you do yourself a disservice by bringing those things back into your home.

Some non-profits will pick up donations, or you could even advertise a “curb alert” on your local Buy Nothing Group. As a last resort either borrow a truck, load up the minivan or make multiple trips to the donation center.

But whatever you do, do not haul your stuff back into your house!

Final thought

Unfortunately, not all living situations lend themselves to hosting a garage sale. Maybe you’re in an apartment or living under HOA or civic regulations that prohibit hosting a sale. Worry not, as you still have options. You can either pair up with a buddy who lives in a sale-friendly area or do a virtual garage sale through Facebook Marketplace, VarageSale or LetGo.com.

Whether the goal of your garage sale is to declutter or to bring in revenue, the smart thing to do is to set specific customer-friendly prices that’ll relieve your home of excess stuff while maximizing profits. Best of luck, and may the weather be on your side!

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