The Auction Experience and Getting Out With Your Budget Intact.

“We have here a nice set of wind chimes. Ladies and gentlemen, get out your pocketbooks, and bid on these beauties. Let’s start the bidding at fifty dollas. Now who’ll gimme fity, fity dollas, do I hear fity, now twenty-five dollas? Twenty-five, twenty-five dollas?”

“Thank-ya ma’am”, he said with a quick nod of his head at the first bidder.

“I’m at twenty-five dollas, do I hear thirty? twenty five, twenty five, now thirty. Do I hear thirty? Thirty? Thank-ya!” he quickly said with a gesture towards the second bidder.

“Now thirty-two and a half, thirty-two and a half,” with a gesture in our direction, “thirty-five, thirty-five dollas? Goin’ once . . . thirty-five dollas, thirty-five dollas? . . . Sold, for thirty-two and a half!! To the young lady on the right. I thank ya both.”

As the auctioneer continued his rhythmic chant trying to sell the next item, the runner brought back the wind chimes to my wife and I. They were exactly the ones she wanted. We had looked at them the night before, and decided that we would bid up to $40, and no higher.

Auctions are much more than Ebay or other online auction services. If you’ve never been to a live auction before, you’re missing a great experience. Not only is it a fun day, but you can get a great deal if you know what you’re doing.

It’s easy to get started. When you get there, you’ll have to sign up for a number. This is what the auction staff will use to determine your final bill at the end. They keep track of which number was the highest bidder on each item. At the end, make sure their records match the items you bought.

auction microphone

Read on to learn some of my best tips on getting a great deal at auctions.

1. Preview the auction items beforehand – if possible.

We had a chance to see the items for sale the night before. This isn’t always possible depending on the type of auction. For instance some estate sales may happen fairly quickly, and you may not have time to scope out the items for sale.

The auction we attended was a benefit auction for a local christian school, and they had a lot of great items for sale. All them were donated, and they had been advertising the auction for some time.

We took in all the items, and decided on a few things that we would try to bid on and purchase.

2. Research as much as possible, and have a plan for what to bid on.

Even if you can’t preview the items, you’ll still be able to see most of the items before they get sold. Do as much research as you can before the item comes up for bid.

In your research you should be trying to determine the value of the particular item.

First question: What is the item worth?

In other words, if you had to buy that item at a store, what would you pay? If you can’t look it up, just make your best guess as to the item’s worth.

This price should be the upper limit of your bidding. We’ll call it the retail price.

Second question: What are you willing to pay?

In my case, we were at a benefit auction, so that factored in to our bidding decisions. Sure, we wanted a great deal (who doesn’t?), but if we paid more, we knew it was going towards a great cause. Because of this, many items were sold at or above their “retail” value. Which is ok.

But you need to decide what you’re willing to pay . . . before the bidding starts. We decided on a total budget for the things we wanted to buy before we started.

More than any other situation, it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and make multiple impulse purchases. You’ll destroy your monthly budget because the auctioneer got you to bid more than you intended.

Which brings me to tip number 3.

3. Listen to the auctioneer sell a few items before bidding.

You need to listen to the auctioneer’s rhythm before you start bidding. Each auctioneer has his own rhythmic chant and filler words. If you don’t know what he’s saying, you’ll never be able to buy something. Or, on the flip-side, you’ll buy something without realizing what you’re doing.

Listen to how he tells the crowd what the current bid is, and what he’s looking for next. Once you understand his rhythm, it’s time to start bidding.

Just make sure you’re clear with your bid signal. Usually a wave of your number card or hand will do the trick. And once you’re “in”, you can usually just shake your head “yes” or “no”.

Note: It is possible to scratch your head, and for the auctioneer to mistake that for a bid. It all depends on the mood of the crowd, and how secretive and tense the crowd is.

Some people don’t like to telegraph their bidding, and so will try to keep their bid signals as inconspicuous as possible. In this case, the auctioneer will have to be attentive to every little movement to pick up bid signals.

4. Don’t throw up your hand to bid on the first price the auctioneer calls out.

Just like with negotiating, bidding is a game. The auctioneer will start at a higher price, wanting to sell the item at a premium. Most people will wait until he starts dropping the opening bid.

The trick is to not let him get too low. You want to get in the bidding at the beginning, but you also don’t want to start too high. You have to gage the crowd to see if people are interested in the item.

The important thing is to be one of the first two to bid. Once the auctioneer has two bidders, he’ll go back and forth with those two until one of them drop out. If you’re not one of those two, you’ll have to wait until that happens. At that point the price may be too high for your taste. And you lost your chance.

There were several times where we wanted to buy an item, but because we didn’t get in early enough, the winner bought the item for what we wanted to pay. We would have had to pay five or ten dollars more to win the bid.

But that’s the fun of an auction. The drone of the auctioneer, and the game of bidding.

It can be a bit stressful. Especially if your significant other is poking you in the ribs, glaring and whispering, “why aren’t you bidding yet?”

Which brings me to my last tip.

5. Get a different number for each person who will be bidding.

My wife and I each got a number. She wanted certain things more than I did, and of course I had my eye on a few things as well. I didn’t want to take responsibility for missing out on her things just because I wasn’t paying attention. I also didn’t want to pay more for something just because she said she wanted it.

In years past we’ve missed out on things because I didn’t think we needed it. And of course she wanted it.

Having our own bidding numbers helps to keep us on the same page. She bids on her items, and I bid on mine. And we both get to have some fun in the process.


Items at an can auction go fast, so you have to pay attention. But once you get used to the rhythm and cadence of the auctioneer, bidding can be fun.

Just make sure you have a plan, and don’t over-bid . . . unless it’s for a good cause. Along with the wind chimes, we also scored a new picnic table and a tie, plus a few other odds and ends. And we stuck to our budget . . . mostly. 😉

Happy bidding.

What about you? Have you ever been to an auction? 

Tell me about it in the comments, and thanks for reading and sharing.


Chris is the original Cash Dad. He's a father of 3 and a mechanical engineer by trade.

1 Comment

  1. I think I like Auctions and i would love to go to more. Although, having little kids does take away some of the enjoyment. They are certainly not content to sit and watch. And waiting all day for the item you want to bid on is bothersome but other than that I would be up for more. And thank you for letting me get my own number. I love you!!

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