It happens one morning each summer. One of the kids wakes us early on a Saturday, dressed, pepped, and ready: It’s Neighborhood Garage Sale Day!
This year, it was Middle who was prepared. He had collected old toys and clothing in boxes and on Friday night placed them all by the door. We put him to bed that night, hoping he’d oversleep or forget.
But forget he didn’t, and he was ready to sell about 2 hours before the official beginning of Neighborhood Garage Sale Day.
Big joined in. He collected books that he felt the family was finished with. Figuring, “why not?” I grabbed some old, unused items from around the house and put them outside.
This year, I explained to the boys, was their year. This year they’d run the show, and I’d only be there to chaperone. All pricing was for them to decide. Additionally, they were responsible for negotiating, money collecting, and inventory.
As a reward, they were collecting 100% of the profit.
Glancing both ways down the street at the neighboring sales, I knew they were driven.
They grabbed post-its and a marker and quickly labeled prices, discussing as they worked. They even had me check a few new-in-box items on Shop Savvy to determine actual MSRP.
The morning started slow. They sat behind their brightly colored toys and watched as pick-up trucks, beat-up boats, cars, and minivans barreled down the road, slowing down at our home but stopping about 4 houses down. After around 30 minutes of hanging in, they had their first customers: a couple who immediately went to the Children’s Books bucket.
It was priced a bit over what I would have posted, at $2 per book.
The woman went straight to the chunky ABC books. You know the ones: they usually come as a collection, perfect for babies.
She looked at me and asked, “How much per book?”
“Actually,” I replied, “it’s not my sale. The kids are in charge.”
Big looked at me. “$2?” he said.
“It’s up to you,” I shrugged. Then I added, quietly, “but you may want to consider $1 each for those books.”
He nodded. “Okay. $1.”
“EACH?” she questioned, looking more at me. “It’s a set. If I get the whole set, you want $1 each?!”
Big looked back at me. “It’s really their sale,” I said. “They’re selling the products, running the sale, and keeping the money. Hmmm, Big? Would you be willing to make that a little less if they get the whole set?” I looked to the “customer.” “How many are in the set,” I asked her. “Six?”
“Right. 6.” She replied.
“Well…” Big looked at me and shrugged.
“So,” I said to Big. “It’s up to you. Would you take $.50 a book if she buys all 6 books from the set?”
“For $3. Okay.” Big said.
“Well. I’ll give you $1 for the set,” she said and waited, holding the dollar bill as bait as my 7-year-old looked around.
Big shrugged again. “Okay, I guess.” He took the dollar.
Oh. How I cringe.
Then she picked up 8 books, reading out the alphabet to make sure she had the whole set, and ran to her car.
Eight books. EIGHT.
Sure. They were books that were rarely read or played with. They were baby books. But that lady took clear advantage of a child. She had no interest in what she was doing to him as she “negotiated.” She only thought of the bottom line. And got, possibly, the garage sale deal of the century. An offer that, initially, would have helped my son collect $16, she walked away spending only $1.
There’s a certain point where, garage sale or not, people need to learn and express dignity and respect, even for children.
Should I have spoken up? Should I have stopped the conversation mid-way? I’m still questioning that, and I have been all day. Was I wrong to show my children that I trusted them and their judgment, offering them the first say to the last say in their garage sale today?
I don’t think so. I’m so proud of my kids for organizing, setting prices (that made sense to them), and officiating the sale.
I’m so proud that they sat (for most of the time) talking to customers, discussing their income, and learning to run a store.
I’m so proud that they were respectful of each other and of their customers.
I’m so proud of them.
I’m still not sure if I’m proud of myself. True, we likely would have donated those books to a school or recycled them, but I’m still wondering if I should have stepped in and told the lady that she was taking this too far. My children were so excited to have their first sale, to feel the linen of a dollar smoothly slide between their fingers, they may not have realized how much they were taken advantage of. Should I have said anything?
As she peeled off, likely laughing a Wicked Witch of the West laugh, I pulled the boys aside for a pep talk. While congratulating them on their first sale, I pointed out that they have control. That they can say “no” when they don’t like the offer they’re given and that offering other amounts that they think sound about right is okay.
Tonight, as I stew in thoughts of what I should have said, I’m comforted by this hope that she is losing sleep tonight for taking such unfair advantage of two little boys who were just out having fun, learning economics, and earning a little extra spending money to run down the street and buy a Pokemon card or two from a neighbor.