Planning, budget and manners are keys to happy yard sale buys

Item photo by Kolleen Long Yard sales are a great source of bargains. Whether you are looking for china knickknacks, gently used electronics or clothing to supplement your children's wardrobes, you can find items at 50% off retail prices. Sales like these are proof that one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Item photo by Kolleen Long If you decide to check out yard sales, set a budget and try to find specific items on your list. Avoid buying items you don't need or can't afford: challenge yourself to give up at least two items at home for each you buy. After finding the dozen or so items in the foreground, two children willingly gave up twice times as many things (in the background) when they got home.

Yard sales (also called garage sales, tag sales or barn sales) are a way of life in America. According to, 690,000 Americans purchase almost 5 million items per week at one of 165 thousand such sales. The average price per item is just 85 cents, making sales a great source for bargains, from clothing and toys to electronics and furniture.

Fortunately, Berks County is ripe with summer time bargains, and many individuals opt to start their sales on Friday and continue them on Saturday. This made yard sales a great choice for our family’s Fun Friday tradition. One sunny morning in July, we set out to find six sales within a 15-mile radius of our home. A few hours (and about $20 later), we came home happy with our finds.

We used several tools to find Friday sales. As early as the Sunday before, we kept a lookout for yard sale signs as we drove around town. We’ve learned to look for brightly-colored, hand-lettered posters on light poles and street corners. Signs generally include the address, date and times of a sale. (Tattered and faded signs are usually ones from weeks previous.)

Another way to track down sales is using online sites. Our favorite is This free site lists sales by date and includes specifics such as times and types of items being sold. It’s also a great way to spread the word if you decide to host your own yard sale.


The classifieds in local papers are another good way to track down sales. My oldest child eagerly took this responsibility, looking through that week’s advertisements and circling potential spots.

As you plan, go ahead and set a budget and discuss items you hope to find. I was hoping for a crockpot to replace one that recently broke; the kids wanted toys and electronics. Our usual $20 budget was broken down into smaller bills to make exact change easier. Each child received $5 to start, with the understanding I had the power to veto inappropriate buys. (Assorted china cats, yes. Widget for electronic game system, also yes. Paintball gun system, no).

I found a new set of measuring spoons, still in their original packaging, for just 50 cents. My son was thrilled with an old-school CB radio, his sister pounced on the chance to add to her Beanie Baby collection.

I put the additional $10 in our budget to good use by purchasing drinks for us half-way through the day, as well as covering quality, working digital cameras to help each of the kids capture additional summer memories. We found these at the last sale we visited, bringing our total spent to $17.62.

With all the bargain prices, plus the wide range of items available at yard sales, my children (and their mother) were tempted to come home with many, many items. To keep things in perspective, our family has adopted the “buy one, toss two” rule: for each item a person gets at a yard sale, at least two similar items must leave the house that same day. Not only does this keep clutter at home to a minimum, but it also helps children keep to a budget and agree that not all bargains are worth the low price.

My children know the drill, and when we arrived home on Friday, they piled their purchases on the kitchen table before searching rooms, closets and basement for unwanted items. We donate these items to Goodwill or set them aside for the large community yard sale our church holds each spring.

I have many happy memories of visiting yard sales with my father. I hope that my children will have similar recollections - and be eager to build new memories with their families- when they are grown. With a little planning and a little cash, yard sales are a great way to have fun as a family.