Tacky? Not if you do it right

Yard Sale Christmas Shopping

by Jennifer A. Krausz

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I know what you're thinking: "How tacky! Buy other people's used stuff and give it away as gifts at Christmas? I would never do that!" But just give me a chance to explain. I have developed a system over the last few years to obtain high quality Christmas gifts from yard sales. I spend only a fraction of what "new" gifts would cost, and recipients consistently compliment me on my thoughtfulness and ingenuity (they do not know where I shopped).

Yard sale Christmas shopping is not for the last minute shopper. If you like to wait until December 23rd to begin your shopping, this method will not work for you. But if you like to begin making lists in May, then give this a try. It helps to make a list of all the people you want to have gifts for during the upcoming holiday season. Hopefully, you know at least a little bit about each person's likes and interests. Such knowledge is helpful but not necessary. Once you have a list, you are ready to hit the sales.

A good thing to realize is that 90-95% of what you will see at a typical yard sale is not gift material. It's the other 5-10% that I search for. The trick to yard sale gift shopping is to check items carefully. Many people will mark their new or never used items as such, but a careful check to make sure the item is in new condition or has all the parts can prevent embarrassment later. You won't have a receipt for return if the item has missing parts or is imperfect in some other way. On used items like decorative food tins or gift baskets, check for scrapes, scratches, dents and broken parts. Only buy items that look brand new. I don't recommend buying clothing for gifts unless tags are attached. Some signs of wear are easily missed at first inspection.

My yard sale Christmas shopping falls into two general categories.

New Items

Many people sell new items at their garage sales. I have found new household items, small appliances in the original boxes, clothing with tags still attached, and brand new baby items and kids' toys. Most sellers will mark new items as such; ask if you are unsure.

Be sure to check that the item is in new condition. If the original packaging looks worn, leave it. The item has been setting around for a while, and if an appliance, it may not work any more. Also, stay away from past trends, like kitchen gadgets or clothing fashions from the distant past. These do not make good gifts unless the recipient has expressed interest in the particular item, because most people have either purchased them already or never wanted one in the first place.

Some of the gift items I have found at yard sales are serving platters, mugs, t-shirts, sets of drinking glasses, vases, crystal serving dishes, new kids' toys, candleholders, decorative tins, and knicknacks. I just bought a small Mikasa crystal dish in the original box for 50 cents. That will make a nice hostess gift. I usually pay 25 cents to a dollar per item. For small appliances, I pay up to $5 for a $25 item and up to $10 for a $50 item. If you go to enough sales, you can find plenty of good deals in this price range. Your savings: 5-15 times the original prices.

Gift Making Supplies

I also look for items that I can use to make gifts: craft supplies or kits, half finished crafts, baskets for gift baskets, mugs or tins to fill with goodies. I collect decorative tins and fill them with homemade cookies or fudge for small co-worker gifts (my husband has 10-15 co-workers he exchanges with). Many people sell these tins for 10-50 cents after eating the original contents. The tins are in perfect condition! Similar filled tins sell new for $5 or more; empty ones are $1-3 in stores.

Another major savings is in making gift baskets. I can find used baskets in like-new condition for under a dollar, often for 25 to 50 cents. Last year I made a bath and body gift basket with a yard sale basket and a combination of yard sale and clearance rack bath and body products (all new, of course). I also made two coffee and tea baskets from products found at my local grocery store and farmer's market. These large baskets would have cost $30-50 each if I let someone else make them for me. Instead, I made them myself for $10-15 each. People really love these baskets, especially when you have built them based on people's special interests. And I wove star garland (50 cents for a bag full) around one plain basket to dress it up a little. The result was spectacular.

Another way to save on gifts is to buy gift wrap, gift bags, ribbons and bows, cards, etc. at yard sales as well. These are generally sold at no more than 25% of their original value. Check for fading of wrapping materials, and avoid buying rolls with very little paper left on them. I can generally wrap a gift with a 25 cent box from the dollar store (or a recycled box), 25 cents or less worth of wrapping paper, and a few cents of ribbons or bows. I have found gift bags at garage sales for 10 to 25 cents. If they look new, I use them.

I realize that yard sale Christmas shopping is not going to be for everyone, but for me, it works. I spend about one-fifth as much on each yard sale gift as I spent previously on gifts from a store. Yard sale Christmas shopping is one of the many strategies I use to keep my budget under control. I continue to be complimented on the gifts I give, and graciously thanked. After all, it's the thought that counts, and yard sale Christmas shopping does take plenty of thought. Just not so much money!

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