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Sale-ing Lessons

8 Things We’ve Learned at Garage Sales

1307_RealMom_FGarage sales, rummage sales, tag sales.The sale ing season is upon us. Until I had children, two daughters, I was never the garage sale type. Now you can’t keep me away. It’s more that just saving a buck, although we still joke about the complete set of Royal Doulton china I got for ten dollars.In addition to finding great buys, weekend wonders, and unique items, garage sales are learning opportunities for the whole family and an inexpensive way to not only have fun, but also teach life skills. Here are eight life lessons most easily taught while browsing garage sales.

1. Map It Out

Garage sales begin with a plan. Because they are usually listed in community calendars, local newspapers, or online by different neighborhoods, this is an opportunity to discuss efficiency and map-reading skills.Plan your route to make the best use of both your time and your gas. Kids learn valuable lessons about efficiency first-hand. This is also an opportunity to learn more about your neighborhood. Take the time to point out recognizable places like churches, schools, grocery stores, and libraries. Talk about what road you are driving on or which street you need to turn down. I didn’t appreciate how important this was until my daughters started learning to drive. Because we had looked at maps and talked about our travel routes to garage sales, they had a better understanding of their own communities and driving directions long before they ever got behind the wheel.

2. Go Green

Garage sales are a great opportunity to stress recycling. Will your child’s life really be better if you buy those plastic toy blocks new instead of reusing something someone else outgrew? Garage sales help teach responsible decision-making. I’ll add here that one of our family rituals before using any of our garage sale treasures involved cleaning and disinfecting items and washing before wearing. Something I definitely recommend for all garage sale shoppers.

3. Shop Smart

Learning how to spot quality items was another one of our objectives. Good quality furniture or a real leather purse at garage sale prices can’t be beat. Doing library and Internet research about different brands and manufacturers or construction helped us reinforce the importance of craftsmanship in a time when so many things are considered disposable.

4. Get Creative

Every summer my daughters would look forward to a special craft project. Each child hunted for a piece of furniture for her room. Some years it was a bookcase, others a bedside table, or larger pieces like an armoire or dresser.

We had special projects where my daughters could put their creative juices and elbow grease to work and learn the fine arts of sanding, priming, and painting. We would shop for just the right color paints and they would create to their heart’s content.One year my youngest, Devon, creatively revamped a dresser scrolling her name around a sunflower that stretched across the front three drawers which she painted pink, purple and green. I’m not sure I would have wanted something quite that creative if the wooden dresser had cost us more than five dollars. Another time we found a chest of drawers and sponge painted puffy white clouds across a blue sky, made long slashing strips of bright green and yellow grass, and dotted on white and yellow daisies with the end of a Q-tip. We splurged and purchased pink lady bug and yellow bumblebee drawer pulls (at a retail outlet) to complete the look. I realize now that we didn’t just create original pieces of useful furniture. We made lasting memories while learning useful life skills.

5. Manage Your Money

Money management is about good decision-making and every parent knows children need to learn how to make money decisions. Those skills are learned well at a garage sale – perhaps better than anywhere else. I would give my daughters two to three dollars, all in quarters. When they were very young, it was about emphasizing how to count money and make change – important real-life math skills.

When they got a little older, it was about making solid economic decisions. They could decide to spend or to save their garage sale money. If they wanted a bigger item they knew they had to save their garage sale allowance for several weeks to afford it.I’m still amazed at how much better the decisions were, when it was their own money at stake.

Other valuable life skills learned included: how to interact properly around money; how to count their change; how to negotiate politely to see if they could get a better price (a most important garage sale skill); and how to say thank you after a transaction. In short, all skills they would need to function as successful adults.

6. Sharpen Learning Skills

Both my children were strong readers because we had a house full of books, and very few were bought at full price. Garage sales are a great place to get inexpensive books. Reading should be fun and my kids loved buying their own books and storing them in their bookcases, which were also purchased at garage sales, of course.

This may sound geeky but I kept an eye out for inexpensive academic review books too. I wanted to make sure my daughters didn’t let their math skills get rusty over the summer. To keep their skills up I found fun educational games and review and practice books full of worksheets at garage sales.

7. Develop a Sense of Style

We had very few fights over fashion and my children were able to avoid a lot of peer pressure, due in part to garage sale purchases – many of which were brand new and still had tags on them. We learned how to inspect clothing carefully for quality and stains or tears. I love that my daughters developed an original sense of style that they were comfortable with, not something dictated by TV or fashion magazines.

Finding fashion at garage sales has another benefit: patience. It’s okay to wait for a bargain and keep looking. You don’t need everything immediately!

As my children got older and we set a clothing budget I would explain that if they found it at a garage sale and decided they didn’t need to buy it at full-price, I would split the savings difference with them. I never wanted them to feel at a disadvantage for buying used. We would often take a field trip to the bank to deposit the money they saved by taking advantage of my savings offer. They felt good about contributing to our family savings and they were rewarded for being thrifty.

8. Give Back

Generosity is one of the most important qualities a child can learn and shopping at garage sales can help. We’ve been involved in our church and with Girl Scouts for years and whenever we know that someone needs items we’re always on the lookout for them.

Many sales help fund school clubs or church mission groups. Shopping these sales opens up the opportunity to discuss gratitude for what we have and how we can help others. It gives us an opportunity to feel good about our purchases knowing that the money we spend is helping others.

Furthermore, we would often see things that we thought Grandma or a favorite aunt would love, and because everything was such a value, we could pick it up for them, for no reason at all other than we knew it would make them smile.

My children are older now, but whenever we can, we continue our garage sale tradition.They still love many of their furniture finds and the treasures which grace their dorm room and first apartment. Best of all, many of these items have wonderful memories of family outings. Garage sale finds always have stories to tell.

“Real Mom” Elaine Chenette has over two decades of garage sale experience. She lives in Midlothian with her husband and loves visits from her grown daughters who are now creating their own garage sale traditions.
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