I had a blast this weekend at a public sale in my hometown. If you’ve never been to a central Pennsylvania auction, there are two things you will always find: Amish people and pie.

I’ve been enjoying the auction experience since I was a little girl. The town where I lived had a lot of elderly people, and the tradition tends to be holding a large public auction so people can get things they can use from their neighbors, or antique dealers can get good deals for their businesses, etc. It’s an excellent sustainable practice that immediately benefits people – although, like any other economical situation, it tends to not bring in as much money as people hope in a bad economy. On the flip side, it’s a good way to get cheap things if you are a dealer, or a family starting out. My parents got a lot of their home items from auctions when they were young and had no money to get new things.

If the economy is good, more dealers will go to auctions and drive up prices. Not as good for the people there looking for inexpensive items, but great for the families holding the auctions. Lately, I haven’t been seeing as many dealers.

I started going with my parents when they wanted to get things for the local historical museum. It was magical to a little kid to go inside the houses and explore. One house in Coburn actually had a secret passage in the attic, I remember.

If you want to go to a public sale, there’s some tricks to the trade. It can be a little daunting the first time you go to one, but here are a couple of tips to make the experience more rewarding.

1) The auctioneer’s sing-song is very hypnotic, so you have to pay attention to what they’re saying and what the prices are. Each piece is a gamble to get the appraisal price. It’s a real high when you get the items you want for a decent price, but don’t go in expecting to get it. If you have low expectations, it’s less frustrating.

2) Never bid at the starting price. Wait for it to go down to the lowest they’re willing to go, because it’ll work its way up if someone wants it.

3) Come to the auction with a strict budget. Go over the bill ads to see what items are at the auction you might be interested in seeing, then, when you’re there, look over the items before they come up on the block. They always put them on display to the public before the sale starts.

4) Bring a checkbook or cash. They never take cards.

5) If you’re there for kitchen utensils or something you actually want to use in your home, inspect them first. Make notes of the things you really want and hold out for those things. If you get a lot box, you’ll be stuck with a lot of unwanted extras, but that’s the luck of the draw. Sometimes auctions have to move a lot of stuff at once.

4) Sometimes people will come up to you if you get a lot box, and offer to buy something out of it. If it’s something you don’t want, go for it…you might make a new friend.

5) Trust me, try the shoo-fly pie.