I do a lot of shopping at garage sales. I’ve probably been to hundreds of them over the years, and I’ve learned to size them up quickly to tell if a particular sale is a good one or lame one before I go sorting through everything. And to me, one of the biggest red flags is looking around a sale and seeing no price tags on any of the merchandise.
A lack of price tags tells me several things right away. First, the person running this sale hasn’t put a lot of effort into it, which means the goods will probably be poorly organized and presented as well. Second, even if I manage to dig through the pile and find something I’d consider buying, I’ll have to search through the crowd for the owner of the house just to find out what it costs.
And third, the owner probably hasn’t given any real thought to what the prices should be. When I finally track them down, there’s a good chance they’ll quote me a price so high I’d never even have considered buying it if I’d known upfront. Rather than put up with all these hassles, I usually just pass the sale by entirely.
You can’t have a successful garage sale if you’re driving customers away with high or unclear prices. To avoid this problem, you need to make all your prices apparent upfront — and those prices should be appealing enough to persuade buyers to open their wallets.
How to Price Merchandise at Your Garage Sale
Every shopper loves a bargain, and that’s doubly true for garage sale shoppers. It’s why they’re willing to spend hours of their weekend driving for miles to take in a promising sale or scouring their local neighborhood on foot for the best deals.
So while there are many ways to make your garage sale more appealing — from proper signage to ample parking — the price tag will have the most significant impact on your actual sales. Pricing your goods clearly while also leaving room for haggling can mean the difference between turning your clutter into cash and having to haul it all back to the attic.
1. Know Your Goal
Before deciding how to price your merchandise, think about the purpose of your yard sale. If you’re trying to declutter your home — for instance, because you’re preparing to move or making space for a new family member — then your goal is to clear out as much stuff as possible. You can achieve this goal most easily by pricing your wares dirt cheap — not just well below retail prices, but below thrift shop and flea market prices as well.
However, if your main goal is to make extra money, then pricing your goods is a little trickier. You want to charge the maximum shoppers are willing to pay, but at the same time, you have to avoid chasing buyers off with too-high prices. To walk this fine line, you need to research what prices are typical in your area.
2. Check Prices Online
When setting prices for your yard sale wares, don’t make the mistake of thinking about what they mean to you. Yard sale shoppers don’t care that you originally paid $200 for that designer outfit or that those china teacups were a wedding gift from your Great Aunt Louise. All they care about is whether the price is a good deal for them.
To find the prices buyers are willing to pay, do some research. For high-value items like vintage clothing or furniture, check listings on sites like Craigslist and eBay to see what prices similar goods are fetching. If you have really pricey merchandise, such as antiques or jewelry, it might be worth paying to have them appraised before setting a price.
However, don’t assume you can sell your valuables for their market price at a garage sale, where everyone is looking for a bargain. Instead, consider printing out the record of an eBay listing for something similar and taping it to your lower-priced merchandise to show buyers they’re getting a good deal. If you have a piece that’s worth a significant amount of money, hold it back from the sale and try to sell it online, where you stand a better chance of getting a fair price.
3. Check Local Sale Prices
According to guides in Real Simple and The Spruce, prices for secondhand goods vary widely by region. If you aren’t accustomed to shopping at garage sales yourself, a little scouting trip can help you figure out what prices yard sale shoppers in your area are used to. Check out websites like Yard Sale Search and Yard Sale Treasure Map to find local sales and see what they’re charging for products similar to those you have to sell. Visiting a couple of local thrift stores can provide useful intel as well.
If you can’t find some of the merchandise you’re selling at local sales, a good rule of thumb is to charge no more than one-quarter to one-third of what a similar product would cost to buy new. However, this rule varies depending on what you’re selling. According to Real Simple, The Spruce, and Angie’s List, some benchmark prices for specific goods are:
- Clothing. Clothes for adults typically sell for $3 to $5 per piece. However, brand-new garments with the tags still on can sell for more. Winter coats and jackets are also pricier, at $5 to $15 each, with heavy winter coats and designer jackets priced toward the high end. Gently used baby clothes can fetch $1 to $3 per piece or 25 to 50 cents each if they’re worn.
- Accessories. Adult shoes can sell for anywhere from $3 to $10 per pair, depending on the brand and their condition. Baby and toddler shoes probably aren’t worth more than $1 or $2. Costume jewelry typically sells for 50 cents to $2 per piece.
- Books. Hardcover books usually sell for around $1 — perhaps $2 for heavier tomes. Paperbacks are cheaper, at 25 to 50 cents each. However, you can charge more for large coffee table books or rare books that would appeal to collectors.
- Records. Vinyl records, once considered passe, are now becoming collectors’ items again. You can price them at around $2 each or more for records that are rare and in excellent condition. You can also try boxing up records and selling them as a lot, especially if they’re older types like 45s.
- Other Media. CDs and DVDs, which still count as modern technology, can sell for $3 to $5 each. Cassette tapes and VHS tapes, which are basically obsolete, probably can’t sell for more than $1 each.
- Electronics. Electronics and computer equipment typically follow the one-third rule. However, new gadgets in their original packaging can sell for as much as half their retail price.
- Furniture. Low-quality pieces, such as battered hand-me-downs or Ikea furniture, can go for anywhere from $5 to $30, depending on size and condition. Sturdy, ready-to-use furniture will probably fetch one-third of its retail price. That could be $150 to $300 for a sofa, $50 to $100 for a coffee table, or $25 to $150 for a dining chair. However, it could be worth pricing them lower if you really want them out of your house.
- Home Decor. Small decorative pieces, such as pillows and vases, tend to sell for between $2 and $7, depending on the size and condition. Wall art and mirrors can be worth more: up to $10 for small ones and as much as $100 for large ones. Working lamps in good condition should be worth $5 to $10.
- Tableware. Plain dishes sell for around $1 to $3 per piece. China is worth more, at $1 to $10 per dish. If you sell your dishes in sets, an eight-piece set can fetch $5 to $30. A complete set of silverware is worth $3 to $5, but individual pieces are worth only around 25 cents.
- Antiques. Antiques of any kind — furniture, housewares, tableware — are a special case. Unlike most secondhand wares, antiques can sell at yard sales for their full market value, which is often $100 or more. It’s worth having your antiques appraised ahead of time. At the very least, check their value on eBay to figure out how to price them.
- Kitchen Gadgets. Kitchen appliances, such as blenders and food processors, can sell for up to a third of their retail price. Smaller kitchen tools, such as lemon squeezers or whisks, can go for $1 to $5, with lower prices for more obscure gadgets that fewer buyers will want.
- Toys and Games. Kids toys are typically cheap at yard sales — between $1 and $3, depending on their condition. As for games, it depends on the type. Old standbys like checkers or Monopoly probably aren’t worth more than $1 each. However, electronic games and high-end board games such as Gloomhaven and Scythe, which can cost upward of $80 new, can go for $5 or more. And truly vintage games, which could be considered near-antiques, can go for much more based on their eBay selling prices.
4. Price Merchandise Clearly
To make prices clear for your customers, label each item individually with a tag that clearly shows the price. Putting labels on every product at your sale may seem like a lot of work, but it will save you trouble on the day of the sale itself. Without clear labels, you’ll spend most of the day dealing with queries from shoppers about what things cost.
For the same reason, resist the urge to save yourself trouble by using color-coded stickers to indicate the price. If you use blue for 25 cents, green for 50 cents, yellow for $1, and so on, you won’t have to write out all the prices by hand, but you will have to field repeated questions from buyers about what the labels mean. Even if you make a chart to show what each color stands for, most customers won’t be able to keep it in their heads and will simply come back to you repeatedly to inquire about prices. In the long run, you’ll save yourself work by writing the price on everything.
Place each price tag in a spot where it’s easy to see. Some garage sale experts recommend bright-colored price stickers because they’re eye-catching and easy to use, while others prefer plain masking tape because it’s cheaper. I like to compromise by using blue painter’s tape, which is less expensive than individual stickers and still easy to spot. It also has the advantage of being easy to remove cleanly, which is especially vital on delicate surfaces like paper and cardboard.
If you have a lot of similar items that you want to sell for the same price, it’s fine to group them on a table with a single sign saying, “Books: $1 each.” This type of group pricing works best for small objects that are easy to identify, such as books, CDs, shoes, teacups, or baby clothes. You can even encourage shoppers to buy more by offering bulk pricing, such as six books for $5.
However, if you expect buyers to purchase products individually, it’s best to price them that way. It’s tempting to save yourself work by grouping a bunch of unrelated merchandise on a table with a label that says, “$5 each,” but this strategy can easily backfire. Throughout the day, things at a yard sale tend to get moved around, and a $5 item could end up on either the $10 table, where no one will consider it, or the $1 table.
Even if you remember it was originally supposed to be $5, shoppers who thought they were getting an incredible deal are likely to be annoyed when you reveal the real price. Worse still, sneaky shoppers could deliberately move items from the $10 table to the $1 table in hopes of getting them for less than they’re worth. Taking the time to place individual price stickers on everything avoids the problem.
5. Factor in Flaws
If anything you’re planning to sell has flaws that won’t come off with a good cleaning, such as a crack or chip in the paint, don’t try to conceal them. Garage-sale shoppers are a savvy lot, and if they discover you’re trying to pull a fast one on them, it could put them off your sale completely.
Instead, put a label on the object acknowledging the flaw, such as “lamp does not work,” and price it accordingly. Buyers will appreciate your honesty, and a few minor flaws (or even major ones) won’t deter ardent DIYers.
6. Be Flexible on Prices
The price you put on the tag isn’t necessarily the price you should expect buyers to pay. Garage sale shoppers are people who love a bargain, and they’re not shy about trying to negotiate for a lower price.
You can account for this tendency to haggle by setting the initial prices just a little on the high side. However, this approach can backfire if you take it too far. Not all buyers like to bargain, and some will simply walk away from something that looks overpriced.
According to The Spruce, a good compromise is to set the price on the sticker at 15% to 20% above the minimum you’d accept. That’s low enough to avoid scaring buyers away but high enough to give them a chance to haggle. If you price something at $6 when you’d accept $5, buyers who offer you $5 will feel like they’ve scored a bargain, and you’ll still get the price you want.
However, there may be a few goods on which you prefer to state your actual price rather than leaving room for haggling. For example, if you have a rare record you know could fetch $20 on eBay, you can indicate that you know it’s worth $20 and you won’t accept less. In these cases, add the word “firm” to the label, as in “$20 firm,” so buyers don’t waste their time and yours trying to negotiate.
As the day wears on, you’re likely to see the initial flood of shoppers slow to a trickle. When this happens, consider dropping your prices — not just by accepting lower offers but on the actual tags — to make your merchandise more appealing. Getting $5 for a set of dishes obviously isn’t as good as getting $10, but it’s better than getting nothing.
7. Have a Free Box
If you have a bunch of small goods you know won’t bring in much money, why not just give them away? Pile all these items into one box, and label it “Free” in big, bold letters. Just seeing the word “Free” attracts people’s attention can draw them in, even if they’d typically pass by a sale without stopping. Once they’ve stopped, there’s a better chance they’ll check out your other merchandise too, and these additional sales can more than make up for the handful of nickels and dimes you might have managed to get for your free stuff.
Small kids toys, such as those that come with fast-food meals, are excellent candidates for the free box. They’re not worth much anyway, and they attract the attention of children who don’t have any money to spend. When they see their kids making a beeline for the toys in the free box, the parents will be more inclined to stop and check out the rest of the sale.
Working as a Team
Holding a garage sale is a lot of work. It takes hours to clear out closets, advertise your sale, price your goods, set them out on tables, and clean up afterward. If you don’t have that many things to sell or if you don’t have many high-value items, your sale probably won’t bring in enough money to make it worth the trouble. For example, if you spend 15 hours preparing for a yard sale and only make $15 in total, all your work earns you just $1 per hour — far below the minimum wage.
However, there’s a way to change this equation. If a friend or neighbor also doesn’t have quite enough stuff to make a sale worthwhile, you can team up and hold a single sale. By sharing both the work and the money, you can bring your hourly earnings up to a respectable level.
Other advantages of having a joint garage sale are:
- A More Substantial Sale. By pooling your goods, you can have a bigger sale that’s more likely to attract shoppers. It will look more enticing from the road, and you’ll have more merchandise to tempt buyers with in your advertisements.
- Tag-Teaming. By working together, you can take turns watching the sale. That allows each of you to take breaks without worrying someone will make off with the wares.
- Combining Your Skills. If you’re not great at negotiating, but your friend is, let them take over all the haggling duties. You can be in charge of other tasks, such as making change.
- Company. Running a garage sale can get kind of dull. You have to sit outside all day monitoring the sale, even during dry spells when there are no customers to chat with. When you hold a sale with a friend, you can keep each other company throughout the day, and the time seems to pass faster.
However, holding a joint sale also makes pricing more complicated. You need to keep track of which goods are whose so the money they bring in goes to the right person.
The easiest way to do that is to use color-coded price stickers. For example, you can put blue stickers on all your stuff and red stickers on your friend’s. Whenever you sell something, peel off the price sticker and stick it on a piece of paper. At the end of the sale, you can tally up the total value of the blue and red stickers and divvy up your earnings accordingly.
Sometimes, a friend or relative can’t actually help you with your sale but still wants to contribute to it. That’s fine since the additional merchandise beefs up your sale and increases its curb appeal.
However, if you’re in this situation, make sure you get prices for everything they contributed. A buyer who asks for a price doesn’t want to stand there and wait while you try frantically to get your friend on the phone. Ask your friend for both a suggested price and the minimum price they’ll accept so you’ll know what to say to buyers who want to haggle.
Even if your garage sale is a roaring success, it’s highly unlikely every single item on your tables will sell. If you don’t want to drag the leftovers back inside and store them until your next sale, you need some other plan for disposing of them.
If you have high-value goods that didn’t find a buyer, you can try selling them online. However, if you don’t care about the money and just want this junk out of your house, it’s easier to give it away. Many charities, such as Goodwill and the Vietnam Veterans of America, accept donations of used clothing and secondhand furniture. Other things can find a new home through your local Freecycle group.
A garage sale can help you turn unwanted junk into welcome cash. By pricing your merchandise right and presenting it appealingly, you can end the day with more of the latter and less of the former.
How much are you willing to pay for goods at a garage sale? Would you walk away from a sale where prices are too high?