by M.D. Johnson
My wife, Julia Carol, and I have a garage sale house. No, we didn’t buy our place at a garage sale. However, many—perhaps a majority—of the things that we have in the house were purchased at garage sales. Depression ware, rocking chairs, and even an antique couch which weighs 859 pounds. I know… I’ve moved it a dozen times.
But it’s when you go downstairs into the basement that you’ll really begin to see the extent of our garage sale gear. An old recurve bow and six cedar-shaft arrows; price, $1. Four flannel-lined sleeping bags at $2 each, and a canvas J.C. Higgins wall tent that will sleep four comfortably that Julie found for $10. Then there’s the Coleman gas lantern for $1.50), 18 Plasti-Duk mallard decoys for $5, and the two Zebco 33 Classic spin-casting reels that set me back a buck each.
Garage sales and flea markets can, undeniably, be fantastic places for the outdoor enthusiast to find great outdoor gear at affordable, if not ridiculously low prices. However, not every two-dollar sleeping bag is worth two dollars—or a dime, for that matter. Oh, yes, bargains can be had, but so, too, can the shopper. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help ensure your garage sale transaction falls under the heading of Money Well Spent.
Advise From Garage Sale Gurus
So you’ve decided to venture forth and enter the fascinating world of garage sales and flea markets. The big question is, are you ready? For those in doubt, here’s a short list of considerations that will help make your entry into the realm much easier, more productive, and hopefully, much less… how shall we say, financially painful.
Go with a list – Good garage sale folks always go armed with a list of those things they’d like to come home with. Certainly, there will be impulse purchases. Still, a list can help prevent buying items that really aren’t necessary. Are you looking for something specific? Typically, when it comes to garage sales, compromise is the rule of the day.
Study prices – Along with knowing what it is you’re looking for, you should have some idea of what the items sell for new. With adjustments based on age and conditions, this pricing information can help you decide if a zipperless sleeping bag is actually worth the $20 price tag, or whether you need to progress to the next step, dickering. Thanks to one of any number of outdoor equipment catalogs, and let’s not forget the Internet, pricing outdoor gear is simply a matter of spending some time doing your homework.
Practice diplomatic dickering – A garage sale is nothing more than the selling of stuff someone no longer wants. This fact is good for you, the buyer, as it gives you quite a bit of leeway when it comes time to dicker on price. Here, the rules are simple. Be fair, be diplomatic, don’t be ridiculous in your offer, and most of all, be willing to meet the seller halfway on the price, if, that is, you really want the item. Many times, single items can be grouped, and a collective price offered which is considerably lower than is the sum of the individual pieces. Bottom line? Don’t be afraid to dicker.
Ask questions – Did the owner purchase the item new? If it’s used, did they buy from the original owner? If it’s mechanical, does it work properly? Now’s the time to ask for a demonstration, a request which certainly isn’t out of line, particularly on higher-dollar or risky items such as electronics. If, in the case of things such as tents, the item has more than one part, are all the parts included in the package?
Deal in cash – Although carrying large amounts of cash isn’t advisable, it’s best to plan to deal in cash when making garage sale transactions. The reason is simple. Everyone takes cash; however, some folks are funny about taking checks from strangers, particularly when the stranger might live 50 or more miles away, and the check is perhaps for a tidy sum. But what to do if you find something you desperately need, but you lack sufficient cash funds? In many cases, most folks will hold an item if you show a sincere interest. Better yet, offer a cash deposit along with your name, address, and telephone number. Remember, it never hurts to ask.
And finally, there’s THE cardinal rule of garage sales. If you pick it up, don’t put it down until you’re absolutely, positively sure you don’t want it. Several years ago while at a garage sale with Julie, I picked up, contemplated, and then put down a box containing an assortment of outdoor gear including a like-new single-burner Coleman stove, a complete first-aid kit, several fishing lures, and a Pflueger Supreme level-wind reel, among other things. Two steps away, once I had decided that I was being cheap, I turned, only to see an older gentleman walking the box up to the counter.
“What do you want for this stuff,” he asked the young lady seated behind the card table.
“Five bucks too much?” she asked.
Not surprisingly, I could see his triumphant grin through the back of his head. Lesson? Don’t put it down until you’re sure, and don’t forget that garage sales are excellent places to find most if not all of your outdoor gear. Oh, and by the way, I later found what I knew was the same Pflueger Supreme reel in a local antique shop, and let’s just say that the price tag was well over the gentleman’s original $5!
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.