Top 15 Garage Sale Finds That Could Actually Make You Money

A woman looks at antiques at a garage sale.
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While you might be tired of the saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, what never gets old is the thrill of the hunt. Scouring yard sales for that one special find that’ll net serious money can be addictive.

But finding valuable items at garage and estate sales is more than just luck. It’s also about knowing the market for secondhand and collector’s items and learning how to sift through one man’s trash to find your treasure.

Garage Sales or Estate Sales? The Difference Matters

Estate sales are an auction or a sale, usually at a deceased person’s house, where the surviving family is looking to recover value from the sale of the person’s belongings. Estate sales are the perfect venue for finding big-ticket items like furniture, art and vintage jewelry in great condition.

In contrast, garage sales are where sellers are looking to offload items they don’t want anymore or that their kids have outgrown for extra cash. Prices tend to be lower, and you might find some stuff for free. These types of sales are great for finding huge volumes of kids’ clothing or household goods in good condition for cheap. Garage sales can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, but for some avid yard salers, digging through box after box is part of the fun.

You may hear the terms garage sale and tag sale used interchangeably, but they’re quite different. Tag sales are professional yard sales where each item has been cataloged and the price is clearly marked. Often coveted items or a collection from a tag sale will be posted online for purchase at higher prices to attract potential buyers across the country.

Are you or someone you love dealing with a spouse’s death? We’ve created a checklist to focus on what matters so you can create a timetable for managing the estate.

How to Shop Successfully at a Garage Sale

Whether you’re searching for finds for your own home or looking for profitable secondhand goods others miss, follow these steps to ensure all those Saturday mornings spent scouring yard sales are worth it.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Antiques

Streaming a few seasons of Antiques Roadshow can be a crash course in how to spot an antique instead of holding out hope you’ll simply stumble on one by accident.

From rare coins to antique furniture, paying attention to detail — and googling like mad — can make the difference between making a few dollars and making a few hundred dollars.

Know the Market for Collector’s Items

Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s valuable. Discerning what collectors are interested in buying on eBay and elsewhere will help you weed through the junk and find the gems.

Stay on Top of Decor and Fashion Trends

Trends can play an outsized role in which secondhand or vintage items earn cash, especially when it comes to home decor and clothing.

Consider for example the vintage typewriters that take up space on everyone’s bookshelves or old steamer trunks turned coffee tables. An 1888 Louis Vuitton Explorer trunk netted its owner more than $150,000 at auction in 2019.

Check and Double-Check Your Potential Purchases

This tip goes for buyers and sellers alike. You’re trying to ensure your purchases are in good condition but also looking for things others missed. Like the woman who accidentally sold her diamond earrings at a garage sale tucked into the pocket of a coat.

Having your own yard sale and want to maximize the dollars you earn? Here are our tips for putting on a profitable garage sale.

Top 15 Most Profitable Garage Sale Finds

Treasure or trash? Here’s what to pick up at garage sales to save money or turn a profit.

  1. Vintage or costume jewelry
  2. Musical instruments
  3. Exercise equipment
  4. Vintage toys and memorabilia
  5. Vinyl records
  6. Video games and VHS tapes
  7. Sporting goods and outdoor supplies
  8. Books
  9. Cast iron cookware
  10. Artwork
  11. Jackets and boots
  12. Tools
  13. Silverware and vintage dishes
  14. Bicycles and scooters
  15. Furniture

1. Vintage or Costume Jewelry

Gaudy rings, big brooches and other costume jewelry can fetch big bucks — especially if you learn how to identify vintage costume jewelry. If the pieces are solid, polishing them up for profit is almost always worth your time.

Take, for instance, a ring purchased at auction as part of a trunk sale in the ’80s. The buyer assumed the sparkling gem was fake, but it turns out it’s a real diamond potentially worth half a million.

2. Musical Instruments

Musically inclined people will spot a Les Paul or a Stradivarius from a mile away. However, purchasing brand-name musical instruments or sound equipment at a yard sale is rarely a bad idea. They make sound investments whether you want to refurbish, resell or make your own music.

3. Exercise Equipment

Fitness fads come and go but the value of exercise equipment lasts forever. If you wait until a few months after people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions, you can always find used treadmills, ellipticals and more at a discount.

4. Vintage Toys and Memorabilia

If you spot a box of what appears to be old toys or memorabilia, roll up your sleeves. Sifting through the collection might reward you with something seriously rare and valuable.

5. Vinyl Records

The resurgence of vinyl has turned the tables and made old records coveted collector’s items. Carefully inspect vinyl for deep scratches or other issues affecting the resale value.

How much can vintage vinyl fetch? A rare Velvet Underground record purchased at a sidewalk sale for 25 cents sold decades later on eBay for $25,000.

6. Video Games and VHS Tapes

If you’re having trouble imagining a market for obsolete technology, you’re not wrong. But nostalgia is strong for items like black diamond editions of Disney VHS tapes, rare versions of old Atari games and even special edition board games.

Take, for instance, the man who bought an old Nintendo game at a garage sale and then sold it two years later for $7,500.

7. Sporting Goods and Outdoor Supplies

You can save big by buying used sporting goods to outfit yourself for a new hobby like fishing, skiing or even tennis. And deals on refurbished or high quality camping gear like propane stoves or tents are always in season.

8. Books

It’s always worth weeding through a pile of books to find favorite titles for your home library. However, certain categories — such as comic books or children’s books — can be profitable page-turners.

Watch for first editions or special inscriptions scrawled on the pages. Like this yard sale find that turned out to be a copy of “The Old Man and the Sea” signed by Hemingway himself.

9. Cast Iron Cookware

Skip the Teflon pans and head straight for the old-fashioned cookware. Even if it looks rough, naturally non-stick cast iron cookware (and other items) can almost always be reconditioned to its former glory. And you can keep it rust-free if you clean cast iron properly.

10. Artwork

While everyone hopes to uncover some rare masterpiece behind dogs playing poker, you don’t have to trip across an undiscovered work from a major artist to profit off garage sale art.

Although if you do accidentally snag an original Albrecht Dürer drawing for $30 at a yard sale, you could find yourself sitting on quite the nest egg.

11. Jackets and Boots

Unless it sports a designer label, most clothing at garage sales won’t net a profit. The exception is seasonal jackets and boots, which can sell for high prices, whether pieces are on trend or vintage.

12. Tools

You may not have heard, but those nail guns are more than just tools of the trade. Scoop up drills, saws, compressors and even socket sets in good working condition.

A little elbow grease and semi-professional photos can make tools hot commodities on resale platforms or in your local classifieds.

13. Silverware and Vintage Dishes

If it looks like a set of china or vintage flatware that somebody’s Grandma used to serve up Thanksgiving dinner, whip out your smartphone and start googling. Some of the rare sets are worth serious money.

14. Bicycle and Scooters

Put the pedal to the metal before you purchase a bicycle or scooter at a yard sale. And if flipping bikes is your passion, carry tools to adjust the seat before your test ride.

15. Furniture

One of the first things that catches the eye is furniture finds at yard sales. From upholstered items to solid wood, furniture can be cleaned, refinished and flipped for a significant profit.

Keep an eye out for antique furniture. This woman found an 18th-century card table for $25 at a garage sale and sold it at auction for half a million dollars.

Flipping furniture is a solid side hustle that could bring in extra money. This teacher made $3,000 a month flipping furniture — and shared her best tips.

7 Things to Never Buy at a Yard Sale

Not all that glitters is gold. Here are the secondhand items you probably shouldn’t take a chance on if you’re hoping to cash in.

1. Puzzles

They’re cheap to buy new, so almost no one will take a risk on used puzzles — and if they do, the profit margin is low. Plus the agony of getting to the end of the build only to find a missing piece is best avoided.

2. Old TVs

Buying and refurbishing an old TV might seem savvy, but this requires a skill set (and old parts) you’re unlikely to have. Most obsolete electronics aren’t worth your time or money unless you’re collecting old gaming consoles.

3. Non-Stick Cookware

Cookware with scratches and flaking of the non-stick surface poses a serious health risk. If there are any visible signs of wear, it’s best to pass on pots, pans and other cookware with non-stick surfaces.

4. Car Seats

Parents should know that most safety gear for children, including baby gates and car seats, should never be purchased secondhand. You can access a list of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls here.

5. Cribs

It’s tempting to buy a crib secondhand, but buyer beware. These expensive pieces of baby furniture are also often the culprit of recalls and many resale platforms prohibit the sale of used cribs.

6. Bicycle and Motorcycle Helmets

Similar to the concerns related to car seats, it’s almost impossible to assess whether a used helmet is still safe. If it’s been involved in an accident, some of the internal materials designed to prevent injury may be compromised.

7. Christmas Lights

That feeling you get when you plug in the Christmas lights and part of the strand has burnt out? Yeah. Definitely doesn’t inspire much holiday spirit. As frustrating as it is, it’s best to hunt down a new box of your favorite lights.

Look for Garage Sale Finds in Unexpected Places

If you search the internet, you’ll find more comments than you can read about folks who have stumbled across garage sale gold in unexpected places. Take, for instance, the couple who bought some old photo albums that looked interesting and realized they’d purchased one of the only known photos of Billy the Kid.

The moral of the story? If you do your research, pay attention to details and trust your instincts, secondhand treasure just might find its way to you.

Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering saving money and budgeting. As a journalist, she has written about a wide array of topics including finance, health, politics, education and technology for the last decade.