wait a moment

Free stuff at the garage sale.

Once while shopping at a garage sale I was given a box of canning jar lids and bands for free. I was perfectly willing to pay the $1 price, but the proprietor said “Oh, you can have it” – probably because I was buying a bunch of other stuff.

At another garage sale, my daughter and I showed up just as the hosts were So Done with the event. Everything left was free, they said. And not just some limp paperbacks and yellowed doilies, either: We’re talking a bed frame, kitchenware, sports equipment, a kitchen table, linens and more.

The easiest way to get free stuff, though, is the most obvious way: Look in the free box.


Not every garage sale has a free box, but you should always look for one. While it does tend to be the place where Happy Meals go to die, you can sometimes find some pretty good stuff. Belinda, who blogs at Frugal Workshop, is an avid yard-saler who looks for items to sell as well as to use in her home or for crafting projects. At one recent sale her daughter found two pairs of American Eagle jeggings in the free box.

“She would have paid money for them,” Belinda notes – but this time it wasn’t necessary.



Garage sale gold (or iron)


My favorite free-box find was a cast-iron skillet that needed just a little steel wool and some seasoning to become one of my essential kitchen tools. Among other things, I’ve also found an apron, a spoon rest (still using it), crayons, markers, books, a Slinky and some other little toys, a small saucepan, Tupperware, a couple of boxes of paraffin and a decorative pouch.

Probably other stuff, too, because as noted I always check the box. One person’s trash is another person’s stocking stuffer.

As noted above, you can sometimes get things for free if you buy a lot of items. I’ve heard that suggested as a frugal garage sale tactic: “Hi, I’m buying these three coats, the high chair, the bag of Legos and the ski boots. Would you be willing to throw in this stuffed animal for free?” Can’t hurt to ask – and it’s one way of stretching your shopping dollars.

But do look for a free box any time you see a yard sale. And since right now is prime garage sale season, you will probably see a lot of them.

Not every sale you stop by will have a free box. Some might have free boxes that contain little except dubious plastic gimcracks.

On the other hand, you might wind up with a cast-iron skillet that makes the best cornbread ever. (Pro tip: Grease it with bacon fat and set it in the oven as it preheats. You’ll get a nice crisp crust and a delicious hint of previous pork.)

Finally, I must share the best free-box anecdote ever: A friend’s sister was a super-saler took her kids along with her. Her little boy, who I believe was around kindergarten age, was looking through the free box. The proprietor saw him holding a toy and said, “Those are free, honey.”

The boy responded with a tactic he’d heard his mom use: “Would you take a quarter?”

Readers: How often do you visit garage sales? Do you pounce on the free box as eagerly as I do?

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