9 tips for shopping tag sales

betty ming liu Money 10 Comments

I watch my budget, love a deal and adore funky things. So my best shopping is done in other people’s suburban garages and driveways. But since tag sales are a blood sport for bargain fiends, it’s crucial to prepare for the hunt.

For starters, tag sales, yard sales, garage sales — they’re all the same thing. “Estate sale”  refers to contents in the house of a person who died. “Moving sale” implies variety and abundant choices. Also watch for the blow-out “attic sale,” typically sponsored by churches, synagogues, hospitals and other groups that have assembled tons of throwaways from supporters.


How to shop treasure hunts, big and small


Bring small bills and quarters. It’s obnoxious to pull out a $20 bill to pay for a $2 item. Big bills also limit your negotiating power….what if the seller doesn’t have change? Think small — if you can instantly whip out $2, the seller will often take it.

Be respectful. Sellers can still be emotionally attached to some items. At my own tag sales, I’d rather walk away than deal with overly aggressive or rude potential buyers. I’ve also given away valuable merch to people who are sweet or in need.

Negotiate! If an item is marked $8, you can hold out $6 and say, “Would you take six?” Haggling can be entertaining as well as a confidence builder.

Don’t be a snob. I’ve been to shabby houses with great finds — and snazzy places that offered zilch. You just never know.

Go early for the pick of the litter. Usually, these events start around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and run until late afternoon. Even if there’s a “No early birds!” sign, you might still get in. Beware of  the antique and art dealers, who shop like sharks. At attic sales, it’s worth going at least an hour early, just in case there’s a line.

Go late for bargains. Sellers start to wilt by early afternoon; let the markdowns begin! Attic sales, which can run over an entire weekend, often slash remainders by 50 percent in the last few hours of the last day.

Some sales are publicized in advance. Local newspapers list tag sales as classified ads. Cheap people who won’t pay for listings will instead post fliers at the local supermarket’s bulletin board. Also look for fliers stapled to telephone poles at busy intersections in the middle of town.

Sales are everywhere! These days, most municipalities have websites. Go there and see if a locale has an upcoming village-wide tag sale, where scores of homes unload furniture, clothes and household clutter on the same day. Check websites for hospitals and houses of worship for attic sale dates; in the New York ‘burbs, they’re usually scheduled in April and October.

Be creative & see the possibilities. When my daughter was old enough to talk, I’d take her to a tag sale, give her a dollar bill and let her loose. She became good at math, negotiating and charming people. Today, at 17, she has impeccable fashion style and is an excellent money manager. Our Saturday salvage missions have also filled out our house with nice touches we otherwise couldn’t afford. Of course, some of them required refurbishing. Click here to see photos of our two $5 chandeliers. And some more goodies below:

Some favorite tag sale items in my bedroom. Dog carrier, $5. All paintings, $5 or less (except the middle painting, which my daughter made as a toddler). The dresser was $20, ugly brown wood. I painted it & covered with it flower cut-outs from a botanical print fabric. As for the lamp, a friend found the base in the trash & I spray painted it. The silk lampshade, I stitched & fringed myself, by hand.


Comments 10

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    The Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer — and the start of the tag sale season. Happy shopping! If you’ve had any scores, please do share them. We love hearing those stories of finding great items for next to nothing. :)

  2. At the big Greek festival at my church I help run a basketball court sized flea market with everything imaginable. It’s amazing how much fun everyone has, both we the sellers, and the shoppers. I always say “What would you like to offer?” Then we haggle, laugh, set a price, and I say “Wasn’t that fun?” They always agree. Come down and visit!

  3. Dearest Betty Ming Lui, you are such a hardcore New Yorker, which is my primary reason for loving you so much.

    I have to feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t seen you guide – you are so good and so bad at once, again a primary reason to be loving you.


  4. I love tag sales. I attended my first in White Plains, NY when I was 18 and have been addicted ever since. My favorite tag sale ladies were Joan & Mary, who ran most of the sales in White Plains and Scarsdale. They priced their sales fairly, took offers and significantly discounted their prices at the end of the day. Just about all the wooden furniture I own was bougt at tag sales or auctions. My favorite purchase is an antique golden oak china cabinet with curved glass doors. My most recent purchase, 3 beautifully framed botanical prints. I love your dresser! Mary

  5. Post

    Dora, you should leave us the name of your church!

    Thanks, Laura. :)

    David, thanks for the compliment, I think. :)

    And Chinamomx2, if you live in White Plains, you have access to the free Take It Or Leave It Shed. Here’s the link to my story: http://bit.ly/L2RLdA. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Joan & Mary and I’m glad you vibe with my dresser!

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  6. #10 make sure it’s not stolen from their neighbor. There was a case here of a garage sale but the stuff was stolen form their neighbor.

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      And there are also people who show up to tag sales and steal the merch. There’s no limit to how low some folks will go.I once watched an old guy steal an old calendar that I had for sale. Why, why?

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