My Story: You Can Win at an Auction

contributed by CNB

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When my husband and I set up housekeeping after each of us had been living alone for quite some time, we didn't have anything we needed! We had no money, little credit and hated the prospect of making more bills to cut into our already limited incomes.

We had long been devotees of thrift stores for clothing and other household articles. But we had moved to the Northern Plains and they were few and far between and seldom had what we needed in the quantities we needed for our blended family of five. That was when I discovered auctions.

The first one I attended was a learning experience. Sitting in the front row, with my baby son asleep on my shoulder, I fought for dishes, pots, pans and linens, usually bidding against antique dealers and thrift store owners.

And I had to quell my own feelings of guilt at getting ahead at someone else's expense. In this instance, the items were from a "living estate," where the owner was an elderly lady who was going into an assisted-living facility. At one point early in the sale, she became obviously distressed. The auctioneer stopped and asked her, "Louise, do you see that young man right there?" He indicated my son.

"That young man is going to grow up eating off your dishes." That exchange helped her, and me, get past our feelings. It has helped me since, and instead of guilt, I feel like I am being handed down family heirlooms at a bargain price.

I am a veteran of many auctions now, and most of our home is furnished with my finds. Here are my suggestions for attending an auction:

  • Watch local papers and free "shoppers" for auction notices. Sale bills are often posted in stores and other public places.
  • Attend only those that feature items you need or want.
  • Go early and expect to spend most of the day. Expect to have to present identification to get a bidder's number. Examine articles that interest you carefully. Food is often catered by a church or other charity.
  • Do your research. Determine what an article would cost if purchased elsewhere and what it is worth to you. This will help you avoid getting caught up in the excitement of the moment and spending more than you intended to spend.
  • Take along a pen, pad and tape measure for larger items. If the sale is outside or roving around a home, carry a bottle of water, sunscreen and a hat in warm weather.
  • A pickup truck or station wagon is very handy, as are several large, stout cartons in which to transport your buys.
  • If you become confused about what the bid is, ask. Auctioneers and ring men would rather answer the question than have to start the bidding over again.
  • Keep a running total of your purchases, either on the pad you brought or the back of your bidder number. This eliminates surprises when you go to settle up.
  • Be flexible and have fun. There are bargains to be had, such as the $10 washing machine that has served my family for many years.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@

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