Dumb Financial Decisions: The Unplanned Garage Sale
For the first five years in our home, we successfully avoided participating in the annual garage sale our neighborhood holds every June.
The thought of hauling boxes of our junk outside into the driveway, then standing around getting sunburned while making small talk with strangers as they pawed through our stuff, before being offered pennies on the dollar for our belongings, really didn’t excite me.
It sounds like you had the neighborhood garage sale all figured out, ROMT. What happened this year?
The kids happened.
On the Friday before the garage sale, our children were playing with the kids next door. Our neighbors were participating in the garage sale for the first time, and their children were very excited about all of the money they planned to make on Saturday.
Which, of course, meant when our children got home, all they could talk about was the garage sale, and all of the money they could make selling their treasures.
They must have caught me in a weak moment, because without much pushback, I relented.
I was pretty confident our crap was much better than our neighbors’ crap, and the thought of earning a few extra dollars to invest towards early retirement was enticing.
The kids’ enthusiasm for their first garage sale was also quite contagious!
At least it was to me.
Mrs. ROMT made it very clear she was not planning on being involved in this last-minute endeavor.
She is a smart woman.
The next couple of hours were a whirlwind. As the kids collected their treasures, I spent the evening digging through the garage, basement, and closets, trying to find anything I did not care about that would have value to somebody else.
Actually, I just lied to you.
I was able to find many things I did not care about.
But I was fairly sure those items had little value to anyone else either.
It was an impressive assortment:
Assorted board games and puzzles from my childhood.
A selection of Nintendo Game Cube games.
Decade old books about sports, the tech bubble, and online poker.
Incandescent light bulbs I had recently replaced with LEDs, but didn’t have the heart to just throw away.
Computer games from the beginning of the millennium, some of which may have required an old school disk drive to install.
And even several unwatched DVDs in their original wrappers.
I met back up with our children before they went to bed.
And as I looked through the kids’ old books, toys, costumes, stuffed animals, and games, a sobering thought hit me: their junk was probably much more valuable than my junk.
After the children fell asleep, I got onto my iPad to do some research about garage sales. I found a lot of conflicting information about how much our stuff might be worth, whether we should put prices on things or make them up as we went along, and the best ways to ensure nobody stole any of our trash.
It was a restless night of sleep, filled with anticipation, similar to that of a young child on the night before Christmas.
I awoke early, because I needed to head to Wal-Mart to purchase some little price stickers for our belongings.
Since my eleventh hour Internet garage sale research didn’t give me a clear answer regarding whether or not I should price things individually, I figured putting prices on half of our stuff, while leaving the other half unpriced, was bound to impress the garage sale veterans who were already circling our neighborhood like vultures before 7 a.m.
I paid cash at Wal-Mart, and separated my items into two separate orders, so I would get lots of singles back. The kids and I were going to need tons of change for all the selling we would be doing. There was a pretty good chance we would be financially independent in just a few hours!
Once I returned from the store, it was time to drag the giant picnic table off the back deck, through the yard, and onto the driveway. This was the one garage sale-related task I was able to get Mrs. ROMT to assist with, mainly because I think she feared I was going to have a heart attack if I tried to do it by myself.
Following that, the children and I began bringing our treasures out. We were open for business!
And then – nothing!
A few cars drove by slowly, peering at our motley collection of goods, and then rolled right on by. On a couple of occasions, people parked in front of our house, only to walk across the street or next door, quickly purchase something, and then speed away from us before making eye contact.
A few of these early morning denizens of garage sale world looked like extras from the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars, but they were astute enough to know by looking at the kids and I that we had absolutely nothing of value to them for sale. It was as if we were all wearing T-shirts that said “GARAGE SALE NOOBS” in giant letters.
But then things got much worse.
People actually started stopping by to look at our stuff.
Our first potential customers were two elderly women.
As they walked up the driveway towards our table, I welcomed them with what I thought was a friendly “Good morning!”
One of them turned right around and walked to the house across the street.
The second, braver, woman, continued on undeterred, and started looking through my old video games.
“Will any of these work on my grandson’s PlayStation 4?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” I admitted.
“Thanks anyway,” she said, as she turned and walked away to reunite with her friend.
Not long afterwards, we made our first – and what would prove to be our largest – sale of the day.
A man jumped out of his car as he was driving down the street, and made a beeline towards an old window air conditioning unit we had inherited from my in-laws when they downsized.
“How much do you want for that?” he asked.
“Ten dollars,” I said, hoping I correctly remembered the price I had written on a tiny Wal-Mart sticker an hour earlier.
“Does it work?” he questioned suspiciously.
“Sure does,” I replied.
He thought about the purchase for what seemed like ten minutes, and then said the three words that made my heart leap.
“I’ll take it!”
Over the next several hours, the children and I met dozens of new people – and made a handful of additional sales.
As I suspected, the kids’ stuff was much more popular than mine.
They sold a bunch of books, toys, and stuffed animals, and a costume from their pre-school days.
I sold of box of incandescent light bulbs to a guy who was in the process of moving into a new apartment, and wanted to take his LEDs with him and leave my old bulbs behind in the fixtures.
By late morning, the kids had started to lose interest, I was getting a bad sunburn, and the crowd was beginning to thin out.
I got out my lawnmower, and started mowing the front lawn, figuring I could multitask and return to the table if needed.
My lack of interest in continuing this charade was quite apparent to potential customers as I mowed the lawn. Very few people seemed interested in purchasing junk from – or interacting in any way at all with – a middle-aged man who was rapidly looking more and more like a cooked lobster, and was now also sweating profusely.
I can’t blame them.
After finishing the lawn, I went inside to get a drink of water. Mrs. ROMT and the children were happily eating lunch.
I told the kids I was thinking about bringing our stuff back inside and shutting down for the day.
They had already moved on, and offered no protest. By 1:30 p.m. the driveway was cleaned up, the garage doors were shut, and I was inside eating lunch.
I had put in a good ten hours on the garage sale, counting the night before.
Our family’s final take?
$10 to Mrs. ROMT for her parent’s old air conditioner.
$18.50 to the kids for their treasures.
And $1 to me.
For that glorious box of old lightbulbs!
Have any readers had a garage sale this year? What tips can you offer to make our next attempt (which is likely MANY years away!) more successful?
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