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Get the best garage sale bargains

We've only got a few weeks left to enjoy summer's greatest treasure -- garage sales!

There are so many things I refuse to buy new because I know I can find them cheap on my neighbor's lawn.

Honestly, does anybody really buy brand new baby clothes? My 8-month-old has a plastic tub of clothing in every size -- enough to fit her until she's 4 years old. All of it was had for a song at yard sales. I laugh at most store "sales" I see on baby clothes. A five-pack of onesies on clearance for $15? I can get them for a nickel apiece! Kids grow so fast (the zero to three months phase lasts about a second), you can often find clothing that has never been worn.

If you're heading out, and I hope you are, a little planning goes a long way. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Scour your classified ads and map out your route. Target block sales first, then hit other sales that are grouped close together. That way, you'll spend more time treasure hunting and less time traveling.

Bring a truck or clean out your trunk. Sure, that dresser is just what you were looking for, but what good is it if you've got no way to bring it home?

Give it a good once-over. Look for stains and take a whiff for smoke or pet smells. Plug in appliances to make sure they work.

Bring a light bulb and batteries. Depending on what you're looking for, you might need them to see if things like lamps or electronic toys function.

Know your measurements. If you're looking for window treatments, measure your windows. If you're looking for a credenza, measure the space you need it to fit into. And bring a tape measurer to check the dimensions of potential buys.

Check board games for missing pieces. Games are a great garage sale buy, but only if everything you need is there. Keep in mind some pieces (such as dice) can be substituted. And game instructions can often be found online.

Go early or late. When it comes to garage sales, the early bird definitely gets the sterling silver serving platter. But don't be that person sniffing around while the seller is still setting up. That's annoying.

Waiting until the end of a sale can pay off, too. I once got a contractor bag filled with designer baby clothes, plus three baby quilts for $20.

Bring a list and set a budget, as with any other shopping trip. Bring change. Have plenty of ones, fives and an assortment of coins.

Don't haggle just to haggle. But if you want something and don't think it's worth the price listed, make an offer.

This is another reason you'll be glad you brought change. You'll look like a real cheapskate when you take out a $50 bill to pay for something you haggled down to a quarter.

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