5 Ways to Save on Your “Off-the-Books” Buys

Save off the books barterI know it sounds shady, but all I mean by off-the-books is shopping outside of an online or brick-and-mortar retail setting. Think along the lines of yard sales, flea markets, and bartering.

Taking advantage of these strategies for off-the-books shopping is a great way to stay within your budget.

1) Yard Sales. As they say, “one person’s ‘trash’ is another person’s treasure.” Yard sales can be a bargain-hunter’s best friend. With a little patience, a creative eye, open mind, and confidence to negotiate, you can score some great deals from yard sales.

Typically, people have a yard sale to make money and/or clear out clutter from their home; so, they’re motivated to sell.

That means: negotiating prices is always an option at a yard sale.

Points to remember when negotiating:

  • Be Realistic. Often times at yard sales the seller won’t have prices on their items – when you ask for a price, the may say, “Make me an offer.” Be realistic.
    • Although you want to offer $2 for that BluRay player (or better yet, free!), an offer like this may be off-putting. An unrealistic offer can stop a negotiation before it even starts.
  • Be Fair. This falls along the same line of being realistic. If the item you have your eye on, a microwave, has a price of $20 on it, open with a fair offer when negotiating – don’t come in with a $2-3 offer. This can also squelch a negotiation right away.
  • Have a (Flexible) Plan. Let’s use that same $20 microwave for this example. When negotiating, have a plan in your mind of how much you, realistically, want to pay, and start by offering a little lower than that – expecting that you’ll meet in the middle.
    • Back to our $20 microwave. You want to walk away paying no more than $12. Start with an offer of $10, expecting the seller might come back with an offer of $15. Let the seller know you’ll meet them in the middle at $12. They’ll either take your offer, or not. Which leads me to…
  • Be Prepared to Walk Away. If you really need to stick to a certain budget, stick to it. Let’s say you need to get that microwave for  $12, if the seller won’t take your offer, politely decline and move on.
  • Negotiate Beyond the Price Tag. One last negotiation technique I successfully use at yard sales is negotiating beyond the price tag. What this means is, instead of lowering the price, add extra items in for the same price.
    • We’ll keep to our microwave example. You really wanted to buy it for $12, but the seller is firm at $15.

Try this: Offer $15 for the microwave plus another small item you want

  • “I can do $15 for the microwave and the mixing bowls.” You’ll be surprised at the result! It doesn’t work every time, but I’ve found this works more often than not.

2) Flea Markets. Flea markets are like yard sales…Good deals are abound and negotiation is not only on the table, it’s expected!

One of the biggest differences between flea markets and yard sales is that many sellers at flea markets bring their own custom creations to sell. So, if you’re into finding unique, artisan products for a good price, hit up your local flea market.

All of the same negotiation techniques from yard sales apply at flea markets, so don’t forget to negotiate!

3) Barter. Before humankind’s development of various collections of tokens and papers that symbolize value, there was the barter system. Can I just say – I. Love. Bartering!

So, the basic idea is:

  • You have an item I want.
  • You check out my belongings I’m willing to part with.
  • If you’re interested in any of my belongings, we discuss a fair trade – such as trading a crockpot for a small set of hand tools and a hammer.

While true off-the-books bartering is done in real life, there are bartering apps available. Like Swappflow, which I’ve used in the past. I’ve also bartered on Letgo.

When it comes to bartering, think beyond material items, too. Consider bartering goods for services, and vice versa.

My dad is a pro at this. He’s bartered work for groceries, diapers, and even bartered work for a cow!

4) Salvage. More informally known as *ahem* dumpster diving. Often, people throw away unwanted items that are in good shape.

Salvaging, or dumpster diving, can save you the most when shopping off-the-books. Just like at a yard sale, you’ll need patience, a creative eye, and an open mind – sometimes you need to see the potential in items, not solely the items themselves.

To salvage, start by knowing the waste removal days for your neighborhood and other nearby neighborhoods – you’ll want to go out “shopping” the day before, or day-of garbage day. This is when you’re most likely to find items set out at the side of the road.

Now, that’s important: “…items set out at the side of the road.” To clarify, when going to residential homes, you should NOT be digging through people’s garbage cans!

If you’re more daring and not too much of a germophobe, look in and around community dumpsters. Target dumpsters associated with stores selling the types of goods you’re looking for. So, if you’re looking for food, look in the dumpsters of grocery stores. If you’re looking for clothes, check dumpsters of clothing stores or big box retailers.

Be sure to check out these additional dumpster diving tips from an experienced salvager, Rob Greenfield!

One other place to salvage is – surprise! In stores!

In order to sell certain items, such as produce, perishable foods, and packaged food items, it needs to look good, be in good condition, and be fresh. When it’s not, stores will “write it off” – then get rid of it via garbage, recycling, donating, or other avenues.

So, if you’re comfortable, ask a store if they have any written off food or items available for you to have at no cost.

5) Classifieds. Remember the newspaper? Like, actual paper with ink on it? In that newspaper are the classified ads – the original Craigslist, if you will. Peruse the classifieds in the paper (okay, most newspapers post it online, too) for a whole host of good deals!

You’ll contact the seller via the information they put in the paper, then work out a day, time, and place to meet up. Check out the item they’re selling; and, if interested, make them an offer.


I can’t stress enough: do not pay full price for anything off-the-books from the get-go. Everything is negotiable!

Get to negotiating, Savers!


This website contains affiliate links. That means if you click and/or buy through my link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

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