Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Confident Bargain Hunter

I love to shop yard sales! I am a major bargain hunter and yard sales provide such a thrill for me, as well as being one of my best sources for refinishing projects.

I didn't use to be this way though. I remember as a kid, the dreaded mornings that my mom would drag me around in the car to yard sales. I was sooooo embarrassed to be bargain hunting in people's driveways and whenever we drove up to a sale where we knew the owners, I felt humiliated. I don't know why . . . it's not like we were so poor that we had to scrounge garage sales for the necessities, it was just something my mom enjoyed to do as a hobby. And there were always lots of cars pulling up and other people sorting through the tables alongside us, even though this was before thrifting and bargain hunting was "cool."

When I first started going to garage sales as an adult, that old familiar feeling came right along with me. I would sheepishly meander over to the famous telephone pole in the middle of town where all the garage sale signs were stapled and scribble down addresses as fast as I could and drive away.

I would do casual drive bys of the garage sales, and only stop at ones where there were lots of other people so I would blend in. I was terrified of being the only person there and feeling pressured to buy something even if I didn't find anything I wanted. If a sale was down a road I wasn't familiar with, I would get nervous and turn around if I didn't find it quickly or if it was very far to go. I would usually skip half of the sales, purely out of fear or being uncomfortable.

Now I am a confident yard sale shopper, but it took me some time before I let the stigma of being a crazy yard sale lady stop me from missing out on good bargain, or the fear of getting lost or wasting my time on a sale full of junk prevent me from even taking a look.

Some people might not understand this, but I am betting there are lots of people out there who can relate. They want to be one of those people who find amazing home decor and designer clothes for a song, but they lack the confidence to get out there and become an aggessive bargain hunter.

I want to share some tips that I have learned along the way, and if you are one of those people who balks at the idea of braking for yard sales, hopefully this will help you to change your mind and be brave enough to venture out of the car!

1. Go early.

(frame purchased at a yard sale for $5 - I had a glass shop cut the mirror to fit)

 But not too early. Around here at least, if a sign says the sale starts at 9 there is a good chance they will be swarmed with people by 8:30. It can be upsetting to the family running the sale who is still trying to set up and price items, and often they are less willing to bargain or answer questions because they are overwhelmed or frustrated.

I know it's tempting to try and beat the crowds to get to the best stuff first, but try and remember that it's just a yard sale. There will always be more, and there will always be awesome finds. . . being respectful of the person hosting the sale is much more important than beating someone else to a .99 picture frame.

I do get out and about early though. I grab a coffee, stop at the spot where all the yard sale advertisements are posted, and either snap pics with my phone or jot them down on paper. Then I arrange them by opening time, and come up with the best route to hit all of them without wasting gas. Don't forget to check Facebook and Craigslist for listings as well!

Usually I show up at the first sale a few minutes early, but only a few. And I always wait in my car until the appointed time unless there are other shoppers and the hosts look ready and hospitable!

2. Bring the right cash.

Nothing is more awkward than standing there with a $50 bill in one hand and a $2 item in the other, blinking at a teenager who has a wad full of five dollar bills and some dimes to make change with.

As a "nervous yard saler" this used to make me feel like I needed to buy a bunch more items to make it easier for them to make change, even if there was nothing else there I really wanted. Or I would put the item back and walk away, all because I felt bad asking them to make change for a large bill.

It never hurts to ask if they can make change for a $50, but its much better to come prepared in the first place. This means plenty of change and some small bills. If you are on the hunt for big ticket items it never hurts to keep a wad of bigger bills handy in case you find the perfect item, but most yard sales are small things like paperbacks and knick knacks - and are more likely to be priced in pennies than dollars.

3. Don't be afraid to dig.

(Stool purchased at a yard sale for $3)

Most yard sales have things laid out on tables or spread across the lawn for easy viewing. But don't pass over the cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid bins! Sometimes a little digging can produce amazing treasures, and as a bonus, usually people who just throw out boxes of jumbled items are less organized and don't have everything priced. This gives you a better chance at bargaining to get a good deal! I once found a vintage wood headboard behind a pile of junk at a barn sale for $10!

4. Ask, ask, ask

This one was hard for me at first. I am naturally shy around people I don't know, and I can't tell you how many times I wanted to ask a question but was too afraid or uncomfortable to.

Now I have gotten my "Yard sale legs" I have no problem marching up to the seller and asking my questions. And you know what? 9 times out of 10 the answer is yes! They usually aren't having the sale to make big bucks, they are just trying to get rid of unwanted items. Most sellers are more than happy to show you how something works, let you plug it in to test it out, or tell you where it came from. And I have never been told no when I have asked for help to carry a heavy item to my car or if I can put an item on hold until I can come back with a truck big enough to haul it away.

Don't walk away from an item because you had a question or were unsure about something. If you aren't sure if it will fit in your car, ask them if you can try to fit it in first. If you need help to carry it, they will be happy to do so in exchange for your money and taking the item away. It may feel awkward at first, but asking questions is much less scary than you work it out to be in your head.

And if you find something you really like, it never hurts to ask if they have more items like it. If I find a sale with several pieces of furniture or a box full of vintage dishes I will ask "Do you have any more you'd be willing to sell?" Often someone is thinning out a collection and has plenty more inside that they would be willing to part with if you made a reasonable offer.

5.  Take Risks

(coffee table purchased at a yard sale for $10 and refinished)

No, I don't mean wander inside some man's living room all alone, or drive down a back road alone with no cell phone. I always carry my phone with me and if there is anything that sets off my danger radar, I leave immediately. I always let my husband know where I am going beforehand, and I often bring a friend with me especially if I am going to be driving down quiet back roads.

What I mean is, don't skip out on a yard sale because you aren't sure how to find the house. That's what Google Maps is for! And some of my best finds have been from sales that I have driven down bumpy gravel roads for half an hour to find. Don't write off a sale just because it's not in a "rich" neighborhood either - the fancy new neighborhoods don't always have the best stuff and usually their prices are sky high anyway!

It's also worth the risk to ask for a better price. I like to bargain, but I also like to be respectful and not haggle over pennies. I usually ask things like "Is this the best price?" or "Can you go any lower?" and see what they say. It feels uncomfortable to ask, but usually you can be rewarded with a better price and the worst thing they can say is no!

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