Having a garage sale looks like the easiest thing in the world; place an ad, hang a few signs, gather your stuff, open the garage door and start selling. You could do it that way and you might even make some money doing it. But if you want to have a successful garage sale—one where you sell a lot of stuff and make a lot of money—there are steps you have to take to make it happen.

Gathering and preparing the stuff you want to sell

This is probably the main reason people avoid having garage sales. Gathering and preparing your merchandise for sale can be hard work. Part of what makes it so difficult is if you try to do it just a few days before your sale. The more methodical you can be about this the easier it will be.

Prepare a space in your garage or basement and dedicate it to items you want to sell at your garage sale. Do this several weeks before the sale that way you’ll have time to do it when you aren’t under pressure. At least part of the reason for giving yourself plenty of time on this is so that you can clean and repair anything that needs to be fixed—you’ll get more money for anything that is. Also, you may need the time to find any missing parts, or even printed material that relates to the items. Buyers like items that are complete and especially ones that come with instructions.

Have as much stuff to sell as possible

There are at least three reasons for having as much merchandise to sell as possible:

  1. The more stuff you have to sell, the more attractive your sale will be
  2. The more stuff you have the more money you can make, and
  3. It’s often the stuff we think no one will buy that sells best—when in doubt, sell it, even if you think no one will buy it.

It might also help to have plenty of people at your sale—crowds draw bigger crowds. On the day of your sale, have your whole family work the sale, and while you’re at it, invite some friends, neighbors and extended family members too. Buyers won’t know the difference, all they’ll see is a lot of people and that will make your garage sale look more attractive.

Have a cash inventory ready

Most people coming to garage sales pay with cash, and you’ll need to have plenty of cash to make change. You should have at least $100 to $150 available, mostly in single, five and ten dollar denominations. Most items will sell for just a few dollars, and you’ll have to be prepared to give change for $10 and $20 bills. Many of the sales will be paid for with singles, and you’ll have plenty of them by the time your sale is over, but you’ll need some to get started.

It’s best that you not accept checks at your sale unless you know the people who are paying by check. If the check comes from someone you don’t know, there’s a chance the check will bounce or it could even be a bogus check. If it is, you’ll not only be out the cash, but also the merchandise they walked away with.

Advertise – for free

The standard way to advertise a garage sale is in the newspaper. That’s still a good way to go, but it will cost you money to do it, in addition to the fact that fewer people are reading newspapers all the time.

There are ways to advertise for free even if you put ads in the local newspaper. Craigslist has become a major place to advertise garage sales, and it even has a dedicated section for them. Not only is the ad free, but bargain hunters read them all the time. You can also provide a lengthy list of major items for sale that will attract more potential buyers. Start advertising your sale at least a week before, that way people can put you on the garage sale docket.

Signs are another important advertising source, and cost no more than the cost of the signs themselves. Place them outside your neighborhood and on major streets at busy intersections.

Strength in numbers

Pick a day when others in your neighborhood are running garage sales. Potential buyers will often be drawn to a neighborhood where there are multiple sales—it’s more convenient for them and it saves on time and gas. Ideally, you can schedule your sale for the same weekend as at least three of four others in your neighborhood, and you’ll all benefit from one another’s advertising and traffic.

Watch the weather

Weather can make or break a garage sale. On a beautiful day, people will be out in droves, but if it’s too hot, too cold, too windy or if it’s raining you could be out of luck. It’s not easy to do this, but pick the time of year when the weather is typically the most pleasant. In most areas that means spring or fall; in hot areas it could mean winter, and in cooler climates it may mean summer.

Follow the weather forecasts as you get closer to your sale date, and consider canceling your sale if bad weather is coming.
If you do it right, a garage sale can bring in hundreds of dollars while it cleans the clutter out of your house—that’s a double win!

Do you have any more tips to have a successful garage sale?

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.