Don’t Miss Garage Sale Tips!

I love writing the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries and knew when I sat down to write them that I wanted my protagonist, Sarah, to be a military spouse. Not many things stay the same when you are a military spouse, but one thing did for me – my love of garage sales! Looking around my house is a peek at past assignments.  Here are the top five lessons I learned about buying at garage sales and some of the things I bought along the way:

  1. Price Firm — We have a claw and glass ball foot table that I found at a garage sale in Palos Verdes, California. I loved the table but it was marked “price firm.” As I was admiring it, the woman running the sale told me several people had tried to talk her down. She said, “I guess some people don’t know what price firm means.” The table was pricey (for a garage sale), but I bought it anyway. A month later when we were in Solvang, California I saw a similar table in the window of an antique store for three times what I paid.
  2. Before they were trends — Tipp City, Ohio is a cute little town that had a handful of antique stores. We lived near there in the mid-nineties. One shop had a lot of vintage tablecloths and I fell in love. Back then prices were low but they have steadily climbed since then. Right now 50s and 60s things are really popular so items from the 70s and 80s are probably next. But don’t collect something you don’t like because you think it might be valuable in the future.
  3. Keep quiet — When we were stationed in Monterey, California I went with a friend to a flea market in Santa Cruz. As we were walking back to the car I spotted a beautiful wooden bench with an upholstered seat. The man who owned the bench said, “You can have it for eighty dollars.” The price seemed a little high to me because it needed a minor repair. Before I opened my mouth to say anything, he said, “Okay, you can have it for fifty.” I was so surprised, I just stared at the man. You guessed it, he said, “Thirty dollars is as low as I can go.” That day I learned that sometimes staying quiet is a good thing!
  4.  Neutral face – A friend and I were at a garage sale in Fort Walton Beach, Florida when she spotted accessory pieces for my dishes. She was really excited and yelled for me to come over. I told her I’d be over in a minute and continued to look at the kids toys while my heart was beating madly. I finally sauntered over. There were two large platters and a serving bowl in perfect condition. They would have been about one hundred dollars at the store. I asked the woman running the sale in a nonchalant voice how much she wanted. She said thirty-five and I bargained her down to fifteen!
  5. Walk away – my husband spotted a little end table that he liked at a garage sale in Northern Virginia. It didn’t have a price on it. I asked the woman (why is it almost always a woman?) running the sale how much she wanted. She asked how much I was willing to pay. I told her ten dollars. She said she was thinking thirty. I said no thanks and turned away. I’d taken one step when she said ten was fine. Don’t do this if it’s something you absolutely have to have, but if it’s something you are so-so about give it a try.

Life as a military spouse and avid bargainer wasn’t boring. Fortunately, unlike Sarah, I’ve never come across a clue or a dead body at a garage sale. Do you have a favorite garage sale find?

Want to get your hands on Sherry Harris’ latest Sarah Winston Mystery, I KNOW WHAT YOU BID LAST SUMMER? Click on the cover below!

Sherry Harris is the author of Agatha Award–nominated Best First Novel Tagged for Death, as well as The Longest Yard Sale, All Murders Final!, A Good Day to Buy, and I Know What You Bid Last Summer in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery series. Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry combined her love of garage sales, her life as an Air Force spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for this series. Sherry is an independent editor for fiction and nonfiction writers, a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime New England, and Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter. She blogs with New England mystery writers at