I bought a vintage pachinko machine for $50—really cool. Has working parts and an owl/bird scene under the screen. http://vintagepachinko.com/
A water bed mattress, hands down. My sister and I would fill it up with air (use a vacuum that you can reverse the flow of air to inflate it) and put it on the front lawn and just play on it. It’s bouncy, it rolls, you slide everywhere, etc. It attracted all the other neighborhood kids too, so we had TONS of fun on it. With today’s society I don’t want to be sued, so I’ll just mention it’s not exactly the safest toy to play on. I did get launched into a tree once, and you have to be careful to avoid concrete areas, but we never had any bad injuries from it.
As a father to a 13 month old boy, the best thing my wife and I ever purchased at a garage sale were used plastic toys. They are easy to clean and disinfect, much less expensive than buying brand new, and since my son does not have a delicate touch it doesn’t matter if they have any wear and tear. I don’t think I would ever buy a used stuff animal, but plastic toys definitely. The little guy doesn’t care either way and it is a good way to save money.
As an experienced garage sale shopper, I believe my best purchase was putting together a sound system. I was able to piece together a sound system for under $30 that blow away anything you could buy new for $300. Considering that many things get throw away after a garage sale, I have been able to recycle hazardous materials to the environment before they got thrown away. I will use my receiver, CD player, stand alone speakers, and sub-woofer as long as they last. They’ve lasted my 3 years now and there is no sign of failure yet. Any hazardous electronics that you can pick up for cheap at a garage sale are always worth it if you can use them longer then someone else can.
Art! Lots of things have intrinsic value – when people see a TV or stereo system in a garage sale, they immediately assign some monetary value to it. Not so with art! Pieces that could go for hundreds of dollars in art shows are sitting curbside at garage sales for dirt cheap – I have seven or eight pieces that I simply liked and bought, and all have gotten compliments and the “where did you get it?” question.
A bright orange, 1960’s, serving/buffet table. I used it as a desk in college and retired it to Goodwill when I was finished with it.
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