My Story: Garage Sales

contributed by Amy

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A few years ago, after buying a house with a little bit more space than my 800' apartment, I took up "garage sale-ing" to buy wants, needs, and even gifts for dimes on the dollar. It's amazing how much unused, "still in the shrink wrap" stuff you can find. In my part of California, garage sale season stretches from April to late November ("holiday boutiques" not included), and there are often 40 or 50 in a five-mile radius on summer Saturday mornings. After a few months of experimentation, I refined my method for hitting the most garage sales in the least time. It takes a little bit of preparation, but it's well worth it the next morning.

  • Make a reusable "garage sale" book. The way I did this was to take my local Thompson's Guide map (which my husband, the courier, already had), photocopy eight or so pages of local area, slip the photocopies into plastic sleeves, and put those sleeves into a cheap three-ring binder. You could do the same with one of those free AAA maps. Just copy select sections.
  • Get a few colors of "wet wipe" pens (the kind used for overhead projectors and the like). You'll need these to mark the sales down on your map, and it's easiest to assign starting times to their own colors. For instance, I use red for 8:30am and earlier start times, blue for 9am and 9:30 am, and black for 10am and later.
  • On Friday night, hit the computer. Even if you don't subscribe to the local paper (which I don't), they happily list their ads online for free access, and that includes garage sale ads. Sites like are even better venues for garage sales, as they're free, so more people use them. Be careful to make sure you're looking at a current date, and only search for ads no older than three days. Nothing is more frustrating than accidentally marking down last week's sale. Copy and paste the addresses and starting times into a Word or Notepad file, taking note of words or phrases like "Estate Sale," "Multi-family," "Charity," or "Block Sale."
  • Use MapQuest. There's no faster way to pinpoint an address. After you've finished your address lists, go to MapQuest and start pasting the addresses in. Mark them on your list with the appropriate color, and maybe a quick symbol to differentiate between "block sale" and something more basic. (I use either dots or stars.) This also allows to you cut listings that wind up all alone, ten miles away, and not worth your time.

After an hour or so of computer research, take a look at your book. You can make a quick visual route in seconds over coffee. The benefits are many. When you've got an embarrassment of riches, you can narrow down things to a more "tasty" neighborhood. No more "are we in the right part of the block" blues. If someone decided not to have their garage sale after all, you'll know the second you pass by the dot on your map. You can hit over 20 sales in one day (especially when you find those unlisted "freebies" on the way to your next spot). Your navigator (or you, if you're alone) has a much easier job on the road, and your map's always with you in a convenient form. When you've finished with a particular sale, just wipe off the dot. And for that one annoying guy constantly advertising his "garage sales" every few weeks (you know the kind…), you can permanently mark the photocopied page so you know better than to waste your time.

"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 by

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