Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Selling Your Junk For Fun And Profit

I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. Not as much as most people, I'd be willing to bet, but I still look around my house once in a while and wonder where all this stuff came from. About once a year, my whole family goes through the house and gets rid of all the stuff no one wants anymore - old clothes, children's games, books, etc. My neighborhood has a community garage sale once a year and a lot of our stuff is sold during that. It's a good way to pick up some extra cash.

It's A Now Continual Process

The last couple of years, I've tried to be more proactive in what I dispose of. I'm routinely looking for stuff to get rid of, rather than doing it once a year. I think as I grow older, I realize that 1) I don't have room in my house to keep all kinds of stuff and 2) I just don't need most of the stuff I used to keep. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've made some good money selling off books and other items I no longer want or need. I remember reading a blog post somewhere about decluttering your house - the author suggesting putting one item up for sale each week until you run out of stuff. And don't be shy about putting stuff up for sale. I'm continually amazed and the things people will buy. I've had people buy a kid's electric toothbrush without the brush head. On the other hand, stuff I thought would sell for sure, such as a very nice comforter, didn't, even after big price reductions. If it's free to post it for sale, you might as well see if someone wants it before you toss it out!

Where To Sell

Where to sell your stuff depends on what you are selling. You can put just about anything up for sale in a garage sale. The only problem with that is garage sales are generally an infrequent event and, quite frankly, it's a lot of work to haul everything out, price it, etc. (I did read that one very successful garage sale tactic is to not price anything and just put up a sign that tells people to make an offer to pay what they think something is worth. Surprisingly, many people end up making more money this way then if they price items themselves.)
How much for the lady in the pink pants?
So that leaves selling items individually. This is usually done via eBay or Craigslist or some other such internet sales site. I suppose some people may still put ads in the local newspaper, but who reads those anymore? I've used both eBay and Craiglist and they each have their pros and cons.


Back in the day - and I'm talking about 15-20 years ago - eBay rocked. When I was in college, I bought and sold all kinds of stuff on there. The auctions were mostly run by individuals and you could find some good deals. These days, not so much. Many of the listings are from companies and their prices are average at best. eBay's policies are heavily skewed towards buyers, which means sellers are often left holding the bag if a buyer complains for any reason. (I've found that eBay's dispute resolution process almost always favors the buyer.)

eBay is best for selling items that can be easily mailed. I've sold things like books, Debbie Gibson perfume, and computer gaming accounts. eBay lets buyers pay via Paypal and credit card (through PayPal), so the seller runs little risk of a bounced check or fake money order.

But selling an item on eBay is expensive. They used to charge a fee to list an item for auction, but they have ceased doing that now. It's free to create a listing, but if your item sells, eBay charges you a percentage of the sales price (which varies, depending on the final price). And, if the buyer pays via a credit card through PayPal, PayPal (which is owned by eBay) hits you with a 2% or so credit card fee. It all adds up quickly. Postage costs are hard to include as well. You can specify a fixed price for postage to be added to the final cost, but eBay also provides an option to let it figure out the cost. It does this by estimating the size and weight of your item and coming up with a price. In my experience, their prices are close to 50% of the actual cost of postage and you cannot change it.

And now for my biggest complaint about eBay: In another example of how eBay is very biased towards buyers, their auction system really isn't an auction at all, at least, not in the typical sense of the word. When you create a listing, eBay assigns an ending time to that auction. They accept bids up until that time. When people place a bid, they are supposed to enter the maximum amount they are willing to pay. eBay will bid the minimum and if another person later outbids you, Bay will automatically raise your bid, up to your maximum amount, in a counter bid. In reality, no one does this. People only enter an amount they want to bid at that moment. They will check back after a day or two to see if they are outbid and, if they are, enter another bid. When you couple this with eBay's hard auction end time, you have the potential for a game known as auction sniping.

Auction sniping is when someone places a bid in the final few seconds of an auction. Because most people don't enter their true maximum price they are willing to pay, the auction ends before the outbid buyer can enter a new, higher bid. There are free programs and websites that will do this for buyers. This results in a lower selling price for the item, which of course, hurts the seller.  Surprisingly, auction sniping is not prohibited by eBay, which is really stupid, because higher selling prices result in higher payments to eBay. There is a simple fix to this problem - when a buyer is outbid in the final 5 minutes of an auction, simply extend the auction end time by 15 minutes. When you think about it, this is how a real auction actually works - bids continue to be accepted until there are no more bids, not at some arbitrary end time. This is solution is technologically feasible. In fact, it's how eBay Japan works!

My recommendation: only use eBay to sell items that are easy to mail, are valued over $20, and would benefit from a nation-wide potential buyer pool. (For example, my Debbie Gibson perfume probably wouldn't have found any buyers in my local area.) Due to auction sniping, you most likely will not get the best price for your item.

Craigslist is a free listing site where you can sell just about anything. They have individual sites for most major cities, so you can only see items for sale that are near you. They offer several categories to list your items in and they are easily searchable by buyers. You can add up to 12 photos for each listing. Because your buyers will most likely be local, you will be paid in cash and in person. Craigslist is good for selling items that are too big to mail. For example, I sold a 300 pound arcade cabinet, some furniture, and various other heavy items.

The drawbacks: People are flaky. I've had a couple buyers say they were interested in an item, set up a time to come buy it, and then not show up. Also, meeting random strangers can be scary. If meeting at your home, have someone with you. Keep the item in the garage so you don't have to invite strangers into your home. If meeting elsewhere, make it a well-lit public location with a fair amount of people around.

When It Doesn't Sell

Sometimes, the stuff I want to get rid of just doesn't sell. For those cases, if the items are still in good or working order, I'll donate them to a charity such as Goodwill. I won't get cash for them, but I can get a receipt and take a deduction on my taxes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gone Fishin'

No post this week because I'm on vacation in Hawaii! See you next week!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Don't Leave Money On The Table: Want A Discount? Just Ask!

This is one in a series of short articles about claiming all the benefits you are entitled to – be that discounts, freebies, or whatnot. I’m not going to go to the length of, say, extreme couponing, but I have found there are often discounts or bonuses you can easily take advantage of that can save you money without making major changes in your spending patterns or behaviors.

"It never hurts to ask for a discount."

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that and failed to do so. I've read all sorts of blog posts about people just calling up their credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate, or calling their cable TV provider to ask for a discount. Most of the time, they get that discount. Sometimes they may have to threaten to quit or go to a competitor, but most times, they can usually score some sort of price reduction, if only for 12 months or so.

The recommended method is to research what the competition is offering and then call your provider's customer service number to see if they will match it. It's helpful if you are actually willing to switch providers so if your threat to switch companies doesn't bear fruit, you can actually do so, but that's not necessary. And because most of the discounts people are given expire after 12 months, it's recommended to call back again in a year and see if you can get the lower price extended.

There is actually a company that will do this for you - Billcutterz. I started the process of working with them, but I found their response time too long and the process was dragging out over a couple of weeks, so I got impatient and cancelled the process. I was also a bit nervous because you have to give them a copy of all your bills, plus any passwords or PINs you may have set up on your account so that they can talk to the companies on your behalf.

But the other day, I was downloading my monthly bill from my internet provider and noticed that they were offering new customers the internet package I had for an introductory rate of $59.99 a month for 12 months. I was paying the regular price of $73.99.

Hmm.. I happened to have some spare time that day, so on the spur of the moment, I called the customer service number on my bill to see if they would give me that price. I got an automated routing system and pressed the digits to talk to someone about downgrading or cancelling my service. (This is the department you want to talk to - the customer retention department. They typically have greater latitude on changing your bill than the normal front line order taker would.)

When I got connected to a person, I told them I noticed they were offering new customers my same package at a rate of $59.99 for 12 months and I asked if I could get that same deal. The man I was speaking with told me that was normally only for new customers, but asked if he could put me on hold while he checked to see what he could do.

Well, That Was Unexpected!

I waited on hold for about 3 minutes. When he came back he said he could reduce my price to $51.79 a month for 12 months and would that be acceptable?

Hell, yes! That was lower than I was asking for! I asked (twice) if my service would stay exactly the same. He said it would. He also said after 12 months, my price would go back to my standard $73.99, but that I should call back then to see if there was another deal going on.

So by making a phone call that lasted no more than 5 minutes, I saved $22.20 a month, or $266.40 a year. I did not have to threaten to cancel my account. I did not have to play hardball or resort to any negotiating tactics. I simply called and asked  for a lower price, and they gave it to me. Wow.

Update: Just did the same thing with my TV service. Noticed Dish Network was offering the package I have to new subscribers at $39.99 a month for 12 months. I'm paying $74.99. I called up and asked for a discount. The first time, I got some guy on a really bad connection and he told me that offer was only for new subscribers. Hung up and tried again. I noticed this time I got a totally different set of routing options for my call. I got a clear connection and a woman on the line. I asked if I could get the lower price and she said sure. So I'm getting a $35 a month credit on my bill for the next 12 months. Saved $420 with a 5 minute phone call! (I wonder if my first call was routed to some generic call center off shore somewhere.)

Do you have any tips for not leaving money on the table? Leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Goal Update: End of February 2015

At the end of each month, I post an update of my goals, including a brief discussion of any notable events that might have occurred during the month. The latest month's figures can always be found under the Featured menu in the menu bar at the top of the blog.

Last updated: End of February, 2015
Current value: $12,902
Change from last month: -$373
Percent of Goal:  11.86%

Note that the funds in this account are invested in stock, so there will be fluctuations in value that are outside my control. I never withdraw money from this account, so any dips are purely due to stock price changes.

Events Of Note Last Month: Despite contributing about $450 to my account this month, the overall value dropped by $373. This was due to the stock price of Realty Income coming down from 5 year highs. I'm not concerned with the drop in value and continue to accumulate shares whenever I have enough cash saved up to buy 10 or more shares.

My online courses had a fairly weak December. I only earned about $42. That's understandable for the holiday season.

I did pick up an extra $400 from a sick day sell-back my company offers. At the start of each year, we can sell back our unused sick time from the prior year (or convert it to vacation hours) at a 50% conversion rate. The theory is that this is to encourage you to stay healthy during the year, so you don't use your sick time. If you ask me, what it really does is makes people come in to work sick rather than stay home and call in sick. I got about $800 and put half of that towards the Tesla and half to my home equity line of credit.

No other big news in February. I am working on another project that could generate other income trickle, but it's still a bit off.