Joanne Palmer: Vultures, hagglers and free birds |

Joanne Palmer: Vultures, hagglers and free birds

Joanne Palmer

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

— At 6 a.m. Saturday, I jumped out of bed with Mick Jagger lyrics ricocheting through my brain: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need."

It was time to head to garage sales, and I was ready to rock 'n' roll. The weather was invigorating — cool, crisp and clear. There was a long list of promising ads in the classifieds of this newspaper, and I could not wait to get out there.

In theory, I was searching for an iPod for my son. I had explicit instructions from him to find, buy and deliver it before he got out of bed. The world's greatest boyfriend always needs T-shirts, and I look for paperbacks and movies.

However, as all great garage-salers will tell you, what you set out to find rarely is what you come home with. And as much as I love a bargain, the people-watching is equally fun.

Here is a list of the cast of characters I usually encounter at garage sales:


You can spot newbies a mile away. They park legally — even if it's a mile away from the sale. They are cautious, considerate and careful. They gently pick up items and look at them thoughtfully, refold if necessary and place them back on the table. They are polite and happily pay full price.

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Grab and go

These shoppers are on a mission. They plan to hit every garage sale advertised, and they don't have time to waste. They park illegally (preferably blocking your driveway) and plow through piles of clothes in a frenzy. They do not spend more than two seconds looking at an item. They just grab what they want and go.

Early birds

I include myself in this category. Even if the ad says "no early birds," I still get there anywhere from five or 10 minutes to, um, 60 minutes early if there is something I really, really want.


These people put early birds to shame. They have flashlights and are looking for bargains before the sun is up. They take bargain hunting to a whole new level.


They are less interested in the object and more interested in getting a good deal. No matter the price, these people are going to haggle. If it's marked at 25 cents, they are going to offer you 5 cents. If it's marked at 5 cents, they will ask you to throw it in for free with something else they buy.


The eco-shoppers don't want anything going to the landfill. They are going to turn your old horse trough into a vegetable garden, plant flowers in an old pair of cowboy boots and make bookshelves from an old TV stand. I love these shoppers!

Free birds

Free birds are so frugal that even $1 is too much to spend. They are only going to look at your free table and nothing more.


These people are pros. They have got it down — one pocket is full of $1 bills, the other is loaded down with change. They don't waste time searching for an address; they already have scouted locations or mapped it out ahead of time. They know exactly what they are looking for, and if they don't see it, they move on.


Flippers plan to make money on your castoffs. They are highly selective and are looking for high-end items they can resell. You can spot them easily as they usually have a smartphone and a Bluetooth earpiece. Before they even get the item to their car, they have listed it on eBay and posted it on their Facebook page.

Alas, much to my son's dismay, I did not come home last weekend with an iPod. But much to my delight, his old one miraculously started working again. Nevertheless, I plan to be out there again this weekend.

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