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The Mother

The Mother: Yard Sale Bust

Diane Rawls had a lot of experience and success making money from yard sales, until she decided recently to raise money for her daughter's honeymoon.

She put the same ads in the same papers, put up the same signs, but this time was different. Even the regulars didn't show up. The recession was taking its toll on local discretionary spending.

In the past, some of Diane's yard sales had pulled in $1,800 — collectors flocked to her assortment of depression glass and other antiques, items she and her husband received over the years as aunts, uncles and parents passed away.

And Diane was never shy about using newspaper ads to catch the eye of potential buyers, even though it cut into her profits. But this time, none of the usual tricks worked.

No one officially tracks garage sale statistics, but Nielsen data shows that online auction site eBay saw traffic decline in April and May 2009 both consecutively and year-over-year. Page views fell 6.8 percent in April 2009 compared to the previous month, and dropped another 7.9 percent in May 2009. eBay page views for May 2009 were down 32 percent from a year ago and were down 40 percent from four years ago in May 2005.

Anecdotally, Diane says people just aren't shopping for things they don't need these days, and that includes extras like yard sale goodies.

A recent survey by Pew Research Center backs Diane's perception, finding that eight-in-ten adults have taken specific steps of one kind or another to economize during these bad times. Almost six-in-ten say they are shopping more in discount stores or are passing up name brands in favor of less expensive varieties.

Nearly three-in-ten adults say they've cut back spending on alcohol or cigarettes. About one-in-four say they've reduced spending on their cable or satellite television service or canceled the service altogether. About one-in-five say they've gone with a less expensive cell phone plan, or canceled service.

One-in-five say they've started mowing their own lawn or doing home repairs rather than pay others for the service. And about one-in-five adults say they are following the example of first lady Michelle Obama and are making plans to plant a vegetable garden to save money on food.

Diane and her husband are still planning to pay for their daughter's wedding, and the honeymoon is still on, though it might not be quite as elaborate as they'd wished. They'll try the yard sale again at her daughter's new house just a few blocks away. Maybe when the economy is looking up a bit.