1. There are two kinds of garage sales - the ones where people want to make money and the ones where people want to get rid of stuff. The object is to find the ones where people want to get rid of stuff.
2. Get a map and newspaper and map out your route. Photo copying maps from a phone book works great. Using this method, you can easily visit 25 sales an hour. If you're a beginner you might hit neighborhoods you are familiar with first. Ask other people at the garage sales where they found the best deals (and they are more than happy to tell you).
3. If at all possible leave the kids at home. If you must take them use a baby backpack or an umbrella stroller to make it easier. Give older children 25 or 50 cents and let them see what good deals they can get. Kids love picking out gifts for grandparents, siblings, parents and other family and bargain hunting helps them learn about money. Bring snacks and cold water for everyone and plan ahead for potty breaks. If you have children with you, it's best only to plan on hitting about five sales.
4. Wear cool, comfortable clothes. Bring lots of change and one dollar bills. Put your money in your pockets so you don't have to worry about carrying your purse. Also bring a tote bag in which to carry your finds as you walk.
5. When you find something you're not sure you want, pick it up and carry it around while you continue looking. Otherwise someone else may take it while you're trying to decide.
6. Always ask politely if they will come down on the price. Most of the time they will. Every once in a while some things are so reasonable that I do not feel right asking for less. Finding women's sweater's at $1.00 each isn't bad, but I still ask if they will take 50 or 75 cents. If I find a name brand sweater in perfect shape for 25 cents, I don't ask for less.
7. If there is something you really want, but the seller is asking more than you want to pay, offer them a lower price. If they say no, leave your name and number and ask them to consider selling it to you at your price if they still have it at the end of the day.
8. Always check items well for hard to see tears, stains, or breakage. Remember it is a garage sale so everything won't be perfect.
9. It is best to go early, but don't panic if you can't. Sometimes you get the best buys after lunch when sellers are tired and don't want to have to drag everything back into the house. It's great to go on the last day of a sale because most sellers will almost pay you to take things so they don't have to keep them.
10. If you don't have success in one part of town, try somewhere else the next time. Sometimes the best garage sale neighborhoods are the ones you don't expect.
Don't be embarrassed about buying at garage sales. Some of the wealthiest women in the world love garage sales - Martha Stewart and Oprah are among them! When you're done, go home, put up your feet and have a nice glass of ice cold lemonade. Grab the phone and call someone who will share the excitement and appreciate your good buys. Garage sales are like old fishing stories. Die-hards always brag about the one that got away!
Tawra Kellam is the publisher of the frugal living website www.notjustbeans.com and the author of the cookbook Not Just Beans-50 Years of Frugal Family Favorites.