Become a Garage Sale Queen: 8 Smart Shopping Tips

It’s a conundrum all moms have to face. On the one hand, we like to shop–it’s a throwback to our years as hunters and gatherers. There’s just a deep-seated satisfaction in venturing out into the world and bringing home treasures to nourish and sustain our families.

The deals! The finds! The bargains!

On the other hand, shopping is not a harmless pastime. It costs a lot of money to buy new things. Furthermore, shopping with reckless abandon contributes to our consumerist culture in which millions of tons of (often perfectly usable) former bargains pile into our landfills each year. 

How can we reconcile one of our favorite hobbies when faced with the cold hard evidence of our empty pocketbooks and overflowing landfills full of stuff?

It’s time to become a garage sale queen.


Did you know that at least once a week between spring and fall, people all around the country and even in THIS VERY CITY collect all the things they no longer need, arrange them in their garages and driveways, and let other people come buy them? What’s more, they only charge you a tiny fraction of what the items cost new!

If you are not already a garage sale-r, (or a garage sailor for that matter), it’s time to start. Come with me–I’ll teach you how!

Step 1: Get some cash.

Or just bring your change jar. Seriously, you don’t need much. You can spend $20 and get an entire season’s wardrobe and re-stock your children’s toyroom.

Step 2: Find out where the sales are.

Newspapers, Craigslist, and Facebook all have listings. I highly recommend finding out the dates of citywide garage sales in the area. Many times the city will even print a list of participating garage sales, including descriptions of items being sold at each one. 

Step 3: Make a list.

Think of things you want to look for that other people might be getting rid of. Children’s clothing and shoes, baby gear, sports equipment, tools, housewares, kitchen gadgets, and furniture are common garage sale wares.  Jot down some treasures that you’re hoping to find, accepting the possibility that you might find nothing on your list, but plenty of other stuff. Flexibility is key–this isn’t a big box store.

Step 4: Make a map.

Print out a city map and highlight the locations of the sales you want to go to. Instead of wasting time driving around in your car, choose an area with multiple sales, park your car, and enjoy the walk in the fresh air. If you’re taking your kids with you, bring a stroller with a big basket underneath for all your treasures!

garage sale map

Step 5: Look at stuff.

This might seem obvious, but sometimes it takes a little imagination to discover the potential in all the piles of stuff. Don’t walk so quickly past that long table of quirky, mismatched knick knacks. You just might find the perfect bookends for your living room shelves, or a barely-used tennis racket that your husband would love, or a colorful serving dish for the barbecue you’re planning to throw. Take your time. 

Step 6: Chat with the garage sellers!

Don’t be afraid to ask people if they’re selling anything from your list that you made. People are generally super excited to tell you about their junk, so much so that you often wonder why they’re getting rid of it to begin with. You may not find anything on your list, but you’ll probably find dozens of things you didn’t know you needed! Also, ALWAYS buy the lemonade and cookies that little kids are selling. It’s the right thing to do. 

Step 7: Make an offer.

Many garage sellers will list their awesome deals, like “Fill a Bag for 5 bucks!” or “Everything on this table is a quarter!” But if they don’t, go ahead and offer something similar, especially if you think an item is priced too high. Most people care more about getting rid of excess than they do about making a lot of money. The worst that can happen is they’ll tell you no. No biggie.

Step 8: Brag about it.

Take home your loot and show your family what a good hunter/gatherer you are! They’ll especially appreciate your efforts if you explain how much money you saved by shopping garage sales instead of full-priced stores. Pat yourself on the back for keeping valuable treasures out of the landfill.

There you have it, ladies: shopping for the frugal and environmentally-conscious mama!

Now it’s time for you to brag…what kinds of treasures have you found at garage sales?


Lianna is a homesteading mama of three: a sparkly seven-year-old daughter, a joyful five-year-old boy, and a confident three-year-old boy. After graduating from the University of Iowa’s college of education, she started Wondergarten Early Enrichment Home, a multi-age, play-based early childhood program. A self-proclaimed Queen Dabbler, she has a long list of hobbies (from gardening and canning to sewing and painting), and doesn’t mind being only mediocre at all of them. She lives with her husband, mother, three kiddos, dog, cat, rabbits, dwarf goats, and chickens on an acreage in the country. The Cornally family spends their time talking about education, learning how to grow and preserve their own food, and romping around in their woods.


  1. This is awesome, Lianna! Love your suggestion to use a map – so much easier than plugging it into the GPS after each sale and being led all around town on crazy routes! I hit the JACKPOT last spring when we found out we were having a girl and I literally had a full 0-9 month wardrobe for Julia for maybe $40?! So many of the clothes still had tags on them!

    • Exactly! Baby clothes are so much fun to shop for! And it’s so much more fun when you can buy dozens of outfits for the same price as one full-priced store outfit. I do all of my kids’ shopping for the whole year in the summer.

  2. I totally did the whole map thing on Saturday. Baby Ripke’s closet is probably fuller than mine at this point, but I am super happy we won’t be paying retail for his wardrobe and hopefully, many of his first toys.

    • YES! I swear, the map is key! My kids always end up having way too many clothes, because when everything costs a quarter, what’s the harm? 🙂

  3. Love garage sailing!! I’m pretty sure 70% of my kids’ clothes, toys & books are from garage sales & no one would ever know the difference. When something gets ruined, I feel a lot better knowing I only paid 50 cents for it verses retail. Plus, my kids probably have a lot of things they probably wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t found it at a garage sale. This past weekend I was able to find a whole bag of clothes for myself for only $20. Even if I don’t end up wearing them that many times, I’ve still spent less than what one new shirt would be in the store-gotta love the bargains!

    • Your logic is flawless! 🙂 I love letting my kids play in the mud, jump in puddles, paint, etc. without worrying that they’re going to ruin something expensive. I am totally spoiled by garage sales…when you’re used to seeing price tags of little single digit numbers, those big numbers on store-bought stuff seem ridiculous. I’m so glad to hear others agree! 🙂

  4. Oh how I miss Iowa garage sa(iling) so much it leaves an ache in my heart! Southern California has them all the time. However, people seems to think their stuff is worth 50% what they paid new for it. No bags of clothes for $5, more like a shirt for $5 ha. I do feel it may be worth the savings to buy a plane ticket to plan a trip home for two weekends of garage sales! 🙂 You have an amazing skill that has been developed since twin lake days in HS when we used to get excited about the most horrible things that we would find but were amazzzzing to us. Looks like you’ve honed it into a serious art form! Love it!

    • I have told stories of the Twin Lakes garage sale days…Imagine a beautiful lake lined with houses, with a single, six mile long road circling it. Now imagine that all of those houses decide to have garage sales at the same time, complete with refreshments, bake sales, and the kindest people you’ve ever met. I really think that was where my love of garage sales began. *sigh* Book a plane ticket! We’ll hit up some sales together! 🙂

  5. Save time and download the Yard Sale Treasure Map app. It links directly to Craigslist and pinpoints everything for you on your GPS map on your phone. Tap on the flag and you can read what’s for sale. Push one button to navigate and you’re there!

  6. I am a big bargain hunter and my coworker says shopping resale is another way to reduce reuse recycle. I would also suggest to know the town, in CR the big sale day is Thursday and in IC no one has sales on Thursdays! I also use yard sale It sorts the Craigslist ones for you by area or keyword. I think there is a FB site that people post them too as well.

  7. I love to use the Facebook sites an Craigslist being a young mom of 4 garage sales are the way to get good clothes for 1/2 the price

  8. These ar all such great times, especially your map – it’s always so annoying when you don’t know where you’re going and you end up wasting so much time! So way to go! 🙂 Another tip I’d give is to use websites to look for your yard sales. The one I always use is it is seriously a life saver when i can’t find enough yard sales in the paper or whatever, it’s awesome in finding yard sales in my area:)


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