How I Shopped Garage Sales and Sold Online For a Profit

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I supplemented my income for years by picking up what others were nearly throwing away.

I had already been a seller on eBay for awhile, selling things I had around the house which I no longer used or wanted. One Saturday as I shopped at the garage sales I loved, I realized I could do much more.

I call it ‘garage sale arbitrage’.

Arbitrage, by definition is buying in one market, selling in another, and profiting from the difference.

I would shop every Saturday morning at garage sales, bargaining for the best price I could get. Then I would bring home the goods, clean and make any repairs as necessary, shoot pictures, write descriptions, and have the item listed for sale by Sunday evening. One week later, as 7-day auctions ended, many of the items had sold. I would collect payment and ship the item to the new owner.

It’s something I did for years, and I made decent money doing it.

What type things did I sell?

Too many things to list them all.

I was willing to sell anything which I could buy cheap enough to make a profit. At garage sales I preferred to look for shoes, purses, clothing, sports equipment, books, more books, and anything still new in the box was always a winner. I know others who look for other things. Some focus on anything for babies, or antiques, or jewelry.

Shop for what you know.

Antiques were one thing I did not buy often because I didn’t know enough about them to know what was valuable. The exception was when I occasionally found something so cheap that it was worth taking the risk.

How did I know what would sell?

After awhile of doing it, just from experience I could spot items which I felt were definite winners, but often I didn’t have any idea whether or not it would sell. If they were selling it cheap enough, or I could bargain it down to a low price, I was willing to take a chance on it.

If I were still doing much of this today, I would use the eBay app on my phone to check prices before buying.

What type profit did I make?

When I started selling, I set a goal to make $500 a month. I felt that was reasonable for what little amount of time I expected to put in to the job. I passed that goal easily the very first month and realized I had set the bar far too low. I also realized the work was taking much more of my time than I thought it would.

Garage sales are something I’ve always enjoyed, so I was already spending Saturday mornings in that way, but after making the purchase there was still a lot more to be done. Cleaning and preparing the item, taking and editing pictures, writing descriptions and creating listings, communication with bidders with questions and end-of-auction emails, and then, of course, packaging and shipping. As I progressed and got better at what I was doing, I could count on making between $1000 and $2000 a month.

Is it unethical?

This question posed as a subtle suggestion by some that I should feel bad about reselling what I had I bought from someone else for less.

My answer . . . No!

First of all, the original owner could have chosen to sell their item online where they may have been able to get more for it. They didn’t. The original owner also did not clean it up, photograph it, list it, box it and ship it. I did.

Second, I didn’t steal it and I didn’t go out looking for little old ladies to swindle. The item was offered for sale. I bought it.

And lastly, I was doing nothing that every business in America doesn’t do? Buy low. Sell high. It’s the way the world works. Learn a bit about economics, you dolt. 🙂

Do I have any super success stories to share?

I have no life-changing success stores – paying $1 for something priceless – but there have been quite a few that turned out well.

It’s fun to watch the auctions end – to see the bid price climb and climb and know you paid maybe 50 cents for it.

I remember a pair of 70s era Famolare platform shoes. I paid 50 cents or $1 for them and they sold for somewhere around $79. Not a fortune, but if I could somehow repeat that 10 times a day it would be a nice chunk of dough. 🙂

There have been many different books purchased, usually paying no more than about 50 cents. Some of those sold for well over $100. Most were college textbooks or older, out of print books.

Why don’t I do it anymore?

I had babies! Garage sales with three kiddos under the age of 3 years … not so much fun anymore. 🙂

I also moved on to other things.

I learned about buying wholesale and continued to sell online. Wholesale is easier, and there is a more predictable supply. No longer did I need to run all over town on a Saturday morning to shop – unless I want to. I could pick up the phone or email my supplier and have more product at my door in two days.

Is this still a valid option for making money from home?


It’s been a number of years since I did much of this, but garage sales still exist, and eBay still exists. Nothing basic has changed. It is still a wonderful way to get started selling online. It allows anyone to learn the ropes with very little investment.

Something to think about for anyone considering this – there are a lot more options than simply garage sales and eBay.

Keep your eyes open for opportunity that exists in your area. Are there thrift stores or estate sales? What about flea markets, or Target clearance sales? Is your location known for anything which is difficult to get in other parts of the country or the world which people would pay to have shipped to them?

When you turn around to sell, don’t limit your thinking to eBay. What about Amazon? or Craigslist?

Probably the only thing that has changed is that there are so many more options today.

Have you got any experience buying low and selling high? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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