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Wisconsin Parent

Wheeling & Dealing

May 24, 2016 12:59PM ● By Susan Schuyler

Why We Buy

Here's what you'll find below List of Citywide Garage SalesTips for Shopping, What to Pay, What to Buy, What to Sell, What NOT to Buy!

by Susan C. Schuyler

Why We Buy

Spring has sprung, and like millions of Americans, many Wisconsin residents celebrate the season by turning their driveways into pop-up retail spaces and spreading their belongings for sale. 

Call them what you like—garage sales, rummage sales, moving sales—these retail “flash mobs” are a uniquely American way for sellers to tidy up and buyers to find bargains. 

We’ve compiled resources and created lists of upcoming citywide garage sales in Wisconsin. Before you pack up the car and head off to one, be sure to check the link to see if there are any changes as the dates approach. And if you know of a garage sale not on the list, please fill us in so we can add it.

Here are links to other rummage sale listings:

Rummage sales in the Fox Valley in northeast Wisconsin

Rummage sales in the next seven days in Wisconsin

This site lists citywide sales in Wisconsin

This site lists sales in Madison neighborhoods

Complete with maps, this site helps you chart your course

This site also lists a variety of sales by city in Wisconsin

Tips for Shopping

When you’re ready to head out:

• Start early! The early bird really does get the worm, especially for the most popular items (see our list).

• Carry cash and plenty of small bills. 

• Plan your route ahead of time if you’re hitting more than one sale. Of course, there’s an app for that—check your smart phone for one of many garage sale apps. 

• Haggle like crazy. But Maclean’s magazine warns to be realistic and avoid insulting the seller, especially when the item is priced under $1. 

• Visit Pinterest to see how you might be creative with your garage sale finds.

What to Pay

Use these resources to determine if you’re really getting the best possible deal:

Salvation Army value guide 

Garage sale price search site 


Garage sale pricing guide

What to Buy

According to Brianna Bell of the Penny Hoarder, these 10 popular children’s items are good investments, especially for resale: 

1. Disney DVDs

2. Lamaze Toys

3. Children’s Furniture

4. Vintage Fisher-Price Toys

5. Children’s Books

6. Lego

7. Lincoln Logs

8. Dolls

9. Brand-Name Clothing and Shoes

10.  Melissa & Doug Toys

What to Sell

According to Don Long in “This Way to the Garage Sale”  these items sell best at garage sales:

1. Clothes (especially children’s clothes)

2. Power Tools (saws, drills, sanders)

3. Sporting Equipment (golf clubs, workout equip.)

4. Bicycles (especially ones ready to ride)

5. Electronics (stereos, computers)

6. Toys (not broken)

7. Household Items (refrigerators, irons, dishes)

8. Furniture (chairs, tables, beds)

9. Books (especially children’s books)

10. Gardening Equipment

11. Jewelry (watches, rings)

12. Miscellaneous (wall hangings, quilts, bedding)

What NOT to Buy

The Safe Kids website published by the Children’s National Health System, is a comprehensive list of child-related recalls Safe Kids is dedicated to providing you with a comprehensive list of monthly child-related recalls collected from the major federal agencies:

Consumer Product Safety Commission 

Food and Drug Administration 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

Be sure to visit these sites on your smartphone as you shop  for items you might be concerned about.

Reader’s Digest lists the following items to avoid when garage-sale shopping:

Helmets: Helmets are designed to protect you from one accident, and one accident only. Sometimes damage isn’t visible, so buy a new helmet to make sure you’re getting full protection.

Child Car Seats: Like helmets, car seats are really only meant to protect in one accident. But damaged car seats are common; a survey found that one in ten have been in an accident. Plus, car seat technology improves each year.

Tires: If they’ve been in an accident, tires are likely to be unstable and unreliable. Make sure you can get an accurate history.

Wet suits and swim suits: Personal products that hug your body are technically safe if you wash them in hot water... and still we're cautious. But constant changes in water pressure also wear out swimwear faster than regular clothing, so it's likely a used wetsuit or swimsuit will tear.

Mattresses: Bed bugs could lurk in any used mattress. You might also end up sleeping with other people’s mold, mites, bacteria, and bodily fluids (yuck!).

Cribs: Scores of crib recalls, as well as changing safety standards, make it hard to verify the safety of a used crib.

Laptops or other devices: Laptops, e-readers, tablets, or mp3 players are more likely to be dropped, knocked around, and spilled on, simply because they’re out in the world. A desktop computer sits (mostly) safe at home, but even that would likely cost more to upgrade than buy new.

TVs: It’s hard to determine how well TVs, DVD players, and other electronic devices have been cared for by their previous owners. Plus, technology changes so quickly that you can often get a better quality device. If you're buying refurbished devices directly from a manufacturer, you'll be covered by a warranty—but a random TV at a garage sale could be hit or miss.

Shoes: Used shoes have been molded to their previous owner’s feet—and poorly fitting shoes will make you miserable, or you'll just never want to wear them.

Sheets and Pillowcases: Sure, you can wash them in hot water, but that might not protect against bed bugs.

Baby bottles: While sanitation and cracks can be an issue, the real culprit is the chemical BPA that's present in most older bottles—and as of June 2012, the FDA no longer accepts that as safe. Go with new bottles to make sure you're getting the safest, most up-to-date bottles.

Worn plates, pots, and other cookware: Rust, flaky non-stick coatings, and chemicals that leach out are just a few of the safety problems you can run into with older cookware.

DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes: If you're still using this technology and looking to scoop up a bargain, know that scratches have ruined many a DVD or CD—and VHS tapes lessen in quality the more times they're played, not to mention disintegrate over the years.

  • Upholstered Furniture: Upholstered furniture can be home to bed bugs, fleas, and spiders, as well as unknown odors and stains.  
  • Clothes that required a tailored fit: Unless you can try something on, it's often not worth the money you'll spend on alterations.

Video Games: You might want to quickly Google the video game on your smart phone—manufacturers are now including codes for one-user only play, either for the whole game or special bonus sections.

Fragrance or make up (new or old): The quality of both can lessen over the years (and yes, they do expire!). Even if makeup is brand new in the box, skip it unless you can tell that it was recently manufactured.

Stuffed animals: Stuffed animals can be hard to send through the extra-hot cycle on a washing machine, and like mattresses and upholstered furniture, they can be full of creepy crawlies and other unsavory finds.

Blenders and other kitchen electronics: Your go-to smoothie maker's blades and mechanisms can become dull and wear down over time, even if the machine looks fine on the surface.

Hats: How's this for gross: Hats may contain remnants of hair products, sweat, or skin infections.