Barter At Your Yard Sale

By James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at >


How can we earn money, and do a lot of bartering -- all in one weekend? We can have a yard sale! Some people call it a garage sale. Of course, it has nothing to do with setting a yard or a garage. We are selling or trading old toys, and other things we don't want any more.

At a yard sale, we might see a television set, a painting, long pants and wooly sweaters, a 50-year-old rocking chair, a squash racket, an old wooden sled, math books, and used sneakers. We might also find pet chinchillas, potted plants, an antique sewing machine, a Honda motorcycle, home-baked rye bread, and anything which people buy, use, and throw away.

Yard sales can be fun, as we see our old stuff being carried away by people. And they carry more than just the item; they also go off with a happy smile. It's a bargain for them -- a really good deal. And it's a great deal for us, too, as we turn our junk into money and useful items.

"I made $42.50 at my first yard sale," said 11-year-old Anthony Newburgh, who lives in a big blue house with his parents in Barterburg. "I sold some green jeans which didn't fit me, and a 'Berzerk' video game I never played. I traded my extra baseball bat and some other junk, for a chess set, three notebooks, and a ping-pong table. My brother sold some things, too."

To sell the most items, have your sale on a weekend. People often have free time on weekends, so they will be able to visit the sale then.

Our newspaper ad should start running one or two days before the sale, to give our customers enough time to plan their visit. A classified newspaper ad might cost about $6.00 for four days (in the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday edition). In our ad, we can mention the days of the sale (Saturday and Sunday), the hours (maybe 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- or 8 a.m. to dusk), and our address.

We can also list some of the important items that will be sold: a refrigerator, studio couch, Sony color TV, lawnmower, toys, AM/FM radio, books, small appliances, 35-millimeter camera, etc.

A 10-year-old boy said, "When I had a yard sale, my newspaper ad had things which I knew people would want. That way, they'd be sure to visit my sale. And while they were here, they would buy other stuff. I did really well."

In addition to the newspaper ad, we can advertise in other ways. We might make a poster on typing paper or colored paper, and put these ads onto bulletin boards in stores, libraries, laundromats, and our school.

On the day of the sale, we will put a big sign -- "YARD SALE" -- in front of our house. People will see it as they drive past in their big station wagons and colorfully painted vans.

We might also put smaller signs in our neighborhood, to advertise the sale. The signs will tell people how to get there: "Yard sale. 2345 Henter Street -- next left." But be careful: when I put a sign on a street corner, a police officer said I could not have it there; he said that I could put a sign only in front of my house.

In some cities, there are other laws regarding yard sales. We might need a permit. We might be able to have it for only a couple of days, and for a particular number of hours each day. We might be allowed to have only two yard sales per year.

There is another good way to spread the news about our sale: we can tell our friends, a week before we have it. And then we can call them again, on the first morning of the sale, to remind them of it.

In Barterburg, 14-year-old Shirley told me, ''At my yard sale, it was fun to decide how much money I wanted for my stuff. I didn't charge as much as a store charges. If I have used a baseball or bicycle for a while, it might be dirty or worn-out. It's not a real mess, but it is worth less than I paid for it."

Keep your prices low. Go to other yard sales, and see the prices on those items. Our prices should be that low. Our customers will be looking for bargains, as they walk past our boxes and tables full of goods.

Before the day of the sale, decide how much to charge for each item. Put a price tag onto everything. We can do this with masking tape. Or we can write the price onto the object, if our writing won't damage the object. And we can put up a sign which says, "I am willing to barter. What will you trade for these items?" (We can have a list of things which we want, so that we can set up some deals.)

After her third yard sale, Donna Smith said, "Put prices onto the items so that you can remember how much you want for them, and so that you can sell them more easily. Some customers are too shy to ask about the price, so they won't buy the item if they can't see the price."

She is right. Price tags are even more helpful if we are selling things for other people at our sale, or if more than one person is being a cashier (and accepting money from customers). Price tags help everyone to know the prices.

Some items are easier to sell than others, so we can charge more for them. These things sell quickly at some yard sales: cups and glasses, costume jewelry (chains and earrings), children's clothing, furniture (like a wooden chest of drawers), sheets, and blankets. One seller told me that "glassware and decorative items and knick-knacks sell amazingly well. Clothes can be very hard to sell, because you have to match a person's size and taste."

Sometimes if the price is too low, people won't buy the item, because they'll think there is something wrong with it. So don't let your prices go too low.

On the day of the sale, wake up early. We will need plenty of time to put out our goods. If we leave everything in boxes, we won't sell much. That's because no one wants to look through a messy box; it's too much trouble. Spread everything out on card tables, or on sawhorses with boards between them. We can put larger things onto the ground. Everything should be easy to see, and easy to reach.

Put the clothes onto hangers -- and hang them on a rope, strung from one tree to another. On pieces of paper, write the size of each piece of clothing. Then use a pin to keep the papers on the clothes. We can sort the different sizes into separate areas on the rope.

Everything should be cleaned, so that it will look good, and people will be more willing to buy the items. Dust off the old freezer, and polish the silverware. Wash the aquarium, iron the wrinkled shirts, and fix the small shoe on the red-haired doll.

We can sort the items. In warm, sunny Barterburg, Sandra Wiley told me, "When I go to a yard sale, I can find things easily if they are grouped together, with all of the same items in one place. I like to see special places for clothes, gardening tools, books, and everything else."

When people start to arrive, we should have at least $10 in coins and about 20 one-dollar bills, so that we can give "change" to people. Watch your customers, so that no one steals your goods or your cash-box.

When the yard sale is finished on the last day, pack the left-overs into boxes. Then put them away until our next sale. We can sell some of these left-overs to second-hand stores, which are listed in the a telephone book. If we have items which we think that we could never sell, donate them to a charity -- or to someone who wants them, like Mr. Johnstone, who would enjoy your old magazines.