I put much more stock and focus on the importance of earning more income (and investing that income wisely) than I do on clipping coupons and “not spending” money.

Don’t get me wrong, both skills are vital to your financial future, but you will get a lot more bang for your buck by growing your income rather than sacrificing that latte you love.

This past Sunday, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and did something I absolutely dreaded and thought for sure would be a gigantic waste of time. We had a family garage sale.

Now before you click away let me tell you how much money we made from this little garage sale: $1,122.25.

Not too shabby for a day’s work. And definitely worth a post, particularly since like most things I do for the first time, I did this completely “wrong”. (Oh to think of the money we could have made if I had done it properly.)

Why do I say I did this “wrong”? Let me recount…

First off, both my husband and I are workaholics. He’s a technology executive at a Fortune 100 company and works typically from 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday-Friday. I am a business-builder and investor and work the same number of hours as my husband, albeit with a slightly different schedule. Add our 6 ½ and 4 ½ year-old daughters to the mix, who require a lot of attention and love (which we do our best to give them), and I thought we simply “didn’t have time” to have a Garage Sale.

And we didn’t…at least not enough to do it “right“.

But since we were literally drowning in stuff (which drives me crazy) and as the local charities don’t take kids toys (or bedding or car seats), we didn’t have the heart to just take it to the dump when someone out there could use it. So, we decided on a garage sale.

And in all seriousness, I could have titled this article “How NOT to have a Garage Sale”.

Here’s why:

  1. We put up one ad on craigslist the afternoon before, with no pictures, saying our Garage Sale went from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. (when in fact we didn’t start until 10:30 a.m. at the earliest so we missed any serious shoppers who would have arrived on time).
  2. We put up a few miniscule 8 x 10 printer-paper signs on major intersections nearby that said simply “Garage Sale: 9 – 3, with our address” (you couldn’t read the signs unless you were walking, no way a car whizzing by would ever decipher them).
  3. We had no prices on anything (too lazy) and simply sorted things into rows (the “$1 row”, “the $3 row”, “the $5 row” and “the make us an offer row”).
  4. We had no tables and no way to properly “display” anything, so people were forced to root through white garbage bags to find their “treasures” (epic fail of Merchandising 101).
  5. We live on a major thoroughfare with no street parking (I suppose this could have been good for visibility, if we had had signs or balloons or something, but this was terrible for people who actually wanted to park and BUY something).

I can think of a million more ways in which this garage sale should have been a complete, abysmal failure…

And yet, it obviously wasn’t.

So what was our secret?

Did we sell a Mercedes? (No, in fact, my husband drives an aquamarine 1995 2-door Saturn with broken A/C and broken side window-handles.)

Did we strip naked to attract passers-by? (No, trust me that would have been a major deterrent.)

Did we slip special sauce into the coffee and lemonade we generously provided our shoppers? (No, sadly, I thought about getting some coffee or having the kids make lemonade, but of course, like everything else about this sale, I neglected to do that.)

So what was it? What was the secret to our success?

Well, I believe it all boils down to three little words:

Word of mouth.

Or more precisely:

We had something that people wanted and we sold it to them in an extremely positive way that made them feel happy and good and tell others about it.

It was astonishing how many people were browsing and then pulled out their phones and called their brother/sister/friend saying, “Belinda! You just have to come over here! I’m at a Garage Sale of all places with the nicest family and they have two girls, just like you! They have some wonderful girl things you would just love. OK, great, see you in a few minutes!”

We had an endless stream of people sorting through our stuff and happily scrounging up dollars and more from their cars to buy things from us.

How did we achieve this word of mouth?

Well, it certainly wasn’t our stellar merchandising or advertising.
In fact, we didn’t do a single thing “right” with this garage sale, save for one important fact: we did our best to make it a very positive experience for people, and I believe that earned us that precious word of mouth.

One thing about us, we’re good, honest and positive people, and like to make other people happy and feel good (which apparently makes people happy shoppers…who knew?)

We’re certainly not “sales-y” in the slightest (how excited can you get over a 5-year-old coffee maker with a moldy coffee filter still inside? Yes, true story, and the man still bought it for $10).

About the only thing we had going for us other than our positive demeanor was the fact that we have two of the cutest little models on the planet helping us, our kids. And we decided to have fun with it: we hit up the Hawaiian playlist on our iTunes, drank mimosas, laughed and played with all of the people and kids who came by. It was a fun family day.

Apparently all of that positivity paid off, and the word of mouth simply grew and grew (thankfully).

So what is the lesson here?

Well, aside from having fun with what you’re doing, which I always recommend whenever humanly possible, I hope you’ll take away the lesson that earning extra income does NOT have to be terribly hard or scary or dreadful in any way.

It can be as simple as having a little garage sale, like we did, or as complex as starting a full-fledged side business or gathering up the courage to ask your manager for that well-deserved raise. But I guarantee that it will be worth it. There is nothing like having an extra $1000 to your name.

[Ed. Note.  Susan Fujii won the I Dare You leadership award back in high school and though the monetary award was tiny, the impact on her life has been huge. To this day she recommends William H. Danforth’s book, “I Dare You!” You can learn more about Susan and receive her personal finance wisdom for free at www.KungFuFinance.com.]