It has been a while since I was in college. I’m in that weird age range where I’m sometimes considered an old millennial and other times a young member of generation X. I grew up in the dial-up generation where America Online (AOL) was king. My eBay account was created pre-2000 and I played online poker on sites such as Full Tilt and Party Poker. I was in my last class of grad school before Facebook became mainstream around 2005 and my MySpace profile was all kinds of awesome (not really).
In college, I found myself trying to find ways to make extra money since I didn’t have the flexibility to work a more traditional job. I played baseball in college, which in itself was like a full time gig. We had 6:30 am weight lifting sessions three times per week, a full day of classes, baseball practices or games, and then homework. It was a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything, but finding a normal college job was challenging. My parents helped pay my rent, but I was on my own for spending money.
Therefore, I had to come up with a creative way to make extra spending money. The term side hustle wasn’t a common phrase back then, but that’s what I was looking to do instead of a typical job. Garage sale flipping allowed me to make decent money on a flexible schedule.
My College Side Hustles
One way I made extra money was by playing online poker. I wasn’t the best poker player, but I was decent enough to profit a few hundred dollars a month. My winnings were consistent in low dollar tournaments. Playing at higher stakes never ended up being profitable. Thankfully, I ended up making my final withdrawal the week before many poker sites in the US were frozen. I narrowly missed having several hundred dollars inaccessible for months or maybe even years.
My other side hustle was reselling items on eBay via garage sale flipping. This is where I made most of my side hustle money in college. I hear a lot of people talking about retail arbitrage these days. Retail arbitrage is where an individual purchases an item at a low cost, usually from a retail store, and immediately checks a site like Amazon or eBay to determine if it can be resold at a higher price. This is basically what I did on eBay, except I did this before the era of the smartphone.
My niche was primarily garage sales although I also found some great items at dollar stores. Since I couldn’t immediately look up an item on a smartphone, I ended up wasting a lot of money on junk from garage sales that had no resale value. These losses became less frequent as I gained experience in my specialty areas.
Garage Sale Flipping Wins
Successes at the dollar store involved VHS tapes and computer games (I told you this was a long time ago). My best run ever was when I stumbled upon an old computer game called Total Annihilation. The game was selling for $1 at a dollar store called DEALS and resold for as much as $40 on eBay. I drove to every DEALS location in Southwest Missouri and ended up purchasing about 50 copies of the game. For someone who was used to being a broke college student, I lived well the next few months. I was able to take a break from Ramen Noodles and ketchup spaghetti.
Most of my dollar store and garage sale purchases were smaller wins. Videos purchased for $1 would often resell for $8 to $10 on eBay. At garage sales, I usually did well with items such as video games, board games, VHS/DVDs, athletic equipment, and sports memorabilia. I once came across a copy of a rare Super Nintendo game called Mega Man X3. The game was purchased for $5 and resold on eBay for $200.
I still occasionally get the family up early on a Saturday morning and go to garage sales. My wife buys books for her classroom, my kids buys a few toys, and I keep an eye out for items that I can resell on eBay. With two kids plus the pandemic it was tough to get out there this past year, but we hope to go to more garage sales next year. Our 7-year-old is getting to the age where he may be able to list some items himself.
The eBay market is much more competitive these days. eBay fees are higher, the market is more saturated with large companies, and free shipping has almost become the standard. The margins for retail arbitrage will continue to shrink as companies wise up or more re-sellers enter the market. However, people will always have garage sales to quickly get rid of their junk. With a little experience and patience, you will come across the right items to make money. Below are a few tips to make decent money by reselling items found at garage sales on eBay.
Tips for Garage Sale Flipping
1) Pick a few specialty areas and get to know them well.
There is an advantage to picking a few specialty areas and knowing those areas really well. For example, my main specialty area was video games. I got to the point where I knew the approximate price range for nearly any game. Sports games typically didn’t sell very well, while role playing games would usually turn a profit. Even with smartphones, having specialty areas will allow you to move quickly through garage sales and identify the items that are more valuable.
The one exception is that I always pay closer attention to new or sealed items even if they are not in my specialty area. I have stumbled upon a few garage sales where unopened wedding or baby shower gifts are available for cheap. Electronics, cooking accessories, and toys in the original packaging can do really well in the resale market.
Before getting started with garage sale flipping, you should do your research on eBay, Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, or wherever you choose to list your items. Spending a few hours beforehand on your specialty areas will prepare you as you quickly move through garage sales.
2) Seek out neighborhood garage sales.
Finding great deals at garage sales is all about volume. You need to be able to move quickly from house to house. Once you have experience, as soon as you walk up to a garage sale you’ll know if it is a dud or potential gold mine.
Going to Facebook Marketplace and searching for keywords such as “subdivision,” “annual,” or “neighborhood,” can quickly point you in the direction of the larger sales in the area. I have found that upper middle class neighborhoods are the most profitable. Low income areas have more junk while high income areas have fewer sales as I’m assuming they donate more to charity to avoid the hassle of a garage sale.
Neighborhood garage sales have become even more important for us with two children. Getting the kids in and out the car is a pain. However, if we find a great neighborhood garage sale we can put our toddler in a stroller and treat it as a morning walk around the neighborhood.
3) Show up early!
Most anything decent at a garage sale will be gone before 10 am, if not earlier. There will be others out there looking to resell items so it will be important to beat them to it. You may also be able to catch sellers the night before setting up their garage sale. Getting there the night before or too early in the morning can be disrespectful, so I tend to wait until the official starting time to show up. More aggressive garage sale veterans may disagree with my thoughts on not showing up before the official starting time.
4) Focus on smaller items for simpler shipping.
Shipping can be a huge pain if you run a smaller operation. Nowadays, I tend to focus on purchasing items that can fit into a large yellow envelope. For example, DVDs and video games are easy to prepare and ship. Don’t get me wrong, if I come across a larger item where the potential profit margin is significant, I will buy it. However, the margin has to be worth it to go through the extra hassle of shipping a larger item. Many eBay vendors offer free shipping, so it is important to keep shipping and packaging costs to a minimum. Items such as DVDs and video games are usually light enough to be shipped first class and you can package them in a basic bubble wrap envelope that can be bought in bulk.
5) Utilize your smartphone.
This goes without saying, but take advantage of your smartphone when looking for items to resell. I usually have the eBay app up with the proper filters (e.g., completed or sold items) as I browse garage sales. For new or used items with a bar code, you may be able to scan using Amazon or other apps for a quick price check. Most people don’t seem to care if you are looking up items on your phone, though I’ve found it does make the negotiation process more challenging.
I also think it’s rude if you are spending too much time hovering over items searching for every little thing on your smartphone. This goes back to the point of having a specialty area that allows you to quickly identify items that you can quickly search on your smartphone. Don’t be too obvious, but also use it as a tool to keep you from making poor purchase decisions.
6) Make an offer.
The majority of the time garage sale hosts are willing to take less than the original price. Don’t waste your time negotiating 50 cent items down to 25 cents. However, negotiating a $20 item down to $10 can make a big difference. People also seem to be more willing to lower the price if you are purchasing multiple items. Negotiation is a great skill to have in many aspects of life. Going to garage sales is a great way to practice this skill.
Last, simply being a nice person goes a long way. I always smile and make small talk with the home owner. Not necessarily to get a better deal at the end, but just to be a decent human being. Being nice goes a long way. Having my kids with me also tends to result in better deals.
Garage Sale Flipping
There are opportunities to make decent side hustle money garage sale flipping items on eBay or Facebook Marketplace. This is especially true if you are in a decent sized metropolitan area. The market is more competitive today than 15 years ago. However, individuals still get rid of valuable items at garage sales all the time. If I could be successful before smartphones, you certainly can with the assistance of your iPhone. Get out there and find your Mega Man X3 or Total Annihilation prizes.
Thanks for reading!