How to become a yard sale ninja - navigate, shop, and find the best deals

If you have either  been to my house, seen mine or my kids' wardrobe , or have been reading this blog for longer than 2.3 seconds you have probably noticed that I am the ultimate (albeit self-proclaimed) Yard Sale Ninja/cheerleader/advocate/would-totally-vote-for-yard-sales-if-they-ran-for-president. In my opinion, yardsaling is one of the best, and quickest ways to get QUALITY items (yes, you heard me) for pennies on the dollar – as long as you do it right. Today I'm sharing my best yard sale shopping tips with you so YOU can become a Yard Sale Ninja too!

But first, a warning…yard sales could leave your home full of junk and your wallet full of dust if you aren't careful. So today I'm sharing an updated repost of a post I wrote last summer that explains how I navigate, shop, and find the best deals at yard sales, like a true Yard Sale Ninja (yes, that's really a thing. Or, well, it is now, anyway). Oh, and be sure to check out how to budget for yard sale shopping, and how to throw a successful yard sale while your'e at it. Enjoy!

On Monday I mentioned that I went yardsaling this weekend. I thought it was about time to show you, step by step, how I like to do it!

A few things to note:

  1. First of all, I say “yard sale” because it's quicker to type than garage sale. That's it 🙂
  2. Secondly, I'm going to call it “yardsaling” because…that's what I want to call it! It's technically not even a word…but that's not stopping me. Plus, one of my bucket-list items is to get a word of mine added to the dictionary, so start using it and spread the love! We will start a “yardsaling” revolution, I'm telling you! Look out dictionary, here I come.
  3. Everyone has different methods, so if YOU do it differently, tell us how! Leave a comment and share the love!
Ok, here goes!

How to Become a Yard Sale Ninja

Yardsaling Prep:

  • I make a mental or physical list of the things I'm looking for, so I know what ads to look for. This is very important! For me, I was looking for kids clothes, kid toys, lawn equipment, and some specific home decor items. If you need furniture or decor, measure the space and take the measurements with you so you know it will work in your home.

Time to find the best sales!

Now, this process might sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't bad. And frankly, if you're going to go at all, might as well do it right, right?

  • I wake up early and go online to the classifieds (which is our local classifieds site) and look through the yard sale announcements. (You could use craigslist or your local classifieds ad if you aren't in Utah.) I used to look the night before, but so many new posts are added day-of, it was a waste of time only looking the night before.
  • Ads to look for: Group sales (family, neighborhood sales), fundraiser sales, sales in store parking lots, sales that are close to you (you don't want to burn the best shopping time driving!) and “clusters” (groups of good-sounding yard sales that are all near each other). *Be sure to read “what not to do” for major mistakes to avoid, though!
  • When I see an ad I like, I copy and paste the entire ad (the address and directions if they give any, start/end time, and the description of items being sold), in no particular order, onto an email addressed to myself. (You could paste it onto a blank document if preferred, email is just faster for me because it's always open on my computer. Plus, once I send the email to myself I can pull it up on my phone if needed while shopping.)
  • Every time I copy and paste an add, I also add the address to Google Maps. I add my home address as my starting point (point A) and click “add destination”, then add the address of each yard sale. Each time you add an address it assigns it a letter. Point A is home, your next destination is B, then C, and so on.
  • After adding all the addresses in random order, I then click and drag the addresses so they are in order from closest to me, to farthest from me based on how it looks on the map. I simply look at all the points on the map and say, “Ok so my starting point is A, and the next closest point to me is L, so I need L to become B.” Then I simply drag the “L” address up to where “B” is. It replaces L with B and shifts all the other points accordingly. Google is so genius!
(black lines added to protect privacy)
P.S…again, this may sound confusing, so you just need to try it to see how it works.
  • Once I have all the addresses in order based on route, I go through my copy/pasted ads and put them in order according to the order on the map. I use Control+F (the “search” feature) on my Mac keyboard to use “word find” to find the address. It's waaaay faster.

Side notes: Why do I do this step? Keep reading, it's coming I promise 🙂 And yes, there are apps that do this! But they tend to only pull ads from Craigslist, which in my area, is way less quality than KSL. And I have found them to be less accurate and harder to navigate. So, through lots of trial and error, this is the system I use.

  • Then I cut/paste them in order so they line up with the map, like so:
  • So now each point on the map coincides with an ad. That way I can see what time the yard sale starts, if I want to skip certain locations once I get going and start running low on time, so I can remember what they are selling, etc. This has been a lifesaver for me!

Time to shop!

  • Start early…but not too early. In Utah, anyway, the only good times to go yardsaling is between 8-10am. In Oregon early birds caught the worm! (7am or earlier) but not here! Most sales don't even start until 8, so I have found it a waste to go much earlier (unless there's a sale in particular that you are DYING to go to and starts before 8).
  • Don't bother going late. Once you hit 10 or 10:30am pretty much all the good stuff is gone, so it's probably not worth your time. Sure, you can get lots of free stuff that people don't want to haul to the thrift store and are happy to give away, but it's the stuff no one else wanted for the most part. Plus, I don't want to spend my entire day yardsaling (it's tiring and sucks your gas!) so I try to cut myself off early.
8am on a Saturday is early, but hey…I have kids. That's every day for me!

What NOT to do:

This last weekend was a bit of a bummer; I didn't get much of what I was looking for because I made some mistakes. Here's what I did wrong:

  • I didn't wake up early enough. We were up late the night before so I woke up naturally rather than setting an alarm, figuring my kids would wake me up early enough. I don't recommend this. I didn't get out the door until after 8, and my first cluster of houses was 30 minutes away. That was dumb because I spent the perfect yardsaling window of time driving! Not doing that again. If you're going to go, then get up and GO, and do it RIGHT!
  • I started at the farthest point first. I try to find multiple appealing ads that are all in the same area, a “cluster” if you will. There were a TON of ads in my city (Draper) and the city next to mine (Sandy). However, at the last minute I decided to drive to my farthest point first because the ad said it was a big neighborhood yard sale, 20+ houses. That's normally a gold mine! However, the ad didn't have an exact address, it only listed the city and then directions from the freeway. Turns it out was SO FAR AWAY! It took me like, 45 minutes to get there. Once there the neighborhood sale was much smaller than the ad said (which is common, you'll find), and was a big bust. I wasted all my good yardsaling time driving and didn't get much to show for it. Moral of the story?
    • Even if the ad sounds appealing, if it's too far away don't bother unless there are tons of other great-sounding ads really close to it, and you wake up early enough to get there right when the sale starts.
  • I believed the ads. I went to one area in particular that ended up being super low-income, and I didn't take the time to realize that when looking at the map. The ad said, “Big, multi-family yard sale!” however, when I got there the sales were ALL tiny. I'm not sure how to advise you to avoid this problem, except to take into account the area you are going to. Look on a map. If they live in a cul de sac or a structured community, they very well could have multiple families on board. If it's just a street of normal houses, the chances are more unlikely. I wouldn't even bother unless there are lots of other great ads in that same area, and the area is a nice one.
  • Don't get emotionally invested in a sale before you go. Keep in mind that ads almost always sound better than they are. If they say “massive, huge, multi-family yard sale!” expect that it's probably a yard sale with a few items donated by a sister-in-law or something. They are almost NEVER as “huge” as they claim to be, unless it's a well organized neighborhood yard sale. Keep this in mind and don't get emotionally invested in a sale before you go.

Additional Yardsaling Tips:

  • Use Google maps, and zoom into street view to look at the house you are going to. I hate to say it, but if it's a junky, dirty, broken-down house, the stuff will probably be junky, dirty, and broken down. It's nice to see what you're getting into before making the drive.
  • Again, make a list! Write down a list of actual items needed so you can stay on-track. You must have a plan or you'll just come home with unnecessary things!
  • Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! If it comes down to a dollar or two, I will usually suck it up…but I'm working on not doing that! Every dollar counts, especially in yardsaling. $1 could buy you an entire children's picnic table, so value your dollar! Aim for about 40% less. If it says $10, offer $6. If it says $20, offer $12. You'll be surprised at what they will sell their stuff for. And if they don't accept your offer, they will almost ALWAYS come back with a counter offer that is less than their original price. You don't want to be obnoxious, but rarely do people hold fast to their price. Yard sales for people to get rid of their stuff, and hopefully make a buck while doing it. Most people would rather take something than nothing! Oh, and side tip, do all your shopping then negotiate one lump price for everything at the end rather than haggling item by item as you go. You'll get a better deal, and be less annoying, that way.
  • Ignore outliers. If there is an awesome-sounding ad that is way far away, or is in an area with no other good ads, ignore it. Don't make my mistake.
  • Look for potential. Don't get too nitpicky about an item being dusty, dirty, or chipped. If it's a solid item with good “bones”, then take it home! Sand it, make a slip cover for it, paint it, wash it, wipe it down, polish it, refinish it, fix it, get creative and do whatever you need to do to make it shine again.
  • Don't be afraid to buy for the future. If you see new-looking, great-priced 12 month baby clothes and your baby is only 4 months old, for heaven's sake…buy the clothes! Throw them in a box and stick it in a closet or under your bed. Buying off-season or buying for the future is a great way to save your family money! However…
  • If you don't need it, don't buy it. Even if it's $1, if you don't have an actual need in mind, it's a wasted dollar.
  • Out with the old, in with the new. As you buy new-to-you things, go through your old stuff and clear it out. Donate it or hold a yard sale of your own. No need for clutter!
  • Just because it's used doesn't always make it a good price. Learn your prices! I keep a price notebook handy at all times, and keep my phone charged and with me so I can check Amazon for pricing of an item. When I learn what a good price is for something, I write it down in my notebook. This works especially well for groceries (see how I grocery shop).
So there you go! That's how I do it. Now get out there and do some shopping!

Check out my thrift store shopping tips HERE.
Check out our “Garage Sales 101” guest post from a while back HERE for more tips.

Again, be sure to check out how to budget for yard sale shopping, and how to throw a successful yard sale while your'e at it.

Happy shopping!