May 29, 2012

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.