Yard Sales Stretch Your Design Budget

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Have you ever been tempted to stop at a yard sale? When you see those signs along the roadside inviting you to come by and have a look, do you turn in that direction? And once there, do you simply hand over what the tag says the price is, or do you talk and haggle until you get a true bargain?

Yard sales are an excellent way to ramp up your home decor without spending a great deal of money at the usual stores. Where else can you find placemats for a nickel each or score that old depression glass for just a few bucks? Yard sales aren’t “other people’s junk” — though sometimes they might, in fact, include plenty of junk. Rather, yard sales should be seen as treasure that are simply waiting to be adopted into their new home.

Yard Sale

How to make the most of your yard sale trip

When you’re ready to plunge into the world of other people’s stuff, take some time to prepare. Many a homeowner has made a yard sale purchase on a whim, lured by what appeared to be an excellent deal, only to find that the item didn’t match the vision they had for their house. Now is the time to get prepared, before the haggling excitement begins.

Plan out your trip

You can find great yard sale ads on Craigslist, local newspapers, community message boards and even flyers stuck up on the bulletin boards at the supermarket. Make a note of the ones that are within a short driving distance. Make further note of those that promise things you really want to have. For example, “moving sale” might indicate that furniture is present.

The night before, sit down and think about what you are really looking for, and then plan your trip accordingly. Map out your drive so that you hit the most promising sales first.

Take your “cheat sheet” with you

Do you know what size coffee table will fit in your living room? Does that gorgeous painting really match the shade of blue on your bedroom wall? You can’t know these things unless you have a well-designed cheat sheet. Measure all the areas of your house where you might want to put things.

For instance, that gorgeous bookcase might be a steal, but it’s 30 inches wide — and your open space is only 28 inches. Or that beautiful quilt seems like it might have the same color scheme as your daughter’s room. How can you tell without a color swatch to compare? The cheat sheet should be kept in your car, so if you happen to see a yard sale and stop on a whim, you’re prepared.

Don’t be an early bird

Those who show up before the scheduled start time are often frowned upon, and that doesn’t bode well for getting a good price. In fact, many homeowners won’t haggle at all with the early birds. So keep the seller happy and stay away until a decent hour. If the yard sale starts at eight, it’s okay to show up at fifteen after the hour.

Don’t show up too late

On the other hand, showing up too late might mean that gorgeous fireplace cover is taken, or you might miss out on that really great deal on extra flooring that would be perfect in your basement. If the yard sale has something you really, really want, then show up at starting time and be very polite as you try to haggle  bit.

Practice your “haggle.”

Speaking of haggling, it’s best to practice this fine art of budget seeking before you go for the big items. If you see something small for a few dollars and you really like it, try to charm the seller into half of their asking price. Perhaps you can tell them a personal story that makes them feel a kinship toward you, thus softening their stance on the cash. Or you can strike up a conversation on something you have in common.

You might also choose to purchase more than one thing, and ask if they might be able to combine the cost. For instance, a nice canister set for five dollars, purchased along with a few dishtowels for two dollars, might be haggled down to five for the whole loot — thus saving you two dollars. Once you master this, you can move on to the bigger ticket items and haggle those.

Finally, remember the top two rules of haggling: Make sure your price is honest and fair, and make sure you never, ever insult the seller about the item you are trying to purchase. Making it sound as though they have “junk” on their lawn and then offering to buy it for a measly sum does nothing to engender goodwill!

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.