In many areas, especially metropolitan and suburban areas, there are dozens of sales to choose from, but even the earliest of shoppers can't hit them all, and there's no reason you should. Finding the best sales is key to discovering the biggest bargains. Here's how to spot a good sale:
1. Look for an organized layout
Driving by a home, don't think that the pricier the home, the better the stuff. Instead, look for sales where sellers have taken the time to organize their merchandise. Are clothes hung? Are tables set-up? Are items arranged by household use or type? Is there a central "pay" station? Sellers who have taken time to organize their sales are probably individuals who take pride in the ownership of their things, so you're less likely to buy a non-working appliance, broken toy, or stained piece of apparel at a sale in which items are organized and carefully displayed.
2. Find big sales
Sales advertised as multi-family, neighborhood garage sales, and sales held at community and church centers tend to have a wide variety of merchandise by virtue of the number of people contributing to them. It may take longer to explore the merchandise at a large sale, but your time is better spent, say, at one big sale where you're likely to find at least a few things than moving in the same time equivalent between several smaller sales that might yield no finds. So as you scout the newspaper or read signs, look for keywords like "multi," "subdivision," "community," "group," or even "benefit." Or, grab the girlfriends and plan a weekend outing at these epic sales that stretch many miles.
3. Consider virtual sales
Sales held not in garages but in "virtual locations" like Facebook, Craigslist, and even regional sale sites (like this Yahoo group for the Dubuque, Iowa area) can offer a fun, low-hassle way to shop for bargains. A virtual sale can be especially fruitful if you are looking for a particular item (such as a size 4T boy's jacket) or a big-ticket item (like a used mini-fridge or chest of drawers). For specific tips and additional area links, cross-reference this KCL article.
4. Ask other shoppers
If you are out and about and plan to shop multiple sales in one day, don't be shy about making small talk with other shoppers who might be doing the same. A simple, "How are the other sales this morning?" while standing in line, or noticing that someone is shopping with a child and kindly inquiring, "Are there any other sales with kids' items you've been to?" can help you determine where you need to stop next. Also, ask the seller, "Do you know of any other sales in the neighborhood?" She might offer specific information like, "So-and-so is hosting a moving sale with lots of furniture" or, "Yes, this empty-nest couple on the next street over is downsizing." Remember, most bargain hunters love to exchange information, so it never hurts to ask.
5. Beware the glassware
If you drive past a sale and see lots of stemware, serving pieces, glass objects, and breakables, you might be passing an estate or antique sale instead of a more traditional garage sale. Sales offering a large selection of similar objects like this might be from collectors or dealers, so be prepared for traditionally higher prices. If you want more options at cheaper prices, stop at sales that have bicycles in the driveway, furniture pieces placed about, clothes on a line, knick-knacks on a rack — in other words, a little bit of everything.
6. Know the cycle
Some families and communities make it a point to hold sales annually. For instance, in my neighborhood, there is one family that holds a multi-family sale every July when they get rid of their winter items. I also think the family must buy nothing but The North Face brand because I've been able to stock my family's closets with gently-used North Face bargains for only several dollars each (and I couldn't afford to do this otherwise with jackets that retail for over $100 each). So whether it's returning to the same location where you've previously had a good experience or patronizing an annual group or organization sale, keeping your eye on this cycle can help you score big.