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Is Holding a Garage Sale Worth It?

By in Economics, Make Money, Saving | 38 comments

Is a Garage Sale a Good Way to Make Money?

Is holding a garage sale worth it?

Initially, I  was afraid to hold a garage sale, as I worried it was too much work. Yet, before a move from Ohio to Pennsylvania I decided to find out for myself the answer to the question, “Is Holding a Garage Sale Worth It?”

Have you ever participated in a garage sale?

Are you thinking about holding a garage sale?

You’ve collected a lot of stuff, your closets are bulging, and who doesn’t want extra cash?

Although a garage sale appears to be the perfect way to get rid of old stuff and earn extra cash, holding a garage sale may not be the best way for you to make money.

Consider Money Versus Time When Holding a Garage Sale

I was raised to look for any way to get value from spending. That meant, if we could get two pair of shoes at Sears or one at Macy’s for the same price, we’d shop at Sears.

Although quality was important in my family, price trumped all.

Growing up, when eating out, we ordered from the right side of the menu. The cheaper items were the ones we chose.

But, there’s one money concept I didn’t learn until I was in my 20’s.

should i have a garage sale?

Before deciding whether having a garage sale is worth it or not, consider the value of your time. While working at San Diego State University, I went to a workshop by a budgeting specialist. She shared a story that changed my way of thinking forever.

Katrina, the budgeting and management professor divulged that she hated grocery shopping. It was her least favorite activity. Because she was very clear on the value of her time, and well aware that grocery shopping was unpleasant, she made a conscious choice to shop fast, with little regard to price. Since her time was valuable, and Katrina was deliberate in how she spent her time, she paid no attention to price when she grocery shopped.

Her message was clear; be aware of the time you trade for your money.

At work, you trade your time for your salary. At the grocery, you trade your salary and your time for your food.

There’s a price on  your time. Ask yourself; Is it worth it to spend an hour at the grocery to save $10.00? What if you could earn $20.00 per hour? But let’s complicate the equation even more, what if you have fun shopping and you like to save? Then, even if you’re spending one hour to save $10.00 and you’re having fun, then maybe that extra time spent is worth it – even if you could have earned $20 with your money doing something else.

There’s no right answer to the money versus time answer. 

If you have fun shopping and enjoy couponing, even if you earn $30 per hour (at your job), it might be worth it to you to spend 2 hours couponing in order to save $20 at the supermarket. Yet, even if you earn $30 per hour at your job, you may not have the opportunity to work additional hours at your workplace. In theory, if your job pays $30 per hour, then 2 hours couponing should save you $60 in order to be worth it. 

But that’s not quite accurate. Maybe you’re spending 2 hours couponing that you ordinarily spend watching television. And that leisure time doesn’t pay you anything. (Unless you’re multitasking and completing surveys for pay while watching tv). In which case, the 2 hours you spent couponing and saving $20 at the supermarket is “free money”.

This entire time versus money concept is tricky. Actually, it’s something to think about, not a perfect strategy for determining how to spend your time (or money). Think of the value of your time as a guideline for spending and activity.

How does this concept play out when deciding the answer to the question, ‘Is holding a garage sale worth it?’

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Our First Garage Sale

We were moving from Ohio to Pennsylvania and had accumulated a lot of stuff while living in the Midwest for 9 years. Hoping to attract a lot of buyers, we partnered with other homeowners on the block for a community garage sale. Our strategy worked. We spent days sorting, labeling and merchandising all of our stuff. With a lot of toys, children’s items, a video camera and an expensive play set, we earned close to $1,000.

The entire experience was not fun! It took several weeks to get everything in order and a few days to set up and another day to sell. All in all, I was pleased with the money, and hated the process. After that garage sale, I vowed never to have a garage sale again.

Garage Sale #2 – Is Holding a Garage Sale Worth It?

We were moving again and I considered once more whether holding a garage sale is worth it or not. Although I disliked holding garage sale #1, with almost a decade since the first garage sale, and the memory of $1,000 on my mind, I decided to break my vow and hold another garage sale.

During our second garage sale, in 2011, I was three hours into the garage sale and my daughter and I made about $400. Now $400 is a nice piece of change, but I had to ask myself, is the cash worth the time and effort? A decade later and I still wasn’t enjoying it, although my daughter was a lot more help than at the first garage sale.  

During the down time, waiting for customers to buy our stuff, I decided to figure out the cash value of holding a garage sale.

Economic Analysis & How Much Time Went Into Setting Up the Garage Sale

As a light drizzle began to fall, I decided to figure out the dollar value of our garage sale.

  • Two days sorting through our  valuable goods
  • Three days organizing, merchandising
  • One day selling
  • Total time spent about 48 hours
  • Total revenue: $400 revenue
  • Hourly income rate: $8.33

So here’s the financial reward-$8.33 per hour. But, that doesn’t take into account the opportunity cost of the entire 48 hours. (In the end, we worked a bit more and made a few more dollars, but not much!) In economic terms, opportunity cost is what we gave up during those 48 hours we were working on the garage sale.

Back to the money vs. time question.

For example, what else could I have done with the 48 hours I spent working on the garage sale? This is the type of data to consider when asking yourself whether holding a garage sale is worth it.

Here are some “what ifs”. If I could have earned $40.00 per hour during those 48 hours, then I gave up $1,920. If I loved holding garage sales, and that pleasure trumped the money, then the financial gain was secondary to the enjoyment of the activity.

This decision is more difficult than meets the eye, yet it’s similar to many other choices we make in life. Should I leave work early to attend juniors soccer match? Should I work Saturday to try and get a promotion and give up a trip to the outlet mall with friends?

Every decision has an embedded trade off. A garage sale is no different.

How I Decided Whether a Garage Sale Was Worth It or Not

Four hundred dollars was a lot less than the $1,000 we made at our first garage sale. An hourly rate of $8.33 isn’t great pay for 48 hours of work.

I don’t like holding a garage sale.

Although I enjoy purging, organizing, and selling, I hate all three together in the form of holding a garage sale.

For me, holding a garage sale isn’t fun.

Financially, it is a loss. I could make more money doing something related to my business.

Enjoyment, it is a loss. The only fun part was hanging out with my daughter, and it would have been more fun doing something else like going kayaking!

After several decades of working, saving, and investing, we have alternative ways to make money.

Our Garage Sale Alternative

Donate to Charity Instead of Holding a Garage Sale

What if we’d donated everything from the garage sale to charity? Here’s how that scenario would have played out:

  • Two days (or less) sorting through our  valuable goods
  • Donate all of the goods to charity
  • Actual value of everything: approximately $1,600.00
  • Take tax deduction on income taxes
  • Tax savings at 28% marginal tax rate = $448.00
  • At 16 hours of effort, donating to charity is equal to earning $28 per hour.

Had I donated the items to charity instead of holding the garage sale, it would have been a win-win for me. Donating the items to charity nets $448 in the form of tax savings and eliminated the distasteful task of holding a garage sale.

Is Holding a Garage Sale Worth It? The Final Analysis

Here’s the summary of our garage sale event:

We donated to charity the items that did not sell. These were worth about $400.00.

So, we made a bit over $400.00 cash and will realize a tax deduction of $112.00 (28% of $400) for a total gain of over $500.00.

Financially, the best alternative is to have a garage sale and donate what’s left.

Every decision can’t be determined at the cash register. There are usually other aspects than money to a decision.

Due to the unpleasantness of the garage sale event, and our stage in life, holding a garage sale wasn’t worth it.

For you, the answer might be different. Our neighbor has a garage sale every month, has it down to a science and nets a tidy extra income stream!

Action Step

Today, as you complete your daily activities, ask yourself this question,

“Is the time I am spending on this particular task, worth the benefit I am receiving?”

When it comes to making a big decision, think about what you value, how much your time is worth, and whether the activity gives you enough financial return for the effort expended.

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What are your garage sale stories? Like them or not?

A version of this article was previously published (comments remain).

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    38 Comments

  1. I hate garage sales. For me, the effort to sort the stuff is just too time consuming. Maybe when I am older and the kids have moved out of the house, I might be looking for something to do. But right now, we try to spend as much time with them going to their activities (4 in gymnastics, 1 in soccer, 1 in college) that being a parent is full-time without any added stuff. When cleaning out junk, it goes into trash or donate piles if it is not kept.

    cashflowmantra

    June 5, 2011

  2. The only time I have a garage/yard sale when I am moving. You get rid of all the stuff you do not want to move. I hate the preparation, but enjoy the selling/bargaining. Afterward, I donate what is left. My last one paid for professional movers to move us out. It was worth the time, I guess!

    krantcents

    June 5, 2011

  3. I love yard sales. Our neighborhood has one every year and it is huge. I don’t think I have ever spent 48 hours preparing for a yard sale, if that was the case, then yes, I would hate them too. We usually make several hundred dollars and the stuff isn’t usually worth much and I also donate what isn’t sold. I like the instant cash from yard sales. We usually use the money for our summer vacation

  4. @Cashflow, I totally and completely agree, and I only have one kid!!!! You have 6 kids? My hat goes off to you. If I ever even mention having another garage sale, you can read me the riot act!!
    @Krantcents-Wow, you must have sold some great stuff to pay for movers. Let me know about your next sale, I prefer to shop at rather than hold garage sales 🙂

    Barb

    June 5, 2011

  5. Hi Kristia, I like the community sales the best because you get good traffice. But I’m still off of them! It takes me forever to get all my stuff set up and merchandised, maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist 🙂

    Barb

    June 5, 2011

  6. One of my biggest hesitations with simply donating everything is wondering if it gets put to good use. I can’t imagine that every item that’s donated is either re-sold or given to someone. I always fear that they throw some of it away. At least with a garage sale, you know that the items sold are going to be used, hopefully for good purpose.

    Plus, isn’t it a joy to see others find a deal on something that they want/need?

    Besides, you can’t use the income comparison (I could be making more doing something else) all the time unless you could conceivably work every single hour.

    Money Beagle

    June 6, 2011

  7. @Money-Your last statement really hit me;

    “Besides, you can’t use the income comparison (I could be making more doing something else) all the time unless you could conceivably work every single hour.”

    That is something to think about, because I definitely wouldn’t have been working the entire time I’m counting in the garage sale analogy, and I don’t make too much sitting on the couch reading or watching TV. 🙂

    Barb Friedberg

    June 6, 2011

  8. Im not a fan of the time it takes to hold these. Though I will say that my subdivision does one mass garage sailing weekend every summer. They advertise in the paper, and due to the # of garage sales in such close quarters, the neighborhood gets a lot of foot traffic that weekend…I suppose when its that easy its slightly more motivating to have one.

    MoneyIsTheRoot

    June 6, 2011

    • @Money is the Root, I prefer the neighborhood concept. Even though I just advertised in Craigslist and got decent traffic, I think people prefer to go to the larger ones. I’m just glad it’s over.

      Barb

      June 6, 2011

  9. Wow, your hourly wage was about 3 times higher than mine last weekend! I made $10 in about 3 hours…and gave a ton of stuff away for free. It was torture and in retrospect I should have saved my time and just donated everything. The only saving grace was we cleared out are basement and can now walk through our storage room again!

    Car Negotiation Coach

    June 6, 2011

  10. Hi Geoff, Your comparison is small consolation for the aggravation :). To add insult to injury, the Salvation ARmy truck would only take a fraction of the leftovers. What’s up with that? I’m off to donnate the remaining leftovers.

    Barb

    June 7, 2011

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! It is SO refreshing to find a blog that isn’t telling me to sell my stuff at a yard sale or on Ebay, to clip coupons, and generally to waste my time for nominal wages.

    I’ll sell a big item on EBay, to be sure — something that can net me $30, at MINIMUM, for an hour of posting/mailing. And I’ll grab CostCo’s coupon book when I walk into the store — I’m there anyway, so it’s not going to take me extra time.

    Otherwise, time is valuable. It shouldn’t be spent at yard sales.

    Paula @ AffordAnything.org

    June 7, 2011

  12. Hi Barb,
    Like you said, determining whether hosting a garage sale is worth it depends on what you value most. In me and my husband’s case, we definitely value time more! With him working full time and going to school, it seems like I never see him, so we wouldn’t want to spend the little time we do have together sorting and selling our old junk. After reading this, I know for sure that I’d prefer donating our stuff over having a garage sale! Great read!
    Humbly Yours,
    The Mayor

    Mayor of Humbleville

    June 10, 2011

  13. Mayor, I espouse this lesson all of the time, but occasionally, let my desire for cash win out! Thanks for hammering home that important point.

    Barb

    June 10, 2011

  14. My wife has an even better plan. She just points out the stuff she wants gone and our kids have the garage sale. She either splits the money or let’s them keep it, depending on the haul.

    Bret @ Hope to Prosper

    June 12, 2011

  15. Bret, We tried that one last fall. It was definitely better for me:)

    Barb Friedberg

    June 12, 2011

  16. That’s a much better idea to donate everything. We have been wanting to have a garage sale at my parent’s house for years but the time spent getting everything together is a daunting task!

    Financial Success for Young Adults

    June 14, 2011

  17. @Financial-Yes, yes I hope I learned my lesson. The amount of work, especially coupled with packing for a major move is overwhelming 🙂

    Barb Friedberg

    June 14, 2011

  18. I’ve had four garage/yard sales over the past 25 years, and each one was a waste of time and effort. I thought I’d make a nice profit on the most recent one because I had so many nice items – some of which had never been used and were still in original packaging – and everything priced to sell. I made a pathetic $280 for two days’ work (three if you count clean up and recovery time all day Sunday), and ended up giving most of it to Goodwill. Of course, that meant borrowing a pickup truck and hauling everything away. I should have just done that to begin with. (Not sure I understand a previous comment about worrying whether or not your stuff will be used for a good purpose though and the “joy to see others find a deal…” Who cares?! No one is that altruistic, MoneyBeagle.) Anyway, I felt I wasted an entire beautiful weekend. I think it’s important to consider how much your time is worth – not just working “every single hour,” but enjoying-life-time. (Oh, and what part of “No Early Birds” don’t they understand? A couple of ladies actually knocked on our door at 6:30AM to see if they could have a “preview.” Really?)

    Time Clipper

    September 22, 2011

  19. @Time-At time, I hope I can remember the lessons from our last garage sale; never have a garage sale again. Head immediately to Goodwill. 3 am early bird is totally absurd. And I thought 8 am was bad enough. Thanks for chiming in.

    Barb Friedberg

    September 22, 2011

  20. The other unfortunate alternative is sending items to an auction house, but the going rate is 40% + hauling and hidden fees. My suggestion is to Ebay or sell any items of value on Craigslist, then give away the rest. My accountants never let us claim the value of the donation however, so we understand that we are giving it away. I have families that work for me who can always use the handouts, which makes me happy to see our “stuff” going to good use!!!

    Leigh Ann Griffith

    February 24, 2012

  21. Very interesting read. We have a cross country move in a couple of weeks and my neighbor I’d pushing me to have a yard sale to get rid of stuff. Is going more for the donation route and hoping to get the tax benefit but she is trying to guilt me. Whatever. So my question is, when finding they just give you a piece of paper saying we donated toys clothes etc. What other bookkeeping do we need? Also hour do I value the donation?

    jan

    February 20, 2013

  22. When you mentioned $1600 worth of donation I assume it’s the retail value. Correct?

    jan

    February 20, 2013

  23. I love it when you have an item for sale for $3 and they ask if you would take 50 cents! I avoid garage sales at all cost!

    Paul @ The Frugal Toad

    December 3, 2013

    • My best ever garage sale purchase was a 6 foot ladder I bought for $5 about 15 years ago. I still use it all the time. I think I got my money’s worth!

      Barbara Friedberg

      December 3, 2013

  24. We had two big garage sales before we made a move to a much smaller home. We netted about $2,000, so I can’t complain about that. But I do not like garage sales, as either customer or host! Fortunately my wife loved hosting.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, but part of my problem with garage sales is the type of people they attract: ‘garage salers.’ One example of many: We advertised our sale to begin at 9 am. At 8:55 some guy started pounding on our garage door, insisting we open up! I went out the front door and told him to cut it out, it wasn’t 9am, and in any case we don’t have to open this door, ever, so beat it if you have a problem!! He just gave me a dirty look. He of course wanted to hurry on to the other sales on his list before any precious junk had disappeared.

    Kurt @ Money Counselor

    June 20, 2014

    • @Kurt, $2,000 or $1,000 per sale seems much more attractive than our $400 from the recent sale. I totally understand your frustration with the early birds. They make a business of “garage sale-ing”. How was the experience for you? Did you mind the set up etc?

      Barbara Friedberg

      June 20, 2014

  25. I have been telling anybody that would listen for years that garage sales aren’t worth the trouble. The best way to get rid of stuff is to sell anything worth at least $25 on Craigslist/Amazon/Ebay and donate the rest for the write off.

    You will get more money back (eventually) and have done far less work.

    Andy@artofbeingcheap

    June 21, 2014

  26. Hi Andy, I understand your sentiment, but sometimes stuff doesn’t sell that easily on Craigslist and Amazon and requires a certain amount of time for set up, and possibly mailing etc. As I’m sure you know, my take is garage sales aren’t for me. But, I also wouldn’t say that no one should have one :).

    BARBARA FRIEDBERG

    June 24, 2014

  27. We prefer selling things on eBay or Craigslist. It seems more targeted – buyers will only contact you if they’re interested in the item. I think it may also be more time efficient. P.S. I love the new site design! 🙂

    Little House

    June 24, 2014

  28. Hi Little House, Well…. that’s another one against garage sales! I need some tips on Craigslist. I couldn’t sell a bicycle or some furniture and ended up donating them. Thanks re. the site redesign:)

    BARBARA FRIEDBERG

    June 25, 2014

  29. I realize this is an older article, but I wanted to thank you for it. As the parent of two very young girls, I definitely believe my time with them is just as valuable as money in the bank. As we struggle to pay off our student loans, I would love to have some overnight successes (or garage sales), but sometimes the work involved literally isn’t worth my time. I’d rather chip away at the debt and snuggle with my newborn.

    Kirsten @ Indebtedmom

    July 6, 2014

  30. Hi Kirsten, Thanks so much for chiming in. That time with kids is so precious that you don’t want to have any regrets. It’s wonderful that you’re assessing money versus time, because you can always make more money, but that time with the baby never comes back.

    BARBARA FRIEDBERG

    July 6, 2014

  31. I had my garage sale last few years ago and I can proudly say that it was very successful. Aside that we cleaned our closet, we also made money from it. So for me, doing a garage sale is totally worth it.

    Kate @ Money Propeller

    July 8, 2014

  32. Hi Kate, So glad you made some cash, got rid of stuff, and lived to tell the tale. Actually, an old neighbor of mine used to have a garage sale every six weeks and had it down to a science. Thanks for stopping by.

    BARBARA FRIEDBERG

    July 8, 2014

  33. I like the idea of holding a garage sale even if it means I’m not spending my time productivity. The idea of meeting more people in the community is a great way to share ideas.

  34. Barbara,

    Interesting article – I had never really thought of things in the context of a tax savings/avoidance. We normally wait until we have, in our estimation, $300-$400 of stuff to sell. I think our time involved is only around 10 hours, so that works out to be $30-$40 an hour. I can definitely see how going to donation route would definitely be worth someone’s time if you didn’t have real high-dollar stuff to get rid of as the amount you’d be getting paid would be sub-minimum wage.

    Derek @ MoneyAhoy

    October 17, 2016

    • Hey Derek, It sounds like you have the garage sale thing licked. For those that don’t “hate’ it and can handle the whole process quickly, it’s certainly a legit way to make some extra cash. And who doesn’t have some extra stuff to unload?

      Barbara Friedberg

      October 17, 2016

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