Tuesday, September 28, 2010

5 Things to ALWAYS Buy Used

You've heard it before. Buy used.

1. Books. I love going in Barnes & Noble. All those shiny new books. I gain brain cells just by walking in the door. Have you ever looked at all of those books? Everybody in the universe has written a book. Smart people, dumb people, dumb people who think they're smart. Makes me want to write one. How hard could it be? And the way they have them displayed. Oh. Marketing people are geniuses. Meandering around those displays makes me want to read The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo and all of the other classics. But after I leave, the feeling goes away and I go back to devotionals and biographies and money books and super light fiction and magazines and ::gasp!:: TV.

Problem is, all of those pretty books are somewhere between $10 and $30...each!! Here's some help. All of the books at the library are...wait for it...FREE! Yay! Free is our friend. At the Goodwill, paperbacks are $0.75 and hardbacks are $1.00. 75% of all yard sales have books for sale - usually $0.25 - $2.00. (Don't pay more than $2.00 for a book at a yard sale unless you just really really want it.) Friends of the Library and other non-profits have book sale fundraisers - go the first day to see if there's anything you can't live without (typically at about $2-$5 per book, still less than B&N) and then go the last day - they usually have "fill a box for $3" at the end. After exhausting these options, check online. Even with shipping a lot of times used books online are still cheaper - eBay, Amazon.com, half.com. Even craigslist.org might have what you're looking for.

Note to Students (this means you Rebecca, my one and only official "follower"): Buy and sell your textbooks online. You'll pay less and get back more. It's super easy, just enter the ISBN number on any of the websites listed above and...voila! You're in business. And if you make your selling price $0.02 less than everyone else, your book will pop up first and sell faster. Anyway, Liberty doesn't need any more of your money :)

By the way, if you have a gift card, all bets are off. Do whatever you want. I paid full price for Breaking Dawn because I couldn't wait to find it used - I needed to read it right then to find out what happens between the Cullens and the Volturi. The movie doesn't come out until Nov. 2011!Aah! Do you see the dilemma? Thankfully I had a gift card to B&N. Shoo. That could've been bad. (Thanks Auntie!)

2. CD's. Same with books. I find them at Goodwill and yard sales ALL THE TIME. It's super fun to find "vintage" CD's that were popular about 10 years ago. I found an N'Sync album, paid $0.50 and can jam down the road..."it ain't no lie, baby bye, bye, bye." Can't you just see them on their little puppet strings? Lol. Digressing. Sorry.

So maybe you don't want to wait a decade to buy a CD. That's fine. Check online first. If it's been out for any length of time, it may be cheaper on the Bay or Amazon. For example, the Lady Antebellum CD and Taylor Swift's Fearless CD are on Ebay right now for $9.98 (including shipping). Don't let Ebay scare you. I don't know this for sure, but I would say 75% of everything available to buy on Ebay is set at a fixed price - no auction or bidding or stressing.

Ok, that's not too much of a savings, but here's your other option. I usually don't listen to every song on every CD. There are some I always skip. Wouldn't it be great to only pay for the songs I want? Enter iTunes. Make your own CD. Pay $0.99/song on iTunes and get only the ones you would listen to anyway. You could even mix it up, 2 Taylor songs, "I Need You Now", throw in a Glee show tune or 2, round it off with Daughtry's latest and you've got the best of 4 CD's for the price of one. Yay!

3. Picture Frames. You can really dump a buttload of money on picture frames. My cousin used that phrase once and I asked him, "How much is a buttload, exactly?" and my G.Diddy, sitting next to him, said matter-of-factly, "Depends on the size of the butt." Glad we cleared that up. At the same time, you can save a buttload of money if you always buy your frames used. Much like books, there are almost ALWAYS pictures frames to be found at yard sales. Every style, every size. Usually $1 and under. Also, thrift stores have them in abundance. In addition, a coat of paint can breath new life into a dated frame or help one that you received as a gift fit into your shabby chic decor...or whatever. Anywho, the point is, never buy them new. Unless you've looked and looked to no avail...then at least use a 40% off coupon.

4. DVD's. This really only works for older DVD's. Before you do anything, check online. You know, the usual suspects - Ebay, Amazon... If you're looking for an older movie, you can do pretty good. I found Top Gun for the hubby for $7 (including shipping) for Christmas one year. He'd seen it 10x but didn't have his own copy. He was still watching my parents' VHS of it. That was an easy fix. Also, and this may surprise you, but you can also find movies at...Yard Sales!! :) But the small issue here is that it's hit or miss - there's no consistent inventory. If they hadn't closed all of the Blockbusters around here you could check the Previously Viewed DVD's. It's been almost a year and I'm still bitter. I go to rent a movie one day and they're gone. Digressing again.

Again, this really only works with older movies. If you're waiting with baited breath for Eclipse to come out on DVD, you'll probably be paying full price. Except I think W'Mart & Tar-zhay run specials the first week a DVD comes out. Hmm. I'll be paying attention for sure.

5. Kids' Toys. They don't have a clue. Seriously, at least until they're 3, maybe even 4 and 5, when they hit school, they have no idea if you bought it new or used. Not sure that they care. My BFF, let's just call her Jessica, buys toys at yard sales ALL THE TIME. She's running out of room in her house. The other day I was talking to her on the phone and her little man was shrieking and squealing in the background on a little slide and playground set she had found for dirt cheap. Listen, they're going to be wanting their own cell phone and ipod and a TV in their room soon enough - buy used while you still can!!

"There is no such thing as natural beauty." Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias (again)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Sells on Ebay?

I've been selling on eBay a while. I think a lot of people don't do it because it's A LOT of work. Take the picture, do the write up, list the item, answer shoppers' questions, ship the item. It is not always super fun, but I get extremely motivated after a big sale - when something goes for WAY more than I was expecting. To help you get motivated to get rid of things you don't need or want anymore to make some extra cash to pay down debt, squirrel away money for Christmas presents (how many shopping days left?), or just to have some extra change in your pocket, here's my list of things that typically (no guarantees, see last week's blog) do really well on the Bay.

1. Anything with Harley Davidson on it. I know this because the hubby used to work there. When he got a new job I sold his HD shirts and got between $10 and $20 for each of them (even the t-shirts). That's way better than yard sale prices!! And I'm not talking about just clothes - posters, brochures, mugs, stuffed animals, literally ANYTHING with Harley on it is gold. Also, any kind of motorcycle gear - helmets, riding jackets, boots, gloves, bike parts - all do VERY well. About 85% of everything I have ever listed that was a Harley item has sold the first time around (meaning within a week). This includes and maybe even applies more to the Buell brand. Buell is the sport bike Harley came out with to appeal to the younger generation. They actually discontinued the Buell brand last year, but it still has quite a following. Anything with Buell on it sells (again no guarantees).

2. Vintage Barbie items. Do this - if you are an Ebay user and have an ID name and a password, sign in to your account. Type in "vintage barbie" in the search box and hit ENTER. Then scroll down and click on "Completed Listings" under preferences (left column). Directly above the listings on the right there's a little drop down box next to the words "Sort by". (Stay with me, it's worth it.) Click on Price: Highest First. If the price is in green, that is what the item actually sold for. Amazing. Barbie people are crazy. I've never been fortunate enough to sell a vintage Barbie piece for thousands, but I came across two vintage skippers at a yard sale I picked up for $2. One sold for $16 one sold for $28. Not bad. Also, I had two pink wool sweaters. One for Barbie, one for Skipper. They had belonged to my mom, and she played with them when she was little. The sweaters had the original Barbie tags in them, but they also had lots of moth damage. I did an experiment. I put the two sweaters on eBay, started the bid at $0.99 and clearly noted the damage (and showed pictures). The sweaters sold for $9!! Did you hear me?! Nine bucks for very damaged Barbie sweaters most people would have thrown away and that were a breeze to ship. (Buyer pays for shipping, in case you were wondering.)

3. Littlest Pet Shop. This is my biggest score to date. I knew Littlest Pet Shop toys did well on Ebay. You can do the same search that you did above for Barbie and see what Littlest Pet Shop toys are going for. It's insane. Anyway, I knew these toys did really well when I happened upon a brother and sister selling their entire set one day about a year ago. They wanted $0.25 each for them. Me: "How much will you take for the whole bag?" Them: "Uh, we'll count them." Hm. Obviously newbies to the yard sale world. When somebody says, "How much will you take if I buy all of them?" they mean "The price per unit had better go down." They counted 102 LPS animals and of course wanted $25.00. I now know that that's a very good deal, but I talked them down. Yes I haggled with little kids. I'm not proud of it. Moving on. Those 102 animals that I paid $15.00 for sold for $215.00. It's my greatest victory so far. :)

Actually, a lot of times if you sell things as a "lot" it gets more attention and it's less work for you than selling them individually. "Huge lot of Littlest Pet Shop Toys", "Huge lot of Build a Bear Clothes", "Huge Lot of Mary Kay", "Huge Lot of Vintage Fisher Price Little People". These are real listings - check them out and be amazed.

4. Wake up and pay attention. What's hot in pop culture right now? Every time a new Harry Potter movie comes out Harry Potter stuff on the Bay is really popular. If you have all 4 Twilight books in hardback and you don't plan on reading them again, you might try putting them on Ebay. Looks like other people are getting $30-40 for their sets (I refuse to sell mine - they are sooo good). Oprah stuff might be super popular the closer she gets to her last show. Take note of the guest mentor on American Idol or whose songs the Glee kids featured this week - their stuff might get a little more attention the following week. Who just won the Sprint Cup? Superbowl? World Series? Nothing major - just take the free marketing buzz in pop culture to get a few extra dollars on the stuff you don't want any more.

5. You are the expert. Sell what you know. I can't sell a baseball card on eBay to save my life. I don't know anything about them and am not interested enough to figure it out. But someone just sold a 1952 Topps #406 Joe Nuxhall Reds PSA 9 MINT LOW POP (I don't even know what all of that means) for $14,500.00. That's four...teen...thou...sand...five...hun...dred...dol...lars...!! Same with comic books and jewelry and art and vintage coke items and sporting goods. I don't have a clue, but maybe you're the world's greatest expert. Or, next best thing, maybe you know the expert. When I find a Longaberger basket at a yard sale (and the one time I did was the one time my mom wasn't with me), I called up my little mom, who is my own personal expert and started telling her what it looked like. She finished the description for me, told me the year it came out, the occasion (Mother's Day) and what it's selling for now. Amazing. Maybe you know everything there is to know about collectible glass or vintage military items or altered art or scrapbooking items or kids toys or cooking tools. There are sooooo many categories on eBay - I guarantee you're an expert on something. Start looking for things you're interested in and see what they're going for. Just remember you're here to sell, not buy - mostly. :)

6. Vintage Halloween items do really well. Not sure why, but I can't ever seem to get my hands on any of it to sell.

7. Animals do well. Not actual pets, but, for example, horse enthusiasts take their love for horses very seriously. I had a pack of vintage playing cards that had horses on them. Paid $1. Sold for $90. Surprised the stuffing out of me too. Anyway. Dog people are crazy for their particular breed. Cat people throw down the money for cat stuff. Chicken people are avid about chickens. Just so you know.

8. People shopping on Ebay are very name-brand conscious. Kate Spade, Coach, Vera Bradley purses; Ralph Lauren, Gymboree kids clothes; Anthropologie, True Religion, Roxy women's clothes; Hurley, Billabong guy's clothes, Timberland, Dansko, Nike shoes. Just keep in mind that while brand names do well, you're not going to get back what you paid for them. People on Ebay are looking for a deal.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You could write a blog every day for 395 years and not come up with an exhaustive list (that may be a slight exaggeration). With eBay, just give it a try and see what happens. And if you're just not motivated to do this at all, find somebody who will. I bet you know an eBayer. Give them a box full of stuff with ZERO expectations (again, see last week's blog) and offer to split the profits. Yes - 50/50. Ebay is a ton of work. Whatever doesn't sell, take to the Goodwill or save for your yard sale. Your house will actually feel lighter with the absence of all the clutter.

"Now isn't this better than sitting at a table? A girl hasn't got but two sides to her at the table." Scarlett, Gone With the Wind

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Truth About Ebay

EBay is like Jerry Falwell or Hillary Clinton. Very polarizing. Love it or hate it. On the one hand, people love it because you can sell things you don't want anymore and make some extra cash. Sometimes you can score big if you find something valuable at a yard sale or the Goodwill for next to nothing and sell it for big bucks on the Bay. This is good. Some people hate it because it's a lot of work and sometimes your item doesn't sell for what you think it's worth, or worse, doesn't sell at all. This is no good.

I've been an eBay seller for years. I'm on the side of the fence with the people who LOVE it. It's a great way to make a little extra money for birthday presents for the hubby or money for vacation or the other extra curriculars of life. But I cringe when people come up to me and say: "I've got a set of crystal glasses (or whatever other things they paid too much money for) that I know are worth a lot of money, do you think they would sell on eBay? Could you sell it for me?" Argggg. #1, It probably isn't real crystal. I mean, really, can you prove it? #2, It's breakable. As much as possible I try to steer clear of breakables - too much trouble.

Here is what I know about eBay that has proven to be true EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Golden Rule of EBay: What you think is worth a lot of money (i.e., what you paid too much for) will not sell or will go for very little and what you think is worthless will sell for big money. For example I bought a 12" cardboard cutout of a 1970's Dolly Parton for $0.25 at the flea market. I thought I could decorate with it somehow, be artsy or some such nonsense. When started thinking clearly again, I said to myself, "Self, what was I thinking?" I'll put her on eBay, but she probably won't sell. Yeah. I got $19.25 for her. Crazy!! On the other hand, I've got Boyd's Bears and Lizzie High dolls for sale that I can't give away.

Silver Rule of EBay: There are exceptions to everything. Boyd's Bears don't really do all that well. I actually have a list of things that you're better off putting in a yard sale than eBay, but I'll share that in another blog. But Boyd's is one of them. Unfortunately they're going the way of Longaberger, Beanie Babies and a bunch of other country clutter collectibles. (Although I happen to love L'berger.) The world and eBay is flooded with them so they're not worth much. But, I just checked and a 1990 14" Boyd's Bear Nana Panda sold on Sept. 3 for $199.00. There are exceptions to everything. Every category, every product. Every week there are different people looking at different listings and it may be the week 3 people want your Vintage 1977 Troll Doll and it gets bid up to $45.00. Or it could be the week nobody cares and it doesn't sell (see Golden Rule above).

Bronze Rule of EBay: Get rid of all of your expectations. And please forget how much you paid for something. If you know you're not going to watch your Seinfeld (or Home Improvement or McGyver) DVDs ever again, wouldn't it be better to get $8-10 each (although you might actually get a little more) for them than to have them sitting in your closet for $0? Recently, as in last week, my boss brought me a Cricut machine with tons of accessories to sell for his wifey. Ok, that's fine, but I was uneasy about it the whole time because they wanted to get some of their money back out of it. We're talking $500-$600 invested in this lot of scrapbooking paraphernalia. It ended up selling for around $100.00. They're probably going to be disappointed, but it was an older model - not the newer, bigger one everyone is clamoring to buy (at around $300-375 each - if you have a Cricut Expression with some cartridges that you're not using, put that sucker on the Bay because they're doing really decent right now). Back to the point, which is: $100.00 cash is better than $0.00 stuck with something you're not going to use that's taking up space in your basement. Just sayin'.

I had a professor at Liberty (hence the Jerry Falwell reference at the beginning) that explained the concept of "sunk costs" this way: Let's say you're getting married. You've planned this big beautiful ceremony and you're getting ready to walk down the aisle with your emotional (albeit stoic) dad and suddenly, you realize, it's a mistake. You cannot base the decision of whether or not to go through with it on the invitations you bought and sent out, the money you paid for the flowers, the non-refundable down payment on the hotel for the honeymoon, or the cash you laid out for the ice sculpture (Really? An ice sculpture? No, but go with me on this). All of those things are sunk costs. You can't get them back regardless of your decision to marry (or not) the guy at the front of the church, so it can't, or rather shouldn't, have any influence on your decision. So it should be with things you're selling on the bay. Forget what you paid for them. Get rid of all of your expectations and then you might be pleasantly surprised when occasionally, things will go for more than you paid for them, or what you thought was worthless goes for hundreds. Yay! :)

Tons more to follow on the fabulous-ness of selling on eBay.

"Creme brulee can never be jello. You can never be jello!" ~My Best Friend's Wedding

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Little Changes...Big Savings

I love food. French fries especially. When they're a little over cooked and just a bit crispy, there's nothing better in this whole world. If you put them in front of me, regardless of whether or not I'm hungry, I'll eat them. It's bad. When I was really little, I'm told my Granddaddy went through the drive-thru at McD's 3x because I just kept devouring my fries. Obviously I've struggled with this addiction my whole life.

But that's not my point. My point is...fasting. Whoa! Where did that come from? Stay with me. I recently read/skimmed two books by Jeff Yeager, aka the Ultimate Cheapskate. Many principals in money books are the same - live below your means, be content with what you have, yada, yada - all very good money philosophies to adhere to. But I came away from The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door with two brand new things I didn't know before. And I'm going to just tell you what they are in case you don't want to read the whole books. (They're not for sensitive readers - he occasionally sprinkles his writing with PG-13 humor/language. Just wanted to give fair warning. Okay, moving on.)

1. The wonders of Restaurant.com. This website is a gem. You can go there and search for local restaurants in your hometown. And buy gift certificates. You can pay $4 for a $10 card or $10 for a $25 card. Who knew? Obviously not me. Here's the catch - when you use it you have to spend a minimum amount and can only use one gift cert per visit. For instance if you buy 2 $10 gift cards to Schooners in Roanoke for $4/each, to use the gift cert you have to spend a minimum of $20 for your meal and you can only use one of the $10 gift certificates. Follow? Don't try ordering on "separate checks" either - they're too smart for that. Also note - sometimes this website runs bizarre specials. This week I got 80% off my entire purchase. Basically it cost $4.40 for $55 worth of gift cards. That's not a typo.

2. Frugal Fasting. Jeff Yeager came up with this concept and it basically means that you don't spend ANY money for 1 week. Don't go to the grocery store - eat the frozen waffles in the freezer. Don't rent a movie, watch the telly, or better yet, play a board game...outside...by candlelight...except I probably shouldn't because I would get eaten alive by killer mosquitoes. Don't go shopping, don't whip through the drive-thru, don't succumb to the vending machine. Just for one week. When I was in school and had a really tough class I hated, my dad would say, "You can do anything for 3 months." As graduation got closer he would say, "You can do anything for one month." The final 2 weeks of school and exams it changed slightly to, "You can stand on your head for two weeks." I think the point was, anything is do-able if you know it's temporary. If you can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm going to take this concept and break it down into baby steps. Like giving up that one thing that you KNOW will save you money for just one week. Here are some ideas:

a: Eating out for lunch. I know everyone preaches against this and it gets old. And I know Chick-fil-a is way better than PB&J, but remember, it's only for a week. I absolutely hate packing lunches, but I do it anyway. It helps to pre-package your own snacks. Example: Buy saltines and make your own peanut butter crackers - put 3 or 4 or 5 (or whatever) in a baggie and make enough bags for the week. Makes life a whole lot easier come Wednesday and Thursday when you're losing your will-power to stay the course. You can make baggies for the week for all your snacky-type foods - pretzels, cheese-it's, even fruit. Still think it's a pain in the bottom? Buy bread, sandwich meat, and whatever else and put it in the fridge at work. Make your lunches at lunchtime. That's easy, right? Especially for just one little week.

b: Eating out for dinner. Why are you harping on this?! What is so wrong with eating out?!! Aaahhh!!! Nothing, actually. It's not a sin or anything. It's just one of the easiest ways to save money. That's why every blog and money-help book beats this topic to death. "But I have to eat out, I can't cook." said in a whiny, annoying voice. Friend, let me help you. Night 1 - frozen pizza. Even the expensive frozen pizza is cheaper than eating out. Night 2 - hot dogs (grilled on the George Foreman), tater tots (made in the toaster oven - Napoleon Dynamite would be so proud), and green beans. Night 3 - spaghetti and sauce from a jar. Did you even know this would be this easy? Night 4 - BLT, chips and fruit. Night 5 - breakfast foods, aka frozen waffles or cereal or oatmeal... Night 6 - Please tell me you have leftovers from at least one of these nights. Night 7 - Now what kind of teacher would I be if I gave you all the answers? Surely you can think of one measly little low-maintenance meal. I know you have it in you. And there you go - one week without eating out. Just call me Rachel Ray or Gordon Ramsey or some other famous chef. And look how much you saved!!!

c. A daily habit. Maybe it's Starbucks - and if it is, there is no judgement here. I understand. Starbucks is happiness in the form of a tall, grande, and/or venti caffeine-filled treat. Maybe it's a daily Red Bull or a Coca-Cola Classic. Confession: That's mine. I have a Coke every day. Nothing wrong with that. But it's something I don't need, I could easily save money by not drinking it and may save on dental bills in the long run if I can give up the one-a-day habit. What's your one-a-day? Vending machine? $1 tea from Hardees? Dunkin Donuts? Have a substitute so you're not completely going cold turkey. For instance I'll try making tea at home, taking it to work, and drinking that instead. Not nearly as fabulous, but better than nothing.

d. Cigarettes/alcohol. My dad has said he wishes he smoked or drank so he could give it up and save all that money. That's all I'll say.

And if you fall off or on the bandwagon - whatever that phrase is - it's ok. This isn't school. You're not being graded. Try again next week. Example: I started Wednesday on my one week without Coke. But I had some Friday. What could I do? It was 94 degrees, I was walking the annual Hillsville Flea Market and it was thrust at me. And it was good :) But I'm starting over today, and have been good. So far. Or if you give it a shot and find it's too hard, give up (it's not worth being miserable over) and pick something else.

Giving up something for one week won't save that much money, so what's the point? The point is maybe you'll find that living without that one thing for one week wasn't that bad and maybe it can grow into 2 weeks. And maybe you'll be energized by the extra dollars not leaving your bank account and want to make it permanent. Or at least less frequent. Good luck :)

"Are you crying? There's no crying! There's no crying in baseball!" ~ A League of Their Own