Frugal Living: The Art of the Garage Sale


Missoula is a Mecca for garage sales!

With its distinct neighborhoods and their close proximity to each other, it makes for a great garage sale town. And starting in April, the amount of garage sales starts to skyrocket. From now until October, you can pretty much find a garage sale every day of the weekend. Missoula loves their garage sales!

Not only are garage sales a great place to find some real bargains, but Missoulians also recognize the environmental purpose of garage sales: An earth-friendly way of recycling and reusing. Garage sales are a win-win for everyone!

We hold an annual garage sale every year. It’s a great way to recycle our boys’ clothing, toys, and other items. Plus it makes us some money, as well. Our family decided to earmark the money we make for a special family purchase each year. It’s a hands-on way for our boys to see the benefit of having a garage sale and how important it is to take extra steps to make it successful.

Garage/yard/rummage sales can be extremely successful for cleaning out your house and for making some extra cash. But too often, people just whip their sales together without much thought or effort. This results in a mediocre sale and a lot of lost profit. By following some of the tips below, you will be on the road to a successful sale!

Here are our tried and true steps for a successful garage sale:

A garage sale is a great way to clean house and make some money.

  1. Collect unused and unwanted items all year long. Clean out closets quarterly and kitchen drawers and cabinets once a year. Purging your home regularly is the key. If you wait until the weekend before the sale, you won’t be as successful.
  2. Set up your space well before the sale. We set our garage up the weekend before so we can spend the week putting items out and pricing. We are careful about the design of the tables so that it allows a constant flow of traffic and there aren’t any areas of congestion…that is frustrating for shoppers and they will walk away if they can’t see the items.
  3. Advertise. We post our sale in the local newspaper and let it run for the two days we are having the sale. I also plan to post it on Craigslist. Social media is a great way to get the word out (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). But our main advertising comes from the awesome bright orange arrows my dad made over 20 years ago. They are simple, clear, and so well loved by our customers. These are huge keys to success for us!
  4. Timing. Choosing the day of your sale is key. Spring and summer tends to be the best time in Missoula, for obvious reasons. It’s important to know what is going on in town during the weekend you are holding your sale. You can either make or break your sale depending on the events in town. Be sure to check the community calendar.
  5. Arranging your items. Just like a retail store, you should arrange your items in categories. We break our items into the following categories: Kids’ clothing, adult clothing, tools, garden items, furniture, books/dvds/cds, seasonal items, housewares, home decor, pet supplies, camping/outdoor gear, baby gear, toys, jewelry, and personal items. We place any large furniture, garden items, and camping items outside the garage in the driveway. It is helpful to not have the items just thrown onto tables and not arranged. Organization draws people in and makes them feel at ease. Make sure all your items can be seen clearly and are marked clearly with a price tag.
  6. Pricing. There is a fine balance between making money and making the stuff go away. Price the items for what you’d be willing to pay, but if you notice things are moving, then mark everything down. Remember the real point of having the sale is to get rid of stuff, so don’t hesitate to mark items down. If you have no idea on how to price things, try going to a garage sale a week or so before your sale and see what the prices are like. Be realistic and find that balance between making money and getting rid of the accumulation. Also, be willing to barter on the price…people always feel like they got a great deal if they barter a little on the price.
  7. Checking out. Be sure to have a good cash box and have plenty of change in it. I always have extra pens, a receipt book, tape, and a calculator. We also have lots of plastic grocery bags and always put the purchased items in the bags unless someone prefers no bag.
  8. Extra help. It’s a good idea to recruit extra help on the days of your sale. I always count on my mother and my mother-in-law. It is ideal to have someone walking around and answering questions while the others are at the cash table handling the sales. It’s also helpful to have some muscle at your sale to help move the heavy items and carry things to people’s car if necessary.
  9. Post-sale tips. When your sale is over, you are not done yet! The important part of the garage sale is cleaning up and getting rid of the leftovers. Unless there are things you truly want to keep, then you will want to immediately load the remaining items into boxes and take them to the thrift stores (check with them first as to their donation policies). Once you have the leftovers gone, make sure to put away your tables, sweep out your garage, and get ready to enjoy the freedom of cleaning out your junk and counting your profits!
  10. Taking notes for next year. My husband made a map of where to post the signs and what telephone poles he used. He stores this map with the signs and screws for next year. Having a notebook which is designated for notes and ideas for your garage sales will help you immensely from year to year.

My final suggestion addresses the quality of items you put in your sale. Make sure your items are working and if you know they don’t, then either mark it as “not working, good for parts” or don’t sell it. If an item is dirty, take the time to clean it…that could be the difference between selling it for 50 cents or selling it for $2.00! Be honest and fair…you will earn a good reputation within the garage sale community (believe me, there is one!) if you offer good quality items at reasonable prices and have a high level of integrity.

If you are having a garage sale this season, follow these suggestions and you’ll be cheering for a cleaned up house and for the extra cash in your pocket. If you’re a garage sale junkie, then enjoy the season and all the great deals!


Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, and sticking to a budget in her previous posts: What I Love About MissoulaFrugal Living: Spring Cleaning on a Budget, and Frugal Living: Homemade Deli Meat. Be sure to check out the Missoula Save it Club.

   Visit the Coupon Queen’s “Save It” archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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