The treasures of garage sales & flea markets…

I’m not one of those people who has an “I brake for garage sales” bumper stick on my car, but on occasion I do frequent garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores for fun. I’ve found some unique items–and often at bargain basement prices.

One time my husband and I needed a small boat motor for our dingy. We’d gone to a big community wide garage sale hoping for a deal. The first house we stopped at had a motor that was perfect, but the owner was asking $400–more than we wanted to pay.

DH: Is that your best price?

Owner: Make me an offer.

DH: Will you take $200?

I almost laughed out loud. I thought it was a ridiculous lowball offer. No way in hell would the guy take that. It was half price and the garage sale had just started. The guy hadn’t even finished setting up yet!

Owner: How about $250?

DH: $225?

Sold! I couldn’t believe it. The motor looked brand new and worked great.

We’ve gotten many great deals on functional, utilitarian items (like the motor) at garage sales and such, but what I really like about second-hand retailing is the potential to find unique items that aren’t available anyplace else. One of my favorite finds was pie plate decorated with blueberries (I love blueberries!) for $1 at a church rummage sale. At another church rummage sale I picked up a small side table for a $5.  I repainted it and use it as the guest room nightstand.

Here are some of my treasures:


church pew

I’d been wanting a church pew for my foyer for a previous house (it’s now in my bedroom). We were on vacation when I found this one in an antique store in Tennessee. It was literally one inch too big to fit in the backseat of our car. DH took it apart and put it back to together when we got home.


Another Tennessee antique store find (we have friends in TN). This lamp was only $30–and I walked away from it! DH went back to the store and bought it for me. It sits on my desk.

pie plate

One of my best finds ever! A pie plate (I think it’s handmade) that I found at a church rummage sale for $1.

well bucket

This is a Chinese wooden well bucket I got at a flea market. I use it for a trash can in my office.


Alas! You can’t see the detail here, but I bought an entire set of china for $15 at a flea market. I only wanted the platter, but had to buy the set to get it. I hesitated because I didn’t need more dishes, but DH made me buy it.

butter churn

I had been wanting a butter churn for a long time. Got it at an antique store in Missouri.





























Tips for successful and fun garage “sale-ing”:

1. To get the best items, you have to go early when a garage sale just starts. If the sale begins at 8 a.m and runs three days and you get there at 10 a.m. on the first day, you’re already too late. The good stuff goes fast.

2. You get better items, and better deals in the more expensive neighborhoods. The former is a given, but while the latter sounds contrary, it’s true. This is why: people in more modest neighborhoods are trying to make money off their items. People in more affluent areas just want to get rid stuff.

3. You get the best deals at rummage sales, i.e. a “garage sale” sponsored by an organization, such as a church, the PTA, Boy Scouts, whatever. Why? Because the people pricing the items aren’t the owners so they don’t have emotional or financial attachment to the items. (“I paid $200 for that, I can’t sell it for $10!” “Aunt Mabel gave me that ugly sweater. I can’t let it go for 5 bucks!”).

4. Estate sales are generally the most expensive, but the items are the best. Why: the heirs are unloading everything a person owned, not just cast-offs, but they are trying to make money.

5. Antiques are more plentiful, of a higher quality, and less expensive in the eastern part of the U.S. than the Western part. Why: (my guess) the west was settled last and people had to drag everything they owned thousands of miles in covered wagons. They could not carry a lot of stuff with them, so there are fewer antiques available in the west. Basic economics. Lower supply = greater demand = higher prices.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal. It’s expected, and you may be surprised. Even at antique stores, the dealer might give you a 10 – 15% discount.

7. As you venture farther  into an antique mall, the prices drop a little. Less visible vendors have slightly lower prices than those closest to the front of the mall.  Don’t be afraid to look around. Often you can find the same item from different vendors at different prices — even in adjacent booths.

8. If you’re the intrepid sort with loads of stamina, consider “The World’s Longest Yard Sale.”  The annual 127 Yard Sale (official name) is held the first Thursday in August through through Sunday (Aug. 7-10 2014). The string of yard sales stretches 690 miles along the US highway 127 corridor beginning just north of Addison, Michigan and ending in Gadsen, Alabama. Along the way, it passes through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and a little corner of Georgia.

Do you have any garage sale-ing tips to share? 

 Several scenes from Long Shot, my Corbin’s Bend spanking romance, are set in an antique store. Whenever I see “antique,” mentally I want to pronounce it “Auntie Q.” Well, the heroine’s aunt is named Quincy. And she owns an antique store. What else could I have called it but Auntie’ Q’s Antiques?

Long-Shot-FinalLong Shot Blurb

Abby Delaney moves to Corbin’s Bend to work at her aunt’s antique store to recover from a painful divorce. She gets more than expected when she meets sexy, charming Harris Montgomery, a local businessman and tennis pro, a man who seems to be the exact opposite of her ex-husband. Through Harris, she discovers her submissive side when he introduces her to spanking good times, and she begins to trust herself again.  But when the relationship progresses to a deeper level, she discovers Harris and her ex share more in common than she’d thought. With future happiness on the line, can she risk surrendering her heart on a long shot?

Amazon buy link ♥ Blushing Books Barnes &  Noble


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10 Responses to The treasures of garage sales & flea markets…

  1. Excellent tips. And I love the Chinese water bucket. Very cool.

    Where we used to live people would just leave items they didn’t want by the side of the road. It’s amazing what people will take and even the most useles (in my opinion) items would be gone in just a couple hours.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      We lived in a place where people did that. It’s great. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. There’s no much emphasis on going “green” these days. Reusing and repurposing items that were made in the past is one of the best ways to be kind to the planet.

  2. S.J. Maylee says:

    You have some great finds, Cara! I haven’t shopped a lot of garage sales, but I do enjoy our family hand-me-downs. I’m working at my husband’s grandpa’s table. We have a desk that was his grandma’s on his dad’s side. The furniture in my front room was my grandpa’s. I love surrounding myself with history and I’ve been wanting to explore the 127 yard sale. Addison is only 1.5 hrs from here. Maybe I’ll go this year.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Family heirlooms are wonderful. I have a few of those too. I wish I were close enough to go to the 127 Yard Sale.

  3. Angela Drake says:

    I love garage sales. Especially neighborhood sales where I can hit several at once. Best advice on selling items… price it to get rid of… not to make a killing. You want it GONE. And any amount you make is better than having to work around it. You got your use out of it, now let it move on and make someone else happy. Small bills add up real fast!

    And I loved Aunt Quincy. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      So true about pricing. What are you going to do with he stuff if you don’t sell it? I’ve held several garage sales myself. It is fun to see how thrilled people get when find something they want. Once we had a couple stop by our garage sale. They were driving by when the wife saw the sign. The husband didn’t want to stop. The wife coaxed him saying, “Maybe they’ll have a rototiller!” (He’d been wanting one). She had no way of knowing, but we did have a rototiller! Both wife and husband got what they wanted.

  4. Leigh Smith says:

    You really have some great finds. I used to frequent sales often, now I’m in the selling instead of buy stage. Too much stuff and too little space.

  5. Howdy! says:

    Great tips! I love doing the same, and you have some fun finds. Thanks for sharing!

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