Everyone wants cheap LEGO right? Especially in these trying economic times, the search is on for LEGO bargains. Ebay, Craiglist, Shop-at-Home sales, everyone is trying to find LEGO that fits their budget, and unfortunately in most cases, it's not that cheap anymore. The purpose of this article is simple: To show you new venues and methods for acquiring LEGO brick for less than the price of one cent a piece!
The article is divided up into 6 parts.
1) Do you have what it takes?
2) Resale Shops
3) Garage Sales.
5) Quick cleaning of Dirty and Smokey bricks
6) Addenda: A brief mention of Craiglist, and Ebay.
1. Do you have what it takes?
Getting cheap LEGO doesn't take much. It requires very little money (that's the point after all), few social skills, and only the most rudimentary intelligence. In short, anyone can do it, as long as you have two things: Time and Patience. Getting cheap LEGO is a process. Whether it's making the rounds of thrift stores, waiting for someone to come through on a trade, or sorting and cleaning used brick, the cheap LEGO game is all about patience. If you are one who is used to stopping by Bricklink or Ebay: -getting exactly what you need, and getting it quickly- you may find it tedious. However, if you are already a bargain hunter, or you like the hunt almost as much as the find, you're going to love it. I'll expound upon time and patience throughout this article, but I mention it here so that those for whom this sounds tedious, can stop reading now and go off to Toys 'R' Us to pick up the latest Clone Wars Set.
One last thing, you have to like loose brick. The LEGO bargain hunter does find sets from time to time, but most of what is out there in the locales that this article explores is loose brick.
2) Resale Shops
Resale Shops are the best place to find loose cheap LEGO. I visit Resale Shops often, and have found deals on LEGO that boggle the mind. As an added bonus, since you are visiting in person, there's no shipping costs involved. In fact, many times the items you purchase at a resale shop will cost less than the cost of shipping a similar item in an Ebay transaction. The key with resale shops is to look hard, look often, and keep your expectations reasonable.
Looking hard means digging through that bin of random junky toys and feeling around for a bin of LEGO, or a box that rattles like LEGO. Don't look just for LEGO buckets/bins, or boxes. Most of the best deals I've gotten have been from unmarked boxes or storage tubs that simply had a price written on them. Charity shops and donors often put LEGO in whatever container they have handy. Sometimes the shop will dump whatever loose LEGO they receive in a box and put it out for sale when it is full. That pink hatbox in the toy section, might just be filled with LEGO. Take a look.
Looking often. Unless you have a friend at the shop who will call you when they get LEGO (I know someone who does this, and she scores tons of LEGO that way), you will not find LEGO every time you visit a shop. At my favorite resale shop, I still find LEGO only about 1/3 of the time. I stop by that shop as often as I can, sometimes more than once a week. Making a stop at your favorite resale shops part of your routine is a solid strategy that will reap lots of LEGO rewards over the long haul.
Keep your expectations reasonable. As was mentioned, you will not find LEGO every time. Sometimes I will go for weeks without finding any LEGO. Also, do not expect to find the latest sets or pieces. Alternatively, don't expect to necessarily find classic Castle minifigs every 4th time you visit the shop. Enjoy the hunt, expect some dry times, and expect to be pleasantly surprised at what you will find.
3) Garage Sales (Boot Sales, Yard Sales, Estate Sales, Junk Sales, Flea Markets)
Venues where individuals sell their own possessions are great ways to find LEGO. The same suggestions as resale shops apply, with a few others.
First, don't be afraid to bargain. Most (but not all) resale shops have firm prices, but Garage Sales are wide open for bargaining. Try it, the worst they can say is No.
Secondly, because the people are selling their own stuff, you can usually determine if they have LEGO much quicker, simply by asking. Asking is a great tool also, because it gives them a chance to think if they have any LEGO in the house that they may have forgotten to bring out. A shrewd LEGO hunter can quickly make the rounds of a neighborhood group garage sale or Flea Market, just by passing each seller and asking if they have any LEGO.
Third, when you arrive at a Garage sale is also key. For the large sales put on by churches and charities, arriving early is a necessity. For these large sales, it is worthwhile to arrive as much as an hour before it starts. I acquired a nearly complete 6991 Unitron Monorail Transport Base for 10 dollars this way. Conversely, arriving at the end of a sale, usually finds the sellers in a mood to bargain, and some great deals can be had this way, though much more rarely. Finally, if a garage sale has an advertisement up that mentions LEGO, you may be able to call and arrive early in the week and purchase the LEGO before the sale even occurs.
Trading is a less common way of acquiring LEGO, but it has recently become my favorite. I am not speaking of trading LEGO with other AFOL's, though this can be a great way to acquire LEGO. Rather, I am speaking of trading something you already have for someone else's LEGO. . The keys to getting cheap LEGO's this way are: Venue, and Exchange rate.
The most successful Venue I have found is to go through other niche hobbies and acquire LEGO from folks who are not AFOL's. The most successful niche hobby I've found is the online community of tabletop gamers, though any online community “especially one where you already have a presence- offers the opportunity for this kind of trading. For me, putting up ads in such places as Bartertown (a gaming trading site) has allowed me to trade gaming materiel to an audience that greatly values such items, in exchange for LEGO, which that particular group of people tends not to value. The gaming community is not the only venue where this works. Any group of people where you can offer something they are interested in, in exchange for their old LEGOs (which they are usually not interested in), can be a prime point of cheap LEGO acquisition.
Though I use the online communities as an example, such trades can also be in person, with friends, family, clubs or acquaintances.
When you are trading LEGO, it is in your best interest, NOT to put a direct monetary Value on the LEGO. It is far better simply to offer a specific item or lot of items in trade for a specific Volume of LEGO. A highly effective method that I've used here in the states is to put together a defined Lot of items in exchange for a Post Office Flat Rate Box of LEGO. Everyone has access to these type of boxes, the shipping is reasonable, and it ends up being quite a lot of LEGO. This type of Volume trading usually leads you to acquire an amount of LEGO that greatly exceeds the value of the items you are trading, and as a plus, you usually end up with a very happy trader on the other end who views the transaction as him/her receiving something they want in exchange for some old toys out of their basement. The picture below represents the contents of one standard sized post office flat rate box. You can fit a lot of brick in one of those.
5) Cleaning that used LEGO.
Let's be honest. Sometimes there's a reason that that cheap LEGO is so cheap. Often, it's dirty or smells of smoke. The LEGO pictured in the below example was purchased for only $6.00. However, it smelled very heavily of smoke. Cleaning away smoke and dirt sounds daunting, but is actually quite easy, and can be done in an afternoon while doing other household chores, or relaxing at home. The lot shown was sorted, cleaned and dried in one afternoon.
Dump out the LEGO and sort out stickered LEGO, printed LEGO, Translucent LEGO, other toys, and junk that often creep into these lots.
Mini-sidetrack: I suggest bagging up the random toys and clone brick in a ziplock even if they are small- and donating them back to the resale shop. That bag of crap, can fetch a buck or two for a charity. In this world every cent counts, and every bit that goes back to the shop is a bit that doesn't end in a landfill.
Anyway, put the non-translucent, unstickered, and unprinted LEGO in pillowcases, or mesh delicates bag, tie securely, and drop in the washing machine. Warm water, a generous amount of soap, the "delicate" setting and a higher water level than normal are the best for this process.
Lay out a large, lint-free, towel, mat or sheet, and dump the LEGO out. Direct a fan or two over the LEGO. Every half hour or so run your hands through the LEGO to turn the pieces over. The LEGO will be completely clean and dry in a couple of hours.
Printed and translucent pieces can be dumped into a basin or bowl of warm soapy water, and stirred about (sometimes I actually use a big spoon and agitate the water like soup), Unless the bricks are extremely filthy, I don't bother scrubbing them individually. After the wash, rinse them and dry as above, with a fan. Stickered pieces are another story. A little soap and water usually won't hurt them, but I usally choose not to wash them unless they are particularly dirty, or smelly.. Usually printed, trans, and stickered LEGO will only be a small portion of the LEGO you acquire, and cleaning them only takes a short time.
6) Addendum: a Brief Mention of Craigslist and Ebay.
-Craigslist. I have found some good deals on Craislist, but it has become a known market, with lots of folks advertising that they will buy used LEGO, and likely for more than I want to pay. However, deals are there to be had, if one searches often, replies promptly, and is available to pick up the LEGO A.S.A.P.
-Ebay. Honestly, I have little use for Ebay. However, searching often, using obscure search terms, and being patient has worked out well for some folks I know.
Well, that's it, thanks for reading this long winded article, I hope you have found useful information, and I wish you all the best in your search for cheap LEGO. Remember, if you are patient and persistent, ANYONE can find cheap LEGO.
This is my first article, and is not a fixed document, and I welcome suggestions for improvement of both the content and the form.
Edited by Eilif, 07 October 2008 - 09:46 PM.