Garage Sales Are an Economic Wasteland – I Have Proof.

This year I kept track of the economic output of my garage sale as compared to other opportunities available and the results were sobering.

Here are the financial results of this year’s big multi-family garage sale:

Total: $174.00 / 30 hours labor = $5.80 per hour.

I sell books online through eBay, Amazon and various other bookselling sites from the comfort of my basement. Occasionally, during the garage sale, I’d sneak out of my duties to look at my orders. I sell around 30 books a day and it takes some work, but when I was sitting at the garage sale all I could think about was, “Wow, I could be working on my book inventory but here I am haggling over the price of a nick-knack priced at $1.50. How does this add up? The fact is; it doesn’t. In the world of economics it’s called Opportunity Cost. When you are doing one thing, it means you may be forgoing something else which will make you much wealthier and happier. In this case, working a garage sale meant I wasn’t working my book business or having a good time with my kids.

Average day of book sales:

Total: $300.00 / 3 Hours Labor = $100.00 per hour.

The garage sale was a complete financial flop compared to the measurable opportunity of selling books online. So in the future, instead of garage sales, I will sell anything worth over $10.00 on eBay, put larger items on Craigslist, and donate the remainder to charity. Almost anything will sell on eBay or Craigslist if the price is right. I took all the kids clothes that didn’t sell at the garage sale and put them in two lots for sale on eBay starting at $9.95. It took me 20 minutes to photograph and list each lot.

Results of Selling Garage Sale Leftover Items on eBay:

Total: $73.00 / .66 (40 minutes) hours labor = $110.60 per hour

Much more efficient than a garage sale.

Opportunity Cost of working the garage sale:

$110.60 – $5.80 = $104.80 per hour * 30 hours = $3144.00

So in textbook economics my garage sale cost me $3144.00 in opportunity cost!

Steve warned me… again. I pooh-poohed him…again. I did it…again. But no more! I am through with garage sales. Anyway you look at it; a garage sale is not a good economic decision. There are those out there that will say “I made $2000.00 on my garage sale this year.” I have a friend who insists it is a great money maker for her. She even takes a 10% cut if you want to put anything in her monstrous suburbanite sale. But, for the average American, a garage sale is not the best way to get rid of your stuff. Today, there are betters ways. Namely, Craigslaist and eBay. When you have a garage sale you usually have a small amount of items that are worth something and a whole lot of junk that’s worth nothing.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

25 thoughts on “Garage Sales Are an Economic Wasteland – I Have Proof.”

  1. Great break down I think i’m going to copy and do the same !
    I have a yard sale coming up in a couple weeks!
    and i have Movie posters inplace of your books!
    i will be catologing the posters and posting them up on e-bay and at the yard sale!
    Thanks for this break down I hope i do better then yours did! lol cuz you didn’t even touch min wage!

  2. Heck, you might do better just donating the used cloths to goodwill. Use software like It’s Deductible from Intuit (comes with Turbotax) or the one H&R Block has and you could end up with tax deductions (if you itemize) greater than you could sell the cloths for even on e-bay. For my family all of the still serviceable cloths the kids outgrew in 2006 came to about $4,000 in deductions, which depending on your tax bracket would knock 600-1200 off your taxes. I doubt I could have sold the used cloths on e-bay for that much and certainly the pennies on the dollar you get from a garage sale are nowhere near a good.

  3. The other (obvious) point is that with a garage sale, you can only sell to whoever shows up to your garage. With eBay or other online auctions, you can reach out to more people. Sure, what you have may be all junk, but someone, somewhere wants your junk! Online, that customer stands a better chance of finding you.

  4. Interesting, very. I learned a long time ago with a lot less math that garage sales are poor investments of time; generally I take anything I’m trying to unload to Goodwill. If I wanted to work that hard for that little, I’d just ask if you want fries with that. lol!

    Steve, I do have books I don’t want anymore. I never thought about eBay (I don’t use it much, myself, to buy). Can you point your readers to a good site/book/whatever on how to start a business on eBay? Have you written any guides? I’d sure rather work from home than keep up this temp job corporate nightmare (both my husband an I are in college right now as we redirect our lives to doing what we want to do…one step at a time. Check out my website on that :). Thanks as always for your advice!

  5. Isn’t the “opportunity” here to get rid of junk you no longer want or need? That’s not to say there aren’t more efficient ways of doing it than a garage sale. Giving stuff to charity will give you a tax write-off, and is great if you’re not worried about getting any cash in return.

  6. Chris – I’ve thought about the It’s Deductible from Intuit but I haven’t looked into it much. I usually donate several bags of adult clothing and misc. knick-knacks each year but I never keep track of how much it’s worth. I thought you couldn’t deduct it for more than you would sell it at a second hand store or garage sale?

    KimBoo – If you just have some miscellaneous books you want to sell the best way is Amazon or eBay. Amazon is quick and easy to list but prices are low. eBay is more time consuming and if you do auctions and they don’t sell it can be expensive. The best way to see what that going prices is to plug the ISBN into Amazon’s search box. Anyone can sell books on there using their Amazon Marketplace. The best place to learn about selling on eBay is eBay itself. Their community boards are great. Seller Central is probably the best one, you can ask questions and get tons of great answers within minutes.

  7. Hi Christine, you are so right about the dollar/time expense with garage sales, but have you factored in the cost of bonding with your neighbors? It may not be $3K +/hr, but there are some hidden benefits in a multi-family garage sale.

    Just to play devil’s advocate.

    In Spirit,

  8. When I started reading this entry, I was thinking “Steve sells book now? I thought that’s what Christine does” and then I read the “Steve warned me… again” part.

    I believe selling online is a lot more efficient. Garage sales aren’t economical, but if garage sales have any real value, it’s more about networking with your neighbors.

  9. Nneka,
    Funny you should mention that… I used the neighbor bonding thing as an excuse to Steve when I told him it would be different this time but when it came down to it, the first two days was 8+ straight hours of one on one with the neighbors in 95 degree heat. I learned a lot about them but I also learned that 8 straight hours with just about anyone is too much for me 🙂

  10. You are so right. With more people having access to the internet, it’s much better to sell those things in eBay than to have a garage sale.

  11. I think one of the reasons garage sales don’t work for folks, is they don’t know how to make them work. The art of haggling is a lost art, and the art of marketing is something few people know.

    The last time we had a garage sale, it’s true that we spent time before hand sorting through things- maybe two hours or so. And then we had two days of the garage sale, and sold $1200 worth of stuff.

    Total hours: about 20/ $1200= $60/hour. Obviously, far less than my business makes me, but well above the $5.80 you listed- which is painful!

    On the other hand, I would grieve to lose the yard sale as a social form. It’s just fun to drive through town, or bicycle, and come across yard sales. It’s like a treasure hunt.

    And, when we did it, we had fun at it- hanging out in the yard, chatting with people who came by, including friends. When we’ve gone through neighborhoods where several yard sales are in the same block, it’s clear that many of them are having a great time, sipping ice tea, hanging out while the kids play.

    As a financial opportunity, it’s just eh. But, as a social ritual, and a way to keep the secret economy of junk circulating, it’s quite fun. 🙂

  12. This is great! When I grew up my dad would go on and on about the benefits of garage sales.

    I grew up calling them garbage sales. I donate my stuff to goodwill and take the deduction.

    Good read though–put a smile on my face and reminded me of the good ol days growing up!

  13. I agree. It may work out with some, but it doesn’t necessarily means that it’s the best choice. They just probably had a lucky moment wherein the customers found what they were looking for.

  14. I see you sell used books on line. I bet you buy them at yard sales.

    With out yard sales or garage sales you would have no supply of cheep used books to sell.

    Yard sales have made me quite a bit of extra cash. It amazes me what some people will pay for stuff I have little use for.

    I am happy with seeing things recycled. Stuff I don’t want is being used by others who do want it, and want it enough to pay me for it. Most of the stuff that goes to goodwill gets trashed.

    You need to know your market and how yard sales work in your town. That includes an advertisment in the news paper. (A cost you did not list so I assume that you forgot that inportant move.) People travel quite a way for a good sale. If you are in a good nabourhood the dealers will be lined up outside two deep when you open your doors.

    If you live in a bad or poor part of town then team up with some one with a good address and have it at their house.

    Time of year is also inportant. People dont like to yardsale when it’s too hot, too cold, or pooring with rain. (Check long term 7 day forcast)

    Start Saturday morning, at daun. Not Sunday or Friday. The money comes out on Saturday morning. Regulars do not go to sales that started Friday on the assumption that the good stuff was allready striped by the dealers.

    Be ready to open and sell from dawn onwards. The people with the most cash in their pockets come first. They are keen.

    Don’t tell people to come back later, they probably will not return. You are not the only sale in town.

    Display items. Hang cloths up, not in a pile. Borrow tables.

    Price as much as you can. Be relistic, it’s a yard sale, don’t over price.

    Be ready to take resonable offers, no matter what price you put on the item.

    Understand that holding out for a better offer can work, but not after the first 3 to 4 hours starting when yard sales first start in your town. So if Yard Sales normaly start at 8am then offers and cash flow will slow down by 11am. By noon the flood will be a trickle. (Start times varies by location)

    Be ready to sell from first light. Where I live, South Florida, Yard sales start at 7 to 8 am, and some times earlyer.

    I have seen yard sales where more than $20,000 changed hands before 10am. But you have to be ready to deal fast. The money is there if you have resonable items.

    We say there are two types of yard sales. The ones where people want to make money, and the ones where people want to make space. You can do both but remember it’s not their job to pay you top dollar for your old junk. They will only part with their money if there is value there.

  15. Great post Christine! I’m not sure if your neck of the woods has embraced, but it’s another resource you might consider looking into when it comes to getting rid of items you no longer need.

  16. Well I had to test your theory yes it is a waste of time. Now i’m off to test a theory if it is worth going to a high impact flee market with over 200 head counts… this will only be 1 day from 7am – about 1-2 pm — it’s was said that i will make the same amount from my garage sale.

  17. Thanks for the post – good stuff. For me the biggest plusses of a garage sale is 1) socializing locally, 2) selling locally (reduced pollution, gas use, …), and 3) just hanging out.

  18. Thanks for the info! I’ve been planning a yardsale but wondering if it was worthwhile (to babysit my stuff for hours, have strangers rummaging through my yard and maybe casing my house, etc).

  19. I partially disagree with your findings, however, let’s jump to the last paragraph so you see where I partially agree:

    You mentioned selling your items online like e-classifieds or ebay auction, or perhaps even you should try

    What you probably don’t realize is that while it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pull of a yard sale, you still probably missed some crucial steps for hosting a successful and profitable garage sale. You can’t be lazy with garage sales, they’re a 1 or 2 day fun event that you’ve got to be focused for.

    I have trouble believing that garage sales are unprofitable and how some people complain about the crap they accumulate and then have the guts to complain how difficult and costly it is to sell it or even donate it. If you’re that lazy, why don’t you just hire someone, have them take their cut, they do a start-to-finish job and then you get your end of it. That simple. Quit posting bogus figures.

  20. Also, you should have an idea of what you expect to make on a sale.

    You should know that advertising your sale will make you a lot more money than just sitting with a balloon and a sign in your front yard.

  21. All sales are different some bring in a lot of money while others leave you out cold in the dust with only a few sheckels for your work. It can be profitbale on both sides of the table but a little research or experience always helps to maximize gains.

  22. You didn’t include the time and cost of shipping for the eBay sales?! Or am I missing something?

  23. If you have the correct know how and a good business mind you can make a good living doing the Garage Sales. But you can’t rely on 1 item such as just books. Books don’t sell like they used to after ereaders came out. Like I said with a business like approach to it it has an can be done.

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