[Image by sleepingplanes on Flickr]
Bargaining is entirely acceptable at garage sales, but civility rules. Or should, anyway. People can get awfully testy when used goods are exchanged for cash. I wonder if it’s because there is no codified bargaining ritual in the United States, no script that everyone knows. The following is my proposal, though it’s probably colored somewhat by the number of garage sales I’ve participated in this summer; I’d love to hear from other garage-sale addicts in the comments.
- It’s acceptable to offer a lower price at pretty much any time, but understand that sellers are not going to be receptive on the morning of the first day of their sale, especially if it’s a three-day affair. You’re getting first dibs, after all.
- Don’t make absurd offers. If it’s marked $15, don’t offer $3 unless the sale is truly waning (all hell breaks lose after 12 p.m. on the last day). And if the price is dirt cheap already, buy it and be glad. At one sale I participated in this summer, a lovely and never-used picnic basket set was marked $5; one lady offered $2 (one hour into the sale on a Thursday, no less). Garage sales are where you go to get bargains, not gifts or charity. Side note: If you’re carrying a Coach purse or wearing Prada shoes, you’re not in a very good bargaining position to begin with. Not that well-t0-do people don’t deserve bargains, but I will not be selling Coach Purse Lady anything for a dime, no matter how many times she asks.
- Don’t insult the item in an attempt to save a few bucks. “$5 for this thing? Why, they sell ’em for two at the thrift stores” (then go pick one up at a thrift store). Or, “These really aren’t that valuable anymore, not many people collect them” (then why are you interested?) or “This looks like it may fall apart at any minute” (ditto). It’s one thing to point out a crack or hole and ask if it affects the price, but quite another to act like one of those douchey guys who work the bizarre angle of insulting women in order to pick them up. Have a little class.
- Once you agree to a price, that’s it. No backsies.
- My friend Jill swears by the question, “What is your best price?” It’s a considerably less antagonistic way to begin negotiations (and Jill insists it works in more situations than you’d think).
- Be aware of what the best bargain items are. Used clothes, shoes, toys, and linens are hard to get rid of at garage sales, so if you find a cache of worn jeans just your size, it’s more than okay to ask for a better deal. Items still in their original packaging, with tags, or obviously unused command a much higher price at garage sales, followed closely by clean things that have been very well taken care of–don’t expect sellers to be as willing to practically give away new or like-new stuff.
- Cardinal Bargaining Sin #1: Asking for the third time. If a seller says no to an offer once and there’s an extenuating circumstance involved–a flaw, it’s all the money you have, you’re completely desperate, whatever–okay, fine, ask again. But after that, pursuing it is enormously rude and cretinous. (That’s right: not just rude, but rude and cretinous.) I’ve even had persistent bargainers agree to my price and then hand me the amount they originally proposed. Uh uh.
- Cardinal Bargaining Sin #2: Taking it personally. We’ve all done this at one time or another, right? Walked away fuming about that so-and-so who refused a perfectly good offer and doesn’t realize her crap is overpriced and … blabbity blah. Here’s the deal: Ten different people will assign ten different values to the same object. (The Price Is Right thrived for many years off of this phenomenon.) So you value something differently than the seller does. Big deal. It happens. It’s just stuff. Move on without letting it ruin your day.
- Understand that there’s are many different schools of thought when it comes to pricing and bargaining at garage sales, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Plenty of people leave “bargaining room” in their prices, but others expect you to pay the amount on the sticker. If a seller acts horrified by your attempts at bargaining, let it go and move on if you don’t wanna pay up. If she’s practically begging you to cart things away for nothing then by all means, bargain freely.
- Be human. Compliment a garden, a child, a color of paint; whatever’s appropriate. You never know what sort of odd or oddly revealing conversations you might have if you put forth a little effort. I like reading Queen of Fifty Cents because she reports on the people (and pets) in addition to the bargains, and inspires (slightly socially awkward) me to do the same. Paradoxically, polite and engaging buyers get the very best deals of all.