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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yard Sailing: A Crash Course

Jamie Here!  With the weather turning beautiful, I'm getting Yard Sale fever!  Here are some tips I've learned from my years of "Yard Sailing" - leave your own favorite tips in the comments!

Yard-Sailing.  It's the preferred weekend passtime of the Optimistic Cheapskate.  You never know what you will find in a morning’s worth of Yard Sailing - indeed, sometimes you’ll even come home empty-handed – but the optimist in you will pull you out of bed on a Saturday morning time and time again for another coffee-fueled expedition.

I've been yard-sailing religiously since I was 13 years old, riding my bike out every Saturday morning with my brother's hiking backpack on my back and $2 of allowance in hand.  I once brought home a 1970's prom gown, a brass bong (I thought it was an incense burner) and a hemp fishing net with that $2!  My love affair with vintage clutter & kitsch began early - but that's a topic for another day (and for a hard talk with Debby).

In my adult life, I've clothed myself and my family with yard sale finds.  I earned a salary on Ebay selling vintage clothing for a few years. I've furnished parts of my home and even stocked my Gift-Closet with yard sale treasures.  It's something I love to do - and I have to say - I'm good at it.  If you're a little green to yard-sailing, or perhaps just a little rusty, here are some tips I've learned to help you make the most of a Saturday morning!

Before You Begin: Chart Your Course

With the rise in gas prices, yard-sailing has become a more expensive passtime than in years gone by.  The only way to sail the subdivisions without spending a fortune is to map out your route ahead of time.  How?  Well, either buy a paper as you head out OR print out a list from your local newspaper's website and map it out the night before. If you're a serious couponer - you know that a good plan can make ALL the difference.  Everyone has their own method, but here’s mine.
Most Friday nights, before I fall into bed, I take a look at the weekend yard sale list (online) and jot down which ones I really want to hit.  If I don’t recognize the road, I'll Mapquest it to see if it's close enough to the other yard sales on my list.  I route my trip by grouping together yard sales that are near each other on my path through town.  My list might look something like this:
  1. Victory St. Church Rummage Sale on way out of subdivision .
  2. Sales off Ocoee Street -  8th Street (Boy Clothes!), Centenary Ave (★Ritzy neighborhood!), 20th St. (★★Lee College Mission Trip Sale!★★)
  3. Coming Home- 4 sales on Georgetown Rd.
And yes, I do put stars or exclamation points next to the ones that look like goodies, since I'm groggy and forgetful come morning.  And yes, the Lee College kids do put on some mighty good mission trip yard sales - Two-Star Yard Sales you might say!  (You've never seen so much cheap Abercrombie & Gap!)
After charting a course for your treasure-hunt, it's time to get down to business.  Here are several tips and tricks I’ve learned to get what you want and pay what you want.


1) If at all possible, go the first day of the sale
That’s when most of the treasures will disappear quickly.  I mean REALLY quickly.  Like 6 am.

2) If you can’t make it early, make it late
On the last day of a sale, when the homeowners have been sitting in the sun haggling over prices for too many hours, they’ll likely take whatever you’re willing to offer to avoid hauling everything back inside.  I’ve gotten many things totally free by showing up after 12.

3) Friendly Small-Talk Pays Off! 
On your way up the drive, wave and smile!    Chat about the weather. Ask if they've done well so far. Sellers are MUCH more willing to cut a deal when you've been friendly - silent strangers don't engender much generosity.

4) Narrow Down Your Options:
When you're strapped for time/gas money - search for these: Neighborhood/Subdivision Yard Sales, Church Rummage Sales, or School Sales.  These will yield the biggest selection of stuff, with the least amount of driving around.  Plus, church yard sales are VERY CHEAP!!!

5) Carry small bills and change:
Although it’s no crime to talk someone down from $5 to $2 for a cute set of dishes, it will hurt their feelings when you brandish your crisp $20 bill to pay for it.  It’s just bad form, sailor!

6) Buy in Bulk.
When you've picked out an armful of items you can often get the seller to give you a multi-item discount.  If you've got $10 worth of t-shirts in your arms, you should definitely ask "Will you take $7 for all these?"  You'd be surprised at how many times the answer is "Sure!"

7) Big-Ticket-Item Strategy:
Mrs. Smith was very attached to her old couch.  She needs to sell it, but her memories won’t let it go cheaply.  But she's asking $200 - Argghh!!!  You really, really NEED a couch, but what can you do?  See the following protocol for "Big Ticket" haggling....

The Haggle:  Ask if she would take $100 for the couch.  Notice aloud that there are a few stains and a rip on the side, even murmur a “Hmmm, I don’t know…” or two while circling the couch.  She still won't budge on the price?  Well, either try to meet her halfway (between your offer and her price) or it’s time to stage….

The Walkaway:  In order to be a good bargaineer, you have to be willing to walk away. I suggest walking slowly, with wistful backwards glances thrown in.  In my experience, this will yield a “shout-out” 60% of the time.  For instance they might say, “You know, if you really want that I’ll take $$!!”  or “Tell you what, give me $$$ and it’s yours!”
Of course, if they don't call out, and you’re not ready to give up hope - just pretend you were walking to your car for pen and paper so that you could do this…

The “Here’s My Number”:  If a yard sale is still in progress, and Mrs. Smith is still holding out hope to sell her beloved couch for $200, she’s not likely to go down on the price.  However, there is one more chance to get what you want.  Give her your phone number and tell her why you need the item.  I know, this sounds corny, but it works.  For instance: “Listen, I really love this couch, but I honestly can’t afford what you’re asking.  If you don’t end up selling it, I can offer you $50.  I know that’s not what you’re hoping for, but we really need a new couch and I love it so much I couldn’t leave without trying!”  We got our whole living room set totally free that way.

(NOTE: I'm not suggesting in the least that you lie to get something you want - when I got my couches for free, I truly could only offer the seller $50 for them.  A bargain is no bargain at all if it costs your integrity!)

I hope some of these tips might prove helpful as Yard-Sale season sets in.  Most importantly, you should enjoy the adventure - and if you're trying to save money, avoid buying "Stuff" just because it's cheap.   With your map in your pocket, hot coffee in your thermos, and a hopeful spirit- you’ll be ready to sail through a sea of subdivisions!

- Stay Tuned for the second Crash Course: HOSTING a yard sale!

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