Finding Survival Bargains At Yard Sales and Flea Markets

Guest post by M.D. Creekmore

image by usedtobelost

One of the things, I enjoy most about summer is shopping the various swap meets, flea markets and yard sales. In my area when the weather starts to warm the flea markets begin to buzz with activity. Some sellers simply set up shop at various pull-off areas along the roadside, using their car hood as a makeshift table to display their wares.

This past Saturday was absolutely beautiful, despite being a brisk 51 degrees.  It was one of those days that can make a person forget about the state of the world and our own dreaded affairs. It’s been unseasonably cold here for the past few weeks, making a day reaching 51 degrees feel like the warmth of summer had arrived early.

I avoid going into town as much as possible, preferring the quietness and solitude of the land and trees that surround my small homestead. But I do need to make the trip a couple times per week to visit with my mother and a few friends as well as taking care of business matters like mailing letters and such.

This Saturday was different; I looked forward to the trip because I knew there would be at least a few people setting up yard sales and at the local flea markets. But even I was shocked at the number of people trying to sell their goods. It seemed as though every fifth house or pull-off along the way had someone hoping to make a buck.

image by BallGame68

As the economy continues to worsen, more and more people attempt to sell off their assets in hopes of getting enough cash to pay the bills for one more month. The county where I live has the highest official unemployment rate in the state at over 20%, so lots of these sales can be expected.

Judging by some of the stuff up for sale, I think they go through their house, garage and storage building looking for anything they can sell for a buck or two. You can buy most of this stuff way below retail; the trick is to get out early before all the good bargains are gone.

One of the things I love most about this type of sale is the fact that you never know what you will find. It’s like a treasure hunt and Christmas all rolled into one big adventure. While there is a lot of junk to sort through before finding anything useful, you will be surprised at quality of survival items that can be found with a little effort.

Some Things I’ve Found

  • A box full of Mother Earth News magazines for $5
  • Ten boxes of #6 shot – 12 gauge shotgun shells for $4 per box
  • A single shot 12 gauge shotgun in like new condition for $65
  • Countless how to books on gardening and preserving
  • A copy of the Turner Diaries for .25 that I resold on eBay for $14
  • Most of my gardening tools were bought at these sales
  • A new meat grinder for $10
  • Cast iron skillets for $2 each
  • Hand tools

Don’t dismiss yard sales and flea markets as only having junk. Spring is only a few months away. Get out, and stop at a few of these sales. You may be surprised at the survival related items that you can find – all far below retail.

M.D. Creekmore is a full-time blogger and emergency preparedness consultant. He can be found on his survival blog where he provides free information to help others prepare for and survive disaster.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2011 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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  1. Lynda says

    51 degrees sounds really good right about now especially for this Massachusetts snowbound dweller. We won't see sidewalk and yard sales until spring and I agree, it's a great way to score some bargains.

  2. Not so Worried in Tn says

    I call them "junk stores or junk sales" because someone elses junk is another person's treasures!!

    Happy shopping!! I love yard sales!!

  3. Chris says

    I love yard sales! I've only been to a few flea markets. The nearest one from here is a 2-3 hours drive :/. But its on my way home, so when I go home for a weekend I try to see if I can stop. They're only open weekends. I'm waiting for the weather to warm up here. Then I'll hop on my bike and go for a ride (and stop at every yard sale along the way). Did I mention love yard sales.

    Side note: As survival mom mentioned, many of the items are way below retail value. These people are for the most part trying to scrape enough together to pay the bills. So unless you really can't pay that much for something, don't haggle. I know I'd rather spend the extra dollar or two for them to have when they need it.

    • JustAGuy says

      Chris, I have to respectfully disagree. Haggling is communication not intimidation or coercion. You say you want 5$ for the oil lamp. I think to myself: "Hmm.. do I need another oil lamp. Not really but this one is nice. What would I be willing to pay for it? 3$."

      When I make an offer of 3$ it is not to take advantage of some poor desperate person (I think you have an odd viewpoint of who has garage sales – I don't consider them desperate charity cases) it is an honest statement of how much I would pay for the item. I have communicated what I will pay.

      The seller who has all the power in the transaction tells me whether they find that offer acceptable. "What do I want more: the oil lamp which might get 5$ from the next guy, or 3$ because maybe this is the only nut in town who actually wants an oil lamp – at any price."

      When he says no (happens often). I usually say thanks that is a nice lamp you should be able to find someone that wants it for 5$.

      How is that a negative?!? I know people do get upset, Indeed the Survival mom herself has put in her 2 cents and thinks that we hagglers are scum. :)

      Here's what you think would be a better world of no haggling:

      I see the lamp decide I won't pay 5$ and walk away never asking. The seller who may just want to get rid of the stupid lamp and would have loved 3$ instead is now left with a lamp he will throw in the trash in 12 hours. The lamp ends up in the trash rather than belonging to someone who would clean, maintain and use the lamp.

      Haggling is communication – with it everyone knows they are in a state that they prefer – like the guy who tells me to pound sand when I offer 3$ (he knows he would rather keep the lamp than 3$) and me who knows I didn't pass up a lamp that I find to be worth 3$.

      You folks seem to have a whole lot of social tension about simple business transactions. An offer is an offer do you want to exchange or not?

      I will also state, I have held a good number of garage sales. I have only passed on a few offers. I never felt insulted. I always wanted the money and looked forward to getting rid of the crap. Yes the item has value, yes I am not being paid the maximum theoretical value. But thank god I don't have to drive that office chair across the country a 3rd time. When I think of the other person using the item or reselling it for more – it is a positive. I am glad that the stuff isn't ending up in a landfill.

      Am I the only one?

  4. says

    You lucky person! I must be driving to the wrong parts of town, because they were selling five-hundred dollar generators for $850, and 250 meg thumb drives for $20 when you can get 2 gig drives at walmart for that price.

    • JustAGuy says

      You both have points. I get great deals on good stuff at Garage Sales and thrift stores. I filled a grocery paper bag with brand new merino wool sweaters this Saturday for 4$. I can only use so many so they will probably be on ebay soon.

      BUT Sunshine is correct there are a number of garage sales I go to that are incredibly overpriced. I can't imagine what people are thinking. Usually they say something like "I paid 200$ for that so 60$ is a deal". I have occasionally decided to take the time out to explain that yes, your television, computer, printer, dvd player, power saw, bicycle etc. cost them 200$, but I could go to a store today and buy a newer (often but not always better) one for only 80$. And if the item breaks 6 months from now I can take it back at 9 or 10 at night and get my money back in full. Occasionally, to emphasize my point I have actually asked if they would be willing to give me my money back 3 months from now if the item breaks.

      It seems to me that these sellers never actually go to garage sales themselves. After a while you can almost spot them from the curb. I give them a fast walkthrough and hit the road.

    • Stephanie says

      Have you tried making an offer? Many people overprice items at yard sales because they expect people to try and barter with them. They may mark a generator 850 because they expect someone to pay 350-400 by the time they are finished bartering.

  5. Lisa P says

    In New England we won't see our yards/lawns for quite a while but the Salvation Army store is great! I found an old manual meat grinder the other day for $2! It made me feel better after paying retail for my wheat grinder. :)

    • Patty Stainback says

      I love the Salvation Army too! I get most of my clothes there really cheap (alot of them still have original tags on them) and have bought sterling silver cups for 50 cents each and nice blankets for $1.50 ea. You just have to look through things and can get a real bargain! Happy hunting!

  6. Jan says

    Great article! I love yard sales and thrift shops! My town has two thrift shops. Both have a wish list book. You can leave your name and phone number, and what you are looking for. If they get something in, they usually call. Cast iron cookware is hard to by, but the ladies at one of the stores have called me seveal times when it came in.

  7. Lone Star Prepper says

    Don't forget Goodwill stores, resale shops, estate sales/auctions, etc. They also can hold low-priced treasures.

  8. Karen says

    I have found wonderful treasures at garage sales, especially for prepping…….. a Seal A Meal, Porta Potty, water bottles/containers, portable clothes lines, camping supplies, candles, oil lanterns, a solar shower, mason jars and more! So fun!!!! They are year round in San Diego, but spring and summer is the best!!!

  9. Kiley says

    Picked up a food scale at a yard sale the other day for $2! I'm still jazzed about it as they are $30-40 brand new (for this model). I'm glad I hesitated last fall when shopping for one. Also picked up a three pound maul. Noticed this weekend how some prepper items are showing up at gun shows too.

  10. Tina says

    And, if you don't want to have your own yard sale, Value Village (at least the one near me), will give you 20% off your next purchase for bringing in donated items.

  11. Humanist Dad says

    I really appreciate the comment from Chris about not haggling for a lower price at a garage sale. All the money we spend at a garage or yard sale stays in the community and helps our neighbors.

    The money spent at a big-box store goes to big corporations.
    Thanks Chris!

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      I want to give a big thumbs-up to that comment as well. I'm getting ready to sell a large amount of product I have leftover from a past career with a direct sales company. I'm already marking it down by 50% but am bracing myself for the hagglers. They really drive me crazy when I price a half-ream of linen stationery for a dollar and they want to know if I'll take a quarter. AUGGGHHHH! BIG pet peeve.

      • oregonchick says

        Couldn’t you just post a sign, like: “New Items at 50% Off: Now Only $X Per Sheet/Package” and then add a note “Hagglers will be charged double!”

        There’s (a little) humor there, and it lets them know that you’re not interested in fussing over what you charge. You could also just put “$X FIRM” on your prices.

  12. mrselt2jv says

    We love when Garage Sale season rolls around. For us in Kansas it usually starts at the end of April beginning of May. Last season we picked up 4 adult bicycles at various garage sales all for less then $35. We kept 2 of them for ourselves, re-sold one and used the other one as payment for the babysitter. We also found a water bath caner with all the utensils at a Church yard sale fro $5.

    I really like hitting Consignment stores and sales when looking for clothes for my girls. I find it less stressful and more organized then (most) garage sales.

  13. dogmom4 says

    I have found some wonderful deals at garge sales too. But, I'm wondering? Is it legal to purchase a gun at a garage sale?

    • Teri says

      Legal in the United States of America to sell legally-owned property, not certain about Illinois, New York, or Massachusetts.

  14. Joe R says

    I really am gung ho for yard sales. All kinds of treasures, I like to go to rich end of town those guys throw away great stuff.
    Also check out apt. dumpster just before the end of the month and college dorms at summer greak time..
    Joe R

  15. says

    Garage sales, flea markets, Good Will stores etc. really serve double duty for me……I can find a bunch of Prepper stuff for little to no money (You'd be surprised what people have actually given me!) and it's my social entertainment. I'm self-employed and get really tired of my own voice! LOL

  16. charley says

    I love yard sales and flea markets. I set up to sell so I know how much work goes into it. I usually don’t haggle if it’s something I know I really want and need. Especially if I’m only buying one thing. When I buy a lot I may ask if they will take less on the whole group of items but I never ask them to come down a huge amount.
    My daughter says I’m probably the only person who will buy half burned candles. But at a nickle each they go into the emergency supplies.
    I have found some gread buys along the way.


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